Oh what a difference a few feet can make!

I did a short fitness paddle on Sunday(09/30/18) on Falls Lake and, as is to be expected, the water levels were still very high from Hurricane Florence. The US Army Corps of Engineers like to keep the lake at about 251.5 FT above sea level and when I went out, it was at 257.34 Ft, so 5.75 FT above their preferred level. This is actually down 1.62 Ft from Monday(9/24/18), when they started releasing from the Dam. As an aside, they actually stopped releases completely for several days during hurricane Florence, which I think is somewhat unpresidented.

Even though the water level was only 5.75FT above normal when I went out, that translates to a lot more than just 6 feet of flooding.

Here are two pictures I took from more or less the same place, one when the lake is at normal levels and then the other on Sunday when the lake is 5.75 Ft above normal. This is from a a spot I like to stop at about 4 miles from Barton Creek Boat Ramp(Click on Image to See Full Size) :

I plotted the location of the pictures using the GPS coordinates associated with them and found that the flood stage picture(after) was taken 55 ft inland from the one at normal levels, which gives you an idea of how much of a difference a few feet can make in regards to flooding.

Also as the result of flooding, if you look at my track on the map, you will see I paddled across land in a few spots, but I did that all without getting out of my boat:

That isn’t actually the first time I’ve been able to do that, but the only other time, the levels were much lower and I scraped a bit. This time, I breezed through without issue.

I plan on doing a writeup on rain levels, but even though I think we got more rain with hurricane Florence than we did with Matthew in 2016, it was spread out a lot more with Florence, so we got less local flooding. (Of course the people in Wilmington and South-East got it much worse than we did here in Raleigh!)

You can really see this in the flooding we got on the Neuse.

This is from 09/15/2018, which was the Saturday after the rain. The river would still get a bit higher than it got here, but began dropping the next day:

When you compare that to Hurricane Matthew back in 2016, you can see the flooding was much worse at Poole Road:

Bald Head Island Circumnavigation

Last weekend, two paddlers and I circumnavigated Bald Head Island. We camped Friday night at the Carolina Beach State Park, so that we could get an early start on Saturday morning and paddled South down the Cape Fear river towards Southport, then headed around the Southern Face of Bald Head Island and paddled ocean side back to the Carolina Beach State Park.

Cape Fear River to Fort Caswell

We stopped on this unnamed island briefly after about 6.5 miles of paddling.

After getting up at 4:30 AM, we were able to break camp and were on the water a few minutes before 6 on Saturday morning. This allowed us to take advantage of the ebb tide, along with a boost from the Cape Fear River, as we made our way South.

We were, however, facing a reasonably strong South-South West wind as we paddled, which had been blowing for several days, so we had a strong wind and swell in our face the entire first leg of the paddle. We stopped on a small unnamed island briefly after about 6 miles, then paddled and did a beach landing on the Fort Caswell, just inside the inlet.

Despite the wind and swell in our face, we made good time on this leg of the trip, averaging about 4.9 MPH moving average, over a distance of about 13.5 miles, with a max speed of 7.2 MPH.

Cape Fear River Crossing to Bald Head Island

A shot of Bald Head Island from Fort Caswell Beach.

After a short stop, we set a ferry angle to counteract the wind and swell and headed over to Bald Head Island, landing just inside of the inlet, so we could scope things out.

We paddled at a much more leisurely pace here, averaging about 3.3 MPH over the 1.5 mile crossing.

Paddling the South Face of Bald Head Island

This picture doesn’t do it justice, but shows the shoaling happening at the corner of Bald Head Island.

Going into the paddle, we knew the Southern face of Bald Head island would likely be the most difficult part of the paddle, as Magic Seaweed had Holden Beach, the closest Southern facing beach they track, at around 3.5 foot swell, building to over 4 feet later in the afternoon, and our path would put the strong wind and swell on our side as we made the crossing.

In addition, this beach can be very steep and with the large swell and wind, doing a beach launch would likely end up being difficult. So, once we started paddling, we knew we may be committed to paddling the entire 4+ miles without a beach landing until we made it around the cape.

