WWGP Stage 1: Gol Gol Enduro

The Gol Gol was my favorite run from the Whitewater Grand Prix.

Leif and I arrived in Chile to warm weather, clear skies, and low water. As the competitors started to arrive, spirits were up and I started to gear up mentally for two weeks of intense paddling. I had never been to Chile and I had no idea what to expect with the races, other than they would be challenging. I was a little apprehensive about racing some of the toughest races I've ever raced, right off the couch. Most the other ladies had already been in Chile for a couple of weeks! I had spent the last six weeks working every day on my research and school work so that I could skip out on three weeks of classes and finals (along the the 6 weeks I already missed in due to field work), and trying to stay somewhat in shape by swimming about four times a week. I was really glad to find out that we would get, not one, but two days of practice on what everyone was saying was the most challenging race run on the schedule, the Rio Gol Gol.

Before our official first practice day many of the competitors ran Salto del Indio, a very powerful 50' waterfall. Although there was a big discussion, we didn't end up including the waterfall for several reasons: 1. It was after a very long section of whitewater and some felt that it would make the race times more about the flatwater than running the rapids 2. The drop is known for very very long down times, with racers going into out of breath at the end of the run, we were worried someone would black out 3. A few days before the race a few racers sustained rib injuries on the drop (Kyle Hull and Eric DeGuill) and sending 30 racers down the drop twice was increasing the odds that more people would be injured before the event really started. Most racers agreed that they would have included it somehow if the Gol Gol was the last race instead of the first.

Paddler Rush Sturges.  Photo by Sergio Videl (best WWGP support person ever).   This drop was not included into the race (see explanation above)

With Kyle Hull out on the injured list, and because precedent was set with adding some other last minute racers, Leif was actually quite hopeful that he would be able to race as well. Unfortunately for him, the event really needed a bad ass timer and kayaker that could access the start line or finish lines because they were inaccessible via hiking. Having Leif be the lead timer was a bummer for me because he couldn't be my super media camera dude. Hence, our photos are a little slim from the event itself.

Leif pouting. He's pretty good at it.

Description of the Race Run
Basically, the race consisted of five big drops separated by short sections of boogie water. You can get a feel for the race run by watching :
Stage 1: Whitewater Enduro 
Stage 1: Athlete Experience 
Dane's GoPro Race Line.

Drop 1: The 5' ledge drop.
This was the smallest drop on the race line, and was part of the lead in to the second drop. Although it was fairly easy, sometimes if you didn't have your edge right as you landed the eddy pulled you hard right and off of the fastest line and into some shallow slower water. This happened to me my second race lap, despite having run it perfect numerous times before. It was the single biggest mistake that I made on my best run, possibly placing me in 4th instead of 3rd place for this race.

Drop 2: Alto
I thought that this was the hardest drop to run a race line on. When the water was lower it was a late sloping boof as you can see in the photos below, which were taken the day before the race. For the race day, the water rose about a foot and was covering the rock on the lip and there were some mean boils at the bottom shoving you into a slower line through the river left eddy. The fastest lines were to the right of the rock with right angle and a big fast boof. However, if you didn't get enough outward speed with your boof you just boofed into the boils at the bottom and got sucked back into the curtain for a little party. I saw this happen to a number of the racers and happened to me on a practice run. What really separated the top tier of racers for this race was their ability to not just keeping their nose up as they land, but retaining their forward speed after they land. I'm planning on working on this skill. I ended up taking a slightly easier line, boofing off the side of the rock. However, it was slower because I ended up committing to paddling around the boils instead of over them. Quite a few people who went for paddling over the boils ended up going around them anyway.

Drop 3: The Vagina Crack
It doesn't take much imagination to picture what this drop looks like.  Basically you put yourself in the crack and go deep into it.  Many of the guys just couldn't get themselves out again.  This drop dished out a number of swims during the practice and race laps, including Todd Wells, Anton Immler and Mike Dawson.  Some of the fastest lines included a boof halfway down, but this also tended to cause you to get worked in the hole in the bottom- hence the swims.  According to the safety team at the bottom, my first lap through this drop was the fastest they saw.  I went deep (most peoples strategy) and popped up paddling on line downstream without flipping over.  I was about 50-50 flipping over in this drop, as were most of the racers.  The trick here was to get your angle so that when you popped up at the bottom upside down or right side up you were headed downstream to the left instead of pushed into the huge eddy to the right.

Natalie Enters.  Video Still: Leif

Jakub Nemec with a boof to flip to chunder.  Video Still: Leif

Drop 4: Feo
I actually really liked this drop.  There was a safe line on this drop and a race line.  The race line was far river right boofing through a big sticky hole near the right wall (I saw Galen get beat down here and swim in a practice lap).  The safe line is a boof further to the left, but then paddling hard right to cut across a current that wants to shove you hard into a huge time-consuming eddy to the left.  My first lap I goofed the entrance, ran the left backward and then surfed all the way to the right.  Surprisingly, it actually ended up being a really fast line.  My second lap I decided to go for the race line and nailed it.  That felt good.
Paddler Natalie.  Left 'safe' line during a safety lap.  GoPro Still: 

Paddler: John Hyland.  Left Line.  Race line is to the right of John, right on top of the rib of water landing on a larger boil.   Too far right puts you in a pocket against the right bank.  Photo: Leif
Drop 5: Princessa

This was the most intimidating drop on the run. It wasn't just a simple waterfall, you had to make a move cutting left through some waves at the top. As the water came up, this drop got really hard to run well. The lip became fairly undefined and the lead in pushed you to the right, away from the sweet spot. After my second race line, I watched many world class paddlers miss their boof, flip at the bottom and carp their rolls. During my first lap I ended up taking an embarrassing swim at the bottom (see my excuses below), but on my second lap, I styled it. I loved this drop. 

Paddler: Natalie   Photo: WhitewaterGP.com

Paddler: Natalie    Photo: Wes Schrecongost

Paddler: Leif   Photo: Wes Schrecongost

Paddler: Leif    Photo: Wes Schrecongost

Excuses for My Swim 
If you watched the videos from this race, then you probably noticed me swimming.  I'm actually quite embarrassed about this particular swim.  It was my first ever swim since I learned to kayak 8 years ago where I swam because I just couldn't seem to roll.  If anyone knows me, they know that I pride myself on the fact that I don't swim unless I really am very stuck.  Me just bailing like that is unheard of.  So what happened?  Here are my excuses.  Sorry if you don't care, I've just got to get it out.  Because I was in race group 2, I ran safety before my race lap.  After running safety I was supposed to hike out for about 10 minutes and arrive back at camp for a quick bite to eat before heading up for my own race.  I ended up taking the wrong trail and hiked an extra 20 minutes with some bushwacking and ended up 1 km upslope of the cabins.  The bus ended up picking me on the way up and taking me directly to the start.  How does this apply to my swim?  One crucial factor, I had no food all day and I got pretty tired on the hike.  During my race I could tell that my muscles had no fuel.  When I didn't get a boof and got chundered a little (not much) and started floating downstream after Princessa, I tried a number of rolls, but was just too tired.  Later I figured out that my knee braces were also set a little too high, so that when I was trying to hip snap my snap wasn't being transferred well to boat movement.  That combined with my tiredness and a lack of mental toughness at that point (I knew I was past the last drop and there was tons of safety) and pooftah, I was out of my boat.  Oh so embarrassing   Well, se la vie. It happened.  For the next day during lap two, I moved my knee braces forward got plenty to eat and styled my lines.

These photos show the order of the top finishers from this race from right to left.  After this race I was in fourth (just 8 seconds behind Katrina).  

After running the Gol Gol eight times in four days I started to feel like I was no longer "off the couch". At the end of the first stage I realized that I felt challenged, yet within my comfort zone. If the Gol Gol was the most difficult race then I knew that I could handle the rest of the courses coming my way.  I felt confident that I could hold my position in fourth and possibly even move up a spot in the next two race. Which was supposed to be a short sprint down the Rio Fuy.

Check back in a few days for my next installment on WWGP Stage 2: Puesco Boulder Dash


  1. Incredible!!!!
    Big drops and lots of Whitewater.
    Enjoy and Happy New year!

  2. C'est la vie.
    Thanks for the commentary. It gives me an appreciation for the many small angles and moves that make a race work. Eight runs in four days! That's a work out!

    1. Is that your dad correcting your spelling? Awesome paddling!!


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