Wausau Whitewater --- not the toughest or the longest, but great for training

July 1, 2009


It's not a long stretch of white water, only 0.35 miles, shown by the two yellow arrows, and it's not the roughest white water you can find, classified as Class II-III, the lower end of difficult, but it is in downtown Wausau in Marathon County, and it is a great place for training --- training essential to white water rafting, kayaking, or even canoeing at higher levels. While training is a primary function, the whitewater here does host slalom races hosting competitors from around the world, and it is a great place in town to have some fun.

On June 13, 2009, I had the chance to observe a training session on a gorgeous June day at what is known as Wausau Whitewater Park. It was organized and run by the Wausau Kayak/Canoe Corporation, otherwise known as "Wausau Whitewater."


The brain trust for this event. Julie Waleaven (R) of Wausau, the operations coordinator, and Brenda Puck (L) of Eau Claire, a volunteer.

I confess I have never engaged in this sport. I have watched plenty of TV programs addressing it, and I have wanted to buy a kayak, but I know you have to have your act together or you can get into trouble, so watching the training that was going on here was most instructive for me. I clicked off lots of photos and I want to present the ones I liked the best to show you.

This particular event on June 13, 2009 was a Recreational Release. It involved a 2-3 hour introduction to whitewater kayaking training class. Training participants registered in advance. Such events are held from June through September. There are also specialized training events from June through August, involving First Descent Camp targeted at adults with cancer, a Swiftwater Rescue Training Clinic, Open Canoe Training Clinic and a Jackson Freestyle Training Clinic. There are also three competitive events scheduled on various dates from June through August. You can see the schedules and learn more by going to the Wausau Kayak/Canoe Corp. website.


This is sort of an overview of where most of the people were working out. In the top right quadrant, you see the larger whitewater rapids over the fall, and then at center, you see a smaller one.

I started close to the upper end, and worked my way downstream.

Now let's take a look at the course and some splashing and paddling, dotted with some tension on your photographer's part as people practiced rolling themselves over.


Everything I watched was below Washington Street, near the VFW. This photo is close to the upper end of the course. These two guys are preparing themselves to go through the first major falls-rapids area, which is just a bit downstream.


This was the first time I had viewed events here, so I started by hanging out on the front row seats upstream by the first major whitewater falls, shown in the next photo.


As far as I could tell, this was the most challenging section on the course. There were kayakers above this section readying to whoop through it, and there was a larger bunch training in the rapids below the falls, taking advantage of the extensive turbulence.

I want to give you a couple of zoomers on this falls-rapids area.


This course might not be the most difficult in the world, but you can see that the water is ripping through there and creating a good bit of turbulence. One more shot, an excerpt of the left side of the whole photo.


From this rookie's point of view, once you get through the falls you've still got some work ahead of you.


Here come two guys to the rapids.


The first guy is in it.


He's through it and turning out of it to await his goomba who is right behind him. I will remark here that I noted a lot of "buddy system" kayaking up and down the course, and I think there were instructors spread throughout the course to teach and to provide help if needed. Each of the kayakers watches the others and responds quickly if a kayaker gets in trouble. I really liked that.


Here comes his buddy.


He's pretty well through and is fighting a bit to deal with the whitewater and get out to the side.


Here's a closer look.


Another guy just came through, and is deep in it, in a bit of a fight, I thought. Since I am a rookie, I had a tough time ascertaining whether a kayaker was in an unexpected brawl with the water or whether he-she was attempting a maneuver for training purposes, maneuvers which seemed to me to include deliberately getting into a situation where they would flip over and then execute the steps needed to turn back up.


He made it through the tough whitewater, though he's still fighting to right his kayak.


He finally lost his fight, is out of his kayak, and nearby kayakers move over to him. There is another kayaker coming to his aid from the right who is out of the photo.


You can see the kayaker in the water making his way to shore while two others standby to help if he needs it.


Safely standing up and holding on to his green kayak, he's probably discussing his run with the others to see what he experienced and what he might have done to avoid getting into trouble.


