Guest Q&A: Charles Wygal
Read Time: 6 mins
As temps start to drop with the fall season upon us, we tossed a few questions to Charles Wygal, a seasoned whitewater kayaker and non-seasonal paddler from the cool and crispy waters of upstate New York to share a few tips on how to stay warm and semi-safe during your cold water paddling adventures.
Charles was born and raised in Rochester NY, was baptized into whitewater paddling scene at Emory & Henry College’s Center for Outdoor Studies, before moving back to upstate NY. In addition to running his own company, Flow Outdoor Pursuits, Charles is a Level 4 Whitewater Kayak Instructor and a Swiftwater Rescue Instructor at Rochester Institute of Technology. He'ss an ambassador for Dagger Kayaks, Level 6, Watershed Drybags, SurfEars, and Gnarcissist Sunglasses. He’s also an avid skier and mountain biker, volunteering at a local mountain on their ski and bike patrol, has a couple adventure pups Clover and Rosie, and lives right outside of one of Rochester's premier parks, Ellison Park, where he and his wife Taylor, go on frequent backyard adventures. Being a year-round paddler in the northeast, Charles is deeply knowledgeable on how to extend a paddle season deep into the cold winter months while staying safe, warm, and cozy.
Q: Basic gear for cold weather paddling?
A: When you first get into whitewater paddling it feels like accumulating gear is non-stop. This definitely holds true as you get into cold water paddling and there’s a few key items that are game changers.
Q: Advantages of cold weather paddling?
A: Some of the best paddling conditions occur during the winter. Sometimes a summer flood can come through and that dreamy wave you got on will be in for an entire day! In the wintertime with a proper kit that same wave can be in for up to an entire week, giving you a much larger window to share and shred that feature. Up in the Northeast we can get the golden warm winter day mixed with rain that can give rivers a nice bump in flow from rain and snow melt. These are the days you rally with a crew, take some of that PTO you've saved and go have a day of amazing paddling on creeks that are usually dried up through the entire summer.
During the winter you inevitably encounter way less debauchery on the river. The population of drunk tubers and college kids seems to drop with the temperatures. This lets you get out, enjoy a huge slice of nature listening to the river, the birds present, and the wind blowing through the snow blanketed mystical gorges and valleys. Another fun thing people may have seen is snowyakking. Combine a hill with your local river and you have the ultimate put-in slide!
Serenity, there's nothing I've personally found more relaxing and recharging than paddling through fluffy flakes coming down from the sky while in a remote location without human interference in sight. These are the moments that keeps me coming back to winter paddling.
Q: Disadvantages of cold weather paddling?
A: It's cold! But outside of the obvious, there are a few things be take into account
Q: Suggestions for someone who is interested in taking the plunge?
A: Find a friend with the proper gear or better yet, a second set that you can borrow to get started. If you start with all the gear discussed earlier, you'll be set up for way more success. Layers, layers, layers, you can always take a layer off if you're overheating, but if you wish you had another layer, you'll definitely be less interested in trying it again. Go with a seasoned winter paddling crew! People with experience will be better at offering advice from which waves are less likely to flip on to which eddies have the sun shining in them. The sun is your friend and will help keep you warm and toasty while you paddle.
Q: Favorite winter run?
A: In the winter I typically take a step back from more challenging runs and I focus more on the class fun runs! A couple of my favorites are Flint Creek and Canandaigua Outlet near my home in Rochester NY. If I get too cold, I'm only a 30 min drive back to the house where I can get under some blankets and hang with the dogs. I also love to paddle some of the seasonal runs around here so long as ice hasn't covered them. Beaver Meadow in Java Village and Cattaraugus Creek in Gowanda are fun runs in western NY that usually go in the wintertime.
Q: Biggest botched trip?
A: I've probably had too many now that I think about it! It’s typically due to being unprepared with gear/layers.
Q: How has kayaking helped you grow as a person?
A: I like to think of the phrase "Be like water". When obstacles are presented to you in everyday life, I feel like I'm able to take inspiration from the element I spend a ton of time around and flow with what I've got. Sometimes blasting through challenges is a way to tackle them, other times delicately tricking into and around obstacles is another way. I also feel like I have become way more patient as a human. This has led me to becoming an instructor and sharing the sport with as many people as are interested. I love getting new folks out on the water as much as I love being on the water myself.
Want to dive deeper into chilly and beautiful depts of cold water paddling, hit up Charles on Instagram HERE and see what you can discover during the upcoming winter wonderland.
Journal - Ice Water: Cold Weather Paddling Tips
Human Powered Journal
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Adam Bratton is the Founder and Head Enabler at Human Powered Movement.
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