Another wild card was Frying Pan Shoals, which is on the far side of Bald Head Island, and often gets pretty crazy. We were expecting some clapotis seas and rough water when we made it to the Eastern point of Bald Head Island. Due to the conditions leading up to this, we realized we might not be able to get out to scout or even stop to discuss a plan for breaking through the shoaling.

We stopped for a few minutes just inside the inlet and found a small, but reasonably clear path through the shoaling that typically occurs at the corner of an inlet, before doing our beach launch. I made it around the corner without incident, although my buddy, who was about 20 feet to my left and closer to shore, got caught by three large waves. The first back surfed him and the second side surfed him, but he was able to stay in his boat and keep paddling.

The swell was very large here, but mostly breaking closer to shore, so we were able to paddle the rest of the stretch without incident, although it required a lot of mental energy and our heads stayed looking to our right, so we could keep an eye on the 4’+ swell.

As we got closer to Frying Pan Shoals, we saw a very clean opening and pushed through around the Shoals of Cape Fear easily, finding ourselves in what was almost a lake, which was in stark contrast to the conditions we had faced only a few minutes ago. We did a beach landing here, so we could take a break.

Despite being very conservative here, I had my fastest speed of the trip, clocking 8 MPH. We averaged around 4.4 MPH over the 4.3 Mile leg.

Bald Head Island to Kure Beach

Just below Kure Beach Pier

Due to the winds that had been blowing in generally the same South-South West direction for several days, we had a very nice following sea for the remainder of our paddle. The swell was about as close to parallel to the beach as you are going to get and for the first time, the wind was at our back, so the second half of our paddle was much easier.

The paddle from Bald Head Island to Kure Beach, where we stopped for a short break at the pier, was 11.5 miles and we had a moving average of 4.6 MPH, with a top speed of 7.2 MPH.

Kure Beach to Freeman Park

After a short break, we launched and headed North to Freeman park, where we stopped briefly before heading into the inlet. Freeman park is a private beach, which allows people to purchase permits and drive their vehicles to camp and swim.

As we were approaching, I noticed a group of swimmers had lost their inner tube and given up on chasing it, as it was moving out to sea. I scooped it up on my way to shore and carried it in as I did my beach landing. This proved slightly difficult, as I had to paddle one handed, back paddling, so as not to surf in. Right before landing, I threw it towards the beach and side surfed in, with my boat catching the inner tube again as I surfed and keeping it from going back out.

This portion of the trip was about 5.4 miles and we averaged 4.3 MPH, with a top speed of 6.5 MPH.

Freeman Park to Snow’s Cut

We were able to pass through Carolina Beach inlet without incident and little swell. However, as soon as we turned the corner, we were back to having the wind in our face, which slowed us down a great deal. We had timed it so that we were mid cycle and had some boost from the tide, but the wind made slow going.

We averaged about 3.8 MPH over the 4.7 miles back to the campground, with a max speed of 6.7 MPH. We passed through Snow’s cut and got a bit of a reprieve from the wind, due to how steep the walls are here, but still had it in our face.

Overall Statistics

  • Total Distance: 41.2 Miles
  • Top Speed: 8 MPH
  • Paddling Time: 9:15
  • Total Time: 12:48
  • Moving Average: 4.45 MPH
  • Average: 3.25 MPH

Favorite Part of Trip

The entire trip was quite enjoyable and we got to see parts of North Carolina that few people have ever seen, let alone spent time on.

In terms of paddling, I think my favorite part was coming around the Cape and passing cleanly through frying pan shoals. We had expended a great deal of mental energy leading up to this and had to stay extremely vigilante, as if one of us came out of our boats here, it could have been very serious. Due to the conditions, we weren’t able to scout the area and communication was limited, so it was a bit of a wild card. However, in the end, we saw a clean opening and powered through and basically ended up in a lake after 4 miles of white knuckling it through some very heavy swell. In the future, I probably wouldn’t do it again when magic seaweed has it at 3’+, but it worked out well and was an awesome experience!

