As I am sure the rest of the UK paddlers will agree, it has been sad not being able to go white water kayaking over the last three months due to Covid restrictions. I am lucky to live in Nottingham however and so have been able to do lots of flat water paddling since restrictions eased just over a month ago. Whilst I have really enjoyed my flat water sessions, it is not quite the same as white water kayaking. So when it was announced this week that my local white water course Holme Pierrepont would be opening up again it was of course met with great excitement. With careful restrictions in place, all sessions have to be booked in advance to limit the number of paddlers on the course at any one time. So I booked on for this weekend and have let the excitement build up since!
Once I signed on and carried my boat over to the water, the nerves started to build up however. I bought a playboat at the start of lock down and had yet to get it out on the water. Whilst I have paddled a playboat before, my experience of them is limited and so I was a little apprehensive of how my first time down the course in this boat would go. What was making me more nervous however was the simple fact that I had not paddled white water in 3 months. In my 5 years of kayaking I cannot remember having this long off white water in all of that time. I’ve never been someone who has found kayaking intuitive and so longer periods of time off without practicing can have a big effect.
In the 5 minutes it took me to walk over and get set up in my boat, I had allowed myself to get to a level of anxiety that I had not been expecting. It is the most nervous I can remember being before going kayaking in a very long time. Those of you reading this who know me may think that this sounds ridiculous! Why would I be nervous about paddling somewhere that I have spent so much time before and where I should be well within my abilities. And I would agree with you had I been able to think a bit more logically at the time. Unfortunately the dialogue happening in my head wasn’t logical! I got on anyway and spent the first 10 minutes just practicing some simple ferry gliding and tailees on the eddy line. This made me feel a little calmer and helped me to remind myself that I could kayak!
Luckily my friend Joe then appeared and told me to come down the course with him. Joe works at Desperate Measures and is really one of the nicest people you will come across. So of course I said yes and went down with him. And you know what – it was absolutely fine! I caught lots of eddies, tried to play in most of the holes and rolled up every single time I went over. I even went in the bottom hole ‘Muncher’ where I have had many previous munching, flipped and was still fine! By the end of this first long lap, I was absolutely beaming. I had just had a really fun lap with friends and realised that as soon I had properly started going down the course my anxiety had completely disappeared. It was such a good feeling after months off to finally be on white water again! As I walked back up to the top I had to laugh at how ridiculous I had been. I couldn’t believe how much I had allowed myself to get worked up to the point where nerves outweighed excitement. I’m so lucky to have a good friend like Joe who could see I wasn’t okay and look out for me. I think that this nervousness is something a lot of people may feel though. Part of the reason I want to write this piece is so that people know this is a normal feeling to have when we have had so long off the water! You are not alone!
The second lap started with huge amounts of happiness and excitement that I was finally back on the water. Near the start of the course there is a hole called ‘Twin Wave’ which is usually quite good fun to surf. Bursting with joy and my re-found confidence, I decided to commit to the surf. What I had not realised was quite how sticky the feature was with recent layout changes to the course and the fact that the course was running at maximum flow. (If you are local, inlet gate was completely down.) What then proceeded to happen was I had a good surf combined with quite a few power flips. Usually if you flip, you might expect to flush out this particular feature. Today that was not the case! After about the 4th time of being powerflipped and rolling back up in the hole, I managed to get it into a more controlled surf and work my way backwards to the corner. You can see the rest in the video below thanks to my friend Matt! A few seconds after this videos ends, I then flip and took a bit of a beat down on the eddy line. (If you’ve not been to HPP before, the eddy lines can be a bit swirly!) Luckily I had friends looking out for me who could lend the front of their boat for a bit of extra help up. After this happened, I decided that was probably the worst that could happen to me on this course and I had still been fine! Any remaining nerves I might have had completely disappeared.
As our session time later came to an end, I walked back up feeling very content. I think it may still take a little while to get back to where I was three months ago but I had not forgotten nearly as much as I thought I might have (and no swims yay!) I left feeling truly happy and looking forward to my next session. So thank you Joe and thank you to the people who allowed HPP to reopen! You made a very happy girl this weekend.