July 1st was a gorgeous sunny day, with the typical Mackenzie Country wind. A perfect day to commission the Tekapo Slalom, and a number of kayakers were there for the occasion. The aim was to test the course, to make sure that the features were as desired, and that the course was stable at 60 cumecs. The course is about 1km downstream from Lake Tekapo. A graded track from the back of the village leads down some river terraces to the site, where there are a few pine trees and places to park. A green toilet is well hidden amongst some bushes. There were a couple of very big yellow trucks (grown-ups' Tonka toys) and a winding channel in the ground lined with rocks. Bigger boulders sat in the channel at a few strategic locations, although they looked pretty small.
After a safety briefing, we walked up and waited for the water to arrive. The plan was to have flows of 20, 30, 40, 60 and 80 cumecs for an hour each, evaluating the course at each level. So, down came 20 cumecs; ever seen a river flowing bank-to-bank, with dry river bed five metres ahead? Once the level had stabilised, we jumped into our boats and went down to the first rapid, a wave with recirculating eddies either side. The wave was nice, but a tad shallow. The rest of the course was good for slalom, but not much to play on. At this stage I was concerned that it "hadn't worked."
30 cumecs sorted that out! The wave at the top turned into a superb play hole, the sort that you can stay in sideways all day, surf out the front, or pop off whenever you want. Ah, bliss! 40 cumecs improved matters by making the hole a tad deeper, and the ride a bit rougher, although less sticky. Lots of fun, and potential for multiple retendo-y moves. Unfortunately 40 cumecs was chewing the course up a bit, cutting up some of the corners. At 40 cumecs the last third of the course was essentially a raging torrent, with only small eddies. Concerned that the course might be damaged further, the project manager opted against putting 60 cumecs down, much to the disappointment of the paddlers. However, the two key features were there: the guts of a good slalom course, and a good rodeo spot.
At the debriefing, the paddlers came up with several suggestions to improve the course by shifting rocks to add bigger and more defined eddies, and also to allow the river to spill up banks and cut corners, as opposed to trying to constrain the water. 60 cumecs down a 10 metre wide channel really cranks! The top wave / hole was not as planned, so they were going to move some rocks. The wave will shift back and be easier to get on, and it will also be easier for spectators to see paddlers on the wave. It was certainly valuable to have the paddlers there to give feedback.
I believe the final course will be a world standard slalom and rodeo site. Very few other slalom sites have 60 cumecs; 30 cumecs or less is standard. The main issue now is stabilising the course so that 60 cumecs can go through without damaging it. All-in-all, it will be great asset for kayakers. Congratulations must go to the Canoeing Association representatives who negotiated the original funding from ECNZ, and to the members of the Tekapo Whitewater Trust who have stuck at it over the years.
An artificial course cannot compensate for the loss of a river, but once a river is lost, it is better to have something than nothing. More than ever, a strong national Canoeing Association is essential to represent the interests of kayakers. The course will be officially opened on Labour weekend.