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Slalom on the Santiam

Whitewater slalom is a timed obstacle course consisting of gates to create a path to paddle through. On March 9, eNRG Kayaking, with the help of volunteers, built a moving water slalom course on the Santiam River below Big Cliff Dam. The event took five hours through three inches of snow on a beautiful spring day. As I participated in this communal occasion, I saw the gates not only as an obstacle to kayak through, but as a gateway into my past.

When I was three years old my parents put me in a canoe and I pointed to where I wanted to go. When I was eighteen years old I pointed myself towards Junior World Championships racing for Team USA. Now, I point to you, hoping you will come with us and enjoy the passion that is paddling. Because, while slalom is an Olympic Sport, it is something that you can do, too.

That is because gates allow you to create your own challenges on easy whitewater as you improve your technical precision. Precision is about where your boat is relative to the river and about where your paddle is relative to your body. Gates help you practice this skill-set by increasing the level of difficulty while keeping the level of risk minimal.

Difficulty is represented as a product of rocks, holes, waves, and other obstacles that force paddler redirection. Normally, we try to go around these obstacles in what is known as our whitewater line – or the easiest path through a rapid. On calmer whitewater, you have a wide margin of error meaning a wide whitewater line. If you are three feet away from where you intended to be – you’ll probably be fine. However, as you increase the level of difficulty, you decrease your margin of error – meaning a tighter line. In this scenario, if you are three feet away from where you intended to be – now you’re running into a rock or a hole. And while those are good scenarios to understand, slalom is mainly focused on preventing those scenarios from occurring in the first place through improving your technique. This form of training can provide challenging whitewater lines while minimizing the consequences associated with them.

In the end, the big picture is not about becoming a racer, it is about boat control. With boat control comes confidence. From this confidence, maybe you will become a racer; maybe you will become a creek boater. The point is, boat control not only allows you to choose where you go on the river – it allows you to choose where you go as a kayaker.

With the snow long gone, now is the perfect time to perfect your paddling abilities. So go with eNRG Kayaking and hang out below the hanging gates of the Santiam River. Let them be your gateway to the wonderful adventures of whitewater kayaking.