David Arnaud war mit einigen anderen Wildwasserfahrern aus aller Welt in Südfrankreich unterwegs, um den Prototypen des Fluid Bazooka auf seine Creeking-Eigenschaften zu testen. Es wurde nicht nur ein reiner Bootstest sondern eine Tour zu den schönsten Klassikern rund um die Hauptflüsse Durance und Verdon. Hier ist sein Bericht:
The month of August is traditionally dedicated to holidays in Western Europe. Millions of tourists gather on the shores of the Mediterranean sea with a schedule mostly centered around doing nothing. August is usually very quiet for kayakers too - simply because there's barely any water left in the rivers of the Alps at this time of the year. The snow has long since melted and there's not much more to do than wait for October/November and their usual rainfalls.
I didn't have high expectations about a trip planned for August in the French Alps. Some friends and fellow team Fluid paddlers were flying over from South Africa and the USA. Namely; Hugh du Preez, Celliers Kruger and Luke Spencer. Paul Villecourt and Val Grollemund made up the French contingent. The plan was to paddle some classics of the French Alps, finding water wherever there was any left, and most of all to test our new creekboat, the Bazooka.
On our first day, as we were driving to the Guil river, my phone rang and I could hear a very excited Val telling me about the great water levels on some smaller tributaries of the Durance. It had been raining hard just prior to our arrival and consequently water levels were surprisingly high for the season. A true blessing and perfect timing for us! We immediately changed our plans and started the trip with great sessions on the Byaisse and the Fournel, a true boofing paradise. In just 4-5 days we were able to paddle the Byaisse, Fournel, Gyr, Guil and the classic Durance with very decent levels. The trip went very well, an ideal mixture of good whitewater, perfect weather, fine food and excitement about the new prototype. I was very pleased to introduce some of my favorite runs to my guests who came from overseas to visit the region, they were not disappointed!
We put the Bazooka to the test in almost every possible situation - and it certainly did not disappoint. After 3 days spent in the prototype I had a really hard time passing it onto the other paddlers in the group! Celliers used his prerogative as the "Big Boss" - aka Grand Master Designer - to selfishly, shamelessly keep his prototype for the whole trip. I truly loved the Bazooka right away. You know about those love stories, where you meet a person that you felt you have somehow always known them? That you're immediately at ease with, feel comfy, feel yourself, and so on? Well I'm not sure this is an appropriate image with a boat called the Bazooka, but this is how the boat felt. The moment I sat in it it felt great. Fast, responsive, intuitive. Intuitive, yes. It's a no-brainer. Concentrate on your paddling and the Bazooka will do the rest! No need to think how the boat will react if you lean this or edge that, it just does exactly what you expect it to do, when you expect it. It boofs like a charm, tracks well, it's fast yet forgiving. In a word, we were all impressed by the quality of the boat during the trip. We paddled very different types of rivers, and we didn't find a situation where the Bazooka didn't excel.
The highlight of the trip was yet to come as we headed to the canyon of the Verdon river. This river has to be the most spectacular place to paddle in France, and possibly in Europe. It's famous for its high walls (perfect for climbing / base-jumping), beautiful hikes, blue water and spectacular panoramas, spiced up with some southern French flavor (la Provence is right there!). This is a long run of approximately 35 kms, with class III-IV rapids. Not an extreme run, but its length, and the presence of numerous syphons, logs, undercuts and other deadly traps can make this run a bit hard on the nerves for some. The reward is incredible though as you paddle down this phenomenal canyon.
On several occasions the river gets super narrow - down to 1 or 2 meters in places. On one particularly narrow passage, tons of logs and debris have accumulated between the two walls during flood episodes. Surprisingly, there is still enough room to paddle under this log. It creates a natural tunnel, 15 to 20m long. It is almost completely dark down there, and paddling under that enormous log structure gives one a very strange feeling. You can almost feel the weight of all that wood suspended over your head...
Who knows how long this structure will remain up there, hanging between the two walls? The probability of the structure collapsing while you're down there is minimal. However the idea is in the back of your mind pretty much the whole time. Subconsciously we all became very silent and avoided hitting anything with our paddles!
Getting back into daylight was a welcome relief. We enjoyed the last kilometers of the Verdon gorge in beautiful weather. This was the best possible conclusion to a short but intense trip. Once again I come to realise how lucky I (we) are to live with such a fantastic mountain range at our doorstep. As a kayaker I have travelled extensively, on all continents, to fulfill my passion. But sometimes there's no need to go across the planet as adventure and beauty are just a stone's throw away from home.
Valentin Grollemund has put together a very nice video of this trip. Check it out here!
You can see a slideshow of the trip by Paul Villecourt here.
Text by David Arnaud
Pictures by Valentin Grollemund