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This year’s Gauley Fest combined perfect weather, great water levels, warm water, lots of excited paddlers, and a really fun party. We arrived in time to paddle down the Upper on Friday in our new 2010 Funs! That alone was such an epic moment, the birth of a new baby, on that immediately showed all of its qualities and future in the first day. We also saw so many first timers who were hitting the Gauley and this was a landmark day for them. That is always fun to see. We had Clay and Stephen making sure that we didn’t miss a slot or a move on the river, and Dane making them look easy. It was a great first day. Meanwhile, Kristine was setting up the RV, along with icing down 5 cases of beer for Friday nights “coming out party” for the 2010 Funs and for many people seeing the 2010 Star series for the first time. We brought a ton of demos, (of which I am sitting at the fairgrounds now at 6:45am waiting for a few to return) and they got used every day and returned with a big smile and a “Wow, how did you do that”?

Then Saturday came. On Saturday, Team JK jumped back into the 2010 Stars and All-Stars and made our virgin run down the Gauley in the latest playboat design by David Knight and I. We unleashed the boat on every rock, in every hole, on every wave, and in every downriver move we could find or muster up. We are linking ends vertically where we never could before, taking advantage of the higher volume but shorter design that penetrates 3.5” less into the water on each end. We were looping ridiculous little holes, and just watching stephen stick Mcnasties where I doubt anyone ever even considered trying before. It was an eye opener for us. We imagined all of the fun we could have on the Gauley and actually talked about it at Worlds, but to finally find out was awesome. Shane Grove and Justin Owen were ahead of us, already here on the Gauley for a week and gave us a preview of what to expect. Watching Shane throw a loop on the little wave (second one) at the top of Iron Ring was quite impressive and another one of those, “OK, time to think outside of the box again, we can do so much more now.”

We got back after a fast march up the hill at the takeout, a cold take out beer or two, and shuttle back to the festival grounds. American Whitewater has put this event on for many years and this is their biggest fundraiser. They haven’t tallied up the numbers, but it will be a good year for them as the crowds were thick! Kristine and her brother Scott had already set the booth up, better than Friday night, with more lights, more beer on ice, and all of the giveaways ready to go, and numbered. My job, and the job of the team is to answer questions about our new boats, and all of the existing boats too. A big thanks to Stephen Wright, Clay Wright, Marty Cronin, Dane Jackson, Scott Chen, Jake, Trevor, John McConnaville, Kristine (she is the super trooper). These people came and spent hours on end, helping one person at a time get the information they needed about our boats, about their boat, about kayaking, about what time to meet us in the morning to run the river with us, etc. etc.. The big deal for 2009 Gauley Festival for people coming to see us at our RV, was the new boats. The 2010 Fun making its debut here was awesome.

The hard part about bringing a new kayak model out into the world is the big question, “is there any reason I should be looking at that boat?” There are only two ways to know if that new boat will rock your kayaking world.

1. You have faith that the designers and company will not let you down and that it will do everything they say it will do and that they aren’t just saying it to try to get you to buy one. Or

2. You try it and it does everything they say it will do and then you know you just have to have it because having a boat that makes your paddling easier, more fun, more comfortable, etc. is worth the money it costs to bring that baby home.

Having the 2010 Stars and debuting the 2010 Fun here gave those people from Missouri (show me state) the chance to get in and run it down the river and see for themselves just what they have to offer. So far we have had 100% thumbs up on both designs in terms of “huge improvement over the last design” and the last design was considered to be top of the line. The thing that I am most proud of is how many people, especially the top team boaters from other companies, and some from JK too, that didn’t think there was any room for improvement on these two models. “What can you possibly improve at this point?” was the common question. Magazines writers for the past three years since the 2007 Fun and All-star came out have been saying that playboats and river running/playboats have gone as far as they can go. The evolution/revolution is over. Very minor changes, that come with compromises are possible and that is it, they said. Or, they said that you can create a specialty boat that does one thing better but you would need a quiver of boats for different conditions, like a golfer. Well, that just isn’t the case, luckily for all of us paddlers! I would say that the new All-Star is the biggest forward jump in playboat design by David Knight and I since the X boat. The new Fun is a much bigger jump forward than the 2007 Fun was and is the biggest jump since the EZ in that category. This translates into very surprised and happy people on the water, doing more things and feeling more confident and proficient than ever before. I am one of those people. After 30 years of paddling 12 months out of the year I have tried to keep learning and improving. I am cheating, of course, by keeping the boats moving forward making it easier for me. That is just fine, as it keeps paddling fresh every day…. Sorry, I got off topic on the Gauley fest!

We were pouring Budweiser American Ale into cups, popping one cold one after another, starting up the conversations with the adults about whatever they wanted to know about paddling or kayaks. We were also providing little 1/12 scale All-Stars and Journeys (our 14 sea kayak that comes out this winter) to the kids. I think there were a lot of jealous adults who wanted the toy boats too. Everyone was being fitted into the boats. We had the Mon-Star out and it got good use as well. You would be surprised at how many paddlers that were over 220 pounds and up to 300 pounds came out of the woodwork to see if they fit into a playboat for the first time in history. 6’8” tall was our record on Saturday night and 285 pounds. This boat will assure that the Goliaths of the world can playboat too. That was fun. Every time you saw a really big person looking around our booth, you knew that they had heard we just made a playboat that was “supposed” to fit them. None of them really thought it would, or at least they didn’t want to get their hopes up. Then when you pointed out the 6’4” kayak that fits the largest guys, they smiled, and sighed and made their attempt to get in. When they suddenly realized that they could fit in nicely, their faces lit up. Happy days are here again.

At about 2am I went to sleep and too tired to stay awake. The party wound down, but the last man standing was clay wright, who tied all of the boats up and organized before going to bed himself.

Sunday was Dynamic Duo day. Dane and I and Clay and TR made our runs down, taking two first timers down as well (Davis and Jim). We ran every slot we could do in the single boats, except shipwreck which we both blew that line. Big boof at Sweets, etc. and incredible fun. Our most memorable moment was at “splat to oblivion” where dane and I got the entire 12’ boat up out of the water past vert and fell back on our heads. Dane must have been 12’ out of the water when he fell back. Awesome.

Time to go back to Rock Island as it is running. Heading to GAF for NOC next weekend.

EJ out