It is located in Western NC and I was met there by two friends from Asheville who promised to loan me a boat. The boat they brought me was a Pyranha Burn, which felt like a cork. It leaked so bad that some corks might have helped, but otherwise it served me well. Another friend from Asheville showed up with a ducky, and a whole lot of people joined up with us. We ended up with a group of 12 and five of us were female. I always enjoy having some women in a group, and it doesn't always happen on runs like the Watauga.
The flow was about 375, a good medium level with enough water to do all manner of alternative lines. There were more eddies than dollars in the deficit, and boofs enough to keep us all busy. I had the most fun when I got right behind Leland, because he knows the run very well and does not try to tell me too much. In the very first rapid (Cabin rapid) I was completely lost, and when I got to the bottom I realized that Leland had led us down the opposite side of the river from the channel I used to run when I learned the run paddling with Wesley. It felt like a whole new river to me, except for a few places where the lines had remained the same. Even the names of the rapids had changed. The last time I was there was at least 15 years ago.
My buddy Joel also joined our group, and he was paddling a ducky (aka "inflatable kayak"). Hardboating kayakers don't think much of duckies, and they did not know my friend. I know him, I have been on a great many rivers with him and know his skills, not the least of which is the ability to stay very calm when things aren't going as planned. Which is exactly what happened to him. In Cabin rapid he ended up stuck in the first little pourover hole. We were all sitting in the eddy at the bottom watching him surf. He worked his way out of the hole, made the run, then flipped at the bottom. His self rescue was immediate, but I knew that my kayaking buddies would be skeptical of his abilities. In the next rapid he pinned the ducky, completely under water, and stood up in an eddy to pull it out. After the boat came unstuck he jumped back in and finished the rapid sitting in one end of the boat with the other end sticking up into the air. By then Andria had decided that he could handle it, and that she wasn't going to worry about him. After that he had no more problems, and demonstrated that a person can totally read and run the Watauga. He certainly wasn't following the kayak lines.
Heading on down the river I got to hear the story of the day Wesley broke his legs at Knuckle. Mary Anne was there that day, and she was willing to talk about it. On that day Wesley had been hanging back behind the group, and they were all waiting for him at Knuckle when he came through. He apparently spaced out about the known pin spot there, and paddled right into it. I don't know what boat he was in, but I suspect it was glass, as he usually paddled glass boats. The group was appalled. He was stuck underwater with a roostertail coming off the top of his head. Then the boat folded, the cockpit rim fractured and his legs broke, and he passed out. He floated free of the boat face down. They pulled him to shore and he came to. They did not have to do CPR or rescue breathing on him. But then he crawled out of the gorge with two broken legs. And apparently he hasn't been boating since. Who can blame him? I would probably quit too after something like that.
But on our day nobody did anything worse than flip over. Leland got worked for a few ends in the hole at the bottom of Hydro, and I walked it. Joel walked it too, the whole rest of the gang ran it and made it look reasonably easy. I have run it before, I just didn't feel like running a rapid that big when I was so new in the borrowed boat with a 70 left Silvercreek paddle I hadn't used in at least 12 years. By the time we got down to State Line Falls I was ready, though. I followed Leland on a totally new approach that included a move through a "thing" on the left side, then a more or less straight shot to the right of the f.u. rock at the edge of the falls. The drop felt just like the falls (Big Kahuna) on Canyon Creek. The main difference is that there's a rock on the left at the bottom, so you must go right. It is about the same height as Kahuna, with a ramp leading into a straight off "delayed" boof. I nailed it. The rest of our group had assorted landings and several flipped over, but no one hit the rock. Several emerged with their hair wrapped around their heads. The young men with long hair need to learn how to tie it back. The why ought to be obvious.
Back at lunch I had asked Leland what he teaches his students about how to boof. He described basically the same teachings as what I have gleaned from Michael in Oregon, with one exception. Leland thinks that one should land with body forward and paddle more or less parallel to the long axis of the boat, instead of perpendicular with the arms in a "house" shape. I remain agnostic about exactly which approach is superior. I think there is a time and place for each, and that one can transition in a fraction of a moment from one to the other, so the question is nigh moot.