Five of us put thigh straps in our boats with Tracy Harmon’s supervision on Wednesday. We waited until Saturday, slightly longer than the 72 hour dry time, to go check out our new toys on Six Mile Creek at about 8.7 feet or 485 cfs.
It was fun to be with JT and hear him say “Let’s just skip the first canyon and run the second and third canyons,” as two years ago on Nov. 10, 2007 Becky, Tony, JT, Brad and I ran first and second canyons and my river notes record that they were hesitant to run the third canyon. How times change with skill and experience…..and how they will when more people start using thigh straps.
While nobody was able to repeat Timmy’s Eskimo roll (or his role, for that matter!), the straps make Six Mile at these low water levels almost easy. Minus my one mistake, we all had totally clean runs, including boofs in “Jaws”.
What really stood out was the incredible control and oneness with the boat.
“This is what kayakers miss in packrafts,” said JT, wiggling and pivoting with that big boyish grin of his.
I paddled open packrafts from 1983 to 2003, decked ones since then, and now these straps. They are at least as revolutionary as decks in terms of what you can do. Decks gave us control in bigger water since we weren’t just swamped and fighting for control. But these straps are even better.
Some of you may recall the early 1980s when Fires first came out. Remember that? The first time we got sticky rubber and we all started climbing a grade harder immediately? In fact, calling a +/- a grade in whitewater, I’d say these straps increased my ability by a grade. Six Mile was the easiest I’ve ever run it.
Control was incredible – I could put the boat almost anywhere. I could grab and ride smaller tongues than usual, brace more effectively, and catch eddies faster and with more authority – in fact flat water will be easier with these to brace against, too.
Busting out of holes requires aggression that you just can’t get flopping around unanchored in a boat. But with straps you can lean forward and grab and pull, “Like front-wheel drive,” someone said. Many of us have been working to wedge ourselves in to the boat, but tight thigh straps do it better.
And best of all my straps center me – I didn’t even use my back rest (it’s blown out anyway, with a shoddy valve job) and sat centered in the boat with the shortest paddle I have ever used (200 cm – as short as the Sawyer would go), able to reach forward and get good, aggressive powerful strokes. I am ready for 197 cm with big stiff blades, now.
I tipped in one of the worst parts of the river, and hit my head hard, maybe harder than I would’ve without straps -- although the gobs of Velcro I have keep me in, too -- but the straps slide off quickly and easily by straightening the legs.
It would be simple for Alpacka to put “custom mods” in their boats for people to purchase inflatable kayak thigh straps, like the Aire brand Deluxe Thigh Straps we used: On a Yak, a tie-down just above the valve stem and behind the second seam in the bow (calling the center seam the first) and close to the floor worked well for me following Tim Johnson’s lead.
Here’s a how to video. Hope it helps.