I’m Going Kayaking, but I Can’t Decide Which Shoes I Should Wear.

Life is a never ending series of choices. Where will I kayak today? Which boat will I paddle? Is it a dry suit day? As kayakers we face these difficult decisions more often than we might like. Deciding what to wear any given day on the river is perhaps the most vexing question facing paddlers today. After all, it’s not about how good you are but how good you look doing it. Most difficult among these outfit decisions is the question, which shoes do I wear with this? Fear not. In this article I’ll break down the pros and cons of a few different river shoes I’ve used over the past couple of years. By the end of it you will have a much easier time deciding that you should in fact wear shoes while kayaking.

If you paddle in California, you probably know Five Ten is the preferred rubber on any shoe for walking around on that smooth Cali granite. I had a pair of the Five Ten Water Tennies a while back and I will agree that the rubber on these shoes is amazing when it comes to sticking to rock that is smooth as ice. The problem I found with these was the fit and the durability. They’re narrow in the toe, perhaps inspired by climbing shoes. This made them uncomfortable. The sharp edge at the heel also made them feel awkward in the boat. The heels of the shoe wouldn’t grip the floor of my kayak. When I’m in a boat, only the balls of my feet are on the bulkhead so I need the shoes to get traction on plastic as well as rock. The other big problem I have with Five Ten is durability. My shoes completely fell apart in less than a year and from talking to others that doesn’t seem to be too far off from the average.

After I wore out my Five Tens I got the Astral Brewers. These were the first shoes that Astral made and the ones I had were made with Five Ten rubber. I really liked these shoes. I love how the heel is made to fold down so the shoe converts to a slip on. I found a similar issue with the heel shape making an awkward feeling in my kayak but otherwise loved these. My first pair started to come apart just slightly after about 9 months. I contacted Astral, and they immediately sent me a new pair. The replacement pair survived over two years of kayaking, mountain biking, and daily wear.


On cliffside portages having good shoes you can count on can go a long way to make your day more enjoyable. Photo Credit: Dave Fusilli

Once my brewers were getting a little old I decided to check out the new Hiyak by Astral. I was excited about the low profile soles and the fact that they were hi tops. The higher coverage around the ankle goes a long way to keep dirt out of the shoe. Getting dirt in your shoes is a quick way to wear holes in your dry suit socks. These shoes were awesome. Super comfortable in my boat. They were also my first experience with the new G rubber from Astral. I’d say it is slightly less grippy than Stealth Rubber but worth it to me for the gains in comfort and durability. After a few longer walks I did start to see the advantages of having a more sturdy sole. I was contemplating switching shoes when a raccoon ran off with one of my Hiyaks. He saved me from having to make yet another hard choice as a kayaker.

With my Hiyak lost and in need of a shoe I decided to try out the Rassler. I only needed one shoe since the raccoon only took one of my others but Astral was running a special, buy a left shoe, get the right one free. Well who am I to turn up my nose at a deal like that. I bought both. The Rassler is my favorite river shoe so far. High-ish tops with grippy rugged soles, and that desert combat tan (affectionately known jihad stomper) reminds me so much of my old combat boots how could I not love them.

Well now I’ve done for you what the raccoon did for me. You no longer have to decide if you should wear shoes on the river or not. The answer is yes. Phew, one less hard choice to make today. I feel better. Don’t you? Now all that’s left is to choose which shoes you should wear….



Feature photo: Ethan Howard


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Winter Solstice and Hibernation

This time of year is known for leaves changing, the harvest, and the days getting shorter. Years ago our ancestors spent the fall preparing in order to survive the winter. Today we don’t have to worry so much about if we are going to make it through winter, but I think, at least for my part, we are still genetically programmed to respond to the shortening of the days. This time of year for me always leads to wanting to sleep a lot more and just spend more time in my home. My motivation to go on multi day trips or even long day trips is virtually non existent. I find myself perfectly content to sleep in and have a casual float on the SFA despite the fact that other things are running from the fall rains. I think this seasonal pattern to my paddling is pretty handy though. The past couple weekends I’ve been able to catch up with some folks on my home river that I haven’t seen for a while, and I’ve gotten reacquainted with some of my old favorite play spots. I’ve been enjoying doing some really low key paddling the past few weeks, but with about a month to go to the solstice, I am starting to develop cabin fever. I guess that’s part of what I love about living here. We have seasons with the weather. We have seasons with the river traffic. We have seasons with the population and I even have seasons with how motivated I am to fire up harder rapids. I have enjoyed this past few weeks of slower paced activity and am now starting to look forward to the days getting longer again and getting out on some new adventures.  Until we we get to the other side at least I can enjoy some killer views here in the south fork valley.


