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Introducing the whole of #TeamDel

Last week I did not write a blog piece because instead I was involved with a paddlers virtual get together where I had been asked to share some stories. (The video from this can be found on the Paddling Pals Facebook page.) These stories very much revolved around my own friendship group that I kayak with. So this week I wanted to dedicate a blog piece to talking about those people who are so important to me and also explain a long running joke within this group of ‘Team Del’.

I am lucky to have friends who are incredibly supportive and really are my greatest champions. Team Del emerged after a very long car journey in which my friend Jack decided to write me a sponsorship application for a kayaking company. (Before you ask, it did not get sent!) It was never anything serious but meant to be a fun way to pass a couple of hours on the road. What then happened however was Jack got a little over enthusiastic and spent the next 6 months spamming my social media posts with #TeamDel to the point where random friends also started posting with it and I was getting a lot of questions about what it meant.

At first I was a little embarrassed but over time I came to accept it because it started to mean something else for me. Team Del wasn’t just about me but instead it was about our team of friends. When we spoke about Team Del it was always in reference to our close group of kayaking friends. These friendships mean everything to me. What was clear was that within this team of people we all had group roles that we fulfilled. In many ways I think that our group represents a lot of the stereotypes of paddlers in different paddle sports groups. So when my friend Janice asked me to write a piece about Team Del, I thought it would be a great chance to talk about my friends and more generally group roles in kayaking. So please when you read ahead, feel free to try and identify your own friends or even yourself in each of these stereotypes. Or not as the case may be!

1. The group photographer: Tom

Kayaking takes you to some spectacularly stunning places so it makes sense that kayakers might also be into taking photos. If you are lucky enough to have this person in your group, then no doubt you have lots of great paddling shots of you that you can thank them for. And you know the shots I’m talking about! They are the ones you use for your profile pictures on social media which are supported with comments from relatives telling you ‘that looks terrifying!’ You can tell the people who take their media seriously because they are always a bit slower when getting out of their boats. This is on account of having to remove the watershed or dry bag containing their camera each time they get out. They are also often happy to run things first so that they can be there with their camera ready when the rest of the group come down.

Tom ready for action! Most kayakers in the UK have had their photo taken by Tom at some point. #TomClareofTomClarePhotography . This particular photo was taken by Jack Grace however in Austria 2017!

Whilst it is really great to have these awesome photos of you from your trips there are also a few things you may not have been expecting. Like being requested to run a drop 6 times because the shot ‘wasn’t quite right’. Or as you are about to commit to a drop, being yelled at ‘More flare! More flare!’ Despite these sometimes bossy requests, you know the photos will be pretty great so you comply anyway. You also know that taking photos makes them happy, like really happy, so who would want to deny them that happiness!

It’s a rare thing to see a photo of Tom on the water. Was very happy to have taken this on the Erme, 2019

2. The one who thinks that everything is ‘runnable’: James

Kayaking is full of optimistic people and we all have that one friend who takes it to the next level. That friend whose first response to scouting a clearly un-runnable rapid says ‘that goes!’ This may then be followed by a strong reluctance to be the one who runs it first however. (In James’ case. he makes me go first and then decides if he will run it after that.) You can never quite tell if their hopeful evaluations come from a place of true optimism or from their unique sense of humour. Either way, it becomes a running joke that whenever you see unattainable white water, you better let that friend know so that they can claim ‘it goes’. You might also recognise them by their optimism that the currently empty river might come up, despite blue skies and sunshine being the only weather forecast. Despite the laughter that their hopeful predictions bring about, sometimes they come true! The rapid is indeed good to go or the river does come up unexpectedly. At this point, you can thank having a friend as optimistic as yours.

3. The one who always gives it a go: Janice

In kayaking, it is understandable that we might get nervous when we are on the water. After all, kayaking is an adventure sport and there is always a risk involved. However most of the time, knowing that we have the skill set to tackle the section of water we are on is enough to keep those nerves at bay. Other times however it is not and we have a choice to either let those nerves get the better of us or to be brave and give it a go anyway. (I’m not talking about being reckless by the way but rather people who are well within their skill set but can get very nervous despite this.) We all have that one friend who we admire because despite being nervous they will always give it a go. If they have a roll or a swim it does not matter because you know they will get straight back on the water and keep going. They don’t dwell when things didn’t go perfectly but instead look for the positives and take pride in their achievements. Having this kind of person in your group inspires the rest of you to face up to their own nerves when they arise!

Always smiling – a lovely photo of Janice from my birthday paddling in North Wales last year. Photo: Tom

4. The big deal: Jack

This friend is probably frequently referred to by people as ‘the best kayaker’ that they know. They are the one who go down rivers in their slicey or play boats to make it more fun whilst you are struggling to stay upright in your big boat. They do laps of rivers or sections of water that are on your ‘wildest dreams’ list and book trips for their overseas (and in Jack’s case, expedition) paddling whilst you are content with laps of your home run. Yet despite the massive gap between yours and their abilities they still want to paddle with you. This is probably because as well as being a superb paddler they are also just a really nice person and value their friends for who they are and not just what they can paddle. This great combination of ‘lovely’ personality and ‘super’ paddling skills means there is a high chance this friend has some kind of sponsorship by various companies or has at least been noticed by people before. Hence why you, as their dear friends, can mercilessly take the mickey out of them for being ‘a big deal’.

Jack showing us his ‘big deal’ skills on the Etive, December 2019. Photo of course by Tom

5. The one who is always playing: Matt

This particular friend of mine has often been described by people as a ‘kayaking ninja’ and is most commonly found in some form of vertical position. This friend was born to play on rivers and play they do. Whilst some people may paddle down an easier river and declare it ‘boring’, this friend could never dream of describing a piece of white water as boring. Every wave must be surfed, every rock span on and every eddy line used to tailee on. They invent new lines on well run rapids as that is how far their creative mind will take them. They too are probably an exceptional paddler and this has no doubt come from their constant desire to try new moves and practice old ones. The river to them is a playground and their enthusiasm knows no limits. Their enthusiasm is infectious and every time you paddle with them, you leave feeling inspired to try and work harder on your ‘playful’ skills.

Although Matt has moved on from his RPM these days, every river day is still a play day!

6. The super keen one: Me! (Del)

Last but not least the final member of our group is of course myself! The role I seem to fill in our group is the super keen one. I may not have the skills or talent as other members of our group do, but I make up for it with a boundless supply of enthusiasm and happiness. What I lack in any kind of natural born talent is a determination to keep trying until I succeed. I live to be out paddling my kayak on the water and enjoy every day. I also tend to bring a constant supply of snacks to share to keep the happiness levels of everyone else up!

Every water day is a happy day for me! Photo from Jack at Teifi Tour 2019

That’s it!

So there you go! Hopefully I’ve given you a little insight into the personalities of some of my closest kayaking friends. Perhaps you even identified some of your own friends in the process. I have so much love and trust for these individuals that I really wanted to be able to share how important they are to me. And if anything, hopefully you will now get why my social media posts are always commented by someone with the hashtag ‘TeamDel’ and the understanding that it is really not about ‘Del’ at all.

If you have any stereotypes in your own paddling group, I would love to hear about them! Feel free to tag me if you share any posts or leave a comment on here!

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