Spaghetti Strings: Visualizing the Surf Day

When kayak surfing, I am always amazed by the amount of energy and distance you end up putting in over a relatively short distance.

This week, I went to Bogue Inlet and tried out a new GPS App on my phone. The app is geared towards running, but I was able to export the GPS data and then import it into a program for analyzing/viewing. Magic Seaweed had the conditions at about 1 ft swell and there was little wind, so surfing wasn’t great, but as always it was a really fun day. We played in the confused sea for a while, as well as a bit off shore in a small break we found.

Overall, we ended up with a 14 mile day, with an average speed of 3.3 MPH and a top speed of 10.1 MPH.

The below picture shows a map, with distances of our trip. We essentially traveled 6 miles round trip to our putin, although you can’t see all of that path in the below picture.

Then, once we started surfing, we paddled about 8 miles in a .6 by .6 mile area:

While the APP I’m using isn’t great, it is free and seems to work well enough without being terrible on the battery, so I look forward to using it on some more of my trips.

Confused Seas at Emerald Isle(My Favorite Playspot)

A friend and I spent this Saturday kayaking at Emerald Isle. We paddled around 15 miles, working against the tide for about 6 of them, so it felt more like 20+. We started by paddling about 3 miles off shore to check out two big buoys, before doing a beach landing on Emerald Isle and cooling off in the surf. Then, we paddled back to Bogue Inlet to do some surfing.

One of my favorite places to play at Emerald Isle is just off the point of Emerald Isle by Bogue Inlet. There is a sand bar here, where there is almost always some nice shoaling, especially at low tide. As a result, you can usually count on an area of confused seas, as well as sometimes some nicely lined up waves, to play in.

Even on days where there is really light swell and no wind, there is usually some places to play. This area is also relatively forgiving, as on two or three sides, it will usually end up calming down pretty quickly.

These are a couple videos from playing at the beach last Saturday:

Wrightsville Beach and Masonboro Island Circumnavigation

This weekend, I, along with three other paddlers, did a circumnavigation around Wrightsville Beach and Masonboro island. Our original plan had been to start at Trails End Boat Launch, then circumnavigate Masonboro, camping one night on Masonboro Island and then doing Wrightsville Beach the next day, returning to Trails End Park.

However, one of the local paddlers was kind enough to let us stay at his house, so we opted to do them as two day trips and enjoy the comfort of some air conditioning and restaurant cooked food.

Wrightsville Beach Circumnavigation

On Saturday, we put in at the public boat ramp under the draw bridge that crosses the Intercoastal Waterway to carry you onto Wrightsville beach. From there, we paddled about 3.5 Miles North to go out Mason Inlet.

Tides were with us, so we made good time and there was only mild chop going out the inlet. We then traveled south about 5 miles ocean side along Wrightsville Beach, making one beach landing, before paddling around the jetty and through Masonboro Inlet.

There were some confused seas coming around the jetty, which were fun, and after we made it around the jetty and out of the boat lane, we practiced a few rescues, before doing another beach landing. Even though we were protected from swell at this point, the area where we stopped was right on the corner heading out to sea and got a lot of boat swell, which created some fun confused seas.

On the way back to the put-in, we stopped at Dockside Restaurant, which is a local bar/restaurant that has a dock for boaters to pull up to, for some burgers and shrimp.

There was a chance of thunderstorms during the day and we got rained on a bit, which was nice given the heat. It was also overcast, so we didn’t get a ton of sun. Despite the chance of rain, the beach was still very crowded and we had to take extra care doing our beach landing, so as to avoid hitting swimmers.

Our total distance was 13 miles for the first day.

Masonboro Island Circumnavigation

At our break before heading
out Masonboro Inlet
On Sunday morning, we put in at Trails End Park Boat Ramp to start our circumnavigation of Masonboro Island. We were on the water by about 9:30 and headed South towards Carolina Beach Inlet. The tide was not in our favor, so we ended up fighting about a 1 mile current for most of the first stretch. After about 7 miles of paddling, we took a short break on a sandbar before heading out Carolina Beach Inlet.

