I've been paddling whitewater for 15 years. I am passionate about Rivers and paddling. I never take for granted the power of nature. Each time I leave a River safely, I am grateful for the river itself, for how it was created and for having spent the day safely on the river. I feel this way regardless if it's a class 2 section or one strewn with class 4/5 rapids.
While it's easy to become complacent on a section of river that you have run at least 100 times over, there are some rapids that one ought not take lightly, the Norman's Rapid on the Ottawa River is one such rapid. I NEVER take the Norman's lightly (despite the fact that I generally waltz down it completely unscathed). I recently had an excellent reminder of why I feel this way.
The Norman's Rapid is created by a drop in elevation combined with an abrupt bottleneck in the flow of the river, funneling the entire flow of the river into a canyon a quarter the width of the river. The result is a surprisingly stable and "mostly" predictable rapid that changes minimally at just about every water level. The Norman's starts off with a few cross cut waves at the top that lead into a set of offset waves that generally corkscrew boats and rafts through the heart of the rapid. Lingering just below the corkscrew section however are a series of very powerful and unpredictable boils and seams that commonly shift a 20 ft raft 10 feet left or right into the canyon walls at the eruption of a boil, worse still is the sensation of a seam opening and pulling you and your kayak down several feet and sometimes below the surface into a twisting whirlpool. Swimmers of this rapid often experience a trip to the "green room". This is when the boils take the swimmer down deep into the rapid where all is still, green and quiet and the buoyancy of your lifejacket and efforts to swim are nullified by the power and momentum of the boils.
On the day when I site the Deep gratitude for my WRSI Trident, I was running the Norman's with the intent to eddy out just past the corkscrew part of the rapid in order to run safety for a friend was scouting my line as he was about to run the rapid in a tandem open canoe.
My line started in the middle of the rapid....where it generally always does. While it was my intent to skip over the first 2 waves with the hopes of getting some great air when boofing off the top of the waves, my kayak instead was surfed on top of a large surging wave that continued to surge directly into the left wall of the canyon slinging me literally head first onto and into the canyon wall and the rocks piled at edge of the wall. I made first contact with the rocky wall at the back of my head and at the right side of my head. My kayak flipped and and the surging waters in the rapid continued to bob and grind my boat half in the water and half on the rocky sides of the shoreline.
It took a while for me to roll as setting up for the roll in the surging and boiling waters and the front of my bow bouncing off rocks made it difficult. When I surfaced, all of those around me were shocked that I was conscious and able to roll up.
The best example of how the impact felt would be to imagine a 250 lb home-run hitter making contact with the back of your head with a bat with the strongest wind up they could muster.
|The Norman's Rapid, Ottawa River|
As I mentioned before, I never take the Norman's lightly (mostly because of the boils and seams), but never would I have imagined that anyone could crank their head that hard, especially on a river as deep as the Ottawa.
I extend my deepest gratitude to WRSI's Trident as I feel strongly that the situation could have easily been much, much worse had I been wearing an inferior helmet. The image below shows my Trident which was in pristine condition before this incident. Every scratch and mark shown is a result of the situation that I described above.
While I am sad that I fractured my Trident, I shudder to think of what the alternative(s) could have been. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU (with deep gratitude) WRSI.