Surf’s Up at Fish Ladder

Some people have the tools to take advantage of the James at flood stage. Our friend Adam Tremper is one of those people. Check out the video of Tremper surfing the Fish Ladder rapid under the T Pot Bridge on (shot by Joe Mahoney).

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Big Water Coming This Way!

If you’ve been following the forecast over the past 24 hours, you know some serious rain will lash Richmond starting later today. That same drenching rain will also hit the mountain headwaters of the James River, and that means we’re in for flood conditions come this weekend in downtown RVA.

If rain projections hold, “James Brown” could rise to nearly 16 feet (at the Westham Gauge) by 8 a.m.(ish) Saturday. Currently, it sits at just under 6 feet. That’s a 10-foot wall of water coming this way. The height could approach last February’s 16-footer, which was the highest the James had been in Richmond since 2010.

Makes me wonder how much of Sharp’s Island will actually be an island. Will it look like this?

Or will the situation more resemble this archival pic from Times-Dispatch in the 1950’s?

No matter what the crest, the James is always an amazing sight at water levels like the ones expected this weekend. Do yourself a favor and get down there.

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JROC Seeks Universal Boating Access at Huguenot Flatwater

There’s a key part of kayaking I’ll admit I’ve taken for granted: getting in and out of my boat. During an April 2019 training hosted by Beyond Boundaries and the Virginia Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Vision Impaired, I, along with some other participants, learned about the many forms watersports access can take from folks with physical disabilities, including local kayaker Sally Wetzler.

Boaters like Wetzler, with the local nonprofit James River Outdoor Coalition (JROC) and their partners, want to help remove barriers to the river in Richmond through projects like the Huguenot Flatwater universal access ramp. In a video about the project on JROC’s website, Wetzler says, “All my last 42 years I’ve been working very hard to break the stereotypes; you know, being told what I can and can’t do because I have a disability. A lot of it is just letting people see what you are doing and going on and doing it.”

According to JROC, there is currently only one ADA-compliant river access ramp within the James River Park System (JRPS), and that’s at Reedy Creek. They say this proposed ramp “will change that by connecting the upper four miles of the James River with ADA-compliant access at both ends” and will “accomplish step two of three of JROC’s long term goal of connecting all seven miles of the James that runs through the JRPS with ADA-compliant access.” Future ambitions include universal access at Pony Pasture.

The new ramp wouldn’t remove existing stairs at Huguenot Flatwater but would allow Wetzler and others to access the water more independently. In the video, she says, “Getting carried around and dragged back and forth is not necessarily the way I want to project my being. Being able to go up and down a ramp to get to the water- it would definitely change it a lot.”

To date, the organization has raised over $140,000, including about $20,000 from the 2019 King of the James adventure triathlon. They also successfully rallied for the City of Richmond’s support, which contributed an additional $340,000. In an interview last week, JROC President Katie Lemmert emphasized that funds are still needed: 2018 estimates came to $345,000, but she says the project needs more funding to cover things like the approach to the ramp, engineering costs, permitting, and inflation.

Lemmert says they’re now entering the final permitting stage and hope to break ground by the end of this year. Sally Wetzler sums up the project’s significance at the end of the video: “It’s something that I think is important to the entire community; not just the community of Richmond, but beyond. Richmond is known for all of the outdoor activities … and we should be at the forefront of making that accessible.”

How You Can Help:

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Just 80 Miles from RVA, Widewater Becomes Virginia’s 38th State Park

Governor Ralph Northam today officially opened Widewater State Park in Stafford County, the Commonwealth’s 38th state park. Widewater State Park covers 1,100 acres, including two miles of water frontage along the Potomac River and Aquia Creek.

Widewater State Park in Stafford County is just 1 hour and 30 minutes from Richmond. Credit: Va. State Parks

“Virginia’s state parks attract millions of visitors each year, serving as affordable vacation destinations and adding to the economic vitality of the communities where they are located,” said Governor Northam. “With the dedication of this new state park we build upon Virginia’s legacy of conservation and environmental stewardship and expand opportunities for the public to experience our Commonwealth’s natural beauty and renowned system of state parks.”

