How to Become an Epic Beater
How to become an epic beater
By Sunny Montgomery
On the Tallulah River’s first scheduled release of the year, an Ohio man hiked his kayak into the gorge to claim his PFD of the Class V run. He had never before been on whitewater, or in a whitewater kayak for that matter, which became painfully obvious the instant his boat entered the current.
After two swims at Last Step (20 feet from the put-in), and a third swim at Tanner’s Launch (the very next rapid), another paddler convinced the man to hike out – not that he had much choice. His boat had gone on to run Oceana without him, where it had been destroyed in the powerful hole at the bottom.
The story of his beatdown surged through the boater community like water through a spillway. Everybody wanted to know: Who the hell is this guy and how did he end up at Tallulah?
To answer those questions, I tracked down the ill-fated paddler. His name: Cole Kenyon. Age: 27. And after hearing his story, to truly understand just how one comes to beater so epically, I compiled this step-by-step guide.
Step one. Grow up in central Ohio.
Step two. On your 26th birthday, plan a trip to Georgia’s Tallulah Gorge State Park with your girlfriend. With random luck, your trip will fall on one of the river’s scheduled release weekends. Take a hike on the South Rim Trail. There, you will see a stream of paddlers carrying their kayaks down a seemingly endless set of steps. Far below, you will hear the roar of rapids.
This will be your first exposure to the sport of whitewater.
Think to yourself, “Looks wicked. I wanna do it.”
Vow to return to Tallulah the following year and run the gorge. How difficult could it be? After all, you’ve been taking your rec kayak down Ohio’s flatwater for years.
Step three. Return home and sign up for an ultra marathon. Train for that, but do not train for whitewater. Occasionally, watch Youtube videos of paddlers running Oceana.
Step four. Tell others about your plan to paddle Tallulah. You don’t know any whitewater paddlers so there will be nobody to effectively convey to you the gravity of such a goal. Your girlfriend, however, will call you insane. She will beg you to reconsider. Dismiss her concerns. What does she know about whitewater?
Remind her of that time you decided to try downhill mountain biking with literally no experience, and even convinced two of your buddies to try it, too. The three of you had rented gear and headed straight to the top of a double black diamond course. One of your buddies broke his shoulder there. The other broke his wrist.
You were fine, though – evidence of your invincibility. Continue with your plan. Continue to not train for it.
Step five. A month before your trip back to Georgia, start shopping Facebook Marketplace for used boats. Choose one based solely on looks. You can learn about the different features and functions of a whitewater boat later – like at the Tallulah put-in when one of the volunteers eyes you and says, “I can tell you’re an experienced boater based on the sliciness of your boat.”
This will be the first time you’ve heard the term “slicey.”
Now look around. Start to notice the differences between yourself and the other paddlers. You’re wearing a tanktop and board shorts. Others are in drysuits. And there’s something different about your paddle – which has always served you well on flatwater.
That first rapid, you notice, looks bigger than it did on Youtube.
You will start to get nervous. You will consider bailing. Instead, tell yourself, “I drove eight hours to do this. Maybe it’s not as bad as it looks.”
Step six. Send it.
You will swim instantly. But don’t panic. Convince yourself it was a fluke. You just need to relax. Empty your boat on the rocks above that first rapid. Climb back in, and paddle into the flow.
You will swim again. But first, you must run the rapid upside down. At the bottom, pull skirt. Swim into the closest eddy. Empty your boat again.
There, a kayaker will paddle up to you and encourage you to hike out. You will agree. He will instruct you to run the next rapid then eddy out on river left where the portage will be easiest.
You climb back into your boat and the exact same shit happens. You swim. You swallow water this time, and that scares you. You let go of your kayak. It washes downriver and over Oceana. At the bottom of the Class V slide, it explodes. Outfitting goes everywhere. The boat keeps going.
Further downriver, above Gauntlet, your shredded kayak will finally be hauled to shore by another kayaker.
But of course, you will not know its fate. You have been preoccupied, clinging to the back of a stranger’s kayak as you are ferried across the river to safety.
All at once, you will feel overwhelming relief, embarrassment and gratitude.
Step seven. Return home. Humbly accept your girlfriend’s “I told you so.” Humbly accept the fact that you literally got in over your head, and that what you did was beyond foolish.
But don’t give up.
Start doing research. You will discover there is a Class III river not far from you. You will learn there is an Ohio-based group for whitewater paddlers, too. Contact them. Start training. Vow to return to Tallulah the following year and try the gorge, again.
Writer’s note: The purpose of this story, though tongue-in-cheek, is not just to give Cole Kenyon shit for being a beater. Rather, it is about education. Like Cole recently learned: Whitewater is a serious sport, worthy of reverence. Put in the time. Get the skills. Find a crew. This story was published with Cole’s permission.