Sullivan Falls – Tidal Reversing Falls Extraordinaire

For several years I had heard about Sullivan Falls from different sources – first it was Phil Urban, Dustin’s father, and then from Brett Cicotelli from the Atlantic Salmon Federation. Both Phil and Brett had told me how great it was, but it was not until this August when I met Brett and Nate Hanson of Pinniped Kayak at Sullivan Falls that I really came to understand how awesome this spot is and on how many levels it is awesome. First of all, even though there is no such thing as climate change, the Northeast has been experiencing its second year in a row of really bad drought. This means that local flows where there are not scheduled releases are super low and not reliable. Enter the tidal reversing falls phenomenon. So long as you show up at the prime time for a reversing falls, it will run – no matter what! This is a wonderful comfort to anyone searching for a good play spot! Though the tides may be different sizes and occur at a different time every day, you always have the comfort of knowing that you will get reliable fun paddling in. Another interesting salt water effect is the extra bounce you get. The increased buoyancy of the water from the salt means that you will fly out of the water more easily and higher when you are going for air, and even when you are not – it’s really fun!

        Sullivan Falls has several parts to it and is a truly beautiful spot on the Maine coast. Some very smart people in the Frenchman’s Bay conservancy protected the land around Sullivan Falls and created a preserve so everyone can come see it and paddle if they want to. It is therefore a great venue to introduce people to whitewater kayaking and show off how fun the sport is. In my multiple trips to Sullivan, I met and talked to more people about kayaking than I have at any of my other river spots for a number of years – that was really fun too. 

     If you arrive at Sullivan 2 hours after high tide and depending on the size of the tide, you will see the beginnings of moving water in the channel in front of the preserve. It looks pretty flat and unremarkable, but if you wait a little while you will start to see the formation of a nice Nile size rapid in the middle of the channel. Literally, the power of the water and sheer volume really make it feel Nile sized and its great training for the Nile if you are planning to go – and you should since the Isimba dam is being constructed as I write this and the Nile as we know it will disappear in a year from now! That aside for the moment, as the tide goes out a large wave hole starts to form in the main channel. It is large, looks kind of scary and is very friendly. As the tide drops, it becomes more like a pourover and less friendly. And as the tide drops, a very large fun wave train forms below the pour over. Later, these waves become surfable and big, but while the hole is dropping to pour over level, it’s time to get out of your boat and walk upstream around the corner to the next amazing spot. This really is amazing!

     After you paddle upstream alongside gorgeous cedar trees, pink granite and seaweed, you will make the ferry of a lifetime to get across the channel to an eddy. This ferry is a true test of your paddling fitness because you will be paddling very hard for several minutes to make it across to the eddy. Large boil lines and eddy fences want to rebound you away from where you need to go, but don’t be deterred – keep going! Once you get to the eddy, you can catch your breath and paddle up the eddy to the top of the “island” – it’s not really but sure looks like one from where you sit. Once you get to the top, you will see the most perfect friendly wave hole of all time! It is sensational and it has easy eddy access! The only caveat here is that the feature is only in for about 1.5 – 2 hours in each tide cycle. Not only is the feature just so much fun, it is also really beautiful! If you think you have died and gone to paddling heaven, you have! And after you have worn yourself out at the play spot, you get to paddle down through the now large wave train – very large and very fun! This is a must paddle spot for any kayaker who finds themselves in Maine! Enjoy!

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