We were not far from where gold was discovered in California that set off the Gold Rush. This Saturday morning South Fork of the American River was in a gush and for steady gathering tribes of kayakers conditions couldn't seem more golden. Despite the historic on-going California drought, the river was full of water. Through deals made with upstream reservoirs and powerhouses along the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission guidelines, timed releases will keep dependable flows of whitewater and boaters coming all summer.
Pete DeLosa has a calm demeanor, an easy-going personality that makes you like him right away. He is member of Team Pyranha and would be leading the trip down river. It's Demo Day, a free event sponsored by the River Store and Pyranha Kayaks to give local paddlers an opportunity to try Pyranha's new 9R and Burn III kayaks.
"I think that is what I like the most." said DeLosa, "Seeing people get in a boat they haven't paddled before and enjoying it. Everyone thinks its boat height, boat weight and gallons. Stop looking at the specs. Get out and paddle different boats. Find the boat that makes you want to go out and do it"
The shiny new kayaks glisten in the morning the sun. The 9R is the newest of Pyranha's fleet of kayaks. Its narrow width increases its speed while innovative outfitting and a lower knee profile offers maximum control.
Across from it rests the Burn III offering combination of precision and stability whether you are a beginner or expert. It was the kayak I will be paddling.
I had looked for a bigger volume boat. The crossover kayak I own doesn't suit my skills and is a bad fit. I have had my share of swims with it. It always makes me a bit doubtful when it comes to my whitewater paddling abilities.
DeLosa instilled some confidence in me.
"Picture a good run at the top and you will have success at the bottom." said DeLosa. "Usually if you see something bad happening, its self-fulfilling."
Then he said something that rolled me like a Class III wave.
"You know I'm scared to death of water." he said looking at the placid river, "You know, if you ask me I don't think I would swim across the water right here. I mean I could do it with a PFD, but without it, I don't think I would want even try it. It something I have to overcome."
DeLosa is a special athlete. He can do amazing things in his kayak. I paddled behind him and the three others with us during the first rapids we met, coincidentally called Old Scary. I looked for the easy line hoping not to roll in the days first waves while the others punched through the big waves. DeLosa then pulled his kayak for a bit of surfing and offered tips to the other paddlers.
"Kayaking is more mental than it is physical." said DeLosa, "My first couple of years of creek boating were in a Wave Sport Habitat. I had bought it from a friend of mine and never even paddled the thing. I wanted to get to kayaking and he had a boat to sell. It was totally dumb luck, but it worked out great for me. For a couple of years, I paddled that boat through what at the time the hardest water I ever paddled. I had done it all in that boat and I didn't want to get in any other boat. I thought I was unstoppable in that kayak. It made me feel confidant which pushed me to want to try news things. I had success and it kept me stoked. It also just kept feeding the cycle. The more success I had, the more confidant I felt and I was willing to attempt more."
My confidence was beginning to soar with the Burn III. The river running kayak proved to be stable and forgiving through the turbulent water. After crashing through Barking Dog Rapid a popular kayak play hole, I felt an eagerness for more challenges. I took the lead at Highway Rapid a long rock garden wave train. I twisted and turned with the punches of the flow. The last one was Swimmers Rapid, rightly named because it seems to dump the commercial rafter customers at end, was a victory lap for me. As I paddled up to the Greenwood Creek take out, I had a great sense of satisfaction. Credit goes to the Burn III.
"I like seeing everyone having a good time" said DeLosa at the end of the day, "I like giving people the opportunity to get into a new kayak that they have tried before. And its like icing on the cake when they really enjoy it."