The property was originally purchased by Dominion Energy as a site for a proposed power plant. The property was later approved for development of 700 residential units, a resort conference center and extensive infrastructure. Dominion sold the property for $1 million less than the assessed value in 2013. The Trust for Public Land and Stafford County assisted in the transaction.

“The development of a low-impact state park on waterfront property significantly reduces the possibility of increased water quality degradation,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew Strickler. “More than 73,000 acres of Virginia are protected as state parks, and only a small fraction of the property is ever improved or developed. We are pleased that this land will be protected for generations to come.”

The visitor center at Widewater State Park. Credit: Va. State Parks

Funding for the $6.1 million property was from Virginia Public Building Authority bonds and a federal appropriation of $225,000 secured by Virginia’s congressional delegation through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program.

“State parks host 10 million visitors each year,” said Virginia State Parks Director Craig Seaver. “Widewater State Park allows us to provide water access in one of the most heavily populated areas of Virginia while maintaining the serenity people expect when they visit one of our 38 state parks.”

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Paddlers Take Heed: W.O.R.M.S. Could Save a Life

Summer whitewater paddling is in full effect in Richmond. No longer turned away by cold temperatures and high water levels, James River Park System parking lots are packed and the river is busy.

Blessed with easy river access and quality urban whitewater, local paddlers will soon have brushed off the dust. Undoubtedly, paddlers will begin seeking new challenges. Those who normally paddle at Huguenot Flatwater might want to give the class I-II Upper James (Pony Pasture to Reedy Creek) a try. Those who normally paddle the Upper James might give the class III Lower James (Reedy Creek to 14th Street) a try. And those who normally paddle the Lower James might find themselves making the drive to other more challenging rivers. Exciting stuff.

So, how can we make sure these new whitewater experiences go as smoothly as possible?

Early in my whitewater paddling career, I found my myself standing precariously on a boulder that overlooked a jumble of rock and irregularly breaking waves that together formed a steep rapid. Wide eyed, I tried to study the rapid again and again, searching for a safe line through the maze of water and rock. No luck. As I picked up my kayak and began the short portage around the rapid I embarrassingly recalled the fact that minutes earlier I was sitting in my boat contemplating if this rapid was really worth taking a look at.

That day I learned a very important whitewater paddling mantra. When in doubt, scout. The simple act of parking your boat above a horizon line and walking down stream to evaluate the rapid is an invaluable tool that every paddler should use. Ask any professional kayaker and they will tell you that no one is ever too good to scout. That said, scouting is a skill. Not knowing what to look for, one could easily spend 15 minutes scouting a rapid, with 75 percent of that time devoted to blankly staring at a big scary boulder in the rapid. I dare say that this same person just might just find himself rather wet and boatless, camped out on the same boulder moments later.

W.O.R.M.S. is a whitewater scouting tool that I have learned to use so that I can evaluate rapids effectively and relatively quickly, without getting overwhelmed or distracted by unnecessary details. So, when it doubt, bring your W.O.R.M.S. to scout.

Scouting ahead of time can help you avoid this.

Water: Ask yourself, “What is the water doing?” and, “Where is the water going?” Those who are hydrologically literate will probably be able to quickly pick out river features such as eddies, downstream currents, and waves. And even more importantly they will be able identify how different river features are interacting within the rapid. Meanwhile, the untrained eye might feel overwhelmed and see nothing more than splishy-splashy rushing water going through some rocks. But, fear not, untrained eyes! Based on the paddlers I know, reading whitewater is not rocket science, it just takes a little time and intentionality. Little tricks like throwing a stick (not a log) in above the rapid and watching where it floats will provide beginner paddlers a good visual and an indication of where the river wants to push us.

Obstacles: Ask yourself, “If I don’t paddle at all, and just let the river’s current guide me, what obstacles will I encounter in this rapid?” and “What consequences could come with encountering those obstacles?” Based on those questions, I normally break obstacles into two categories, water obstacles and other obstacles. Water obstacles could include waves, breaking waves, eddy lines, boil lines, and munchy holes. Most notable in the other obstacles category are rocks and wood, but we could find ourselves considering everything from other paddlers to bridge pylons. Needless to say, obstacles can vary widely in character and hazard level. One paddler’s “yeehaw” wave could be another’s “oh-no” wave. Observe and assess accordingly.

