I am getting more efficient. Camp was taken care of (despite the sudden showers just as I was taking the fly off of the tent) and breakfast was finished by about 8:30. I found my way to Okere Falls, and met up with Sam, my river kayaking teacher for the morning.
Sam is a young guy, has only been kayaking for about 4 years, and already is placing 2nd or 3rd in international kayaking competitions (last year, did competitions in Austria, Australia, and the US, and is completely sponsored by Adidas. He has many shoes.).
My experience is similar, minus the massive amount of talent and knowledge that he has. He is also about 18 years old.
Sam. Kayak pimp extraordinaire. Also likes taking pictures of himself with other people's cameras, an interesting hobby.
We head down to the river, right at its headwaters at the lake. I get a little nervous looking at the rapids. They are a little. . . bigger than I thought we would be running. Maybe they just look bigger from up here on the bridge.
We jump in our kayaks (I choose one similar to my Dagger Mamba back home) and head out. I tell him to pretend that I am an idiot beginner. He takes the hint, and we start out with simple paddling. I am a champ at this. I grin when he says that already "you're better than 90% of the people I take out here." This is going to be easy.
Note the cocky look. This changes over the course of two hours.
We go over some stuff about edges of the kayak. I have never had a lesson, so kind of figured out how to do it on my own. This has left me with some long-term bad habits. For instance, when things get fast, you should not backpaddle. Also, you should lean into turns, and you should angle the kayak on its edge when cutting into the current (upstream side of the kayak should be up, downstream side down). I am able to pick this up fairly quickly. No problems.
Time for roll practice. I really wish I had video of this - I bet it would be pretty funny to watch. Basically, the way I had learned to roll in the past was exactly the wrong way, useless in whitewater. Interestingly, I should be leaning forward with the paddle at my right side, then have it skim the top of the water with a long, sideways stroke with the blade at 45 degrees while simultaneously leaning back, watching the paddle, and kicking my hips over. There are times that this looks great and it's easy, but about 80% of the time, I drop right back in to the water with a panicky feeling and poor Sam having to roll me upright again. I must look like an ugly breaching blue whale for a second as I try to grab a loud and quick breath before disappearing disappointingly upside down underwater again.
On second thought, maybe I don't wish I had a video.
After about 45 minutes of US-approved water torture, we take a break from that and decide to run some rapids to practice some of the paddling skills.
We actually slid down the hill and off that concrete wall (the lowest point) to splash in the water. EXTREME!!
With my confidence dramatically no different than before (after the mostly-failed rolls), we head down the first rapid:
With all of my new lessons crowding out common sense, I made it through this spot but got dunked under by the eddy current down below here. In I went for a little swim. Just because it was hot, mind you.
I get to float for a bit, then we practice some traversing of rapids and some turns into the current. I build a little confidence here, which is good. Then we haul out the kayaks to practice rolls again. I actually start to get it a bit - just going to need practice. Lots of practice. And a Sylvester-Stallone-in-Rocky-IV kind of music montage.
Sam kindly buys me a meat pie (chicken and butter - mmmm, delicious and flaky!) and I later head out
Kaituna Kayaks. This paddle jacket definitely got a lot of use today.
My plan is to make it down to the Tongariro National Park (hope I spelled that right) in a setup to do a 9-hour hike (18km) along the alpine crossing, including a summit of Mt. Doom itself. They even have a (pay) shuttle service that I sign up for to avoid my car becoming a giant buffet for thieves (of course, the glass would be broken in the case of the car, but otherwise I think the metaphor stands). I stop by Taupo again to use their nice and cheap internet, which is where I am typing this.
There's a lot of people planning to hike up mountains here, as well - in World of Warcraft with their +7 Armor of Virginity very much intact, if the conversations are any indication.
So, off I go. Let them know where to find me if you don't hear of an update to this post in a week or so!