Monday, April 30, 2012

Grant in the St. Cloud Times!

Check out this article that was published in the St. Cloud Times on April 30!

With river as their playground, kayakers roll, ride
by Ann Wessel
The first time Grant Schnell traversed the rapids, the Mississippi River spit him out.
His kayak took on water. He capsized. He swam to shore.
“I learned a lesson about preparation,” Schnell, 28, a recreational therapist at St. Cloud Children’s Home, said of his first experience in the spot just downstream from the Sauk Rapids bridge. “I ended up swimming right down through the center of the wave train, and it was kind of a scary experience. That led me to get educated.”
Today, Schnell is among the so-called playboaters who return to the rapids for fun. When the water is running high enough — at least 10,000 cubic feet per second — as many as 10 people might congregate at the playspot to try spins, front and back surfing, bow and stern stalls and cartwheels in short, blunt-nosed kayaks built for the sport. Recreational kayakers paddle with the current. Playboaters, aka freestyle whitewater kayakers, find one spot and stay there.
“I like to come out and enjoy the power of water,” Schnell said late Thursday afternoon as he took a short break. “With higher water, this becomes much more big and pushy.”

Grant Schnell, St. Stephen, plays in the rapids of the Mississippi River in his sport kayak Thursday, April 26. / Jason Wachter, jwachter@stcloudtimes.com
With seven years’ practice — he started by learning how to do rolls in a swimming pool — Schnell made surfing the spot where greenwater slides over rock and turns to froth – a wave hole — look effortless. His rolls seemed crisp. His bow stalls — a sort of handstand in a kayak, which puts the boat perpendicular to the water while it balances on its nose — looked like something from a dolphin show.
The technical aspects of the sport in which the turn of a hip can capsize a boater were what intrigued Rick Rassier when he saw freestyle whitewater kayaking three years ago at the Kettle River Paddle Festival near Sandstone.
“It looked like so much fun,” said Rassier, 52, the motivational speaker behind St. Cloud-based Teamwork Motivation Training who teaches physical education to Foley elementary students part time. It also was something Rassier could do with the bone spur in his right arm that forced him to give up his one-man volleyball team presentations.
“If you’re sloppy, if you’re not thinking about what you’re doing out there – boom,” Rassier said later by telephone. “It’s amazing how fast something like that can happen. If you’re not edging at the right angle, that water will flip you over before you know what happened.”
Last week, Rassier got on the water every chance he got. Conditions usually are right for only a month, although last year’s high water extended the season by three months. On Thursday, the flow measured about 12,000 cfs. It usually peaks close to 20,000 cfs.
Rassier was on the water about 30 minutes before Schnell appeared.
While the experienced might seek more challenging waters, Rassier said two features — the wave hole about 20 feet from shore and a standing wave farther out – make the spot ideal for beginners.
Perhaps most appealing: It’s close to home. And the equipment fits in the back of a truck. Rassier said a boat, paddle, drysuit and helmet can be had for about $500 used to $3,000 new. Schnell listed education and safety among the other necessary components — adding that no one should paddle alone.
The two had the spot to themselves Thursday. A mallard flew over the water as Rassier put in just off Sixth Avenue North. Across the river, trees blossomed pink in green backyards. Maples, cottonwoods and willows were starting to leaf out along the shore. Freight trains rolled past.
But Schnell and Rassier remained intent on the river. In addition to reading the water around them, they watched for hazards such as floating logs.
“The thing is, you’ve got to know your limits,” Rassier said.
On Thursday, he bobbed about in the wave hole, spinning, surfing and attempting cartwheels — a bow stall followed by a stern stall.
Rassier, who has tried playboating in Wisconsin and Tennessee, said he hoped to try the sport in Colorado and in Canada. Schnell tends to stay closer to home, and moves on to sports such as biking and climbing when the water level drops.
“I just like being on the water and the camaraderie that comes along with it,” Schnell said.

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