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Old 11-17-2010   #11
Favre's Avatar
Nampa, Idaho
Paddling Since: 1995
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 240
In my opinion, swimming difficult whitewater is a mix of three things.
1) Aggressive, proactive swimming generally towards shore, an eddy, or the safest spot for you to immediately be. This is almost ALWAYS what you should be doing should you find yourself in the drink. Turn onto your stomach, evaluate where you, decide what the best place for you to swim to is, and do a crawl (or freestyle) stroke towards your destination.
2) Whitewater swim position. This should only be done in places where the river is quite shallow or where you are approaching rocks or a small drop, where swimming on your stomach would risk hurting your limbs or worse. Whitewater swim position will not get to you safety in class 5, it will only protect your body.
3) Balled up, arms wrap around your shins might be considered over rocky drops. The only reason I ever say this is a legendary paddler died on my home river where he went over a drop feet first and he had some kind of body entrapment (at least that's how I understand it .) Being balled up might prevent your lower body and upper body going different directions in the mank.

I have heard using the paddle helps, but I have not found a way to swim with it nearly as effectively as abandoning my paddle and going for it.

I agree that when scouting rapids it's important to scout for the swim as well. Also, nothing can prepare you more than distance swimming at a pool. In high school, I was a competitive swimmer and could swim a mile or more without stopping. Ten years later, I'm still a good swimmer and paddler, but I become exhausted after about 100 yards. Guess I should get back in the pool before next spring!

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Old 11-17-2010   #12
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Fort Collins, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1996
Join Date: Jul 2009
Posts: 481
Why so few responses?

Wow, it's been like 2 hours already and there are only about 10 or so responses. What's going on? I figured for sure that every yahoo out there (especially class IV paddlers that don't actually run class V) would have an opinion on this! Even rafters will probably chime in, because they swim all the time if they try hard water. Well, I can't resist adding my own two cents: is it really so bad to hold on to your paddle? Obviously if it's endangering you, ditch it, but don't panic, be reasonable.

Maybe it's slow because the offseason is just around the corner.

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Old 11-17-2010   #13
tj@cu's Avatar
Boulder, Colorado
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 983
Originally Posted by Ken Vanatta View Post
A swim strategy depends on what kind of water you are in.

If it's a big volume/wide river scenerio you do not let go of your boat for nothing. It is your floatation and you are not going to be getting out of the water quickly. It is best to hold the grab loop and paddle in one hand and side swim with the other hand ... always jerking the boat forward with the one hand to allow you to gain ground with the swim stroke by the other. Even then, it is best to identify the target down stream that the current will take you towards and time your aggressive effort to get you to the targeted eddy at the correct time. Work with the river. Sometimes that may mean not exerting much effort until the time demands it. Just keep ahold of the boat, relax, and wait for the time to act.

In technical water, as others indicated, it is most helpful to have scouted and know what plan A, B, C, and a swim plan may be. In a creek run it is likely that you sprint swim to the nearest shore. Sometimes, though, you have to make it to the side of an obstical or to a channel and target the next inviting eddy. Although, still trying to exit the water as quickly as possible. I would also add that a technical river can sometimes pin a person to the bottom and require awareness to know that you have to pull yourself along the rocky bottom and out the side of the hydraulic (sometimes the bank or eddy is right there). Often, whether upside down in your boat or out of it, you have got to open your eyes and try to observe what obstacle you might be pressed against and claw your way around and away of it. With probably one exception, it is generally best to open our eyes and try to evaluate before making a decision to pull the skirt.
I have to disagree with you on the big water stuff, in big water that boat is gonna go for miles best not to swim for miles.
I always think of swimming as being aggressive when you need to be and being relaxed when you need to be. For example if you get stuck in some huge ledge hole you have to realize that you could be underwater for 20-30 seconds and no amount of fighting is gonna change that, just relax and go with the flow. But the second you get out assess are there eddies you can make it to? if yes then swim your ass off.
Another thing is that there are very few times when you should be holding on in a hole ride until you are absolutely done (maybe if there is a sieve/log portage just downstream) rather fight until you have given a reasonable effort to get out but still have enough for what the swim might entail.
And don't worry you will get enough practice, everyone I have met who paddles class 5 swims class 5 even that sicko sean lee.
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Old 11-17-2010   #14
Beaverton, Oregon
Paddling Since: 2005
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 569
Swimming with your paddle requires lots of concentration, which I can assure you from experience you will be missing. You will generally have lots of side to side motion available, but hitting eddies is really hard. One trick is to dive for the upstream eddy line like you would the nose of your boat. Another is to roll with your arms extended along your long axis over the eddy fence.

It's a nasty game of offence and defense in all. Hit the first eddy you can. Choose your move. Think of where the current is going to take you. Keep your feet off the bottom - a foot entrapment will kill you here. Most of all, stay calm, keep thinking and keep breathing when you can.

Staying calm probably kept me alive this Feb. when I swam the Green Wall on the Illinois at 6,000 CFS from top to bottom. I knew where I needed to be from my scout, and what was coming. It sucked, and the thought of flush drowning crossed my mind, but I stuck with my plan and came out fine. I think I got dunked five times on my way down.

