Rolling on the river


— Finding a green wave section and a foaming hole section in a river is a kayaker's dream.

"The best is when you're swapping cartwheels right next to someone who's surfing a nice green wave," said Josh Karzen, Steamboat kayak instructor. "An ideal play spot is when you combine the two."

Waves in a river are much like ocean waves, which tend to be clear water where paddlers can surf and remain horizontal.

Holes, where rodeos are held, is the frothy, foamy quality water for kayakers to get vertical and throw a few cartwheels.

But watch out.

"Not every hole is a friendly hole," Karzen said. "The better you are, the more you can do with both."

Kayakers live in a world and talk in a vocabulary all their own.

"There is a whole slew of new names," said Eugene Buchanon, publisher of Paddler Magazine. "Things are progressing pretty quickly."

When Jim Marsh gears up for a day of boating, he grabs a helmet, life jacket, dry top, neoprene shorts and shoes, a spray skirt, paddle and his boat.

"You need a spray skirt almost to be considered a kayak," Marsh, a four-year kayaker, said of the item that attaches the body to the boat. "Otherwise, they call you an open boater like a canoeist."

Although being named an open boater is not a negative term, those who don't have a spray skirt will be capsized.

A perfect day kayaking for Buchanon begins with calling his buddies on the eve of the big day, meeting for cups of coffee at Mocha Molly's at 7:30 the next morning and heading out to play in the white water.

"That's when you hear about the previous day's travails and you get to share your own," Buchanon said of the early morning meeting. "You're the center of attention."

Choosing which vehicle will hold the gear and the paddlers, Buchanon said after jumping into the freezing waters, putting some beer on ice, recounting a few stories and cranking the tunes ends a perfect day.

Most of the same happens for Karzen, who gets down to the Yampa nearly seven days a week when the water is high.

For Karzen, kayaking is life.

"It's just another extension of the ski season," Karzen said. "Steamboat allows you to have a professional career and get out on the water every day."

A kayaker's lifestyle is analogous to that of a California surfer, Buchanon said.

"It's a pretty good fraternity of floaters," Buchanon said.

The migratory, nomadic kayaker searches for the perfect waters and continues on down the road until he or she finds the perfect kayaker playground.

"They're like surfers they'll go wherever the swell is," Buchanon said.

This easy-going group searching for the perfect wave/hole set starts crawling out of the woodwork when the rivers start rising.

"It's not about running rapids. It's a play river," Karzen said of the Yampa.

Buchanon said Steamboat's peak of kayaking is earlier in the year than many other towns and their rivers.

"We're paddling in April and May already," Buchanon said. "Once it dries up here, it's sort of like birds migrating south."


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