Sometimes on my way home from work I just have to stop and take in the view. 


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How Far Has the River Taken You?

There’s an old saying, or maybe it’s a Chinese proverb, I don’t know, but it says, “no man ever steps in the same river twice for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” If you’ve been in the kayaking community for more than a week you’ve probably heard this. It’s almost a cliche but it does serve as a good reminder that with time and running water, things will change. It’s nice then to be reminded that some things do last. Some things do stand the test of time. I took a walk today along the banks of Spring Creek in Bellefonte PA. It was here in the fall of 1997 that I took my first ever kayak lesson. I learned to paddle in a slalom boat in this short stretch of class 2 whitewater. As I looked around the river it was obvious to me that a lot had changed, but a lot was still the same. Almost 20 years since I first learned to kayak the gates are still hanging over the rapids and the man who taught me, Dave Kurtz now in his eighties, is still out there paddling and still making kayaking accessible to kids who otherwise would never have had the chance.


After a short chat with my old coach, my former C2 partner and life long best friend arrived and we put on for an after work float down the creek where we learned to paddle. What was once a pretty challenging trip was now a relaxing float. We got to reminisce about old times while watching red tail hawks and blue herons flying above us. There were obvious spots where various access improvements or erosion control projects and dam removals had changed the landscape, but there were also parts that were very much the same. For instance, just down stream of the slalom course there is still a flat pool that’s about 100 yards long. We spent hours after school doing flat water sprints in this pool.


Photo courtesy of Aaron Fleishman

The world keeps turning and the water keeps running down hill. The river has taken me a long way. It was there for me in my adolescent years. It was there for me in my post war years. It has brought me many friends. It’s been there for me through love and through heart break, and today it brings me right back to the spot where it all began. In the most trying times of my life I always find peace, even if only for a little while, in the water that runs downhill. No matter what challenges I’ve found, I just keep putting one paddle blade in front of the other and when in doubt, lean forward and paddle hard.

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Is Kayaking Really a Metaphor for Life?

2016 has been an interesting year in my life. If I’m being honest it has easily been the most difficult year of my life to date. I started the year off with big plans and high hopes and nearly none of it came to fruition. If there is one thing I am proud of this year it’s the progression in the two young shit runners I’ve been paddling with. These kids have a passion for the sport that is rarely seen. What’s even more impressive is the way they express what I call the right attitude toward the river. It’s really great to see the next generation of kayaker progressing. I could keep talking about them but by now you’re wondering what this has to do with the title and they might be reading this so I don’t want to say too many nice things about them.


The crew looking back upstream after a successful introduction to class IV paddling.

Here is the connection to the metaphor mentioned in the title. The two above mentioned groms wanted to get on the Tiger Creek section of the Mokolumne earlier this year. I went and did a few runs a couple days before so I would have the lines fresh in my head to lead them down what was to be their first class IV run. Well as fate would have it on the day we went the water ended up being a little higher than even I had seen it before. (We had about 1600 cfs). We put on and had a really great run with great lines all around despite the apparent lack of eddies. When we got to the next to last rapid we got out to scout as planned. At this flow the last two bigger rapids really become one very long and sizable class IV rapid. As we’re standing on the rock looking at the biggest rapid they’ve run so far in their paddling careers one of them asks, “do you think we can do this?” This is what I told them…

Of course I think  you can do it. If I didn’t think you could do it, we wouldn’t be standing here talking about it. However, I can’t get in your boat and do it for you. You have to make your own choice here. You have to decide to run it or to walk and whichever you decide you have to live with. If you decide to run it then it is up to you and you alone to get in your boat and execute the moves or suffer the consequences. I can give you advice but in the end it is entirely up to you to do it.

They both opted to run the rapid and they both styled the shit out of it. At the time there on the rock I just said what I thought was sound advice for kayaking. It wasn’t until we were driving home later that I started to think, maybe it’s also sound advice for life. Isn’t the same true? We all have troubles and trials of our own to deal with. We seek the advice of others close to us. We seek comfort and support, but at the end of the day we each have to make our own choices for ourselves. We then must also live with the outcome of those choices. Sometimes we sail off sweet boofs, and sometimes we take gnarly hole rides and nasty swims.


Thanks for reading.


