Archive for May, 2011


12 Cumecs at Cardiff

Cardiff International White Water Centre, located in Cardiff Bay is one heck of a cool place. I mean, how many whitewater courses can you visit that have a travelator for a start. I’ve paddled CIWW many times since it opened but I’ve never before been able to make a big release night (12 cumecs). Finally, last Saturday evening, I was lucky enough to get out there with Chris C., Lowri and Fran as the pumps were set to max. Let the party start…yehaw!

The features become more retentive at this level compared to the usual 8 cumecs. People were going huckin’ huge with major air featuring heavily at the top hole.


Photo: Lowri busting out some moves. Only person to get a back loop that I saw!


Photo: Ben putting some air between him and the hole. This kid rocks!


Photo: Ed Harry wheeling away.

When we got tired of playing our afternoon away, Chris busted out the raft and we headed out on the course with some additions in the form of other Chris and Linda. I’ve never had the pleasure of stepping foot in a raft before and what better way to be thrown in at the deep end than with 5 raft guides who inclu 2 of the GB ladies raft team!


Photo: All aboard!


Photo: The Travellator with the girls up front.


Photo: The CIWW poster-boy Chris C.  in the lap of luxury.

Rafting made me giggle…a lot. Its so different from kayaking. If you ever want to have a really good laugh, try getting back into a raft after you’ve disembarked into the main current. It’s kinda hard to do and very entertaining for your co-rafters! Can’t wait for the next 12-er night. I’m there with bells on!


Surfin’ Southwest Stylee

With a good surf forecast for the weekend, a couple of us headed west to Bude to be met with 3-4 ft and clean conditions with a nice off-shore breeze. I freely admit that I am a total surf snob and living inland, deprived of good conditions for a very long time, I was itching to get saltwater onto my face and my fins into the face of a well formed wave. The UHCC had organised a coaching weekend with Al Randall and he met us down at the beach.


Photo: Gig rowers out at Summerleaze

Surfing is a game of judegement- predicting which break will be best, at what state of tide, direction of swell and wind etc all play in the selection of where to go. We first checked summerleaze. This beach was great and I was really impressed with the gig rowers out there in descent swell in just rashies and shorts. However, we opted for Widemouth. It’s been a few years since I surfed there and last time it was a competition, so no time to really enjoy the surf, just paddle like heck against the likes of Tamsin and Naomi…


Photo: To the surf, people!

We were not disappointed. 3-4 ft of surf and long rides, left and right. I was in my playboat and got a few blunts too. We surfed until lunch when the sand bar started working and hey-presto, TUBES!!! Al got close to getting one. Whilst munching on a cornish pasty, the wind picked up and things got messy and started closing out. I took piccies instead of going for a second session (ever the surf snob)!


Photo: Two of the guys sharing a wave; getting a bit windy and messy, but still ridable.


Photo: Al Randall; coaching.

The following day we headed back to Summerleaze which was partially sheltered from the wind by the harbour wall. I busted out my surfboat and picked up some handy hints from Al. Al’s suggested tweeks put into practice made a huge difference to my technique and I was surfing exponentially better by the end of the sesh (even without a back-band).


Photo by Chris: About to nearly run Chris over, all in the name of action photography.

The others were getting some awesome down the lines too and I think we all came away from the weekend having learned something new. Chris is writing this up for the UHCC blog (link above) so stay tuned!!!


Photo: Nige and Chris going for a wave

My passion for surf is most definitely back in full force. I need way more waves in my life!


The Bitches of West Wales

The first of our two 4 day weekends arrived and Chris P. and I headed down to good ‘ol west Wales to enjoy some classic surf with the west country boys (Mark, Mark, Mark, and Mike – must be a popular names for kayakers!).


Photo by Chris: Mark making the most of 1 foot surf.

The plan loose plan for the weekend was to surf at Whitesands and visit the Bitches as much as the tides/ daylight allowed. After establishing camp at Pencarnon, we headed over the beach for some tincy-wincy surf; but hey I’ll take whatever the surf gods offer- sure beats flat!


Photo by Chris: Mark and Mark carvin’


Photo by Chris: Me messing about on my stern and Mike going for a gnarly 0.5 fter.

After our surf, we headed back to camp to exchange surf for playboats and head out for our first sesh of the weekend at the Bitches. It was 6 pm when we left the lifeboat station at St Justinians and this left us with has 3 hours of daylight.

We made good progress before we made that turn out into the current. We were just ahead of the tide and so little effort was needed to reach the lovely ladies of Ramsey Sound (the Bitches). In fact we had to wait for a little bit for the tide to turn when we arrived.


Photo: Shacks playing the waiting game atop one of the larger rocky outcrops

Eventually things started to move and the holes started working. Shacks and Clampitt were getting some awesome loops and we were all getting some excuses for playboating moves. I love how dynamic the water in this place is – I guess its important to be a dynamic paddler here to match. The water changed minute by minute. I remember watching Clampitt being squirly whirlyed up to his armpits in a whirlpool that appeared from nowhere- no use fighting it, just gots to go with the flow.


