Kayaking

Garry Boater X – why you should be there next year!

This is my third year at the Garry Boater Cross (X) second year competing and I’m here to tell you why you should be signing up for next year’s race!

The Organisers

Before I start talking on anything else, big shout out needs to go to everyone who helps make this event a success.  Daryn Hubbucks and Kev Barclay have been running the events since 2012 (I believe), supported by Gavin Miller and Howard Aspinall. The amount of effort they put in clearly shows in the smooth running and excellence of the event.  There is so much work put in behind the scenes from t-shirt’s ordering to organising running order, ferrying about podiums, arranging prizes and trophies, ensuring everyone is looked after on and off the water and about a million other things, as well as, competing in the event itself!  The guys’ whole families get involved and without these wonderful people events like this would not be possible.  Thank you!! 

It’s thanks to Kev, Daryn, Howard, Gav and friends that these events are such a success.

The Location

The past few years’ people have stayed in Cumbernauld’s Campsite in the town of Fort Augustus. It’s a beautiful town with only a few pubs and some really quaint wee shops including a wee jewellery shop called Iceberg Glass where they blow stunning glass creations like the Jelly Fish pendants I’m currently coveting.  People are very friendly and it’s not too far from the Garry.

The Set-Up

The setup is perfect.  If you arrive Friday afternoon as a lot of folk do you will congregate somewhere on the campsite to help draw names from a hat (plastic bag!) to see who you will be racing in the first heat.  Depending on how you place in the first race will determine your placing in the next race until your final where there is everything to play for because everyone has the chance to place on the podium for your heat.

Male champions Michael Brown, Gavin Miller and Ewan Campbell took 1st, 2nd and 3rd at this year’s event

The People and Atmosphere

This year there were 17 women and 42 men racing and it was glorious.  I was feeding off the energy that everyone was exuding, trying to calm people’s nerves and generally having a great time with everyone I met.  Everyone is honestly so supportive and the atmosphere is addictive.  When you’re nor racing you spend some time on the ‘cheering rock’ in the gorge of the bridge at the finish line, shouting words of encouragement to your fellow participants, inspiring them across that finish line!

Mulling around between heats (c) Linda Stewart

The Race

The race starts at 12 and is every hour after this.  When I took part in the race last year I was sh**ting myself.  I always seemed to put pressure on myself to do well, despite not having trained or even having the desire to race competitively.

Ride that wave (c) Linda Stewart

Coming back a year later I had managed my own expectations and had two ambitions.  To go as fast as I possibly could and to stay upright because I knew a capsize would place me out of the race.  Of course it is competitive as it’s a race but everyone plays fair and I’ve never had any problems myself with any of the other racers.  As soon as the whistle or shout ‘Go!’ is sounded everything else turns off and you race your wee heart out as fast as you can, trying to avoid a tussle that could slow you down!  Once in the gorge you use the flow to catch your breath before powering it down the rest of the course to a cheering finish line.

(c) Linda Stewart, GBX 2017

The prizes

Everyone who enters of volunteers on the day recieved a goody bag with a Garry Boater X t-shirt, stickers, juice, packet of crisps and a chocolate bar.  There is always a raffle of some kind at the end using bibs to choose a lucky winner and most of the podium placed winners receive a small prize of some sort.  This particular year the trophies were out of this world created by Jennifer Hartnett and I am beyond stoked to have one sitting on my sideboard at home!

Stoked and disbelieving Danger

The After Party

This year’s after party was not as legendary as previous years as the council have upped the licence costs of local businesses in the area and the Campsite staff couldn’t afford to open the Campsite Bar/BBQ as before, however, that didn’t stop most of us having a boogie and beer underneath a gazeebo in the Campsite grounds, with some attempting a mini pub crawl around Fort Augustus.  Hopefully we’ll be back to normal next year but safe to say the people make the party anyway.

Well deserved pints in our GBX 2017 tees

If you are having reservations about entering please don’t! This event is completely accessible to everyone no matter how long you’ve been paddling. An example of this at both Garry Boater X and Tully X this year was Andreana Caldwell entering and competing after only paddling a couple of months. She felt supported and energised by the events and would also recommend to everyone!

Andreana crossing the finish line at Garry Boater X 2017

Remember you can do your bit by sharing the Garry Boater X and Tully X events, offering assistance to the guys (as I’m sure there are numerous jobs they’d love help with) and simply signing up to give it a bash, ensuring it’s continued success!  See you all July 2018 

Hugs aplenty! Suzy and Danger (c) Linda Stewart

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Astral TR1 Junction Review

Astral TR1 Junction W’s

  • Size UK7
  • Colour: Deep Water Navy
  • Price: £107.50 RRP

Ferg had two pairs or Astrals before I decided I wanted in on the action too.  The first pair of kayaking shoes I put some thought into and purchased were the Palm Gradient boots.  My main reason for this was the fact they were grippy and sturdy boots for all the slippy walk ins and winter boating.  However, they weren’t ‘Danger’ grippy as I am quite heavy footed and still fall about all over the shop, and the top of the boot has peeled away after a little over a year’s use.

