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Magazine gives falls high praise

| September 22, 2004 12:00 AM

By Paul Boring, Western News Reporter

A widely read kayaking magazine out of British Columbia recently named the Kootenai River¹s ³Superwave² as one of the world¹s best big water play spots.

³Superwave offers a friendly V-wave at low flows and a chaotic maelstrom when it gets high,² the article read. ³If you hit it at the right level, you can huck 20-foot Kootenai Falls and surf the wave in the same afternoon.²

Veteran kayaker and Libby resident Dave Friedman has done his fair share of world traveling, eager to compare exotic rivers in different countries to his beloved Kootenai. He said the distinction bestowed on the local river by the magazine is not unfounded.

³There is so much on this river,² he said. ³The article only mentioned a few things. Downstream there are features that are even bigger than the ones they were talking about. For such a short stretch of river, it¹s just packed. It¹s like a white water park.²

The Kootenai River boasts a world-class stretch of water that draws kayakers from around the world to its waters, eager to find out what people in Lincoln County have always known.

³This resource is huge,² Friedman said. ³I wake up and pinch myself pretty much every day. This is in my backyard.²

Friedman¹s residence is situated on a chunk of property below the Kootenai Falls. During the summer months, the Plum Creek employee spends a majority of his free time in his ³backyard.²

³I¹m out there pretty much every day,² he said.

In a one-and-a-half mile stretch of river, the Kootenai offers a multitude of diverse kayaking opportunities.

³The Kootenai River is unique because of all the features involved with it,² Friedman said. ³You can be on it and run waterfalls, you can run amazing white water, and you can play on the best surf waves. There are kids that come and just go down to the surf waves and leave. And then there¹s features galore just around the corner.²

The Kootenai is only one prime kayaking river located in northwest Montana. Although Friedman is loyal to the picturesque river that he looks out on from his back porch, he can also be found testing his aquatic limits on a number of other creeks and rivers in the immediate area.

³Boulder Creek is twenty minutes from my backdoor and it looks like something you¹d find in South America,² he said. ³This is in our backyard and there¹s stuff like this everywhere. There¹s world class kayaking all over the place out here.²

Lincoln County kayakers also frequent the Yaak River, and Ross, Callihan, Fisher and Libby creeks.

³There¹s also the cool, floating sea-kayaking,² said Friedman, who has lived in Libby for more than 10 years. ³As far as a white water resource, or just water, period, this place is unreal. I grew up in the desert and this is a candy store here.²

Although the rivers and creeks around Libby continue to be underutilized, as the sport has gained popularity, the area has become increasingly popular for kayakers.

³The technology¹s advanced and more people have become interested in the sport,² Friedman said. ³And the skill level has also increased a lot. That¹s been the main deterrent for paddling down there is the fact that it¹s so solid. You need to have it together and even the best boaters get hammered every once in a while.²

The face of kayaking has also changed in the last few years, with the sport transcending stereotypes and age groups.

³If you look at the demographics of kayaking, it¹s exploded,² Friedman said. ³You go down to Missoula and all the kids have boats. Where there used to be a few old dudes out there in fiberglass boats, now there are all kinds of people. I¹ve got friends from kids to orthopedic surgeons, and they all paddle.²

Kayaking has taken Brian Fletcher of Bozeman all over the world. He recently returned from British Columbia where he navigated the Stikine River, which offers a formidable section of white water that few kayakers have even considered attempting to conquer.

³Half a dozen groups have ever done that,² Friedman said. ³Brian¹s unreal. And he learned on the Kootenai. There are a lot of good paddlers that have come out of this area.²

The social component of kayaking is paramount for Friedman, who often spends the day on the river with friends and then fires up the barbecue at his house after paddling directly to his residence. Aside from the stellar white water, the Kootenai River is second to none in accessibility.

³You come here, you can surf or make the run, and then walk back to the truck,² he said. ³There¹s nothing better than this.²