Photo: Chris and Hardy wishing and hoping for the waves to form

We waited as long as the light allowed for the top wave to form, but it didn’t. We paddled back towards St Justinians as it began to fade. The crossing from the Bitches to the lifeboat never fails to get the adrenalin pumping. The first time I went there, I recall Chris C. telling me to paddle really hard to get out of the squirly, haystacky water but then keep paddling like hell to get out of the calm water. It is the calm water current that takes you directly to Horse Rock (a giant whirlpool at higher tides).

We made it with about 50 m to spare between us and horse rock, heading to the lights of the house at St Justinian and getting off in the dark- seems to be the order of the day recently :-) . Back for a BBQ with the boys in the rain. Whats a bank holiday without rain, huh?

The following day, Dave and Pete joined our group for a 8:00 am on water return journey to the lovely Beeeeatches. Half the group decided to go Coasteering instead- boring! Of course, we got a late start and were 30 min behind schedule. This make a huge difference to the paddle out and it was one massive ferry glide to make it this time…but so worth it!


Photo: Pete busting out his moves.

The holes took their form (awesomeness) and we played in them while we waited to see if the top wave would form. We were not disappointed- and on a 6.1 tide too, which is usually too small for the wave.


Photo: Pete on the top wave

To get to the top wave, we had to get out of the boats, hike up on the razor rocks then seal launch off the other side and ferry to the wave. It was kinda hard to stay on the wave in small boat, but Pete was doing really well in his boat of a fine vintage.


Photo: Pete again hoggin’ that top wave.

We all had a few rides on the top wave and headed back to the campsite in time for lunch. We met up with the others guys and went out for a surf at Whitesands again. Of course the obligatory drinking hole in the form of the Farmers Arms in St Davids was frequented for an evening of kayaking storey exchanges. What a fab weekend!


Photo: Looking out towards Whitesands.


It’s all Just Rocks and Water

I’ve been thinking recently about the evolution of my kayaking skill-set and felt inspired to jot a few words down. I started boating over 2 decades ago spending a long time paddling class III-IV. Over the last 7 years though, I’ve stepped up to class IV to V. The jump in skill needed is significant for just 1 grade higher. Rapids pose greater challenges and become exponentially more consequential; boat; body; blade position precision is not optional, it is essential. Mentally, the challenges increase and one is forced to constantly consider risk versus reward. The rewards are just fantastic though.

I don’t claim to be a gnarly boater, I’m defo not the one huckin’ huge (see the likes of the lovely Heather Herbeck and Christie Glissmeyer for that) and probing class V still scares me. But I’ve learned a few things along my boating journey and thought I’d share my ramblings. The article is divided into 4 sections. The order is a bit higgledy piggledy, but hopefully the content is of interest.


Photo by Mark Allen: Me on the Gronda, Italy

(1) On Confidence, Experience and Motivation.

Confidence comes from developing skills through experience. The more time on the water, the easier it is to assess and make good decisions in new scenarios from lessons learned in the past.  Paddling hard rivers becomes slightly less scary the more you do it. I thrive on the heightened awareness evoked when I run class IV to V rivers. Every sense seems somehow more perceptive. This improves my paddling.

Besides the obvious of actually paddling the rivers, my skill development has comes from boating with people better than me; from coaching people who are less practised than me; from trial and error; from placing myself outside my comfort zone; from cross-discipline training; the list is possibly infinite. We may not realise it but we are populating our kayaking toolbox every time we don our kayaking gear and get on the water.

Having confidence and belief in ones ability is undoubtedly a good thing. However, I believe having an ego closes oneself off to learning – I learned this lesson the hard way in my teens and early 20’s, but I’m really glad I did.  In being confident I am just wrestling the river; if I have an ego, I wrestle with myself too. That can be quite tiring for both me and my friends. It’s a fine line between confidence and having an ego and I reflect from time to time (as the skill-set grows) as to which side of the line I sit and adjusting if necessary.

Still 6

Photo: Dave Porter firing up Big Bro, Oregon.

I will not run a river to brag I’ve run it. For sure, I’ve had my Kodak courage moments (when I was inexperienced and ignorant to risk). I’ve got away with it. I’ve also got hurt. I’ve been there, done that, bought the stitches. I’ve waited impatiently for injuries to heal. I’ve suffered the boredom and frustration that entails. Which brings me back to ‘risk versus reward’. I truly think that as far as extreme sports go, the older (or more experienced) I the wiser you become to this phrase. With age comes experience of injury, an appreciation of healing times and an understanding of longevity of the effects. Does that mean we take less risk the older we get or more experienced we are? I don’t think so, maybe we are just more conscious of it and how to assess it. Maybe experience of injury makes us better paddlers. In my case this is true, for other people, this may be utter tosh.