My next pair of shoes were the NRS Crush Water shoes.  At the start I loved these shoes, however, about 3 months in the stitching started to come away on one of the shoes and they have a hole.  I do still wear them boating but no longer out and about.

Now on to the Astrals!  When I first got them I was blown away by how stunning they were!   Something I should mention is that I have weird wide yet short fee and men’s shoes are my go to when buying any sort of sports shoes or trainers but I took a leap of faith on the Astrals and I’m really stoked I did!

The fit is perfect for my foot, nothing pinches and I feel like my foot has the room it needs for both balance and maximum comfort.  I feel like I’ve put the shoe through its paces on both dry land and on the river.  I have used them for light hiking and for a couple of gnarly walk-ins with moveable rock and can confirm the grip is superior to any trial running shoes I’ve owned.  In water the shoe comes into its own.  Shouldering my boat and walking across rocks I felt confident my feet were staying where I planted them.  

I have actually enjoyed going out my way to pick slippy and uneven surfaces simply to see how far the G Rubber, Balanced Geometry™ Technology (or ‘sticky shoes’) can go and to date no falls yet (well, due to the shoes anyway)!

Pros

  • Comfortable lightweight shoe
  • Stunning look and lots of lovely details
  • Comes in 3 different colours
  • Grippy af sole – no more falling!

Cons

  • I can envisage some having an issue with cost, however, as listed above you are getting first-rate quality and high performing product

I look after these shoes well, taking the insoles out and rinsing them before drying them out as I enjoy getting to wear them out and about this summer.  Time will tell how they hold up and I’ll be sure to add to the review in a few months to let you know how they do.

I can’t say for definate but owning Astrals may help your ability to handstand…

All in all I would thoroughly recommend these shoes not just because Astral has demonstrated a commitment to creating high quality, great looking  products but they also strive to do so  in the most ethical and environmentally friendly way.  They’ve made a promise to their customers and the world to always put ‘#NatureFirst’ and I think that’s pretty f**king cool!

Kayaking the Stunning Soča

We finally got to see for ourselves the absolutely stunning scenery, rivers and people of Slovenia. 

The Drive: We travelled through Scotland, England, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy and into Slovenia!  It was a bit of an epic journey and we did get held up in traffic a lot in Germany due to a Long weekend, everyone was travelling somewhere nice for a day or two.  After about 24 hours driving, getting stuck in yet another jam we made a snap decision to pull off in Nuremburg, a quick scan of booking.com had is in a cheap hotel within minutes, showered, changed and out and about, stretching our legs and filling our bellies with pizza and beer! 

Early night for all and an epic sleep occurred.  Back on the road the approx. 5 hour journey to Bovec took a good 8 hours but we were here and the memories of the drive melted away.

All present and accounted for!

Day 1

Otona – Kobarid  (2 / 4)

What a day!  Through our pal Mat who was part of the 7 strong group we got to paddle with the Team Pyranha man himself Rok Rozman.  I usual Danger fashion I wasn’t really up to speed on what was happening and who we were meeting until we arrived at the get in.  There we were greeted by Rok and a lovely woman called Irene who had kindly turned up to run shuttle!  

Ronnie caught me doing something right!

We organised ourselves and started the long walk down to the river.  It’s really steep and maybe takes about 15 minutes but it most definitely is worth it.  When we finally emerged at the bottom, shaky and sweaty from the exertion we were greeted by the stunning blue/green water of the Soča and oh yeah a Grade 4 rapid!  Despite perhaps desiring a gentler paddle for day 1 on the Soča we were quick to start gearing ourselves up for more of a challenging run.  Rok was absolutely amazing at leading us down the section.  He allowed us to read and run most of it and advised when there was a particular drop or rapid which perhaps required more care.  From the moment we got on, tackled the first rapid, we were eddy hopping and boofing our way down this amazing section of river.  

Rok front looping a Machno

We also got to see Rok front loop (almost) a Machno and it was the best thing ever.  Not only is Rok a mega babe and an amazing kayaker, he was like the nicest guy ever and we were all super stoked to have him with us on the river.  At the get out there was a race ramp which had been built and some of the guys went for a blast and we then clambered up to the Campsite get out.  By the time we got there Rok had bought us all beers and he had firmly set himself up as the coolest guy on the planet.