Carolina Beach Inlet is close to the Cape Fear River and so, the water is a mix of river/ocean water hear, creating a neat dark brown color. There was a little confused seas going out the inlet, but it was relatively calm.

Two of our members had opted to use a Tandem Kayak for this trip and decided to try surfing/playing a bit in an area of shoaling by the inlet. They ended up wiping out and swimming, but were able to stand and recover their boat. One paddler lost his paddle, but we were able to retrieve it. While waiting for them to recover, I played a bit in the surf.

We then paddled about 8 miles North, making a beach landing right before the jetty going into Masonboro Inlet. Seas were relatively calm and weather was a lot warmer on Sunday, as there was little wind and cloud cover, unlike the previous day. However, about the time we stopped for our last landing, the weather changed and we got sprinkled on a bit, making the last hour or two of paddling a lot cooler.

After a short snack break, we got back in our boats and headed around the Jetty going into Masonboro Inlet. We had timed it so the tide was working in our favor here, having switched around 12:30 to start flowing into the inlet. As a result, we got a nice push on the way back to Trails End Park.

Our total distance for this trip was 19 miles.

A 20 Foot Boat on a 15 Foot Car.

Back to the Beach

Due to some scheduling issues, it has been awhile since I have been able to make it out to the beach to do some ocean kayaking. However, this weekend, I spent an afternoon playing at Emerald Isle with a friend. Magic Seaweed had the surf conditions at about 1-2 feet, building towards the end of the day. The surfing wasn’t great, but it was, as it usually is, a great day. We played a little in the surf, then headed over to Bear Island, did a beach landing, and headed back across Bogue inlet. On the way back to Emerald Isle, we practiced a T-Rescue in some rough water and then did a bit more playing at the beach.

It ended up being a relatively short day 15 mile day, of which about 7 miles was playing in the surf.

Below are two videos from the day…I’m still learning with the gopro, so the angle of these is not ideal. I think there is too much sky in the video, so need to angle the camera down a bit more.

Roll Practice

I did several rolls in the (light) surf, as this is good practice. I missed one the first time, but made it on my second attempt:

Even though the surfing wasn’t great, we got plenty of rough water practice. This is a video of us crusing through a little shoaling.

Kayak Review: Dagger Alchemy 14S

I’ve owned my Dagger Alchemy 14S for a few years and even though it would be unlikely for me to bring it to the coast or lake, it is still my go to river boat and I continue to use (and enjoy) it regularly.

A good metric of how much you enjoy a boat is whether you decide to keep it after upgrading to a nicer boat and this definitely meets that mark, as I have no plans on selling it.

About the Dagger Alchemy 14

The Dagger Alchemy 14.0S was available from Dagger Kayaks between 2009 and 2017. When it was released they described it in their 2009 catalog as:

Performance and versatility from lakes to slow moving inland rivers, rock gardens or surf zones.

Dagger also released a slightly larger version, the Alchemy 14.0L, which they described as having a deeper and wider cockpit, with more foot room for larger paddlers.

The Upgrade

When I got my Alchemy, I had been paddling a Necky Manitou 13 for awhile, so going to the Alchemy was a huge upgrade and just like the Manitou, which I reviewed here, when I switched to the Alchemy, it felt like I had switched to a real boat.

One of the cool things about the Alchemy 14S is that it is pretty narrow, especially for a plastic boat, while having a decent amount of rocker, making it quite maneuverable for it’s length. I have had it out surfing at the ocean twice and both times enjoyed how having such a small boat, compared to the more common 16 foot+ sea kayak, made it really easy to get onto, off of, and back on to waves.

Although, it should be noted that the first time I had the boat in surf, both foot pegs snapped off, which led me to find out that there had been a recall for the brand of foot pegs used in a number of 2015 model Dagger/Wilderness Systems/Confluence boats. A quick call with Dagger fixed this and, after letting them know the year of my Alchemy, as I have a 2015 boat, but this happened in 2016, they shipped a new pair of footpegs at no charge.

