The first time I headed over to California to go kayaking, about seven years ago, Nikki Kelly told me I would need a good pair of shoes and handed me a brand new pair of boots. I had no idea what she meant – isn’t it about kayaking, not walking? A month or so later, as I prepared for the five-and-a-half hour hike in to Upper Cherry Creek by duct taping the remains of those boots to my feet, I began to understand the importance of good footwear for kayaking.
The next eureka moment was when I was getting trashed in a meaty hole on the Myrkdelselva river in Norway. I had actually made it three metres past the hole (and was paddling as fast as I could) but the recirculation reeled me back in. The last thing I saw was my friend on a rock pulling out his throwbag and the next time I rolled up in the hole a bunch of rope hit me in the face. Christmas! I felt the rope go tight, then it went slack again, which left me in the awkward position of being trashed in a hole in my kayak surrounded by loose rope. Once I had pulled pin and swum to the side with the throwbag and my paddle, it transpired that my would-be rescuer had slipped on the riverbank when the rope went tight and let go so that he wouldn’t join me in the hole. He did jump back in his boat and rescue my kayak to be fair.
Another time, after not quite hitting the line on a waterfall on the Storeelva, and being caught in a pocket eddy and repeatedly slammed against a wall which made rolling very difficult, I swam. I was able to climb the slippery wet vertical wall and hold on to my kayak and paddle while my friends got some target practice throwing me ropes from nearly twenty metres away to attach to my kayak, paddle, and self and rescued everything (side note: always have a long enough throwbag for the river, and always have airbags in your kayak). My boots had superbly grippy soles and were excellent shoes for climbing slippery canyon walls, but they were so heavy they had made it super difficult to swim.
Then, finally, Palm made the boots of my dreams! Grippy soles (Vibram rubber, can’t beat it), high tops to reduce chances of ankle rolling (or snake bites), and lightweight (ideal for swimming even if swimming is not always ideal). Last weekend I spent three hours wading and abseiling my way down a creek in the Waitakere ranges then another two hours bush bashing my way back to the car. Lots of sketchy places, slippery rock, steep drop-offs, yet I felt safe the whole time. The Gradients are easily the best boots I have ever owned. If you’re going anywhere with slippery rock, you should have a pair of these on your feet, who knows, they might save you or your friend’s life.