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Keep Calm and Paddle On: How to Keep a Less Than Ideal Situation From Becoming a Really Bad One

Whitewater kayaking might be the best thing on Earth, at least for me anyway. If you read what I write here then I’d guess there’s a better than average chance that you like kayaking at least a little bit too. If you’ve ever spent a day in a kayak then you’ve probably noticed that in kayaking, as in life, things don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes we have to abandon play A and move to plan B, C, D, E…

When things start to go less than ideal, how can we make sure that they don’t make it all the way to really bad? I have a couple ideas on this that you may or may not find helpful. The first and I think most important thing is to stay calm. I know it’s often easier said than done but trust me it helps. When we’re calm we can look around and take in information. Our brain can then use that information to evaluate our situation and make informed decisions. Sounds weird, right? Believe it or not when we start to panic we get twitchy and spastic. We start to cling on to the first idea that we see which isn’t always the best. It’s pretty easy in our frantic state to actually make our situation worse. Often times a better escape route is right in front of us. We just need to relax long enough to see it. I know I know, it’s really hard to stay calm when you think you’re about to drown. Just try to start practicing. Start by reminding yourself afterwards you need to be calmer in the future. Then eventually that will turn into reminding yourself to calm down mid incident. With even more practice you’ll stay calm right from the start. This works both when you are the victim and the rescuer by the way.

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 10.04.58 PM

The other piece of advice I find myself sharing with people, often on the side of the river after a rescue, is to stay out of the water. Let me clarify. If you or a friend becomes a swimmer in the river, especially on class III and up water, once you are on shore you need to STAY THERE. When the swimmer is out of the water they are for the time being safe. They should not go back in the water, period. Now I know what you’re thinking, “what if we can’t get them back to their boat?” Situations may dictate that the swimmer needs to go back in the water. If so, fine. I’m just saying make sure, absolutely sure, that there really is no other option before you put someone back into the water.

There’s my two cents on minimizing carnage. Do with it what you will.

Thanks for reading.


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Why Is Everyone Talking About The 9R?

If you still haven’t tried one yet, I’m sure you are at least aware that everybody is talking about the 9R. Why is this boat getting so much attention? It could be because it’s the best kayak ever made. I could go on about why it’s so great and tell you all the reasons why you should try one, but I’m a Team Pyranha paddler and you’ll have to wonder if my opinion is biased. Let’s just skip all that. You try one for yourself as soon as you can and  let me know if you think it isn’t awesome.

There are plenty of reviews on the internet by now to tell you how amazing the 9R is. Instead of adding to the noise I’m going to focus on choosing between the 9R and the 9RL aka the stout. First let me give you some background on me and my paddling style. I’m 5’11” 180 lbs. My origins in paddling are in slalom racing and as a result I have an aggressive and proactive paddling style. I am always actively propelling my boat toward my destination.

Given that, I’ll talk about the regular first. This boat fits me perfectly. It’s as if it was designed around my measurements. Seriously I couldn’t ask for a better fitting boat. I do think I’m at the top of the weight range though. I can carry rope, water, break down paddle and snacks with no problem, but when I toss in a camera body and a couple lenses I feel a little too weighted down. This boat is super fun to paddle because of the dynamic handling. With my slalom experience I find the boat can handle very similarly to my slalom boat. Except when it comes to pivot turns, the 9R doesn’t pivot very well at all. It is the easiest to boof boat I have ever been in. I swear I can boof in flat water. [ok maybe I just made that up ;)] The only thing it doesn’t do well for me is carry gear. That’s where the stout comes in.


Jim Addington flying the 9R on the NF Feather River in California.

The 9R stout is a shit running machine. For a person my size it isn’t quite as dynamic as the regular. It’s handling reminds me more of a typical creek boat but with much more hull speed. While it doesn’t feel as sporty and fun to drive, the stout’s combination of speed, rocker, and stern volume allow it to go through anything with relative ease. Speaking of stern volume, this thing is ready to carry all the gear you can imagine. It handles remarkably well when loaded. This is my new go to boat for multi day paddling or day trips when I want to pack a big lunch and a lot of cameras.

If you’re over 6ft or over 200 lbs I would suggest the stout, but what do I know, really? You can read about kayaks for days but until you get in one and test drive it you won’t really know. Just make sure you have a credit card handy when you do cuz you’re going to want one after. If you really are disappointed let me know. I’ll buy you a beer for your troubles.

9R, try both, pick a size.


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Why Do You Kayak?

There are so many things that we could do on any given day. Yet, we choose to spend our days kayaking. Sometimes we are kayaking with friends down chaotic whitewater. Other times we are by ourselves on alpine glacial lakes. Why do we choose kayaking? For me, there are a few main reasons that come to mind.

