Trust Your Gear “The Sprayskirt” – Whitewater Grand Prix Reflections by Chris Gragtmans


The 2014 Whitewater Grand Prix lived up to every bit of hype and expectation.  This two weeks of competition is an intense combination of great times with friends, awe in the face of what Mother Nature can produce with moving water, and pressure to compete as well as possible in six consecutive stages.  When confronted with cold water, ice, and some of the most intimidating rapids in the world, it is critical to trust your gear.

Skirt failure is something that I’ve had very strong opinions on since I was young (I’d be happy to tell you why in person sometime). The sprayskirt is something that, even if the athlete has executed their line perfectly, can fail and cause anything from an inconvenient swim to a life-threatening situation.  The last thing that I personally want to think about when I am focusing on a tough line or racecourse is whether my gear is going to hold… that simply should not be a factor.

During the Grand Prix, there were over seven skirt failures by competitors, some of them in very sketchy places.  That averages out to one every two days.  Whether this was during or outside of competition, the gear was the limiting factor in every situation, and the paddler was put at risk.  As the event went on, quite a few people switched to more capable skirts that they knew they could trust.

To understand skirt failure better, it’s important to identify the two primary causes:
•    Implosion.  This is when the pressure of water on top of the sprayskirt pushes the surface of the skirt down between the paddler’s legs, and the skirt finally gets pulled off of the cockpit rim and implodes.  Usually this occurs when the paddler subs out through a big hole or has a massive wave crash on them. 100% of the WWGP swims occurred this way.
•    Explosion.  This occurs in waterfall situations, when a paddler lands the drop somewhere south of a 45 degree angle, and the compression of the boat actually causes the air inside to force out of the cockpit, ballooning and finally exploding the sprayskirt out.  This is the Achilles heel of implosion bars, but can happen to many other sprayskirts as well.

At the Whitewater Grand Prix, not one of these failures occurred to an IR sprayskirt.  I’ve personally used IR gear for a long time, and my sprayskirt is something that I truly trust with my life.  I’ve always told John Weld (owner/designer at IR) that my concern is not as much with dryness (although of course that’s important too), but that I always want to wear a skirt that will never, ever implode.  Here is a quick photo montage of a few of the athletes who agree with me and choose to trust IR sprayskirts…

Rush Sturges
WWGP Overall Placing:    2nd
Sprayskirt of Choice:        Royale
Other Accomplishments:     Too many to list- total whitewater badass. Inga Rapids/Congo First D, River Roots cinematographer extraordinaire, waterfall first descents across the globe, Jr. Freestyle World Champion

Gerd Serrasolses
WWGP Overall Placing:    5th
Sprayskirt of Choice:       Lucky Charm
Other Accomplishments:    Dominant competitor in any extreme race he enters, 2nd full descent of Stikine… the man has a gnarly waterfall named after him in Chile- “The Dirty Gerd.”

Nicole Mansfield
WWGP Overall Placing:     4th
Sprayskirt of Choice:     Lucky Charm
Other Accomplishments:    World traveler, Class V Paddler, Stout Competitor

Hannah Kertesz
WWGP Overall Placing:     5th Women’s
Sprayskirt of Choice:     Lucky Charm
Other Accomplishments:    North Fork Payette young ripper, WWGP Stage Four Winner

Aniol Serrasolses
WWGP Overall Placing:     8th
Sprayskirt of Choice:     Royale
Other Accomplishments:    Smoothest paddler ever, Waterfall Freestyle Innovator, 1st Descent Salto de la Puma, 2nd Descent Big Banana, Red Bull Athlete

Marcos Gallegos
WWGP Overall Placing:     9th
Sprayskirt of Choice:     Lucky Charm
Other Accomplishments:    One of South America’s most talented Whitewater Kayakers

(Photograph Unavailable)
Evan Garcia
WWGP Overall Placing:     13th
Sprayskirt of Choice:     Royale
Other Accomplishments:    Royal Flush, Salto de Puma 2nd Descent, Jr. Freestyle World Champion,

Chris Gragtmans
WWGP Overall Placing:     14th
Sprayskirt of Choice:     Royale
Other Accomplishments:    Desoto Falls First D, Noccalula Falls Third D, Gorilla at 24”, Linville Triple, 10x Green Racer

Jules Domine
WWGP Overall Placing:     17th
Sprayskirt of Choice:     Royale
Other Accomplishments:    7x Stikine, Mount Waddington/Homathko Expedition, first descents worldwide, *fearless*

Galen Volckhausen
WWGP Overall Placing:     19th
Sprayskirt of Choice:     Special K
Other Accomplishments:    Big Banana Descent, 9 consecutive days in PNW with 70+ foot waterfall descents, *also fearless*

Juanito de Ugarte
WWGP Overall Placing:     22nd
Sprayskirt of Choice:     Lucky Charm
Other Accomplishments:    Michoacan Expedition

Written by professional paddler and journalist, Chris Gragtmans

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