Foreign kayakers usually come to Altay for the class 4-5 stuff, and there is plenty, but not many people (even among locals) fully discover what freestyle possibilities Altay has. We have a very beautiful big volume river here – Katun', the main river in the region, which comes from Belukha mountain (4,506 m). It has all sorts of waves in it's long whitewater section, I'll tell you about the one most convenient and refined freestyle stretch of Lower Katun'!
The stretch of river we played the most is just about 5 km long, but has about seven different decent playspots which work in various waterlevels (from the bridge to Manzherok rapid). This is just 30 km from Gorno-Altaysk airport and well connected by the roads from both sides of the river. The area is well developed for tourism with lots of little hotels and accommodation to stay all over the river, you can also camp on the banks.
The Katun' has no dam control – it's all natural, so the level changes every day, you just need a car to chase the waves in a 100+ km range.
Lower Katun' stretch just before Manzherok village
From May to the beginning of July the water is usually high and very high – time for good waves and then drops gradually, opening smaller playspots.
I prefer high water of course, when my favourite wave is working: the wave in Manzherok rapid. This one you can say 'initiated' me into freestyle. In 2004 – my first year kayaking – I surfed this wave in super high water for a few seconds and it changed the course of my life. This year we had it in all shapes, from almost not working, then you have to wait for five minutes for foam to form, and to the almost best very high level, when it gets steep, big and so impressive to surf (it is almost scary). In lower water one very good play hole starts to work in this rapid also.
First wave in Manzherok rapid
Me on Manzherok wave. My favourite one!
The other playspot to look at on this stretch is Dollar channel. The little left channel of the river has a rapid at the end, before it joins back with Katun'. Here you have two major waves. The first Dollar wave works in very high level – it is a slow, but very decent wave with two shoulders and straight forward set up, you can muscle up pretty much any move on it and do rides. There is no eddy service, but it's very easy to stick moves and just surf for a rest, also easy and short to walk up. We got only one day of it working properly before the water dropped.
First Dollar wave, smooth and slow
The Second wave in Dollar, a 'one trick wave' you might say, as it is pretty hard to stick stuff as it's very narrow. But it's fun, and it's incredibly fast, so if you're lucky – it sends you in the air high with a lot of speed. There's a nice eddy just next to it, you go again and again like an addict, hoping for the flight. This wave can make you completely exhausted in ten minutes if you paddle with no queue. There is also a little tiny 0 wave just above this too, which is very nice and soft for beginners to learn surfing.
Second Dollar wave – fast and tricky
Second Dollar wave occasionally throws you in the air
Three or four minutes above this rapid, just under left bank there is a small hole, a bit shallow and very slow - which allows you to learn every hole move. 10 years ago we would call it 'cartwheel hole', because this was best people could do, but now I can McNasty and Fonix in it – it's great for learning.
Little training hole – slightly shallow
Little training hole – loop, McNasty and Fonix all go very good here
One of the more recent playspots appeared after last year's flood. A piece of concrete from the bridge fell and made a wide smooth hole/wave, with a huge eddy. This is how we do it in Russia ... by luck :) when some people try to build a decent hole for years ... It's a bit flushy, but the huge eddy makes it convenient, great for entry moves and loops, all other tricks are possible too, just harder.
Bridge Hole – great for entry and loops
When the level drops so low that Dollar is not working, the other playspot appears just on the other side of the river in the main Katun' channel. It's the famous Captain Hole – a pretty wide spot with hole bit from surfer's right and little wave from surfers left. Eddy service provided by the big stone in the middle of the flow. This is place where we had the first freestyle competitions in the region (2004), now it's a big festival every June. This is where I learned my first moves, like spin, clean spin and right blunt years ago.
There are also a few fun waves you will find as you paddle down, some for kick flips and some you can surf.
As I understand now – the higher your skills are the more fun you can have on the same river. I enjoyed Katun' paddling more then I expected and we couldn't get Pringle off the water almost every evening.
If you want a break from the lower Katun' you can drive up to the middle section or to one of the many class 3-5 rivers, most of them are Katun' tributaries. Also you can hike to the moutains, horseride, raft, paraglide, bike, discover ancient petroglifs or just go to a beach on warm artifficial lake/aquapark place.
View from the nearby cable car of Manzherok village an Katun' river