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Kayaker Van Life

This is the first of hopefully many posts about taking a passenger van and converting it into the ultimate whitewater kayaking camper.

Here is the background to making the decision to go from a 4×4 truck to a van: I wanted to head to Canada and California this previous July but circumstances stacked up and that trip didn’t happen. I thought “if only I had a van, I could throw my boats in it, load up the dogs and go wherever I wanted.” Later, I pulled into the river parking lot to kayak and my friend Nikki had a brand new Ford Transit cargo van. After talking with her I made the decision to check out the various options.

I went and test drove a new Dodge City Master and even had a friend of mine in Charlotte test drive one that I was considering purchasing. I ultimately decided against the newer cargo vans because I did not want to give up all my ground clearance that I’ve grown to love in my truck and I really didn’t want to give up four-wheel drive. It was recommended that I look into the Chevy Astro/GMC Safari. After a couple of months, numerous hours looking online and contacting potential sellers, finally I came across a 2004 AWD with 107,000 miles. I pulled the trigger and made her mine.

With the backseats
Seats removed

If you have ever considered the van life, or you are living that life, you know there are countless resources out there with advice on what to do and what not to do when converting your van into a camper. It’s a bit overwhelming actually. Here is my situation: whitewater kayaker with two dogs. My primary use will be to camp for 1-3 days out of it until the summer hits, then I could easily go for a couple weeks out of it.

I read to not do anything when buying a van and just see how you move about it, develop your wants/needs and then make a plan to convert it after a couple of months and this is the advice I am going to follow. I just camped out of it for one night going from the Green to the Pigeon and discovered a number of things:

  • It gets dirty quickly
  • Having a place for trash is crucial
  • Need a way to open up the back hatch to exit (easier to slide out the back than the side door)
  • Need essential parts (bed, storage, etc.) to be movable, not fixed
  • Some sort of entertainment (laptop playing movies) could be a good idea
  • Cabinet for making breakfast that isn’t fixed would be a good idea
  • New head unit as streaming my tunes is vital to the energy of the day
  • New tires and possibly lifting the van (also would make it look more badass!)

I’m sure the more I camp out of it, the more I will figure it out. The most daunting task for me at the moment is figuring out the power that I will need as I will need to run the electrical before putting in a new floor and insulation. So many options out there. Suggestions are appreciated. Stay tuned for more on the kayaking van life!


First Impression: Pyranha Machno

Pyranha Machno (photo by Nikki Malatin) 

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a proud member of Team Pyranha and tend to favor their offerings. On the other hand, I am guilty of loving the Pyranha 9R a little too much and this love has made it hard to consider another boat. When it first came out I ignored the Machno (no cheating on the 9R!), but then people started asking about it and others that I respect gave it glowing reviews. My interest piqued, I took the Machno out for a test run and recorded my first impressions.

The Machno comes in three sizes and the having so much choice delighted me. Being 6 feet tall (182 cm) but only weighing 150 pounds (70 kg) usually means that I am too light for the large, too big to fit into the small, and there is usually no medium. The medium Machno fit perfect. I am in the low middle of the weight range, my legs fit comfortably, and the waterline was perfect. I was not bobbing too high or dragging too deep. The thigh braces hit me on the right spot and I felt locked into the boat. The back band was tall and wide and gave me excellent back support. My only complaint was I could not adjust the backband straps to a perfect fit and they bit into my hips. I am still amazed at the advances in outfitting since the old days of cutting and gluing foam blocks. The Pyranha website has all of the technical specifications on all three sizes if you want to check them out.

I ran the Machno down the Green River Narrows at a medium-low level. As a dedicated “Green Liter”,  I did not run the “big three” rapids. The “Green Lite” run is about three miles of relatively steep, technical, but often forgiving Class IV rapids. Right away, I realized that I liked the Machno tremendously. It did not seem too wide on the river (the boat seemed wide looking at it on shore) and I was able to paddle it smoothly. The Machno skimmed over the surface of large holes without flinching. I overshot a few moves due to how fast the boat moves through the water. I was able to maneuver easily through the tight sections without a struggle. The Machno may not be as playful as the 9R but it is much more agile than the Shiva ever was. I felt stable in the boat and never tippy. This is a comfort to me because I sometimes tweak the muscles in my shoulder during dynamic bracing.

In conclusion,  I can see why this boat would give you the confidence to go bigger, bolder, and steeper. I look forward to paddling this boat more and learning all that it can do. 

Paddle in Pink Pigeon Recap

Confidence Series Dirty Bird Recap

On June 24th, 18 women gathered at the Pigeon River to get their play on. This year marked 3 years of Paddle in Pink putting on this event and every year things seem to get better. Groups this year were split into smaller numbers so there was more one-on-one instruction. Nikki Malatin (team Pyranha) and Katie Dean (team Dagger) guided the recklessly vertical groups and myself, Crystal Gustin (team Jackson) lead the short playboat group while Katie Jackson (team Jackson) ran sweep to keep things safe. The pigeon was releasing higher than normal which increased the down river play fun factor.

Paddle in Pink Confidence Series Pigeon
All the ladies before hitting the river (minus 2)

Girls were working on anything from stern squirts, splats, rock spins, double pump, wave wheels, surfing and cartwheels. There is something to be said about a larger group of women all together on the river, learning and laughing when the river is primarily filled with men. While the larger flow increased the downriver fun factor, it made the park-n-play hole very difficult especially attaining back up to the hole. A number of women still attempted to play while the rest of the females were enjoying their SweetWater beer on the NOC platform at river’s edge cheering on any move attempted.

Katie Dean
Katie Dean getting rad

Jackson kayak, SweetWater Brewing
The event is put on in memory of Jennifer Watson, who lost her life to the Little White River, to raise money for a local animal shelter. The raffle consisted of Pyranha schwag (hats and t-shirts), Astral discount cards, a very generous Kokatat gift card and the grand prize, a hot pink and black Orion stocked full of SweetWater Brewing Company beer. This year’s grand prize winner was Kristin House! Small or big, everyone walked away with something and most importantly, these ladies helped raise more money than the year before. I’m pretty sure Jen was looking down on all 18 badass women smiling and cheering them on!

Orion cooler SweetWater Brewing Company
Taking home the Orion cooler!

A huge thank you to Jackson Kayak, Pyranha Kayaks, Kokatat, Astral, NOC, Jackson Action Wagon and SweetWater Brewing Company. I’d also like to personally thank Nikki and Katie for taking charge and showing the ladies how to get vertical. Stay tuned for next year’s confidence series events here on Paddle in Pink.

Photo Credits: Cuong Nguyen, Nikki Malatin, Crystal Gustin, Wesley Bradley, Kristin House

Additional action shots click here taken by Nikki Malatin

Cancelled 2017 Spring Tallulah Releases Rescheduled

AWA just added to their website the make up dates for the Tallulah releases that were cancelled this past spring. Mark your calendars, Tallulah weekends: December 9 & 10 as well as an April 21 & 22 date. Thank you to all involved in helping make this happen!

Women's whitewater video project

Video Ideas


Paddle in Pink is asking for your ideas. We are looking to do a collaborative video project and we want your ideas. We have some ideas of our own but we want to hear from you. Basically, we want to create a stunning piece that will help get coverage on women in this sport. This could be one killer video, or many depending on the ideas that pour in. So, what story do you want us to produce (please post your ideas in the comments or on facebook)?

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