Here's something a little different. This guy is on a rafting board. Let's watch him run the gauntlet. Note the yellow and blue fin to his rear. That's one of his swimming fins worn on his feet. Noting the fin will help you follow the direction of his body relevant to his board in the next shots.


He's in the mix. Given the location of his yellow fin, it appears his body is perpendicular to his raft, the raft going forward and his body also going forward but coming down lengthwise, horizontal to the water flow.


He's through the falls, but still in the midst of the whitewater. Here again, you can see his fins stretched out horizontal to the water flow.


The raft boarder has been thrown upside down in the water. You can see his raft board to the right. I do not recall where the blue kayak came from, but he has lost control as well.


The raft boarder has regained control, but the blue kayaker is tipped over and under water, in the midst of fairly heavy whitewater.


You can see the blue kayaker's paddle above his kayak, and you can see that he starting to right the kayak. Regrettably I didn't get a photo of him back in charge, but he did regain control and pressed ahead.

I mentioned earlier that many of the kayakers hang out below the rapids and go upstream into them to train for rough water. I got a pretty nice sequence on one guy, and want to show you.


He hung out for a few minutes just outside the rough water, sizing it up, thinking through what he was going to do and how he was going to do it.


Then he makes his move and heads in.


Now the fun begins.


He's in there, looks well in control, straight and level.


Now he makes a turn to the right, heading straight at the falls, still looks well in control.


He's still heading upstream and fully engaged with the whitewater.


Still charging against the thunder and spray.


It looks like he's in a bit of a fight here, but as it turns out, he wanted to go to the far side of the rapids.


He's in full control and has his buggy turned to head out of the whitewater. He's got 'er turned and heading back downstream. Mission accomplished, and very well I might add.

I'd like to show you another sequence I thought was neat.


This guy is heading down into the fall and rapids backward.


There he goes.


Now he's turned sideways, so the whitewater is coming at him broadside.


There he goes, the whitewater flipped him.


Yes mom, that's your boy totally flipped. Those pink things on the left side are his two hands. At first blush, you might think he is holding on to his kayak. Not so .... Let me zoom in on his hands to show you.


You can see his hands are holding on to his paddle, and it appears he is still sitting in the kayak upside down.


Using his paddle, and no doubt some of his body weight, he flipped her back and righted her, fully in control. I am going to assume he planned it this way for training purposes. Gutsy.

Okay, now lets move downstream a bit to the smaller whitewater area. A lot of people were doing a lot of training here. I'd like to sow you one sequence.


We'll track the red kayak. Not that it matters, but the kayaker is a young woman.


She moves into the rapids head on.


She's fully engaged now with the rapids.


Wild. She's got her kayak standing up and her back is on the water.


She's tipped over completely. In the foreground, I am assuming an instructor or just a pal pulling buddy duty is maneuvering over. Out of the photo, there is another guy who had to this point been disinterested, but was now watching.


Here she comes out of her roll.


Nope, that didn't work, back under she goes. You see one end of the paddle to the right of the kayak, so she's working hard.


I must say at this point I am holding my breath, but happy to see her two goombas who have been hanging around her in close proximity to her, just outside this photo.


Holy Moley, she righted her. Bravo I say.


Awe shucks, nothing to it people. Fully in charge, she pulls away from the rapids.

I want to show you the next sequence where a guy tried the same thing. I'm showing the first three photos to show you what he went through, and then the fourth shows you the look of a hard-working dude.


He's in there and the fight has begun.


He's tipped upside down. I don't see any paddle here. I'm getting tense again.


He's almost got her back and upright.


He won, but look at his face! He had a workout there. I've just got to zoom in on the face --- his look is precious.


Yes sir-eee. That was a job! And, a job well done. But who said it would be easy?

I think it important to highlight the sponsors. They're crucial to holding such events for the public. I've separated my photo of their single banner into three sections so you could see who they are more plainly than if I put them all in one photo.




That's a great group of sponsors --- in these tough economic times, it takes a special effort on their part to break loose funds for such events. My hat is off to them.

Once again, I commend the Wausau Kayak/Canoe Corp. website and then go see some events or, better yet, suit up and get in there!