For scale, the boulder in the middle left of the photo is about 6' out of the water
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Old 11-17-2010   #15
Denver / Coloma / Monterey, CO / CA
Paddling Since: 1971
Join Date: Dec 2008
Posts: 119
Swimming with a paddle: I've done it and it works, but it uses a lot of energy. I used this technique successfully to cross a river back to my boat (yeah, I swam) just above a long class V. Use an aggressive crawl style with the paddle in front, heading where you want to go. Make sure and kick your legs too. As noted, it will wear you out quickly. Don't expect to keep it up more than a dozen strokes or so. I think of it like NO2 on a car; only use it when you need to get somewhere now.

Not using the paddle, I think of swimming two ways, as follows:

Defensive posture; used when simply trying to survive immediate circumstances:
On your back, feet forward, together and facing downstream (feet that is). Use your arms like oars to move laterelly across the river. You can see downstream quite well this way too. Make sure and keep your butt up so you don't crack your tailbone.

Offensive posture: Once your are out of immediate danger swim aggressively towards your goal, be it another boater willing to offer assistance, an eddy, the shore or even a safe rock you can crawl up on and re-assess where to go next. I suggest the old fashioned crawl as the most powerful stroke. Swim hard and get where you need to be.

Crossing eddy lines (including getting out of a pourover type of reversal): It can be difficult for a swimmer to cross an eddyline as the majority of their body is underwater and tends to hit the eddy fence and get rejected, rather than skim over it like a boat. One way to help cross a strong eddy fence is to roll your body as you go over it. Go from a crawl to a back stroke at the moment of crossing, maybe even continuing to spin 360 degrees over and back into a crawl again. I've done this too and it works quite well.

One more note about eddy lines: Think of your body angle towards the eddy fence just like you would your kayak: Keep the angle very aggressive, maybe even more so than you would in your boat.

Practice! Challenge yourself by swimming a rapid or two. Whitewater parks are great places to work on your technique. If you get bored of doing flat spins in your play boat, set it on shore and jump in for a few minutes. You might gain a new respect for the forces of moving water. It can also be a lot of fun, provided you're warm enough.

As others have noted, take a Swiftwater or similar course. You can't be too prepared when it comes to class V! If you don't think you need too get certified for your own good, think of it as training to save your buddies instead. Everyone wants to trust their friends and partners when the shit hits the fan.

Last but not least: Dress appropriately for the immersion factor. I wear a drysuit, even on warm days, if the water is cold or the canyon doesn't let in a lot of sunlight. Immersion in cold water saps your body heat (and strength) exponentially faster than cold air.

Good luck. I hope you never swim in class V but the odds are you will sometime if you're pushing yourself. Might as well be good at it!
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Old 11-17-2010   #16
Fort Smith, NT
Join Date: Aug 2010
Posts: 13
This reminds me of the legendary running class V and can't roll thread. Mountainbuzz sure seems to be heavy on the swimming technique threads and light on the actual kayaking technique threads.

When the river is more then a mile wide you aren't really swimming to shore, you're mid stream re-entering your boat with an h-resuce.
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Old 11-17-2010   #17
pnw, Washington
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 3,404
Originally Posted by Oneriver View Post
This reminds me of the legendary running class V and can't roll thread. Mountainbuzz sure seems to be heavy on the swimming technique threads and light on the actual kayaking technique threads.

When the river is more then a mile wide you aren't really swimming to shore, you're mid stream re-entering your boat with an h-resuce.
More than a mile wide eh? If you are talking about the Arkansas river as it meanders through Arkansas, well why would you be swimming there? And why would you be in a kayak and not some power boat with 6 cases of beer, yelling, Hey watch this?
"Yesterday I was clever and tried to change the world. Today I am wise and try to change myself." -Rumi
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Old 11-17-2010   #18
Join Date: Aug 2004
Posts: 772
Or maybe a river that's near Fort Smith, NT eh? Like the Slave.
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Old 11-17-2010   #19
Tucson, Arizona
Paddling Since: 2000
Join Date: Sep 2009
Posts: 17
One more thought I had. The best technique that I have ever used to swim safely to shore (with all my gear) is to paddle with people who aren't imbeciles. No amount of training or technique can provide as much safety as paddling with competent people who can help you when it counts.

Another bit on the paddle issue. I tend to just throw it like a javelin. If i can get it to shore, awesome. If not, well I just threw it where I intend to go next so better start getting there quickly so I can throw that sucker again as I head to safety.
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Old 11-17-2010   #20
Littleton, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2010
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 350
Originally Posted by Oneriver View Post
This reminds me of the legendary running class V and can't roll thread. Mountainbuzz sure seems to be heavy on the swimming technique threads and light on the actual kayaking technique threads.

When the river is more then a mile wide you aren't really swimming to shore, you're mid stream re-entering your boat with an h-rescue.
On the same token, I haven't swam in awhile, been paddling Class 3+ to IV- (this is still challenging enough for me at my level), and I have a great roll and brace, but I'm not very good at paddling, committing to lines, reacting to sudden obstructions; like paddlers in front of me who are stuck on rocks; being aggressive, etc. I don't really slow the group down too badly, since I don't swim (except for the occasional train-wreck that wasn't my fault! I swear!), but I often have to yell at myself inside, to wake up and start paddling. Although I'm getting much better at rolling and bracing- so it's hard for me to complain too much. I think my coolest brace was completely taking a super-sloppy line down Waterton, running along a wall side-ways, but just bracing through it. That put a grin on my face. If I could just make stuff like that look like I did it on purpose, I'd be set. There's no substitute for experience when it comes to good paddling, I think. I'm at a point where, I'm like, yeah, I can, roll, I can brace, but can I even freaking paddle? It's too bad I haven't been able to exact my revenge on Foxton yet, though.

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