Learning to cartwheel on Fife Brook
As my friend Eric once said, if you ride your bike in a circle around a parking lot you get good at it. Then you get bored, and then you try tricks. Many of our paddling students become very comfortable running Fife Brook - catching eddies, making ferries and surfing waves - but what some don't realize is how good Fife Brook is for learning how to do cartwheels. Here are some of my favorite spots for cartwheeling on this section:
Hangover Helper or Diamond Drill
Use the wave train to try wave wheels. Wave wheels are often easier than other cartwheels because your boat has less water tension, so it rocks more easily. Dial in the timing and you'll be swinging some great ends.
Use the river left pourover at the top of the big river left eddy to practice your double-pump initiations. Use the current side to throw some good left ends. This small ledge hole has plenty of punch to help encourage your bow down and you can often get two quick ends.
Right Turn Riffles
Use the right turn just after Fisherman's Bend to practice more wave wheels along river left. Be careful; this spot can be a little shallow if you get a real vertical end.
Freight Train / Hoosic Tunnel
Halfway down on river left there is small birch tree that leans into the water. This marks a small really fast eddy on the left. At the top of this eddy is a small ledge that can be doubled pumped along the eddyline - also a lefty spot. This is a good spot to show off to the rafts; they always seem to catch me here.
Just before the bridge there is a pourover hole on the left. Use the river left side of it to practice some right spins and ends. It will kick you out to the middle if you initiate too far to the center. Beware, this is one of the few spots that does have a head clunking rock just downstream of it on river left. Make sure you tuck!
This is a nice deep area for practicing flatwater initiations. Also check out the cliffs on river left. The strange objects clinging to them and bobbing bow and stern alternately up and down happen to be fellow kayakers working on their torso rotation.
The Lemon Squeezer
Normally I'm not a fan of naming rocks, I like naming rapids, but I'll let this one slide because it's such a good spot. These are the two large rocks on river right at the top of the rock garden. This is an incredible leftie spot. Use the micro eddy that forms along the river right side of the lower rock. Once you start to dial in your cartwheels they will become endless here. Let me know what your record is. On the other eddy line is a very nice swirl for practicing righties.
The Rock Garden
Rock spins abound through this area. I love using rocks as a way to practice the timing of the bow initiation. As you spin and the bow begins to drop your reverse sweep needs to match the drop to keep the rotation coming around. This section has great rocks for low and high angle spins. One of my favorite rocks here is halfway down where there is a large slot with a large rock on the right. On the left is a long dark colored rock that is about a foot above the water and perpendicular to the current. The upstream face is vertical, and so will be the ends of your boat.
I once told a student Miami Beach might not be as good as the real Miami Beach. He hesitated a moment and then said, "it's better." Use the wave train to practice wave wheels.
This is the last class II rapid before Zoar Gap. Where the two channels come back together there is a side surfing hole on river right. Try initiations to either side but beware the rock in the center. It is also best to initiate slightly downstream from the seam of the hole.
The Gap boasts the most cartwheeling opportunities for the brave. Try wave wheels before the entrance chute and also in the exit waves along the bottom right. Use the pourover on river left before the entrance chute for some more leftie opportunities. At the top of the challenging entrance chute and top river left eddy is a powerful ledge hole for some quick lefties but it will spit you out and send you into the middle of the Gap quickly. The bottom left has another nice leftie spot if you work your way back up along the rock wall as high as you can get, then initiate. The eddy on river right near the bottom across from the surfing wave has a high eddy fence that is a good righty spot for the bigger boats.
Check out the small play hole on the right across from the large center rock. This hole is great for righties on the river left corner. When you flush off for the last time you can throw a big rock spin on the round rock just below it. Beware, because the next rock just below it on the right is undercut along the bottom and tends to collect some deep underwater debris.
The next section down
Sometimes tubers know best. Although most paddlers take out at the Gap, and the tubers put in there, the next section down has some great early-on play. There are a couple rock gardens where super fun rock splats and spins abound. Have fun looking at the river in a new light on your next run down!
- Jim Sullivan