The Alchemy is long enough to track well and in general is easy to paddle longer distances with. However, paddling it on a three day kayak camping trip near Cape Lookout was what prompted me to get a longer sea kayak. It also has all the basic safety features of a sea kayak, with front/rear sealed bulkheads, 3 hatches, including a day hatch, deck rope, Grab Handles, and deck bungee, as well as a drop down skeg.

Compared to other plastic boats I’ve tried, including the Dagger Stratos and P&H Delphin, the plastic in the Alchemy seems a bit thicker and sturdier, closer to the thickness you would find in a whitewater boat.

While the Alchemy handles well and is reasonably efficient to paddle, with the rocker and short length, it gets tossed around pretty easily. So, it is more work and less efficient compared to a more traditional(longer) sea kayak, which is to be expected. When you are doing a 15 or 20 mile day(and especially in moderately rough water,) this deficiency becomes more obvious and it looses some appeal compared to a longer sea kayak in this regard.

How I use the Alchemy

As it is now, this is my go to river boat.

I love how maneuverable it is, while still being quite efficient when putting in some upstream or downstream river miles. The boat is easy and fun to roll as well. I enjoy taking it to the Dam at Falls Lake and run rapids in it. I’ve only had it on the Cape Fear once, when I went upstream from Lillington to Laneir Falls, but have had it on the Neuse quite frequently, as well as a bit of playing with it at Weldon.

I haven’t been using it as frequently and am usually more inclined to head to the lake if I want to get in a paddle, but to be fair, we’ve had a very dry summer and winter and since the rain picked up a few months ago, I’ve gotten back to using it more frequently.

The Bad

While I still use and greatly enjoy this boat, it has had a couple issues. The biggest one was, of course, when both the footpegs snapped while doing a surf launch the first time the boat was taken surfing, which is described above.

However, another issue I’ve run into is with a support beam that, from reviewing their old catalogs, appears to have been added in 2010, the year after it was released. Something similar can be seen in several of their current boats as well, like the Dagger Stratos and provides some measure of structural support/rigidity to the boat.

You can see the black bar that was added to the 2010 model, highlighted in blue, below:

Towards the rear bulkhead, the seat holds the support beam in place. However, in the front of the kayak, it is held in place by a large block of foam, which is glued to the bulkhead and cut so as to be tight against the top and bottom of the boat. Since the foam runs the full height of the boat, the foam also provides some additional support, along with a bit of extra buoyancy.

What I have found is that over time, as your feet hit the foam in the back and the plastic support, which sticks up a little bit along the length of the kayak, it works the glue holding the foam in place loose. When this happens, both the foam block and front half of the black plastic beam move freely inside the cockpit. You can jam the foam back in place and it will stay for awhile without re-gluing, but will work itself free again, especially if you end up with a boat full of water.

If the boat is not full of water and the foam works itself free, it is more of an inconvenience, but when it is full of water, you end up with two large objects(the foam and the front end of the support beam) flopping around by your feet.

This first happened to me at the pool, where, to be fair, I have put in a lot of time practicing rolls, re-entry and rolls, and other things that result in a full boat of water. So, I’m sure I’ve kicked the foam and generally put more pressure on the black bar than most. However, I would be surprised if it didn’t happen eventually to most people who use the boat more than recreationally, as your feet will inevitably hit the black support bar while paddling, slightly jarring it left or right each time.

As an aside, while playing at Falls Dam, a buddy essentially wrapped his 2009 Alchemy, which doesn’t have the extra support bar in it, around a bridge piling with a decent bit of water force. The boat took it like a champ and there didn’t appear to be any damage once he pried it off there.

My initial thought the first time it came loose was to just remove both the foam and the support, especially as my friends older model doesn’t have it and seems to be fine. If the foam were to come loose while you were at the ocean in conditions, for example, it could be dangerous(or at least result in a swim.) And since it is glued to the bulkhead, every time it comes loose there is risk of damage to the front bulkhead. However, I’m sure they added that in there for a reason and so have been hesitant to remove it.