Route: Ask yourself, “What path do I want to take through this rapid?” If you are used to thinking in terms of ball sports, this step is the equivalent of calling your shot. For this I always try to imagine myself in the rapid, starting with basic considerations such as boat position and paddle strokes, and eventually consider more advances concepts such as changing boat angle and the effects of the waves on my boat. With that in mind, remember to consider the difficulty of the rapid. Routes for class I and II rapids are often straightforward and require little maneuvering. Where as a class III and IV rapids will likely require advanced maneuvering, not just advanced confidence.

Markers:  Ask yourself, “What can I see from the shore that I will not be able to see from the seat of my boat?” and similarly, “What can I see from the shore that I will be able to see from the seat of my boat?”. One of the biggest mistakes in scouting rapids is to not consider the change in point-of-view that occurs when you walk back to your boat. Suddenly you find yourself disoriented, visually groping for sight of waves and rock that moments ago were so obvious from your shoreline perch. To avoid this, simply search for markers that can be seen from both water and shore. For example, you might want to avoid a hidden shallow rock in the middle of the rapid which can not be see from the seat of your boat above the rapid. Well if you did things right you would have noticed that a single red leafed bush is on the shore perpendicular to the rock you wish to avoid. Now rather than searching for the hidden rock, you just have to spot the obvious bush and time your paddle strokes to avoid the marked obstacle. It’s my experience that this is a much more effective approach to scouting than the traditional return to raft and stand up like a prairie dog in search of hazards while floating towards the rapid.

Safety. Ask yourself, “If things go awry, how can I make sure that I stay safe?” Hopefully the effort you are putting in up front by scouting will pay off and your rapid experience will be free of swims, but remember, we are all in-between swims. So, for starters, never underestimate the value of the whitewater swimmer position in which feet are facing downstream and your nose and toes stay out of the water. Beyond that, safety plans can be as simple as knowing to swim towards the left shore if you end up out of your boat, but they can also be more complex and involve positioning paddlers with appropriate training and rescue equipment on the shore or below the rapid.

At the end of the day W.O.R.M.S. is just one tool among many that can help inform the decisions that we make while paddling whitewater. Even on the James River, a river that many local paddlers have nearly memorized, it will always be worth making the time to scout rapids. Whether you are driving slow in the right lane on the Lee Bridge evaluating the river on your way to the put in, standing in a crowd of strangers above Hollywood Rapid before running it for your first time, bushwacking toward a rapid’s roar on a remote river, or detouring from you normal bicycle work commute to get a glimpse of Pipeline Rapid when the river level changes, it’s important to remember that none of us are too good to scout. Add W.O.R.M.S. to your tool box and keep staying safe out there.

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Monsoon Rains Cause Changes to Riverrock Schedule

The mud run will go on as scheduled. Credit: Sports Backers

In light of the drenching, equatorial, Amazonian, monsoon rains Richmond has been and is currently experiencing, I emailed the Sports Backers’ PR maven Pete Woody about the status of Riverrock. Here’s what he, and event director Megan Schultz, had to say:

“Participant safety is extremely important, as is protecting the integrity of the trails in the James River Park System. We’ve worked closely with event staff and trail managers to come up with new courses for each event and believe they will offer great experiences for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy,” said Megan Schultz, event director for Dominion Energy Riverrock.

The festival is on rain or shine, and the complete schedule can be found at

-The Mountain Bike Time Trial, originally scheduled for Friday, May 18, at 6:30pmhas been canceled. Registered participants have been notified by email, and full refunds will be offered.

-The James River Scramble 10k Trail Run and Urban Assault Mountain Bike Ride, scheduled for Saturday, May 19 at 9:00a.m. and 1:30p.m., respectively, will take place as scheduled with rerouted courses. The James River Scramble map can be found here, and the Urban Assault map can be found here

-The course for the Sierra Nevada Down River Paddle, taking place on Saturday, May 19, at 11:30am, has been moved and will now go from Pony Pasture to Reedy Creek, rather than Reedy Creek to the 14th Street Takeout. 