The gang with Rok

After a couple of beers and soaking up the sunshine Rok said his goodbyes and told us of some cool waterfalls to go and look at, which we did.  It was about a half hour walk away and was well worth a visit.  I had a little swim with a couple of the others but be warned, it’s freezing!

Exploring the freezing pool

Day 2

Srpenica 1 – Tronovo 2 (2/3/4)

After a breakfast of fresh pastries we got from a friendly bakers next door to the Pivovarna Union Bar and super strong coffee we headed off to the get on at Srpenica 1.  After a bit of umming and ahhing we drove to Trnovo 1 as we were unsure where the Slalom actually ended before Siphon Canyon started.  I can confirm if you park at Tronovo 2 this is at the bottom of the Slalom course.  There is a final eddy about 100 feet or so from where Siphon canyon begins.  The entry to Siphon canyon is marked by two huge bits of rock (which look like an old structure of some kind) and the river channels between these. 

Ferg getting air on grade 3 section

At the get on the river starts mellow and wide with a few waves and rock splats to be had.  Soon enough you are coming around a slight bend in the river and the fun begins!  Pour overs, waves and whirly eddy lines make for a fun read and run section which is the flavour for the rest of the run down to the start of the slalom.  This was where the fun really started!  We scouted from the river to make sure we knew where we were getting out and to see if there was anything to avoid.  The first run down was pretty stop and start, I took a load of eddies to see where I was to go next and settle my nerves.  There were big waves, a few drops and some more technical twisty moves but all in a whole lot of fun!  

Ronnie chasing me down the Slalom!

We went back up to do another run and this time Ferg announced it was a “Fast is Fun” run and we all shot off!  Minimal eddies were had and we all blasted down, boofing, capsizing and whooping the whole way!  It was a bit of a rush and I was pleased to find my Axiom really took to being driven fast.  For the rest of the trip I reminded myself to look ahead more, avoid eddies whenever possible and keep the boat moving.

Day 3

Camp Soča to Tronovo 2 (2/3/4)

A misty, thundery and cooler day on the Soča.  

Levels had dropped but were on the way up with the rain coming in.  We decided to do a longer run down from Camp Soča to the Slalom course.  A varied day with a lot of grade 2 sections but there were a few interesting sections to be bagged.  Near the top there was a grade 4 gorge section, which I, after executing the perfect entry, missed a stroke on and ended up having some down time but I was stoked I eventually managed to roll up!  The rest of the river after this was read and run with long sections of grade 2.  We kept the pace on because most of us were in shorty cags and the day was cooler.  

Ferg nailing the line into gorge

When we got to Srpenica we started to recognise the river again and decided it had risen a bit with the rain which had started coming on quite heavy.  By the time we got to the Slalom the rain was lashing!  We blasted down again but I will tell you, the boils on the eddie lines were far more turbulent and keeping the power on was key!  By the time we got to the bottom I was shaking from adrenaline and tiredness!  It had been a long day, I’d had a ball but I was ready for that beer!

Day 4

Kortnica to Cezsoča (2/3/4)

A new day and for the first time in 3 days a new river!  With all the rain that had come over night the Koritnica had shot up but was falling fast.  We got up and on as quickly as we could (which wasn’t that quick to be honest!) and on this new river.  As soon as we were on we were in it! A wee boulder garden led into a twisty turny section before the gorge.  

Ronnie in the narrow gorge

This was awesome because after entering the gorge it kept getting narrower and narrower until you were sure it would not be wide enough for a boat until you were spat out round a corner!  A mix of small drops and boulder gardens followed until the river joined the Soča at Vodenca.  We had run the section below this on the first day and as  we continued down talked about how much pushier the river was!  

Ferg ear dips above Slalom

At the get out I decided to call it a day and ran shuttle for those who wanted to get back on the Spernica and Slalom sections at Medium.   

Ronnie on medium Slalom (c) Mat Wilkinson

Day5

Sperenica 1 to Tronovo 1

The second to last day was a mixed bag for me.  I was off to a shaky start, really feeling the weeks paddling and drinking taking its toll.  I was ready to get off after the first run and a short swim, however, was convinced to give it another bash and so glad I did!

Alfie hugs a rock

My runs down were poles apart and I was comfortable, decisive and controlled.  

Being brutal on my second run down…

When I got to the campsite I decided not to run anything else and Ferg and I went up to the beer garden instead!  Drinking beer in the sun and eating Marlenka honey cake while talking about the weeks exciting moments was perfect. 

Taps aff for this stud! Mr Tom (c) Mat Wilkinson

After the others got back we headed back to the apartment to get ready for our outing to one of the local restaurants ‘Guesthouse Martinov’.  The food was stunning but the head waiter/owner really made it a memorable experience!