When my friend bought a Dagger Stratos last year, I noticed that the foam was secured through the top of the boat using a screw, so it appears this is an issue that they were aware of and improved upon their design.

Dagger Alchemy 14S and 14L Stats

Both the 14S and 14L Alchemy are 14′ long, have a 35 x 18.5″ cockpit size, and are made of Rotomolded polyethylene.

Boat Width Deck Height Weight Weight Capacity
Alchemy 14.0S 23″ 13.25″ 51 Lbs 275 Lbs
Alchemy 14.0L 24″ 14.75″ 55 Lbs 300 Pounds

Final Thoughts

Despite the couple issues I’ve had with this boat, I still really like it and when the opportunity arises, like a dam release or some rain, I make a point to try to hit the river with it. When I first got it, it felt much more like a real kayak than anything I had paddled and even though it isn’t my first choice for the lake or ocean, I love it as a river boat.

I would recommended it as a good boat, especially as far as plastic boats go. However, if you were interested in distance or ocean paddling, but still wanting a plastic boat, it would not be my first choice. After my week in Baja, a P&H Delphin seems like a much better buy for that purpose.

A Few of the Places I’ve Been

Below is a gallery of a few of the places I’ve been in my Dagger Alchemy:

Finding the Right Water Level for Milburnie Dam Falls

Disclaimer: Please use caution when paddling in moving water, including using all safety gear like helmet, PFD, etc. The below is not meant to be a guide or guarantee of any sort, but merely my observations and how they pertain to my perceived paddling skill.

With the removal of the Milburnie Dam, there are now at least 2.5 nice park and play areas on the Neuse. Milburnie is, of course, one, with Falls Dam and Gunnison Rapid by Pool Road, which is the .5, as you have to paddle about 1/2 a mile to get to it, making up the other 1.5.

While I think Falls Dam has more to offer and so, as a result, would be more likely to go there than Milburnie Falls, Milburnie is a pretty neat spot and I have gone out there a number of times now for a quick hour or so morning paddle. One advantage Milburnie has over Falls is that while Falls is dam controlled 100%, Milburnie gets a bump whenever it rains, so is more likely to be a viable play spot when they are not doing a release. It is also pretty convenient to me and cuts my driving down significantly, which can be nice for a morning paddle.

Since it’s removal, I have been working with another local paddler to try to determine a good way to gauge the flow here and have an idea of when it would be fun to go out there, because when there isn’t a lot of water, the Milburnie rapid is not runnable…or at least not a great deal of fun and enough to make me want to go there, as opposed to one of my other normal runs.

Why Accurately Gauging the Water Level at Milburnie Falls is Difficult

The main thing that makes determining the water level at Milburnie difficult is that unlike other areas, there isn’t a good USGS(or other) gauge for this section of the Neuse river.

About 14 miles North, you have Falls Dam, which is only really useful when they are releasing water from Falls Lake. At any other time, they keep water levels relatively consistent, usually around 150 CFS, although due to drought and other issues it was around 80 CFS for much of last year. So, when they are not releasing water from the Dam, this gauge only really sets a baseline for the river and doesn’t take into account other factors, like rain and runoff.

Further downstream, there is the Clayton Gauge, which is actually a pretty good metric for knowing what the Neuse river is doing. Generally, when they are releasing at 150 CFS and there isn’t any rainfall, you can expect the Clayton Gauge to read about 300-350 CFS.

However, it is about 25 miles or so from Falls Lake and about 14 Miles from the dam, so when water events happen, including both dam releases and rain, it takes a while for this gauge to register an uptick in water levels.

To further compound the issue, Crabtree Creek is downstream of Milburnie, but upstream of the Clayton Gauge. So, any uptick you see at the Clayton Gauge is in part due to Crabtree Creek. Crabtree Creek flows through Raleigh and is usually a trickle, but picks up quickly when it rains. When paddling upstream from Poole road, it is almost always like going from moving water to flat when you cross the point where Crabtree Creek joins the Neuse, so this has a rather significant impact on lower Neuse water levels.

