A Different Kind of Horizon Line

Horizon lines are described to us early on in kayaking as a point downstream where, from a distance, it becomes difficult to see how the river transitions from a high elevation to a lower one.

At present, I feel like I’ve just paddled over a horizon line of sorts in my personal paddling…

Freefall

Praying for a pencil and not a splat.

My time in Manchester University Canoe Club was fantastic for the development of my skills; at the start I was regularly paddling new rivers with new people giving me tips, and then I was leading on those same rivers and seeing them in an entirely different way whilst really enjoying helping others progress in the sport. Towards the end however, I began to feel like I was stuck in a rut of paddling the same rivers over and over again.

After a while of this stagnation, I’d convinced myself that I wasn’t capable of paddling anything above Grade III, and the thought of paddling IVs made me quite nervous. Those nerves made me wobbly even on the rivers I knew well, and that’s when I decided I had to move on and do new things.

Much the same as a literal horizon line, at first I had no idea of what was up ahead or how difficult it may be, but with each new river I’ve paddled recently, I’ve gotten closer to the horizon line and the whole thing has become clearer.

I’ve now paddled a handful of new Grade IVs and realised that I am up to it, and that the previous Grade IV runs I know and love aren’t unusually easy, which makes me feel confident about doing more in the future!

Any suggestions?

Advertisements

Huck It and See: The Modern Approach to Whitewater Kayaking

I remember the first time I ever kayaked on a river; it was a Wednesday evening around half way through 2004 on a section of the Irwell that runs through Bury, known locally as ‘The Burrs’. I was lucky enough for this to be one of my school sports lessons, and despite being reluctant to take part in almost any other sport, I was more than happy to be sat in a Pyranha H2 on a cold English evening about to paddle my first section of whitewater.

At the time, I was oblivious to the features of a river or the risks they bring with them, so I can’t honestly say that I was scared, but I felt more than comfortable being supervised by one of the school’s outdoor pursuits leaders. Now knowing the relative calmness of The Burrs compared to other rivers, the venue for my first stint on moving water had clearly been well thought out, and the instructors were well-equipped and ready to deal with any situation; I can say this with confidence, as I actually neglected to pack any kit for myself and ended up wearing a mish-mash of spare kit!

Over the next few years of school, college and university, I paddled with various groups of people, but the constant during these trips was the sense of inclusion when we were on a river which made it unlike other sports; there was none of the constant one-upmanship, none of the petty arguments over who was the best, and regardless of your ability there was always something new to learn and someone willing to teach you.

The real beauty of kayaking to me was that there was something for everyone, whether you wanted to push yourself hard and become the next big thing or just relax and enjoy a day on the water. Most of all, there was no pressure to run things you weren’t comfortable with.

One Down

A cold day on the Upper Tees.

Recently however, things seem to have changed…

There’s a new disregard for how much control you have on a rapid, and a tendency for some groups to get rowdy about throwing themselves down things they have no business even standing next to.

Pushing your limits is another part of what makes kayaking what it is, but ignorance of the need to weigh up the risks of running a rapid against the rewards is just foolish. Worse still is the culture of mocking people for not ‘manning up’ and running something they aren’t ready for; to me, it’s far more embarrassing to pinball down a rapid or run it on my face than it is to walk around it.

Kayaking isn’t like football or rugby; the game doesn’t stop as soon as someone gets injured, the river will keep thundering over the rocks and the only people around will be those you are boating with (or even those who just happen to be nearby), and they are the people who will have to put their lives at risk to save yours.

This isn’t the only problem though; people outside of the kayaking community who encounter groups being reckless will assume that all kayakers are the same, giving us a bad reputation and strengthening arguments against us in terms of access so that they can keep us off the rivers ‘for our own protection’.

I once saw a DVD in my local paddling shop called ‘Whitewater Self Defense’ and that, I feel, is a perfect title; kayaking should use the awesome power of the river and turn it against itself for your benefit, using disciplined, carefully developed but powerful skills to find that smooth, controlled line through the chaos.

What do you think?

Eddy Cuisine

As any kayaker will know, all the excitement and pumping adrenaline can get exhausting after a few hours, especially if the weather is miserable or you’ve taken a swim or two!

If you have any experience of River Leading or being an Assistant Kayaker with a Uni Club or another newbie-focused group of paddlers, you’ll also know that it’s important to keep your group’s morale and energy levels up; the former can be done through a good blend of encouragement, trust building and a healthy dose of awesomely awful jokes (Tom Parker has that last one nailed), but when it comes to the latter, apart from ensuring your group have had a hearty breakfast, what else can you do?

Eddy Cuisine

A picnic on the banks of the Tryweryn.

River Snacks are the key! In this blog post, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of a few tasty morsels that have graced my BA pockets over the years…

Trail Mix

Per 100g: Energy (kJ) 1685, Energy (kcal) 404, Protein 7.0, Carbohydrate 38.5, Fat 23.7

This was a common thing to see paddlers pull out in a plastic zip-lock bag when I started kayaking, possibly due to it being popular with hikers (as the name suggests) and these generally being the sorts of people who would also go paddling. Trail Mix offers a reasonable amount of short and long-term energy, but there’s a moderate choking risk and a high risk of allergies being a problem if you’re offering it out to others. It’s also a bit tricky to eat on the river, involving a lot of eating off your hands which isn’t great in the mucky and germ-filled environments kayaking involves!

Sesame Snaps

Per 100g: Energy (kJ) 2130, Energy (kcal) 509, Protein 9.4, Carbohydrate 54.5, Fat 28.2

I hadn’t heard of these at all until a friend suggested them on a recent paddling trip, but they’re pretty good! Sesame Snaps offer more long and short-term energy than Trail Mix, taste a bit sweeter so work better as comfort food, and come in a pretty waterproof and robust packet that should cope with being bashed around in your BA. Unfortunately, a lot of people with nut allergies are also allergic to sesame seeds, so it’s worth checking with your group before offering these out.

Penguin Bars

Per 100g: Energy (kJ) 2147, Energy (kcal) 513, Protein 5.1, Carbohydrate 61.1, Fat 27.1

Penguin Bars are my go-to snack; they’re yummy, easy and cheap to get hold of, robust and some of them even feature a picture of a kayaking penguin on the front! They (and other similar biscuits) also offer more long and short-term energy than both Trail Mix and Sesame Snaps, and you can easily pop a handful in the pocket of your BA. The only disadvantage with Penguin Bars is that their packets aren’t completely waterproof, and if you leave them in your BA for a few days they can get soggy and the chocolate discoloured, making them a little less appealing.

I haven’t made any mention of energy, recovery or protein bars as these can be quite expensive, however if you’re after any of these just for yourself then it’s worth looking at something like Battle Oats. Whatever you eat on the river, make sure to eat it in an eddy so you don’t spot an unexpected Grade VI and choke!

What’s your favourite eddy snack?