Day 6

Otona to Kobarid (2/3/4)

Last day!! We went back to where it all started and got onto a slightly higher than first day section.

Alfie runs first rapid on Otona section

It was a lot pushier and grabbier and we all mused about how we were glad we’d been down previously with Rok or I’d have been getting out to scout all over the shop.  I had a couple of capsizes but also the quickest roll I’ve ever done in my life! I think this was my favourite day but it was really hard to choose because each day had something awesome to it.  

At the bottom there was the most amazing surf wave which I kept going back on because it was perfect!  I think my grin gave away how much fun I was having and too soon we were heading for the get out.   At the get out I found out (after huffily putting off for months because ya know, I can’t do it) I sulkily went to do a handstand to show everyone how much I could not do them, to find myself still in a handstand 5 seconds later, unsure how to get down…

Team celebratory handstands!

We headed back to Bovec to pick up the slackline and supplies before heading to a park to play for the rest of the afternoon, visiting souvenir shops on the way back down to the villa.  We packed and headed off after dinner to start the long journey back home.  

Playing in our last day

One tip for you when you get the vignette in Austria it might not look it but it has a peel off bit which you take off and stick to the window.  Do this as we got pulled by Austrian police on the way out because it wasn’t displayed properly.  They were cool about it but warned us it could have been a fine.  We drove through the night and had a couple of brief stops before stopping in Brussels for the day.  A beautiful if not expensive city I would recommend a visit to.

36 hours after leaving Slovenia we arrived home.  A quick nap and breakfast later we were on the Leny for a blast down as it’d be raining at home all week!  No need to waste a day sleeping when your local run is on.

In summary, Slovenia is an amazing country to kayak in, the scenery is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, the weather is amazing, it’s cheap and everyone we met were super lovely.  The river has something for every level of kayaker.  If it had of rained constantly there were still options and wold have brought more tribs into play.  There is plenty of things to do in the surrounding areas too so you’d never be stuck.  I would definitely go back in the future and if you would like to quiz me on certain sections or have any questions please get in touch.

That time I got a Dagger Axiom

After ordering my Dagger Axiom 8.5 from North East Kayaks and Paddles and waiting a few weeks for the ‘custom’ colour to be ready it finally arrived and is stunning!

My beautiful Axiom a really friendly kitten

Personally I’m really not a fan of the wavey two tone stripe on the boats and love the clean look of the boat in a block colour.  The colour is a buttery, strong yellow, a bit deeper than sunshine but not as dark as mustard, therefore she is called ‘Buttercup’!

When I got the boat home I set about outfitting the boat.   The foot plate in the Axiom is brilliant with adjustment screws which you loosen to move and angle the ‘foot cups’ to fill the space.  I adjusted the rail and positioned the foot cups roughly so I could get on with cutting the foam wedge to size and placed some small airbags behind the foot cups. 

Netflix and outfitting is now a thing…

Dagger have provided quite a lot of foam to help you outfit the boat.  I started with the with foam wedges that had Velcro attached to the back, placed in and cut to size, before overlaying with the foam pad which has the raised circles.  Although it comes with a peel off sticky sheet, I applied glue to the sheet before sandwiching together and I also removed the Velcro strips, aligned to where the strips are on the foot cups and reattached (with glue) to the back of the foam, waiting 24 hours then simply placing them in the foot cups ensuring the Velcro was stuck together.  I did move the rail back one when I had placed the foam in, but I would have needed to remove the foam and adjust the foot cups if I wanted to move further.

With the rest of the outfitting I didn’t have to do much apart from tightening the back band and moving the seat a couple notches forward which were all extremely easy tasks.  After our recent trip to Wales I did decide to insert a seat booster shim as I felt a bit too low in the boat.  All in all this has been the first boat I’ve actually enjoyed outfitting as it has been relatively straight forward and quite intuitive.

Surfing like a boss

My first outing with Buttercup was on the Awe, getting to grips with tailies and surfing a couple of waves.  Despite having a grapefruit sized lump on my bum due to a skating crash earlier in the week, we took the boats to Tryweryn for the weekend as it really was an ideal river to try a bit of everything (and there is like NO RAIN!!).    By the end of the day I was surfing, boofing, attempting slalom gates and eddy hopping my way down the river, exploring new lines with confidence.  It also means I am now not only an active (and most hilarious) member in the “North East Kayaks Crew” I have now become eligable to enter into the “Axiom Division” which is currently three strong and growing! 

Ronnie “Shop Goddess” Edwards, Danger “Head Rudder” King and Fergus “Tailies for Days” King.