First, I’ll talk about the sensation. It’s not all that different from the feeling someone might get riding an amusement park ride. I’m not particularly excited about roller coasters but I do love the feeling of making dynamic moves on the water. It could be snapping a tight turn into an eddy, launching off a good boof, or just rolling through the waves. There is something exhilarating about smoothly transitioning from one edge to the other while moving through various currents and feeling the cool splash of the water on your face and the warmth of the sun all at the same time.

Another thing that keeps me coming back to the river is conquering my own fear. Most people don’t believe me when I tell them, but I’m terrified of the water. It makes perfect sense though when you thin about it. What could be more satisfying than taking on your biggest fear? Every time I get in the water I get a little better handle on a fear that has had great power over me my entire life. I grow a little bit and become a stronger person one paddle stroke at a time, every time I go out. I don’t know any other way to get that kind of personal satisfaction. It has taken me longer than most to get to where I am in paddling because of it, but perhaps I’ve learned more along the way as a result.

Finally, and most importantly, kayaking for me is a means to access a place. Some of those places are otherwise inaccessible and some of them you can drive right up to, but it isn’t just about getting there. It’s about being in remarkable places and feeling a part of the place when you get there. I love the sort of dance we do with the amazing power of this world. I love how it makes me realize how small I am in the grand scheme of things. It’s one thing to go and look at the amazing incomprehensible power of nature. It’s even better to get in there and really experience it, to be a part of it, to be just one drop of the water in a vast river.

This is why I kayak, but that’s just me. Why do you kayak?


Thanks to Dylan Nichols (@fallingwater14 on instagram) for the photo!


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Don’t Ever Allow Yourself to Think That Your Adventures Are Not “Real”

I recently posted an article that was a repost of something a good friend of mine had written about why we seek out challenges on the river and what it means to manage our fear on the water. If you follow me on Facebook you may have seen that I posted a link to an article about just the opposite a few days ago. It talks about how we get caught up in the hype from our sport and how that can cause us to feel inadequate if we are just having a mellow day on an easy river. (There is a link to this article at the end of this post. It is well worth a read.) It is this idea I want to expand upon in today’s post.

If you know me or are familiar with my writing, then you know that I am a native of the South Fork of the American River (SFA) in California. This river is the state’s quintessential class II – III play run. It is home to two kayaking schools and about 50 rafting companies. The river offers three sections. The upper class III, the middle class II (C to G), and the lower class III.

Pyranha 9R South Fork American River

Your’s truly enjoying a run on the SFA

During the heart of the season here I am at The River Store at some point almost everyday and at the CCK outpost a couple times a week. I run into other paddlers at these stores as well as at the access points along the river and at the restaurants and other hang outs. One of the things I love about this sport is meeting other paddlers and sharing our stories and experiences. I love to chat with other boaters, and an easy opener for a conversation is to ask someone, “where are you (or were you) paddling today?” Nearly all of the time people answer me with “just C to G” or “just the gorge.” Why the “just?”

When answering this question do people feel like they are inadequate? Do they think that they are being judged or looked down upon because they didn’t run the hardest run in California today? Am I causing them to feel this way? I hope not. If I’m asking you the question of where you went boating today at a hang out near the SFA, odds are I was “just” on the South Fork too. I very well may have “just” paddled c to g. Only I didn’t “just” paddle it. I paddled the shit out of it. No matter what stretch I was on or which boat I was in, you can rest assured that I enjoyed my day on the river. I had exactly the kind of river day that I was looking for today, and I hope you did too.

From here on let’s agree to drop the “just.” Let’s be proud that we packed up our gear, and we got out there today and that we had exactly the type of day we were looking for. Let’s celebrate that we had our own adventure, or that we had our own mellow day with our friends. If you went on the water and had fun then you won today and that is worth celebrating. Other people might have been looking for a different kind of day today than we were and that is ok. I hope they found what they were after, but that doesn’t take anything away from our success.

American River Loki Pyranha

Enjoying an early summer day on the river with my friends.

The bottom line is, get out there and have fun and stop comparing your day to other people’s. Stop thinking that you have to do the most epic thing ever to have a day worth sharing with others. Don’t ever let anyone, including yourself, make you think that your adventures are any less real than anyone else’s.

Read the article from Rapid Media here:


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Why We do Things that are Challenging, Dangerous, and Scary as Hell

Water is probably the thing in this world of which I am most afraid. People typically laugh in disbelief when I tell them that. I don’t even really understand it myself, but I think it is because I’m afraid that I do what I do. Here are some well written thoughts, from a friend on why we push ourselves to do what scares us.

