We've all run the gnar backwards, but rarely on purpose and never this cleanly. Here, Asheville, N.C.'s own Pat Keller runs the fabled Green River Narrows switch. Do the back-paddling antics mark a step forward in downriver freestyle kayaking's progression? Time will tell. We do know that it's been a big winter for Mr. Keller (Click HERE for his Noccalula first). But first, a little explanation, please.
C&K: Whose idea was this?
Pat Keller: It was mine. I've been paddling a lot with Isaac Levinson and filming each other with our GoPros. There's one scene in "Dirty South" where I spin around in Rapid Transit and get a shot of him coming at me. I knew if I wanted to get that shot I'd have to run it backwards. I was a little worried, but I got to the bottom upright on line. It made sense and it worked. [See that shot below, starting at 2:20]
I started shit-talking to Isaac, saying we ought to do a top-to-bottom backwards. He said, 'You can do it. I don't want any part of it.' So one day I went up there with the Nomad and ran some of the mellower stuff at the beginning backward. It felt super-stable, and I was dialing in the lines. I got to Bride of Frankenstein and it felt great, so I kept going.
Was there a crux moment for you?
When we got to Go Left, I was a little worried, and Isaac could tell. He looked at me and said, 'You're doing great. You got it.' That was just what I needed. He gave me the go-ahead and the confidence, and he was there for safety. I ran Go Left no problem, and I kept going through Flying Squirrel and the Notch.
So that brought you to the big one, Gorilla. What were you thinking backing into that one?
Gorilla is super-dangerous. I have no misconceptions about that. I'm not going to recommend [running it backward] to anyone. But as a personal challenge, to push my own limits, it's been great. I've run top-to-bottom backwards three times now, with the exception of Sunshine, which I have no interest in trying.
Had you been through any of these drops backwards before you decided to do it on purpose?
Well, Gorilla has a high track record of making people run it backward. But in all my times running the Green, I'd only run it backwards one time. Somebody told me once if I ever go over backwards to keep my eyes open, and I'm glad I did. It was a really beautiful sight.
Any special technique?
Yeah, from Jimi Snyder's Squirt Book. He has a backward stroke with kind of a sculling rudder at the end. I started practicing with it on flatwater and I found that I could steer with it. Jimmy calls it the 'Moon Stroke,' like Michael Jackson's moonwalk. His book came out in the '80s.
So is Pat Keller going to be that guy on the Green who only paddles backwards?
Not every time. But with the right kayak, when I'm with the right people, if I'm feeling good and the level is right, I'll do it. The main thing is how you feel on the day, and how your buddies feel.
DIRTY SOUTH (Keller to Levinson switch-claw starts at 2:20):