This year I have decided to make the move up to kayak the Middle Ocoee. I’ve now had four and a half trips down this section, and feel good that I’ve only had to hit two combat rolls. But, this past Saturday I experienced my first swim.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with this section of river, Grumpy’s is the first long rapid that has swift current in shallow water, and one big ledge/hole. The two things I was told about Grumpy’s is “You want to work your way to river left to avoid the hole”, and “You don’t want to swim Grumpy’s – most people that swim here come out bleeding.”

I decided to ferry into the closest eddy, and that worked pretty well. Making it to river left was a priority, and I could tell this was going to be accomplished. I immediately paddled out of the opposite side of the eddy and headed down river. The first small ledge that I went over flipped me. The beat-down began immediately. My off-side roll is about 80% in the lake, but I really haven’t practiced it on the river. So, I decided to set up on my strong side for my roll. After an unsucessful second roll attempt (and a continual bashing from the rocks), I decided to exit my kayak. Sure, I was far enough river left to miss the hole, but the rocks weren’t quite through with me. It is shallow enough through here, that even maintaining the whitewater swimmer’s position is not easy. I eventually swam into one of the eddys on river left. We re-grouped, and recovered my boat which had stopped on a small rock a short distance downriver. I ended up with scrapes on my shoulders, elbows, a couple new marks on my helmet, broke the skin at three knuckles (with 3mm neoprene gloves on), and my left leg took the worst scraping. I would be lying if I said it didn’t shake me up a little bit. After about twenty more minutes down river, my nerves were calm again. The rest of the day went great. Later that afternoon, we even went back for round number two (round two I started at the rails – I knew that if I took two beat-downs like that in one day, that I would be done for the day). Round two went smoothly. Sunday’s start was back at the top for the full run. I decided to make a much more gradual progression to river left, and that worked great for me.
I do feel lucky that my wounds were minor. The Middle Ocoee has been a lot of fun (except for this swim), and I can’t wait to go back. I debated with myself about sharing all of this – a swim is always a little embarrasing. I decided that ‘swims’ are a part of boating, and that everyone either has a story of there own (or one day will). Plus, I know how much some of you like watching carnage. By the way, I had my helmetcam rolling during my swim. I have posted the video on the GCA website. The helmetcam surprisingly survived to see another day. I will compile some of my other videos from the rest of the day, and try to post them within a few days.
Paul Smith
June 2011