I knew from previous trips in an Axiom that it is a fast boat and think this will do wonders for dialling in timings for those strokes and moves, without having to be as concerned with forward paddling to gain speed.  I’m looking forward to refining my skill set on the river, as well as getting monster tailies!

 

Beat downs suck! I know from experience there are different levels of beaterings but today I want to talk about the extremely painful, full on terrifying and mind altering ones which might only last a few long minutes but let me tell you the memory doesn’t fade as quickly.

Note I’d take this kind of beat down any day of the week…

When you’re pushing your paddling abilities beatdowns are surely an inevitable part of this process, but at what point do we stop?  Do they keep on getting increasingly worse and more beatery until you aren’t around to beater anymore? Am I being really dramatic about our water based pastime?

My latest beatdown on a 0.9 Falls of Leny which was, in short, a lapse in judgement followed by a complete freeze up, resulting in a 40 second pin on the right hand side with water pouring over my head, thankfully able to breathe.  I had time to look into the concerned yet calm faces of my pals before I started to unpin, dislodged and hurtled into a violent cartwheel out on my head, hitting it so hard I saw stars and my vision started to get dark.  Having never been knocked out or fainted before I don’t have any point of reference but I knew I couldn’t afford another knock to the head so pulled the deck believing in that moment being unconscious out of my boat would be better than inside upside down.  I ended up clinging to some rocks again wondering what the hell I’d been thinking about while my excellent safety crew came to my aid.

 

Almost knocked out but awesome cartwheel Bro…

I think it takes your brain a little bit longer to catch up after, going to work on Monday in a sort of numb shuffle, but amongst all of the emotions of disappointment, vulnerability and frustration are other feelings.  Feeling lucky that I can keep myself relatively calm in these situations, feeling proud that I have such amazing friends who will always have my back as best they can in these situations and feeling thankful that I’m still here to sulk over my beaterings!

 

I do, however, always try and take the positive out of situations and this is no different.  Right off the bat myself and my crew found out first hand that hey, if you completely fuck up and go down the wrong line on the falls with zero speed…you can pin!  I have still so much more to learn and sometimes being reminded to make better decisions, work harder to understand what you’re experiencing inside your head before tackling the rapid, whether you should leave it for another day, plan for the bad lines, freezing mid paddle stroke and think about your ability to get yourself out if shit turns nasty.

 

(c) Avid Liongoren

I think it’s important to get back on the horse in these situations and as usual I was out the next day, trying to put things into perspective and not to dwell on the what could have beens because Yes, I know it could’ve been much worse but it was bad enough thank you very much.  I choose to learn from these mistakes and make sure as I move forward with my paddling I’m building on the skills that will help to keep me safer and hopefully avoid situations like this in the future.

The Pyranha 9R

The first time I sat in a 9R I hated it.  It felt unstable, the back rest wasn’t supporting me at all, I felt too high in the water, vulnerable and tense.

Fast forward 5 months and I own one.  We were at the Tryweryn in North Wales recently, as rain was scarce in Scotland and on the 4th or 5th run down I was convinced to try the 9R again.  If we’re being 100% honest…I was sitting in an eddy in my hand me down Pyranha B2 when this kayaking mermaid battered into the same eddy, looking wild eyed and beautiful, whooping and beaming.  She began chattering  to me about being in love with the 9R but she hadn’t needed to.  Her glee for the boat was contagious and I figured why not give it another go!

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In 10 minutes the 9R was borrowed from Ferg with foot plate adjusted, bum in seat and a couple practice rolls in, I was ready to go.  As soon as I grabbed the first eddy I knew I was going to feel differently about the boat this time round.  I was flying through the water, hit the top of the eddy and snapped in like you wouldn’t believe, almost capsizing but catching it.  Pulling out of the eddy, edging the boat with ease, I peeled down the next rapid with a massive grin blooming across my face.

The 9R is the kind of boat that forces you to correct bad habits or poor paddling.   It begs to be driven well, my hips, legs and feet seeming to play a bigger part in my boating than before.  I’m beginning to realise I can muscle the boat around, so long as I engage my body correctly and combine it with strong or well timed strokes.  My paddling ability and style is still very much in it’s infancy but I think the 9R has arrived for me at the correct time.  It’s time to push hard and rid myself of ineffective paddling moves.  

Reasons why I love the 9R so far:

– It is a dream to drive
– I feel more connected to the boat
– I can aim at massive holes and cut through/over them
– My confidence is increasing with every paddle
– It looks stunning
– It’s really freaking fast
– I feel the most comfortable and bad  ass I’ve ever been in any boat

 With France in only 10 days I’m feeling confident.  I’ve been reading the write ups and watching the videos of the rivers we’ll be tackling and know that when I get there I may be initially nervous but I’ll remind myself that I have faith in my abilities, I have faith in my equipment and I have faith in the group I’m going with.

