The Ottawa River is not whitewater in the US; however enough people visit it from the states each year that it deserves honourable mention. People from all over North America eagerly keep an eye on the gauges and regularly call their friends who live in the Ottawa Valley to find out when certain water levels come in. One of the most popular levels in the spring that causes people to drop what they are doing and dash for the border is when the river peaks and an epic wave comes in called Bus Eater, or “Bussy” as the locals call it. At the right level, this feature becomes one of the tallest, fastest waves you’ll ever surf. At lower levels, it becomes the nastiest, trashiest hole you have ever wanted to avoid!
Because the Ottawa is fed by many tributaries, it is nearly impossible to predict the level at any given day, and people usually have to rely on word of mouth to find out what is running. The best thing about the Rocher Fendu section of the Ottawa River, located near Beachburg Ontario is that at ANY level, there is a different playspot to enjoy. Or, the river run changes so it’s like running a different river at each level.
Last year, due to a knee injury, I was introduced to the world of whitewater kayaking. This was something I could us to replace the sports that I used to do on a regular basis. I spent all of last summer paddling this river at different levels between -2 and +4. It was a dry summer.
This spring, I broke down and bought a house in Beachburg. I had such a great time last summer and made so many new friends that I simply had to become a ‘582” local! I have no regrets. I ran the Ottawa recently at a level I have never even imagined: +9. Basically the river was completely different. Rapids that used to make me sweat were washed out into a harmless wave train, while rapids that I didn’t know existed reared their ugly heads, mocking me and eagerly anticipating my inevitable beatdown.
It was the crowd on the Ottawa River that finally encouraged me at the last minute to overcome my fears and face Big Kahuna, a Bussy-sized wave that sat in the Coliseum rapid, waiting for every single kayaker to blow their line. Once they did, Kahuna would crash down on them, enveloping their tiny plastic boat and suck them into a big water mess downstream. If a person survived this beatdown, then Kahuna would throw them into a swirly, seemingly inescapable eddy.
I wanted to do something big for my one-year kayaking anniversary, and this was going to be it. Big Kahuna was going to meet its match! The Big Cojones Rodeo is put on by Wilderness Tours and occurred on the May long weekend. It is usually scheduled to be held on the Bus eater wave however, this year, the Rodeo was 2 weeks too late, and the event was moved to Big Kahuna. People came from all over to compete in this event which gave cash prizes for Biggest Trick in each category and cash to the person who got the best thrashing. I spent the whole week prior to the event saying to myself “yes I’ll enter”, then “no I’m not going near that”.
Finally on the day of the event, I ferried across above Coliseum, and went up to the registration box. What did I have to lose? As I looked around me, I noticed every competitor was a seasoned veteran with sponsorships or at least many years experience. What was I getting myself into? I sucked it up, paid my $20 and registered my name. Worse that could happen was a swim with a rescue from a zodiac waiting downstream.
I found out I was in the first heat (no backing out now), and got back into my boat upstream of the monster. My heart was pounding and my chest was tight, I could barely get a breath in as I looked downstream. I wanted to do it, but at the same time, I wanted to paddle the other way and get back on shore! Tanya Shuman was in the upper eddy with me. She gave me some advice that I will never forget: “Jen, just think of it as if you are having a fun day kayaking. Don’t tense up, kayaking is all about staying loose.” That advice, tied in with words from Jeremy Laucks that the rapids can smell fear (or at least the big trashy holes) is something I mentally told my self to remember every time I’m on the water.
Easier said than done! It’s really hard to consciously stay relaxed! I finally gathered the courage to peel out into the flow, and came down to the wave. Kahuna at that level was big, but unpredictable. The wave would green out, and then surge and crash on your head. My boat flushed right through the wave and then I flipped over. The huge waves behind Kahuna were throwing my boat every which way. I set up for a roll, held my breath and waited. Once I felt the calm, I rolled up and paddled toward the shore. I portaged back up to the upper-eddy and got back in line (it was a round-robin sort of competition).
The eddy beside Kahuna is the scariest thing I have ever been in. I actually got stuck in it a few days prior and stayed there for about 5 minutes before I gathered the courage to try what I thought was the only line available. The eddy worked me this day in front of all the spectators on the rock. I could hear EJ announcing and telling me to get through that eddy. So I did the only thing I could think of. I put on my mad face, and I plowed through the seam like there was no tomorrow. I charged up that eddy, over the curler and surfed out onto the wave.
It was amazing!!! I side-surfed across the wave and then back again. Then I managed to turn into a front surf and plowed my way into the trough. I couldn’t believe how long my ride was and how in control I felt. I just gave all that I had, it was incredible. I haven’t met anyone yet who has been paddling for less than a year who would try to surf that wave, and not only did I do it, I entered my first competition!
I learned a lot that weekend. I gained skills that I didn’t have before, I learned that the Beachburg locals are the best kind of people, always willing to help out and kayak with you, no matter your skill level. I learned what level of energy I need to put forth in order to prevent the river from taking over my paddling days, and most importantly, I learned that I can do anything I put my mind to.
I was walking back up through the woods behind Tanya Shuman and she told me how proud she was of me. What an inspiration, to have arguably one of the best female freestyle kayakers in the world tell me how proud she is of what I was able to achieve!! I was glowing and on top of the world all night! From this day forward I call that my 1-year Anniversary Ride. Now I wonder what will mark my anniversary next year… Skookumchuck anyone?
Here’s a link to the video of my ride. Not much to look at, but it made me feel extremely good that I pulled that off!