Although I started paddling nearly 20 years ago, I’ve never really been one for pursuing paddling qualifications. Apart from safety courses, I am more of a ‘learn from friends; let the river/ocean teach you lessons’ kinda girl. So when I bumped into Simon one evening at River Dart Country Park (RDCP) and he asked me if I wanted to do 5 * training with Gene17, I thought about it really hard. Would it be worth the investment? The overriding answer was a resounding yes.
I had two main issues that really needed to be addressed and the 5*T proved to be the perfect forum for ironing out those concerns. Firstly, I have been finding myself up front, leading peers down class IV rapids, rather than being a passenger. I had no idea how to judge whether I was doing a good job of leading or not. Secondly I’d reached a plateau in teaching myself key strokes and was stuck with a sketchy boof.
The first day of 5*T saw myself and two fellow 5*trainees with Dennis on the Upper Dart at a friendly level (lapping the slab). The morning was dedicated to covering advanced key strokes, including efficient eddy turns, boofs, attainment and cross grain moves. We also covered secondary strokes such as the stern squeeze (I never even knew this stroke existed; now I’m in love with it). We learned concepts for reading rivers, such as setting markers on the river and visualizing how to get to them; awareness of our immediate environment while looking ahead and planning for the next rapid or eddy.
During the afternoon we spent time talking about and practicing group management, group safety, spotting lines, presenting lines to a group of mixed ability and general “soft skills”. This gave me direction on how to successfully lead on harder water whilst being sensitive to each individuals needs within the group. We also covered techniques to keep the group moving quickly, safely and effectively downriver. Then it was off back to RDCP for some soup and debrief; closely followed by beer (3 pints of).
Sunday was dedicated to personal development and core skills with Simon; and what better place to practice those skills than on the East Lyn? We started with the good ol’ boof. Simon filmed and offered advice as we ran a little ledge over and over. With the instant video analysis combined with Simons critical eye and explanations, our boofs improved infinitely after just 4 re-runs of the rapid. A new concept for me was learning that key strokes should just be an extension of a regular paddling stroke; not forced.
We encompassed more river reading and boofing clinics all the way down the gorge and we put into practice line of sight and river/ bank communication skills. Simon’s teaching style included demonstrations, instant video analysis and succinct, yet effectual advice. Simon took each of our river running issues and fixed one thing at a time until it all just flowed. A great day of learning and personal skill development was followed by a lengthy debrief in the pub. During the1 to1 feedback we were given clear goals and targets to reach before going for assessment.
The 5 *T with Gene17 taught me in 1 weekend what I’ve tried to teach myself in 2 years. I finally know what is expected of me leading class IV rivers and I finally have a boof that works. Yay! That’s a pretty good return on the investment, I’d say.