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?

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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?

Going Solo: Alone with the River

For many years, I considered those who ventured out to rivers on their own to be reckless individuals with no regard for their own safety or well-being; however, I was recently offered a fresh perspective on solo boating during a 4* Training day with Dave Kohn-Hollins (I won’t try and reproduce his words here, as I’ll most likely misquote him and lose some of the sentiment; instead, I’ll simply recommend you book yourself onto a course with River Flair).

The message I took from my conversation with Dave and the thoughts it provoked in my mind, were that in any leading situation you tailor the venue to suit the group and the conditions on the day, and there’s absolutely no reason why that approach can’t also be applied to a group size of one.

Of course, in order to pick a river that is suitable for a solo run you’ll need enough modesty to take an objective and impartial view on your paddling abilities; for this reason, I’d encourage you to really get to know yourself and your limits not only in kayaking, but in life in general.

Having pondered over the pros and cons for a while, I decided to take the plunge and head to the Tryweryn on my own (I do paddle other rivers too, I swear!) I chose this particular river as I know it well and felt comfortable that my abilities were at a level to cope with its grade and sort myself out should I get into any difficulties. At the Tryweryn, I also knew there would be other people around if I desperately did need help at any point.

I stopped at a couple of my favourite haunts on the way over to Wales, namely Starbucks and Go Kayaking North West, both of which served up an awesome cup of coffee! I spent a short while chatting to the guys at GKNW, but by the time I’d reached the mighty T and got changed into my paddling gear I was glad of the late start, as the first 5 minutes on the water with no one around were absolutely terrifying!

Not being part of a group on the river felt completely unnatural, and although I knew I was more than capable of looking after myself, it took me a good while to properly settle in and start pushing myself to make more technical moves… Even the ones I make routinely on each trip over that way.

However, as much as I love leading groups and helping others progress, when the nerves did eventually subside I realised the time I’d usually spend managing a group could now be spent on developing my personal paddling; throughout the day I was able to run and rerun sections, aiming for cleaner moves and harder eddies each time.

The knowledge of having to be self-reliant was a big contributor towards the sense of thrill (and fear during the first couple of minutes, it’s a fine line) whilst on the river, but it was definitely a confidence building experience. By the end of the day I was absolutely exhausted, but I’d gotten a lot more practice than I usually would have on a group trip, become comfortable in a boat again and made a bunch of new eddies… and friends!

A key point to bear in mind when considering your own solo mission is that ultimately, the only person that will get hurt by any poor judgement (or any other mishap) will be yourself; something far more reckless that happens all too often in boating these days is arrogant paddlers throwing themselves down rivers they don’t have the skills or experience to cope with safely and obliging others to put themselves at risk to save them when something inevitably goes wrong.

If you do choose to give it a go, definitely make sure someone knows where you’re going and when to expect you back, and have your phone, a whistle and all other necessary gear on you. I’d also recommend making sure you’ve got plenty of experience under your belt first (maybe even one or two safety and rescue courses, like WWSR) and that you only go it alone on rivers you know well.

As for me, I’m now looking towards my next solo mission to another of my favourites, the Kent

Would you go it alone?