Personally speaking, kayaking is not about rivalry between fellow paddlers to push the limits of what is possible; though hats off to guys if they are doing that- they really will expand the boundaries of our sport. For me, boating is about challenging my boundaries. It’s about setting my goals and pitching myself against them. It doesn’t matter if I achieve them, what matters is that I’m motivated to try.


Photo: Tom on the Sorba slides, Italy

(2) On Shooting the Rapids

There are 3 things that I think about when I am faced with a white-water quandary. (A) Do I see a line, (B) Do I have the mental and physical ability to make that line (C) Can I, and where should I, set safety?

(A) The Line

Kayaking, for me is about respecting the river. It constantly provides clues as the how best to manipulate its waters. It is up to us to pay attention to details and use its intricacies to enable a successful decent. Experience, (sometimes our own, sometimes that of others) and possibly some research (a book or internet perhaps) provides a basis for choosing lines. Personally, I will look at a rapid for just a few minutes and pick my line. I will consider where I need to be and when, and use visual markers such as a tree or odd shaped rock to aid that recognition on the water. I have a rough idea of what key-strokes I need to place and their timing, but I do not over-plan; being adaptable to what’s presented before me on the water is just as important as the planning. Vigilant, I will often check with other group members on the line that they would choose and be open to changing my plan if I hear something contradictory. I will examine several areas of the rapid on the walk back to the boat, so I can easily spot them when on the water.


Photo by Dave Martin: Me on the Erme, Devon

(B) To Run or Not to Run

I know very little about extreme sports psychology and I try not to read too much literature on the subject- maybe I should; maybe I’m arrogant about my method- I tend to focus on the method that works for me. I do not use the spit test (if I can spit then I should run the rapid…if not then walk). I do not use the ‘imagine yourself in the third person’ method- it does not work for me.  I’ve learned much from my own experiences and likewise by observing fellow paddlers approaches and listening to them recounting their stories. I use a straightforward approach. I literally just ask myself-

(a) Am I paddling well today and do I feel good?

(b) Am I calm?

(c) Do I think I have to ability to make the key moves?

(d) Am I free from performance influencing injury?

If the answer to all the above is yes, then I make the decision to run the rapid. If there is any hesitation, even for 1 split second, I walk around. Simple.

For all the points above, it is nearly impossible to de-convolute the mental from physical influences on the decision (even for (d), you can switch yourself off to pain). The two are synergistic in our sport. We all have an appreciation that kayaking is X % mental and 100-X % physical ability. It depends on the person as to the magnitude of X and it may vary significantly with frame of mind on any given day. I have chatted with people, on occasion, about a gender weighting to the X component but I think absolutely not; we are all just so intricate and individual that it is impossible to tell what the major influences on X are.


Photo: Stu on the Travo, Corsica.

(C) Safety, Please?

The higher up the grading you go, the harder it is to set safety- fact. My friends and I frequently joke as we prepare to paddle a class V rapid, “ Three teams of one then?” There is some truth in this- if something goes wrong you can often be on your own. The harder the rapid, often, the more difficult it is to protect and hence higher consequences and higher grading. We do always try our best to position safety where it would be most useful. For class V, this often involves setting up live baits. For everyone concerned, this is mentally and physically tiring but necessary. I try not to run anything that would put the team in any danger, should they need to rescue me. It’s just not worth it. We do our best.

Still 1

Photo: Nicky on the Mellte, Wales.

(3) On team-work

When I was just kayak surfing and not boating rivers, I used to not place importance on team-work. It was often just me and the boardies, out there, on the Pacific Ocean swell. What could they do if someone went wrong for me? Chuff all. Swimming outside of the boat was not an option and this made me a very independent paddler, with a bombproof roll. It taught me to trust my skills and my judgement.

However, when I transitioned to rivers, I soon learned the teamwork aspect to our sport. It’s so much less tiring to divide the mental and physical challenges of scouting, probing, rescuing as part of a team.  It builds trust. It builds close friendships. As team boaters we learn to trust our wellbeing in the hands of others and likewise take the responsibility of others upon ourselves. No-one wants to be a weak link in a team so we endeavour, as a mark of respect to our fellow paddlers, to keep up to date with rescue and first aid courses and keep up fitness levels. When things don’t go according to plan and the epic ensues, it’s the team we rely on to get us out of trouble.  Everyone has something to offer the team. I think this aspect becomes so much more prevalent as you boat higher grades and its one of my favourite things about my kayaking adventures.


Photo by Moxy: Me on the Egua, Italy

(4) And finally…

Finally, as I sit atop a seal launch, or plonk myself in an eddy before pealing out into the current, ready to run a class V, I take a deep breath, slow my heart rate and say three things to myself (1) I have the skills to run this rapid, I’ve run similar stuff before (2) I will succeed (3) I will stay calm, focused; GET THE GAME FACE ON!

I guess that’s just about it for today…I think I’ve said enough. My opinions are based solely on my unique encounters and may have absolutely no similarities to anyone else’s.  In conclusion IT’S ALL JUST ROCKS AND WATER and how we choose to experience them is up to us.