Saturday, January 31, 2009

Athletics - WCKA paddling with Last Descents River Expeditions down the Great Bend of the Yangtze by Ben Dann

Ben Hurd throwing a massive blunt on the Kim Jong Wave.  photo by Ben Stanistreet

There I was on the Great Bend of the Yangtze river. This is what I had been looking forward to for the last few months of my life. Everyone had their gear loaded on the rafts and we were ready for action. Soon we made our way down to the first rapid of the trip, and each of us was anxious to experience the power of Yangtze. We decided not to scout the rapid, and dropped in with only the verbal directions of our coaches. As I paddled over the horizon line I saw what I was least expecting. Huge haystack waves were crashing in front of me. An immense surge of excitement shot though me. As I reached the bottom of the rapid, I knew that from that point forward the rest of the trip was going to be epic. The honor of being one of the last people to ever paddle these amazing rivers will be with me for the rest of my life.

We spent seven days on the Great Bend of the Yangtze and every second of it was amazing. Our trip was led by the local rafting company, Last Descents. Travis Winn and Adam Elliott created the company to inform people of the endangered, beautiful white water in the gorge. The Great Bend of the Yangtze is on its last leg. Many dams will soon turn its stunning canyons into a series of giant reservoirs. With the rising water level, many farmers' homes and land will be submerged. On this trip we had an earlier take-out than the trip in 2007 because of the construction of dams downstream. The upper section of the river we paddled had not yet been affected by the dams. On our third day on the Yangtze trip we headed down river to spend the day on a wave called, "Kim Jong... because it's ill." World Class Kayak Academy named this wave on its first trip to China. The wave was nicely shaped and had some potential for huge tricks. Everyone had a good time and many people added a few new skills.

The last major rapid we ran was called "Windy Corner." The river took an abrupt turn and was pushing a lot of water against the far wall. It formed big waves and holes much larger than anything I had ever seen before. The waves had big pillows and were not afraid to push us around. As we progressed down the river and crossed a major fault line past "the bend," the canyon walls slowly drifted away. It was great to have been in such a beautiful place and have shared this experience of going to high school on the beaches of the Yangtze.

Scott Doherty digs into the Yangtze.  photo by Ben Stanistreet

Along with education and character building, World Class is all about athletics. Not only do we go paddling almost every day, but we also have a morning workout every day before the sun comes up. Our head coach Jesse Shimmrock leads the main workout, and our assistant coach Susan Hollingsworth leads us through stretches and occasionally yoga. Our workouts usually consist of intense physical activity, such as muscular strength and muscular endurance training with the occasional game thrown into the mix. 

One of our campsites was on a sandy beach right below the biggest rapid on the stretch, "Judgment Day." For morning workout that day we took a little break from the strengh workouts and played a game of foot ball. It was definitely not the normal game of two-hand-touch. We used paddles shoved in the sand as goal posts and a throw bag as a the ball. It was so fun to be running around in the sand in a beautiful gorge playing football WCKA style. Everybody is fairly reluctant to get up in the morning for workouts, but starting off the day with some exercise helps everyone wake up in the morning. It's also good to keep our bodies balanced because kayaking is mostly upper body strength.

Ben Dann and Ivan Stiefel charging the Windy Corner.  photo by Ben Stanistreet

This experience is a life altering opportunity. It is fun, educational and most importantly, it will shape who I am as a person. The ability for me to be on this trip to China will change my life forever. Not many kids get the pleasure of going to high school, river-side, doing the thing we all love the most, kayaking.


  1. Sounds like an amazing journey! I hope I'll catch up with Travis myself in the future. I love living here in China. Perhaps after college you could experience a fun year of teaching English here. It's rewarding in many ways for your growth.