When my friend messaged me a couple of weeks ago asking if I wanted to come on a trip to Scotland I thought it would end up being a hiking trip with maybe a couple of days kayaking thanks to the dam releases. It turned out to be the best Scottish week of kayaking I have ever had! On the first day we drive up to Scotland and arrive in the beautiful sunshine at the upper Tummel. In typical kayaking fashion, it turns out we know the kayakers who are already in the layby. We have time to fit in a couple laps of the upper Tummel which I had never done before. It was a lovely little g2/3 river with one bigger rapid in the middle. I was super stoked on our second lap as I managed to get a leany-boof on this drop. As I went down first however, nobody else got to see it! Still, it FELT amazing!
If you don’t already know, I am a massive kayaking enthusiast. I love running white water rivers as often as I can and love a good down river play day. What I really don’t do much of however is actual freestyle kayaking. 6 months ago in a post Christmas – New Year haze, I was tagged in an online post. The post was from GB Freestyle advertising an introductory ladies freestyle day at Hurley, coached by world renowned freestyle kayaking coach Jacko Jackson and previous junior world freestyle champion Ottie Robinson-Shaw. Their aim was to spend the day with 10 female kayakers who had little experience of freestyle kayaking and introduce them to Hurley (one of the best freestyle features in the World). What an amazing opportunity! I put my name down straight away, thinking that is was unlikely I would get picked. So when I received a message a little while later saying that I had got a space, I was equally surprised and delighted! This article is an opportunity for me to share what happened that day and the positive impact it has had on me.
When it comes to head games in kayaking I am my own worst enemy. One of the greatest obstacles that I have to deal with is when negative thoughts about my kayaking or even myself come into my head whilst I am on the water. These thoughts have the potential to affect my river time so greatly that two things usually occur. The first is that I stop enjoying myself. The second is that my paddling actually gets worse because of it. My whole motivation for kayaking is because I enjoy it so if something gets in the way of that, it needs to be addressed. I came up with a list of my most frequent negative thoughts and how I dealt with them. I then asked people what negative thoughts they themselves experienced whilst on the water. I was amazed at the response I received to this question. It was clear from the replies I was getting that there were some strong common themes and many of the answers actually matched my own list. So I decided to address three of the most prevalent negative thoughts along with how I have learned to deal with these thoughts whilst kayaking.
A few weeks ago I had a call from a friend at Pyranha who asked if I would like to borrow a small Ozone for a while and write a piece on how I had found it. I could not have said the word ‘yes’ any faster than I did! Afterwards though I asked my friend if they were sure. I did this on the basis that it was possible the only moves I might achieve were the classic ‘capsize and roll’. He laughed and just said that it would be a more realistic review then! 24 hours later my living room floor was set up to outfit the new boat that now occupied it. I should point out now that I am proud owner of a Z.One and so a lot of my following reflections on how I have found the Ozone come from my comparisons between the boats.
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’.
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!
For the last two weeks I have written posts on how to become an independent boater, i.e. someone who doesn’t need to be led down the river. I came up with three main steps that I personally thought were important in moving away from always being led down a river to being able to peer paddle. I outlined each step in a separate blog piece. My first piece was on the importance of being safe. My second piece was on the importance of being able to choose your own lines. My third and final piece is going to be on the importance of friends. Kayaking is a unique sport in that it is really hard to go kayaking without other people. Unlike other sports such as running or cycling, kayaking is much more reliant on being enjoyed as a group. I accept that some people prefer to solo kayak and this piece isn’t meant to be a discussion of that choice. Instead I want to go over the benefits of having a strong friendship group in kayaking and why it is important in helping you to become independent.
Last week I started a series of posts on how to become an independent boater, i.e. someone who doesn’t need to be led down the river. I looked at safety in my last piece and you can read it here. This week is all about picking your own lines and why this is so important in being able to move away from being led on a river. When talking about lines, I mean the route you take to get from point A to point B on a river. This may be planned out, for example if you get out of your kayak to scout an upcoming rapid. Lines can also be chosen very quickly and from your boat whilst you are paddling down a river. Either way, being able to choose your line is an important skill than can take people a long time to master.
A goal that I believe many kayakers have is one to become an ‘independent boater’. Let me explain what I mean by that phrase. When someone starts off in kayaking, it is often through a club. They are reliant on those more experienced than them to organise and lead trips of which they are invited on. It can be hard to move away from this structured system and become someone who goes kayaking when they want, where they want and with who they want. Whilst many people would like to achieve this independence, they may not feel confident enough in their own knowledge and experience to make this transition. As someone who has largely moved away from club boating and more towards peer paddling, I was considering the steps needed in order to achieve this. I came up with three main steps or sub-goals and am going to dedicate a blog piece to each of them. In this piece, I am going to look at safety and specifically the journey to becoming safe in a kayaking environment.
‘What happens if you fall over?’ is a question I am often asked when trying to explain what whitewater kayaking is to non-kayaking friends. I would usually respond by describing what a roll is. Of course rolling back up after capsizing your kayak isn’t the only possible outcome. If you are wondering what another option might be, it is of course the swim! For a water based sport, I have always been surprised by the variation in attitudes when it comes to swimming out of your kayak. As someone who has had many, many (I’m really not exaggerating), many swims, I feel I should share some of my thoughts on the matter.