So, unlike other rivers, where you can simply check a gauge and see what the river is doing, it is often not possible to do it for this stretch of river.

Using other Methods

Since there isn’t a straightforward gauge for Milburnie, one way that we have come up with is to keep an eye on rainfall. What we have discovered, a large part through the analytical work of another local paddler, is that when you see at least a 1/2 inch of rainfall register to the precipitation gauge of either Falls Lake or Marsh Creek, the river will see a noticeable uptick and generally Milburnie is likely paddlable.

We’ve not worked out the timing quite yet, mostly due to needing to spend some time reviewing data, but it is a pretty safe bet that the river will be runnable after that. And larger rain events will have a significant and prolonged effect on this section of river.

In addition to using guages, it is necessary to combine it with visual cues, so by observing the river at various levels, I feel pretty good about being able to determine if it is runnable. Currently, there is a web cam available, so you don’t actually have to drive out there to check out water levels, which can be found here.

Combining Observations with Actual Dam Releases

While we have had a very dry winter and summer, the drought did finally break and Falls lake got back to a healthy water level. What that means is that The Army Corps of Engineers, who controls the Dam releases at Falls Lake, have begun releasing water again from the Dam. Over the past month, we have had several prolonged releases of various sizes, ranging from over 3000 CFS, down to about 500 CFS.

As a result, I’ve been able to compare my personal observations with a known discharge rate and so been able to get a better idea of what rain is probably doing and what level the river is probably flowing at.

This is due to change, but I would say that generally, the 1/2 rain metric we came up with, which is sort of at least in a low-runnable rate, probably puts the river at around 500-1000 CFS. By the time the river is running at around 1200 CFS – 1600 CFS, most of the features will wash out, specifically the rocks in the middle of the Milburnie Rapids. At this time, there are still some cool waves and it is fun to play, as well as being able to go pretty far up the rapid without having to portage. However, when it gets too much above that, it just becomes fast moving water.

By the time it gets to the 3000-4000 CFS range, there is still bumpy water, but that is about it. I’ve not been out there when it is like that, but I think it would still be good ferry practice, as the river is wide enough that the edges are moving much slower, but much like Falls Dam, it gets to a point where it is much less attractive at that rate.

Gear Review: Sea to Summit Ultra Flex Booties

As a kayaker, the quest to find comfortable and practical shoes is something that most people spend a good deal of time(and possibly money on.) Among whitewater boaters, actual shoes like Astral’s Brewer are often quite popular. Others prefer dive booties or booties more geared towards kayaykers, like NRS’s Freestyle or Desperado water shoe.

I’ve not tried any sneakers yet, but have tried several types of sandals, along with high top and low top booties of various brands. However, at least for ocean work, my favorite so far has been the Sea to Summit Ultra Flex Booties, which are a mix of 3MM neoprene and rubber.

What I like most about them is that they are low profile and thin, but still sturdy enough that you can hop out on an oyster bed or walk across a gravel parking lot and not worry too much about slicing up your foot.

Recently, I gave up half of my old pair to the Ocean Gods and so have been using a pair of NRS Kicker Remix’s for the past month, but they are just a bit too thick.

The Remix’s, as well as other booties I’ve tried, have a very thick sole, which wraps around the toe and heel. This can be great in terms of protection, but don’t have a lot of flex to them and add some length onto the booties. So, in a smaller cramped boat, they tend not to be very comfortable to me and I can’t move my feet around as much as I would like.

The Ultra Flex Booties, on the other hand, are thin and while the toe and heal are also surrounded by the rubber sole, the rubber is much thinner and more flexible, so that they are close to being barefoot. The thinness of the Sea to Summit booties, compared to most other booties I’ve tried, gives me a lot more toe room in the boat.

Like most things, they aren’t the best shoe for all situations, specifically river whitewater or very slick/rocky areas, but are great for ocean/coastal play.