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Sierra Nevada, Sports Backers to Unveil Limited-Edition IPA at Riverrock

Richmond beer/outdoors lovers take not: Sierra Nevada has come up with a brew especially for you. Dominion Energy Riverrock, Sports Backers, and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. have partnered to create ‘Let’s Go RVA IPA,’ a session IPA brewed exclusively for the three-day sports and music festival set for May 18-20 at Brown’s Island and Historic Tredegar.

Sierra Nevada describes the Let’s Go RVA IPA as “light and refreshing, yet packed with hop flavor. Expect a burst of bright citrus and tropical fruit aromas, followed by a crisp finish that keeps you coming back for more.” The name is based on the Sports Backers slogan ‘Let’s Go RVA!’ which is meant to inspire and motivate active living and celebrate the region’s outdoor recreation opportunities.

Let’s Go RVA IPA Facts and Figures
4.8% ABV 34 IBU
Grist: Pale, pilsner, oats, wheat
Hops: Magnum, Citra, El Dorado, Loral, Nelson Sauvin, Mandarina Bavaria, Huell Melon

Let’s Go RVA IPA will be available during Dominion Energy Riverrock as well as at the 5PT Adventure Film Festival presented by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. on May 17 at The Broadberry. The film festival will feature an evening of inspirational adventure films followed by live music from the Larry Keel Experience. Sierra Nevada is donating a portion of beer sales during the 5PT Adventure Film Festival to rvaMORE, a local nonprofit whose mission is to enhance trail experiences through people, tools, and advocacy. Advance film festival tickets are on sale now for $10 and can be purchased online at

In addition to the 5PT Adventure Film Festival, Let’s Go RVA IPA can also be found at various locations around Richmond, including Boulevard Burger and Brew, Capital Ale House (Main St. location), Colonial Kitchen & Market (New Kent), Dash In Dash Out, Fat Dragon, Heritage, Independence Golf Course, Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint, Kroger (14101 Midlothian Turnpike), Salisbury Country Club, Southern Railway Deli, Strawberry Street Café, The Caboose (Ashland), The Hop Craft Pizza & Beer, Toast, Whole Foods Market (11173 W. Broad Street), Wong Gonzalez, and Zzaam Fresh Korean Grill.

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New Events Highlight 2018 Riverrock

(Home page image courtesy of

Every year the Sports Backers have the challenge of keeping Riverrock, the annual outdoor recreation and music festival, feeling fresh for the 100,000 or so Central Virginians who will descend on the Brown’s Island area in mid-May. This year is no different. The three-day event will feature several new events and challenges over the course of the May 18-20 festival weekend.

Bouldering at Riverrock. Credit: Sports Backers

New events taking place on Friday, May 18, include the Mountain Bike Time Trial and Belle Isle Blitz. In the Mountain Bike Time Trial, participants will set out to get the fastest finishing time on a rugged course on the James River Park System trails. The time trial starts at 6:30 p.m., and riders will go off in one-minute intervals. At 7:15 p.m. on Friday, the Belle Isle Blitz is a chip-timed race over a roughly 5k course that will offer a fun and unique challenge to hard-core trail runners. Starting on the south side of the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge and finishing in the Belle Isle parking lot, the Blitz also features a dog wave for participants who want to take on the trails with their four-legged friends by their side.

On Saturday, May 19, the inaugural Sierra Nevada Down River Paddle takes place at 11:30 a.m. Using their kayak, canoe, or SUP, participants will take off in one-minute intervals, starting at Reedy Creek. They will battle some of the river’s most challenging rapids as they race to the finish at the 14th street takeout, with the fastest male and female times winning.

On May 20, the Sunday Funday Ride allows bike riders of all ages to take part in a casual cruise while exploring the best of RVA. Setting off at 1:30pm, the Sunday Funday Ride features a 10-mile and 25-mile course option, and, for those still in need of a little friendly competition, the ride will feature several timed segments through Strava, where riders can compete for bragging rights. Both courses will start in the Belle Isle parking lot and will include one on-course aid station.