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Learning to accept learning

Kayaking can be such an exciting, fulfilling and challenging sport.  It’s not always easy to know you’re progressing but then there are times you are left with no doubt.  I’ve been trying to surf waves for months, listening to others advice, watching people (usually guys) on rivers, trying lots of different techniques, charging at waves, sneaking up to them, paddling full force, going in side on, backwards, forwards…nothing was feeling right.   There would be days where I would get moody and petulant, deciding I’ll just never get it and that I should focus on something else. 

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But I persisted and one day I could simply surf all the waves I’d been struggling for months to get!  But I think I could have perhaps learned this skill a lot quicker if I had changed one simple thing in my mind. 

That I deserve to be on that wave as much as anyone else.

I know I’m alone in this way of thinking because, as always I talk to people about it.  I’ll see someone (usually a guy) totally bossing it, spinning away, completely relaxed, owning the wave.  Then I’ll think something like, “Wow, he knows what he’s doing, that’s his wave.  I’ll just watch because I don’t want to get in anyone’s way or embarrass myself.” And there it is.  I allowed these learning opportunities to pass me by because of performance anxiety and feelings of unworthiness. 

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It’s not a conscious thing.  I don’t wander about day to day, worrying about what other people think of me or how they view me, but when I’m in the moment of performing the task I have to fight it all the way.  Because that what I do now.  I fight it. I’ll continue to fight it until it’s no longer there, until I truly believe I deserve this space, time and opportunity to learn.

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Watch out kayaking…I’m coming for you

Losing Your Mojo Jojo

No, not the monkey from the Power Puff Girls (but it’s really fun to say out loud!)

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This is about being on a river and kayaking like a boss.  Feeling like you got this.  Feeling like you may never swim again.  Feeling like you could Boof the s**t out of life.  Feeling like you’re the best kayaker on the planet!  Then one day, perhaps for no specific reason, perhaps after a bad swim, but whatever it is, something happens to take away everything you had built up and leave you a useless, gibbering wreck, wondering what you did wrong, considering that someone may have cursed you, blaming your paddle, boat, kit, beer…wondering if you will ever be good enough to get back in the boat!

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Ok, I am definitely being overly dramatic but I’m making a really good point!  Recently I’ve experienced this very thing and it was horrible, but because I am Danger King (winner at life), I talked to a lot of fellow kayakers about this and was comforted to learn I wasn’t alone.

For some it was a long swim, which left them initially very bruised or broken and when they get back in their boats hesitant, tense, with low confidence. For others, there wasn’t a specific trigger that they could identify to try to rationalise their dip in capabilities, which left them questioning their abilities and what they should do.

For me, I chose the technique below.

How to lose your Kayaking Mojo, including losing your roll!

Measure out the following:
2 x cups of water swallowed on big swims, frozen
7 x confidence crisis’, diced into a million tiny pieces
1 whole kayaking holiday, booked
Several rounds of blaming my boat, paddle, short useless arms and shoes
A few line choices – half baked
A sprinkling of witnessing everyone around you improving while you just hang around trying to catch up like a tiny, defenceless, baby sloth.
A splash of smiling all the time to try to trick your talent into reappearing

Method

Blend together slowly, over time and pour into a fresh drysuit.  Decorate with a sprinkling of back to basic’s YouTube videos and leave to stew for a few months.  And Voila!  You have your very own mojo losing kayaking episode to deal with.

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I’m going to put the drama to the side for now and talk about how we deal with this and ultimately pull ourselves back up.

If you can figure out when or why you started to feel your ‘A’ game slipping away, it will help in deciding how best to move forward.  It could be a combination, like above, in which case you need to start attacking the issues one by one.

Remember, the key in a survival situation is never to think of the big picture as this equals certain death!  (Sorry – I thought I’d put the drama away!)   I choose to apply this fact, which I learned on a Ray Mears survival programme, to any situation where I start to feel overwhelmed or unsure of where to start.

Take Charge

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It’s tripped me up more than once on a river, where I’ve got into trouble and instantly expect someone else to get me out of it. “Oh, I’m stuck in a hole – someone will pull me out…” or “I’ve just capsized but the team are right there – someone will flip me up…”, which is, of course, COMPLETELY INSANE!!!  On a river, being able to rely on yourself and have the belief in your own abilities is hugely important and will help keep you and those in your group safer.  Another element I’ve found amazingly effective in keeping in control when on a river is grabbing eddy after eddy.  Not only does this calm me down if I’ve started to feel out of control, it lets me see the river from a different perspective.  Since I’d started to lose faith in my kayaking, eddy hopping has played a major role in restoring this.