Fear. Redemption. Life. Death. Loss. Passion. Water. Friendship.

If you push the edge long enough, you inevitably are faced with the question. Why? Is it worth it? At what cost? Just as inevitable are the usual answers: it’s more dangerous driving down the highway; at least I’ll die doing what I love; it’s not the destination, it’s the journey; and so on. To some extent, there is truth in these answers; but at the same time, they are an easy out. A quick sound bite to assuage the nagging doubt that is so clearly burried deep inside. A go-to retort to all those who pass judgement on decisions they do not understand. An immediate side-step around the truth that we all must face at some point, whether we want to or not.

I think that this is especially poignant for those of us that have directly experienced the sobering blow of loss, in some form or another, and were not able to side-step this question. That moment when we know that a quick answer will not suffice. That a quick answer is not the truth. Is, in fact, almost profane in its certitude and arrogance. How do we move beyond this? Is it possible to move beyond this? Most importantly, by pushing this edge, have we been living a lie the entire time?south feather

I have wrestled with these questions for some time now, and have spoken at great length with close friends who have also been forced to reconcile this vast chasm. Here’s my take. Here’s why I must always push this boundary up until my last breath: Life is risk.

With every single decision we make there is a potential gain and there is a potential loss. Fear can come in many forms: fear of asking the wrong question; fear of asserting one’s needs; fear of moving past a pre-defined comfort zone; fear of death and loss; even fear of success. If we allow fear to drive our decision making process, we will be caught in a perpetual cycle of mitigating loss without ever pursuing our dreams.

It is not about proving how great we are. It is not about showmanship or one-upmanship. It is not about stories, or pictures, or videos, or hashtags. It is about the simple fact that when I take that stroke out into the current – when I fully commit to charging straight into my source of fear – that fear no longer owns me. It no longer drives my decisions and stands inbetween me and my dreams. It is then and only then, in my humble opinion, that one can truly appreciate life.

This was a hard one for me to learn. And I am still learning. I will be forever grateful that the person that instilled this into my core still sits on my shoulder and in my heart. I will never forget.

And this is why I take that stroke out into the current. Into the fear and uncertainty, and into that wild darkness that is life. Because I own it and I am not afraid.

-Words and pictures courtesy of Cyrus Luciano

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Three Easy Ways to Keep in Paddling Shape During the Off Season

I’ve met kayakers who could not paddle for a year or even longer and then one day roll off the couch and do some of the hardest class V runs around. For most of us however, that is not the case. It’s been tough in California the past couple winters. We haven’t had much water and even our staple run, the SF American, has gone down to only one day a week releases. Then when we do get a little rain and everything runs people aren’t ready. A lot of folks choose not to go on their old favorites like Chamberlain Falls or E to P because they feel like they haven’t been paddling enough. Some other folks go anyway and some of them end up having a rough time instead of the enjoyable day on the river they were hoping for. Despite the scarcity of water, there are ways to keep yourself in paddling shape so you can be ready when the goods do run. Here are a few things that I do to help me stay in good paddling shape while there’s no water.

  1. Low water gorge laps on the South Fork. It can be a little boat abusive in a couple spots but most of the rapids provide fun lines that offer great practice at tight technical moves. The moves can be challenging but there is hardly any current so if you do run into trouble you don’t have to worry about being swept away on a long and unpleasant swim. As and added bonus, you’re likely to have the river to yourselves for the day. There is never a crowd on low water days.
  2. Touring and Sea Kayaking. Lake Tahoe is amazing in the winter on a calm day. It’s like paddling on a mirror and there is a good chance you’ll be the only one on the lake. This beautiful setting is a great place to work on your forward stroke and your paddling endurance. Paddling is paddling, and the strokes you take on the lake will benefit you when you get back on the river. If Tahoe is a little too far, lake Natoma and the Bay are also great spots to get a quick after work paddle in. You don’t have to do hours on end to get the benefits. A 30 to 60 minute trip around the shore once or twice a week will have you in great shape when the rivers do run again.
  3. Paddle Boarding. Any of the afore mentioned locations are great to paddle board as well. Paddle boarding provides excellent cross training and really forces you to develop core stability. That improved core strength will pay off huge when you get back on white water.

Don’t let yourself be caught unprepared the next time your favorite run comes in. Make a little time in your week to get out there and dip a paddle in the water. When that rain comes you will be glad you did.

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