These new additions to Dominion Energy Riverrock will also help form two new weekend-long challenges: the River Rumble and Trail Trio. The River Rumble, a combination of running, paddling, and biking, is comprised of the James River Scramble 10k trail run, the Sierra Nevada Down River Paddle, and the Urban Assault Mountain Bike Race. A male and female will be crowned River Rumble champion based on the fastest combined time in all three events, and the Rumble will challenge participants’ endurance on Richmond’s signature trails and rapids. River Rumble participants will also receive a discount on their overall entry and a unique River Rumble participant shirt, while the champions will earn additional, and well-deserved, bragging rights.

The Trail Trio, incorporating the Belle Isle Blitz, James River Scramble, and Bust the Banks trail half marathon, will be a true test of trail running skill over a three-day span. The Trail Trio offers challenges at a variety of distances and takes participants to the North Bank Trail, Buttermilk Trail, Belle Isle, Potterfield Bridge, and Brown’s Island in pursuit of the special Trail Trio finisher medal and legendary status, among other finisher items.

Registration for all Dominion Energy Riverrock events and challenges is currently open. Click here for more information and to register.

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A Thank You Note to the Female Paddling Community

Running the Upper Gauley was a rite of passage for author Maggie Karrs. Credit:

The paddling community as a whole is an incredibly vibrant and admittedly quirky group of people. It has its own language, traditions, and unique, spiritual relationship to the unpredictable, awe-inspiring, and humbling force of water. This ever-present unknowability of the water, how it gives and takes without regard for the human element, shapes the relationships paddlers have with each other. The level of support and love that I have received from other paddlers since I started kayaking almost two years ago is unparalleled in any other sport in which I have participated. Even more profound have been my interactions with other female paddlers, and the impact they have had on my paddling and my life.

When I started kayaking, both by circumstance and by the sheer fact of kayaking being a predominantly male sport, most of my paddling companions were men. As time went on and I became more involved in the community, I met more female boaters, and began to find my place in what I’ve come to think of as “the tribe” of women paddlers.

This is not to discount my male paddling companions, who have been very important to my learning and paddling journey. Many of my most triumphant and empowering moments, however, have come from boating with other women — and from simply seeing these amazing women on the water.

I remember my first time on the river seeing another woman in a playboat, going for a loop, or the first time I saw a video of a woman running a waterfall, and both times thinking about how I could do that, too. Learning from other female kayakers how to do a forward stroke with good form, or how to ferry from one side of the river to the other, has made me not only a more capable paddler, but also a more competent teacher. I’m now able to pass those skills on to new paddlers. I can’t speak to the experience of others, but the sheer fact of having female paddlers to look to for inspiration has been my biggest confidence builder on the water, in both concrete and intangible ways. While I believe in breaking down any divisions between female and male paddlers, I also think it’s important to celebrate women in the outdoors. I want to celebrate those who have come before me and made it possible for me to do what I love and make it easier for those who will come after me to find their own way.

If you ask me what my favorite day on the river has been, the obvious answer is my personal first descent of the Upper Gauley River in West Virginia. But it holds this place in my memory for more than the obvious reasons. I learned how to kayak on the James in Richmond, and I have the deepest love of this community and urban whitewater. Still, West Virginia, and its various magical rivers — the Gauley, the Cheat, the New — are still in many ways home. West Virginia rivers are where I learned a love for water, with the Upper Gauley being my first introduction to whitewater in the form of rafting. These rivers were an integral part of the landscape of my childhood.

My first run kayaking on the Upper Gauley was a perfect October day in West Virginia — sunny, with the trees holding on to the last of their autumn color. Fall boating in WVa. means gold and red leaves falling like glitter over the water as you make your way down, and as it was later in the season, there was significantly less traffic on the river. It highlighted how for most of the year, this section of river is still remote, still wild. I was with a stellar group of paddlers, and I had a great day on the river, but much of why the day was special took place before we put on the water.

I had been making the trek from Richmond to Summersville pretty much every weekend during the season to run the Lower Gauley, pushing myself a little harder each lap, running more challenging lines, taking different boats, and getting on more play features. I had vaguely thought that I would wait until the spring or the next release season to run the Upper — until a female paddler changed my perspective. It was a Sunday, one when I had elected to run shuttle for a group of friends and friends of friends running the Upper. Among them were two women who live in the Fayetteville, WVa. area and who run the Gauley and the surrounding rivers regularly. I had boated with one of the women, Sam, once before, and we have a set of mutual paddling friends. As we were making our way out of Mason’s Branch, she asked, “When are you going to run the Upper?”

My response was something along the lines of a hesitant, “I’m not sure…I want someone to show me down…I’m not sure if I’m ready.”

She shrugged, smiled, and responded, “I’ll show you down, I know all the lines and the sneaks.”

She probably doesn’t even remember the conversation; it wasn’t a big moment or a dramatic statement, but her words planted a small seed, and it took root in my mind. Up until that point, when I’d considered the possibility of running what would be my first Class 5 river, I’d been met with doubts, some from myself and some from others. The simple fact that a female boater who I admired stated she would show me down, without questions about my confidence in my skills, made me feel that I could make the run. Her one simple statement put me in a positive feedback loop. I watched videos of others running the “Big 5”, the most well-known rapids of the Gauley, and gathered beta from other Richmond paddlers. I became more and more confident that I could run the Upper that season.

Soon, the last weekend of the season came where I would be able to travel. Bolstered by the confidence that had started in that earlier shuttle ride, I got in my car once more, taking the familiar I-64 pilgrimage to West Virginia. I was still nervous, but with the encouragement of two of my other female paddling friends on the trip, I committed. I put on the river, and pushed past fear and doubt to have a beautiful lap on what immediately became one of my favorite sections of river. I remember corralling in an eddy at the bottom of Sweets’ Falls that day with the other women on the lap, Emily and Berkley, and sharing the joy of it all. We sat there in the sun, looking back up the river, and soaked up the pure peace that comes from an incredible day on the river (before the exhausting decision to marathon and run the lower).

My biggest steps in paddling have often come with the support and presence of other women paddlers. I want to thank all those, men and women, who have helped nurture my love of paddling; thank you for showing me down rivers, for helping me clean up my swims, for teaching me how to be safe on the river and how to have fun. In particular though, I want to thank the women who showed me just how far I can go, those who have believed in my abilities without hesitation, and those women who, even when my own fear and doubt creeps in, have helped me believe in myself.

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Local Kayaker, 18, Dies After Becoming Submerged in Belle Isle Rapid

On Monday, something caught my eye as I drove south across the Manchester Bridge. It was the flashing lights from fire trucks and ambulances on Belle Isle. With the river over 15 feet — well above moderate flood stage — I figured it must be some sort of river rescue. Man, there were a lot of trucks.

There was a snippet of news about it the following day. Two kayakers were paddling in the rapids next to Belle Isle when one became submerged in a hydraulic. The other pulled him out and performed CPR. The kayaker regained a pulse and was taken to a local hospital. There was no information about who the kayakers were, and the report made it sound like the kayaker would pull through.

Then yesterday I ran into a friend at a restaurant. The kayaker was a just a kid, a senior in high school at Trinity Episcopal, she said, and he had passed away — taken off life support earlier in the day. She’d taught him in both elementary and middle schools. It was devastating news.

You need a permit to be on the James River when it’s above flood stage, and the two boys (the other kayaker was also a Trinity Episcopal student) had them. They were experienced paddlers, but anything can happen on the James — or any river — when that much water is in play. It’s a fact those two paddlers surely knew when they headed out for an afternoon adventure on a roiling beast of a river. They decided the risk was worth it.

My heart goes out to the family of the young man and to the community of paddlers who knew him well. It’s a sad day for everyone who loves the outdoors in RVA and a brutal way to be reminded of the risks we take for the adventures we can’t live without.

(Click here for more from WTVR.)

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