Give Yourself Time to Progress

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Pushing yourself is a brilliant thing; it can build your confidence and give you a huge sense of achievement.  However, you need to listen to yourself (and sometimes others!) when your decisions are having a detrimental effect to your paddling.  Personally, I was equating pushing myself out of my comfort zone with getting more experience which would ultimately make me a better paddler.  I discovered, however, constantly pushing  myself out of my comfort zone was making me tense in my boat, leading to some very silly capsizes and/or swims.  I also wasn’t always using skill to get myself down the rapid.  To me, just ‘surviving’ a rapid doesn’t fill me with the sense of accomplishment I look for.  I need the down time in the middle to hone my skills, improve my boating abilities and allow my confidence to catch up.  I decided to take a step back, catch my breath and start to regain control.  I now often go on trips with my pals and look at rapids more closely, choosing my lines down more carefully or sometimes walking them.

Adrenaline vs Enjoyment

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A friend recently put it into words when he mentioned this to me when I had started to feel ‘weird’ after a rapid I’d just attempted to run, which hadn’t gone quite to plan.  Once I had emptied the water and was back in my boat I was feeling dizzy and a bit sick, due to the spiking adrenaline.  In this case I had enjoyed the experience regardless of the after effects but understood that this can be a bit of a balancing act and something to perhaps take into consideration when unsure whether or not to run the next rapid.

Talk, Chat, Moan!

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I touched on this before, talking to others helps us identify what the problem could be, ways to get through it and reminds us it’s really not the end of the world!  It seems like every single person I’ve talked to have been there, often several times and could totally relate to what I was feeling.  We all know our harshest critics are normally ourselves and talking to friends can remind us to stop beating ourselves up (as much) over something we ultimately do for pleasure!

Having a Game Plan

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Setting goals helps to keep focus and actively acknowledge our achievements.  I know we’re not all in kayaking to formally challenge ourselves, but this approach could work to get you back on track, even for a short spell.  It could be long term aims to regain the enjoyment you once had kayaking like choosing rivers based on how much fun you’ll have rather than worrying about negotiating Grade 4/5 rapids on every trip, getting that boof, training for a trip or holiday!  Or shorter term goals like grabbing as many eddies as you can on a river, surfing waves, playing in holes.  Whatever it is, the act of thinking about what you want out of kayaking will never be a bad thing and could help get you back on track.

Although I wouldn’t have thought so at the time, this experience has left me better off.  I have new kind of love for kayaking now, feel far more connected to the sport and feel closer to those who have helped me through this episode.

Running the River Etive

I’ve run this exciting river twice now and envisage many trips back to enjoy its many drops, deep pools, bends and twists. There are many other blogs and guidebooks that show you how to find the river and get in so I’m going to launch straight into describing the paddle. I will add that as this river is gorge narrow even a little rain can change the dimensions greatly, creating stoppers with strong tow back and making some lines foolish to run. Always check falls and rapids you are not 100% sure of and have enough people to run safety when required as there are many boat and paddler munching possibilities along the Etive!
The start of the river is a run of three drops aptly named ‘Triple Steps’ (4).

First drop at Triple Steps

The first drop can look quite intimidating and, as I was still recovering from a bad swim a few days previously, I didn’t run this one, ferry gliding across to the left hand bank and putting in at the eddy above the second drop. I went down the first drop the second time and you want to aim for the middle, slightly left of the rooster tail, taking into account the force will likely push you forward into the second drop without much time to think about it. When I put in at the top of the second drop, I ferry glided out a couple of feet, turned the boat and attempted a boof off the drop! In higher levels there will be a lot of turbulence and pull back on the falls so be ready to paddle hard out of the pool, leaning forward and staying strong. 

Second drop at Triple Steps

There are a couple of mini drops until you enter a calmer pool. From here you can run the final drop, which is a little higher at about 12-14 feet. You take this line at an almost diagonal angle, hitting the edge of the drop towards the middle, but aiming towards the right hand rocks. The force of the water carries the boat down to a lovely open pool which will allow you to roll back up or collect boats and paddles quite easily!

The beauty of this section of the river is its ability to be run over and over again, as the drops are so close together. You can also leap from the cliffs into the pools, but obviously use common sense when doing so.