The Pros:

As stated above, the biggest pro is how thin these are. The sole is made of rubber, but is very thin and flexible. When you are in a low-volume boat with limited foot room, makes a world of difference.

Other booties that I own or have seen have a much thicker sole, thicker neoprene and/or additional insulating material. This adds a lot of size to the shoe and ends up being pretty uncomfortable to me after even a relatively short time in my touring/surfing boats. This is less of an issue in my Dagger Alchemy, but in my NRS and Impex boats, which are smaller height/volume wise, normal booties just end up being too rigid and big.

The Cons:

The biggest downside to the Ultra Flex Booties is that the sole is slick, with almost no traction/grip. The marketing on the package specifically describes the sole as having a lot of grip, but that really isn’t the case. While it does have a raised imprinted design, they provide little traction on wet slick surfaces, and it is thin enough that it will wear out relativity quickly when walking on any surface other than perhaps sand.

I’m sure works well for gripping a surface like a stand up paddle board, but it has little traction on little rocks or other similar surfaces. You will slide around if you hop out and I’m always very cautious when getting out on a slick surface when wearing them. When I went to Baja California last year, I purchased a pair of NRS Kickers, as I wanted something similar, but with a good bit more traction for all the rock/slick areas we would encounter out there. I’m not super found of the Kickers, but they do have decent traction.

You can see in the below picture what the tread looks like on a new pair vs a much used pair:

Can you tell which one is new?

Another downside is that, like most(all?) booties, they hold in water and don’t drain. So, the first time you hop out of your boat in water deeper than your ankle, you are going to have wet feet.

Of course, this isn’t that much of an issue when wearing a drysuit, but otherwise, over the course of a long day of kayaking, your feet are going to get wet and stay wet. I usually drain them out prior to getting into my boat, as well as keeps some water out of your boat, but even still your feet will be wet/damp. Of course, it isn’t generally cold, as the neoprene works well for keeping you warm, but if you don’t like wet feet, the Ultra Flex booties might not be for you.

They are also thin, which is my main reason for liking them, but if you are going to be doing a lot of walking, they aren’t great. A good metric for booties is whether you can walk across a gravel parking lot without thinking too much about where you step and these pass that test for the most part, but are on the border and not comfortable to walk long distances in.

Overall Rating

Despite not being good choices for river work, due to not having much, or really any, traction, these are my go to booties when surfing at the beach or doing a coastal paddle. I also wear them at the lake, although do still have to make a conscious effort to avoid rocks and other slick surfaces.

If you are going to wear them over your drysuit, you will probably want to get one size larger than normal, so you have room for the drysuit’s socks.

Rating: I’d Buy it Again!

Playing at Falls Dam

Several years ago, I discovered the area on the other side of the Falls Lake dam, which is the start of the Neuse River. It can be a great park and play spot, with a short stretch of several cool water features that offer a nice standing wave, several cool rapids, and plenty of places to practice ferrying across moving water.

Unlike places further downstream, like the Gunnison Rapid near Poole road or the site of the old Milburnie Dam, that are directly affected by rainfall, the Falls rapids are dam controlled and so you can only go out there when they are releasing from the Dam. I’ve found that around a 1300-1800CFS release is probably the sweet spot for me and while I’ve been out there at much higher rates, once it gets above 3K practicing ferrying is about all I can do. However, at the lower rates, there are several nice surf spots and plenty of places to play around.

The year I discovered this cool play spot was exceptionally wet and so there were a number of releases. I think I made it out there at least 30 times, most of the time with one of my buddies who was practicing for his 5 Star BCU assessment. Unfortunately, we’ve had a very dry spell this winter and before, so there have been much fewer releases this year and so, combined with scheduling issues, I’ve not been able to make it out to the Dam as much as I would like in the past year.

However, I caught the tail end of the most recent release this week, which peaked at around 4K CFS, but was running at around 1300CFS when I went out there. Just as I was getting out from a short hour long session, a guy who had been taking pictures around the dam approached me and asked if I would do one more run in order for him to take some pictures. I obliged and he was kind enough to email them over. Several of them are below: