Women of Whitewater

For these hard-charging gals, there’s no place like California
By Haven Livingston

Laura, Katie & Diane on Golden Gate. Photo: David Taylor

Laura, Katie & Diane on Golden Gate. Photo: David Taylor

It’s undeniable that California is home to some of the finest whitewater in the world. Kayakers flock from around the globe to catch the runoff and the Golden State breeds some of the biggest names in the sport. With options spanning from the northwest corner of the state to the crystal creeks of the Sierra and even the fickle Central Coast rivers, how do boaters pick their favorites, find inspiration, and decide when to pack up and head overseas for something different?

Meet three California women who have traveled the world and all came back saying, “There’s no place like home!” Pro kayakers Laura Farrell, Katie Scott and sponsored kayaker Diane Gaydos gave ASJ the full scoop on some of their most challenging and rewarding kayaking experiences to date. All three have resumes stuffed with enough gnarly Class V runs to make even the most grizzled whitewater veteran stand up and take notice.

DIANE GAYDOS: Grew up in CA and was inspired to kayak by her mom, who still kayaks.
Countries kayaked: Ecuador, Chile, Japan, Canada, Mexico and Panama.
First trip abroad to kayak: Ecuador, age 16, with her mom. After that she was hooked.

LAURA FARRELL: Grew up in FL and was inspired by women who balance life and paddling, and Nikki Kelly, who has a rapid named for her on Dinkey Creek after running it upside down.
Countries kayaked: Ecuador, Panama, Nepal, Japan, Chile, Argentina, Costa Rica, Mexico, France, Corsica and Canada.
First trip abroad to kayak: Panama for a week while studying mechanical engineering in college.

KATIE SCOTT: Grew up in MT and was Inspired by friend and mentor Lizzy English, who taught her how to lead others down whitewater.
Countries kayaked: Ecuador, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Nepal, Uganda, New Zealand, Canada, Costa Rica and India
First trip abroad to kayak: Ecuador, age 17, to attend World Class Kayak Academy for a semester of her senior year of high school.

What runs in California most inspire you?

Sometimes the best line is sideways, Diane Gaydos on the Feather River. Photo: Daniel Brasuell

Sometimes the best line is sideways, Diane Gaydos on the Feather River. Photo: Daniel Brasuell

Diane: Dinkey Creek…there are so many good rapids in such a short amount of river.

Laura: Dinkey Creek…it’s big, beautiful and has lots of challenging granite rapids without being overly dangerous. Other rivers tend to be filled with sieves or huge waterfalls, but on Dinkey you can decide to go as big as you want or not while still keeping it exciting.

Katie: South Yuba River: There are so many different sections and the whole river to me is a spiritual experience because it’s where I learned to creek boat. It’s got beauty, diversity; it’s my favorite place. It’s not the most extreme, so you can have fun. It’s not about conquering the canyon. It’s about connecting with the canyon. A lot of my best kayaking in California has been about friendships and camping with my friends in the middle of nowhere.

What are some of your most memorable accomplishments in the Golden State?

Katie Scott hucking it on Royal Gorge. Photo: Matt Baker

Katie Scott hucking it on Royal Gorge. Photo: Matt Baker

Diane: At age 18 I remember hearing about people who walked into Upper Cherry Creek with their kayaks and I didn’t think I could do that. I could barely carry my kayak from car to shore. I couldn’t understand why people wanted to do these runs that were so much work. Then at age 23 I first did Upper Cherry and my perspective changed. You can only experience some of these runs in a certain way, and soon I just wanted more. Overnight self-support creek boating became my favorite type of kayaking.

Katie: Devils Postpile on the Middle Fork San Joaquin was never on my bucket list, but I did it last summer and that was my biggest accomplishment as far as creek boating. It was always my most feared run because it is three days of the most committing canyons and must-run rapids I’ve ever seen with insane consequences. We went in there and I had a perfect trip. My high Sierra training for the previous seven years made me shine. My confidence was there and my skills were flawless.

Laura: My greatest accomplishment was the 2010 season when I ran all of the multi-day and big runs I could: Dinkey Creek, Royal Gorge, Golden Gate, Upper Middle Consumnes, Yuba Gap, Big Kimchew Creek, South Branch Middle Feather, Fantasy Falls, Upper Cherry Creek, Upper East, East Fork, and Hospital Rock of the Kaweah, North Fork of the Stanislaus and many others.

Laura Farrell opts to run the infamously named Nikki Kelly Slide right side up, Dinkey Creek. Photo: Darin McQuoid

Laura Farrell opts to run the infamously named Nikki Kelly Slide right side up, Dinkey Creek. Photo: Darin McQuoid

My most memorable trip was on Dinkey Creek in the spring of 2010. The road to put-in became impassible due to snow so we decided to hike in the rest of the way with our boats and overnight gear not knowing how much farther it was going to be. It ended up being ten miles to the end of the road, then an additional two miles to put-in and we arrived at dark. That hike tested the limits of exhaustion for me. We put-in the next morning and ran the whole thing in a day. I’ve run Dinkey six times now and I ran the most rapids on that trip, and I was so fired up.

Why would someone leave California to kayak overseas?

Laura: There’s something important about simply seeing the world. California, when it’s running, is the best expedition kayaking in the world. There’s a lot of other types and styles of kayaking (such as high volume on the Zambezi in Africa or the Futaleufu in Chile) that you get in other parts of the world that will make you a better kayaker when you come back to CA. I love going kayaking, but what I appreciate the most is that it’s an opportunity to experience different places and cultures.

Diane: To see new places and get new experiences. That’s why I travel and kayak harder rivers, it’s a way to see beautiful places and different cultures.

Katie: What you can’t find [in California] is warm water or year round flows, since high Sierra rivers come from snow melt. You get to experience culture abroad, but you also have to sacrifice some kayak time to deal with logistics.

Along with standard gear, what’s an essential item you’d tell a first timer to bring overseas?

Laura: Bring a friend! There’s so much gear it’s nice to have someone watch it while the other person deals with logistics.

Katie: Water filtration, even for tap water! Sometimes less is more when you’re traveling overseas.

Diane: A camera, water purification, a good attitude and willingness to go with the flow!

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