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When I started law school almost two years ago, I knew I was in for a life changing experience. Not only would I be moving hundreds of miles away from my home in Boise but an unrelenting load of school work would provide constant intellectual and organizational challenges. I also knew my opportunities to paddle my kayak would be few and far between. This year was especially tough on the kayaking front because Idaho is having an epic water year, which means there are rivers to paddle and waves to surf everywhere you look. Even so, I managed to mostly stay focused on my studies, and as a result I am way out of paddling shape just as high water is starting.

What to do? In years past when I would have jumped on the hardest runs and biggest, trashiest features right out of the gate. This year, with less than ten days of paddling under my belt and some nagging shoulder injuries, I knew I needed a gradual start in order to stay injury-free, sharpen dull reflexes, and rebuild my confidence on the water after a year spent in the library. Luckily, I have all the right tools–the Rockstar and Villain make the perfect two-boat quiver for getting back onto whitewater after a long hiatus.

A switch flipped in my brain as soon as I walked out of my last exam of the year into the glorious spring sunshine. School’s out for summer! I immediately packed the car and headed to the Spokane River’s Corbin Park Wave for some surf in the Rockstar. Corbin Park is a surging, fast but flat wave so just staying on it in a front surf can be challenging. But right out of the eddy I could tell Rockstar was even faster than the 2010 All Star. Staying on the wave was effortless and I could even side-surf down the green face as if it was a much larger feature. That speed let me focus on remembering my blunts, backstabs, flip turns, helices, and more. And because the Rockstar is so easy to launch into tricks, it wasn’t long before I finished remembering old moves and started working on new ones.

After my Corbin Park session, I headed south toward Boise to continue getting reacquainted with whitewater. Here, the focus was on river running. The huge, swirly water of the Snake River’s Murtaugh Canyon was a perfect place to test the Rockstar’s down-river abilities. While the higher seat does make it more responsive to slight changes in lean, I found that the Rockstar was still a relatively friendly river running boat when paddled aggressively. If I lazily mushed into the eddy I tended to get hung up on boils, but if I charged across a boiling eddy line the boat gracefully plane into the eddy. Otherwise, I had a blast wave wheeling and macho-moving the Rockstar down the Snake’s big water rapids. With a run down the Murtaugh and a few days spent surfing my new Rockstar, I am sold. This boat is a performer that will make it easier to do the moves you already know while helping you to learn new ones!

At this point I once again felt comfortable in my playboat, but playboating is just a small slice of an Idaho paddler’s whitewater pie. An arguably bigger and more delicious chunk of that pie is paddling big technical rapids in remote canyons. For that, the Villain S is my go-to boat. This year, like most, I warmed up my river-running skills on the ultra-classic Payette Rivers. I started with a South Fork Staircase run to see whether my boof, brace, and roll survived law school. After some big hits in Staircase and Slalom, I felt confident enough to launch on the infamous North Fork. There, the Villain’s supreme stability, maneuverability, and speed proved to be big assets as I realized how easy it is to forget 15 miles worth of lines when you’re not paddling them every week. Every time I got into trouble, the Villain helped me get back out. In part because I kept getting into trouble, I also realized I needed to be in better shape to tackle the North Fork’s biggest challenge: Jacob’s Ladder. This was a “know when to fold ‘em situation”; before stepping up to Jake’s I needed to get some more river days under my belt.

It is often said that there is no substitute for time in the saddle. The last phase of my end-of–school whitewater blowout, a three-day self-supported trip down the Wild and Scenic Jarbidge and Bruneau Rivers, would provide plenty of that. Here again, the Villain excels. First off, it is easy to trim because overnight gear can be easily loaded in both the bow and stern, ensuring a balanced ride. Secondly, the Villain becomes a hole-punching monster with some weight in the stern, which takes some of the trepidation out of running whitewater in a loaded boat. Finally, the Villain remains easy to paddle when loaded. While control strokes might take a little more “oomph” to get a loaded Villain to do what you want, the boat’s handling characteristics remain reassuringly unchanged–it’s still stable, maneuverable, and fast with 40 pounds of extra gear in it. Because the Villain is so well-suited to overnight paddling trips, I was able to focus on the Jarbidge/Bruneau’s unparalleled canyon scenery, my friends, and the occasional rapid. Seventy miles of gorgeous canyon later, I arrived at the takeout feeling strong, focused, and ready to paddle as much whitewater as I can before school starts back up. With my two-boat quiver, I know I’ll be ready for anything an Idaho paddling season can throw at me.

See you in Banks, Idaho!