Sh*t Running in the Dirty Jerz An Interview With Adam Smizaski By: Alex DePue

Sh*t Running in the Dirty Jerz

An Interview With Adam Smizaski
By: Alex DePue

Having Spent all but the last 8 Months of my life living in New Jersey, I am more than aware it is not exactly know for whitewater paddling or its plethora of paddlers.  However, it does boast some pretty fun and manky class 5 runs as well as being within an hour and a half of some of the best class 5 runs of all times in Deleware Water Gap and Eastern New York.  Just as New Jersey boasts such great access to high quality little know runs, it also has some of the northeast’s best, yet little know paddlers.  Meet Adam Smizaski, my now good friend who I unfortunately met just after moving out of New Jersey.  Adam is a stellar creek boater, and while this may be the first time you are hearing his name, I can promise it won’t be the last.  Adam has run most of the the northeast’s mankiest runs, and has his eyes set on some little know yet huge prizes in the near future.  Stay tuned for more from one of the Northeast’s most up and coming paddlers, Adam Smizaski!

DBP: How did you get started boating? What geared you towards creek boating and running waterfalls? 

Adam: It started with A $150 rec boat and my friends idea to do a 3 day kayak trip down the Delaware river. From there I got my class II feet wet in the Lehigh. After getting my first real whitewater boat I ended up moving to Dingmans Ferry PA. I had no idea what this place had to offer. I just started exploring AW (American Whitewater) and found out that I had landed in the Mecca of creek boating. I got out as often as I could and worked my skills to the level needed to paddle the DWG (Delaware Water Gap). Its like I didn’t have a choice but to creek boat.

Highlight reel 2014 from Adam Smizaski on Vimeo.

DBP: How do you mentally prepare yourself for running big drops? What is your thought process like as you are actually running a drop?

Adam: The process I go through before running something big is probably more extensive than that of 90% of paddlers. From the scout to the first stroke my mind has a million things flying through it. During the scout I try to look at it from every possible angle. Most importantly I take a real good look at what I will see when in my boat. Trying to find any visual cues of where I want to be. I still find myself about to get in the boat and realize i didn’t look at it from a boaters perspective. I visualize myself making the moves. I try to think about how I should time them. I consider what could go wrong and what to do if that happens. Think about where the best place to set safety is. Double check that the water is moving the way I think it is. Once I sit the the boat I run through the gear check list. Helmet on well? Shoulder pads? Should I shimmy that right hip pad up a touch? Is the backstrap too tight? Nope, not tight enough. From here I start to fight the butterflies. Deep controlled breaths helps steady my heart rate and get my lungs saturated with air. I push everything out of my mind that is not needed for the drop. Then tell myself I know what to do and can do it. I always consider the risks but if I feel I can handle them and the drop is a go I don’t let them get to me. Once I’ve taken the first stroke into the current I know I’ve committed and its always better to fully commit or not go at all. Trying to bail at this point will ruin your day. As far as my mental process during the drop. Basically nothing. I’m hyper focused on the drop. all that goes through my mind is left stroke, right boof, lean forward for the impact, and then scream and yell in excitement for a successful run. Or roll, get pissed, and do it again. 

DBP: What factors into whether a big drop is a go for you? What is the biggest drop you have ever run? and why? 

Adam: That’s a risk to reward ratio with a lot of variables. Mostly with kayaking I like to just have fun. Going out trying to prove something gets you in trouble. I enjoy pushing the envelope a ton as well but you know the river isn’t going anywhere. I can always come back with more skill ready to tackle the drop. I’ve run a few drops between 50 and 60 feet and its hard to say what is the biggest. There was a big drop milestone for me though I can’t forget. My first run of Davids falls on the Hornbecks. On a huge step up weekend I went back and forth on whether or not to run this that day. Stared at it for what seemed like an hour. The feeling of accomplishment resurfacing in the pool below after a clean line was overwhelming. 

DBP: What is the closest call you have ever had on a river? How did it affect you mentally and were you able to stay calm in the moment? 

Adam: On my fourth trip in whitewater I went out with some misinformation. I had paddled the class III Lehigh in PA without incident and wanted to step up. Heard the Hudson gorge in the Adirondacks was class IV and the next thing to run and decided to give it a go with a friend. Also his fourth trip. We had no roll, no real experience, the thought that this river should only be just a bit harder than the Lehigh and therefore no idea what we were getting into. We roll up hitching a ride with a raft company. Its been pouring steadily. So about a quarter mile down the river we find ourselves out of our boats and getting beat down from rocks, waves, and holes. another quarter mile pass by in no time while fighting to get to the banks. We didn’t know the right way to float or swim in whitewater. We missed chance after chance to get to the shore. Luckily, we managed to get ourselves out. Spent a minute or so catching our breaths. We were close to flush drowning. After this trip I decided to take a major step back, get educated, experienced, and respect the water. The lesson I learned that day I won’t forget. 

Adams Creek kayaking High Water from Adam Smizaski on Vimeo.

DBP: The Rockaway river, your local run, has had a lot of issues with access, and you helped secure (tentative) future access for boaters. There are a lot of other rivers out there with access problems. How were you able to secure access? What do you think other boaters can do to help secure and maintain access on currently restricted runs? 

Adam: All I did was follow the procedure set forth by boaters who have been hassled their before me. The real work and credit belong to them. Unfortunately all that’s been accomplished by me is that the police are choosing not to give us too much of a hassle right now. It is one small issue away from an ordinance shutting it down for good. This run and ones like it need to be respected in the fact that we aren’t welcomed on them by some locals and authorities. Don’t go there looking to step up. Know your skills, know the levels, know the laws, and keep it open for others to come or don’t go at all. The odds are stacked against boaters getting access to restricted runs. If your within the laws accessing a river and get hassled by police, take it upon yourself to do some homework and spread the word to the boating community. Always be respectful of Authorities, Land owners, and locals. 

Boofin in the rain from Adam Smizaski on Vimeo.

DBP: Somehow you always manage to keep your bow above the water. Can you walk us through how to properly execute a boof? 

Adam: Practice. I had no boof to speak of when I started creeking. So I made this a major area of focus. My idea of how to boof was take a stroke as hard as humanly possible. I threw my bow every way but up. Only after realizing that technique and timing were more important than strength did it start to come together. Eventually the power came to. The concept is real simple but the execution is much harder. Gain and maintain speed early. Take your stroke before the boof a bit early that way you have another second or two to time the boof stroke properly. With a good power stroke grab that lip and in a long steady stroke pull back while lifting the legs. Don’t throw your upper body all the way back to your stern. Once in the air get a good lean forward. This will let you plant the next stroke and save your back.

DBP: What can we expect from you in the near future? What are your goals for paddling in 2015? Are there any particular drops or runs that you want to get on? 

Adam: Well I don’t know what 2015 has in store for me but I do have some plans. There’s a few runs I’m keeping close eyes on for when they get going. Also a first descent only a few miles from the GW Bridge. A spot I never would have known existed if I didn’t grow up near it. It only runs once or twice a year at best so hopefully 2015 is the year. Besides this I just want to keep getting out when I can and enjoy myself.

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