Once you’ve had enough fun on this section and wish to press on, the river twists and turns a little without much difficulty, although do take care in lower levels as the bed is a bit of a rock garden, often having to squeeze in between rocks not much wider than your boat. The next rapid is ‘Letter Box’ (4+), which would be highly advisable to scout. In higher levels you will get pulled back into a stopper (I’ve seen it happen) and think it has been named ‘Letter Box’ as there is generally only one line down, with not much wiggle room if you get it wrong! Take this as far left as possible, aim for a straight boof to avoid pencilling in and avoid the rock wall on the left.
Next up is ‘Ski Jump’ (3-4) which is a lovely wide drop into a soft cushiony pool. You should notice, as the river falls over the edge, a rock, which you want as close as possible to you right hand side. Aim straight and you will fall easily upright into the pool.

A few twists and turns will bring you to ‘Crack of Doom’ (4). I portaged this the first time round as I was viewing with the memory of my last major swim, but I ran it the second time, with a slight hiccup when I hit a very slippery boulder that spun me round. Thankfully I thought quick and reacted by forcing the back of the boat into a mini eddy allowing the water to pull my front end round avoiding running into the gorge backwards! You want to follow the flow down close to the left, avoiding rocks, before sliding into the narrow gorge section between two boulders, which can be quite tricky. In lower levels you want to stick to the left and drop into the pool below because a rock ledge is exposed just under the surface on the left which you would not want to land on! In higher levels however, you will be aiming more for the left to avoid getting caught in any tow back.

Top half of Crack of Doom

 
Just round the bend is ‘Crack of Dawn’ (4) which I’ve not run yet. This is where I got out on my first visit and the second time round was too shallow, with boulders appearing just under the surface, which would make a nasty landing after a 10 foot drop! 

Darren seal launching, Crack of Dawn in background

 
A few moments later we bumbled down ‘The Great Waterslide’ (4), which was a bump and a scrape over a 5 foot drop, plopping into the water rather effortlessly.
Now onto the grand finale, the reason we’re all here, the rush we got out of bed for. ‘Right Angle Falls’ (5+) looms just around the bend. Definitely get out of the boat and have a look at what awaits you. There is an initial curved drop into a pool just before ‘Right Angle’ and care will need to be given. After speaking to a few who have run this before, lower levels can come with its own problems. The curved drop meets opposing forces of water which can cause unwanted turbulence and possibly even a capsize! Take care when dropping in, be prepared to brace or lean and of course if you do capsize….MAKE THE DAMN ROLL!! Personally it’s always these kind of things which catch me out so I focused hard on not letting it. I took my time getting in my boat, breathed and told myself I could do this no problem but if I were to capsize I haul ass and make the roll like never before!  

Drop in before Right Angle

 

Centred, I started off, sticking to the right and following the curving flow down into the pool before the falls, leaning forward, staying strong and putting in positive, stable strokes. Before I knew it, I was in the pool aiming for the right of the drop which I didn’t want. Knowing I missed the eddy I edged the boat to the left and corrected my direction, aiming dead centre of the water cascading over the lip of the falls…and I was off, falling, placing my paddle to the right, head down, eyes fluttering to a close, meeting the water with the nose of the boat, overturning, instinctively rolling up and hearing the roar of pride from Fergus, being grasped by arms and then hugged. 

Going over Right Angle

 

This was on par with pulling off the ‘Falls of Linn’ on the Tummel and I felt exhilarated and stunned in equal measure. I realised, however, this was no small accomplishment and I have started to run features on rivers which demand respect, strength, determination and often courage to succeed intact. I’ve been watching the videos, reading the blogs and pouring over my friends’ photos of massive waterfall drops and today, this part of the journey has been experienced by me and I could not be happier.
Scraping our way through a rock garden, having to get out at one point we make it to the last rapid on this stretch, which is a 5-6 foot drop into a pool. There is a rock just under the surface on the left hand side but towards the middle there is a bit of tow back so try to boof it and gun it out of there!  

Darren running final rapid

 

All in all a fantastic but challenging river to run requiring safety on many of the features for intermediate and in higher levels advanced paddlers alike.

A couple of final points I think are particularly important. The first is something I have come across on blogs and magazines about river grading. I feel strongly that the grading is in place for a reason and a very good one at that. It provides an indication to anyone running the rapid of what to expect, how much care needs to be given and if there are any specific routes to be taken. There are some who argue the grading system in place on the Etive is too high but I wholeheartedly disagree and feel the 4-5+ grading is highly appropriate, the rapids aligning themselves accurately to the descriptions provided below by the UK Rivers Guidebook.  I’ll also be damned if anyone is going to make others feel naive or overly cautious for looking out for themselves and valuing the life of others.

“Severe waves, drops, stoppers and other obstructions. The route is not easily recognisable and will usually require careful inspection from the boat or bank. Grade 4 encompasses a wide range of rivers, from those with pool-drop rapids to those with extended continuous rapids; so there is a huge variation in difficulty. It is common to distinguish easier grade 4 rapids by grading them as 4- and harder rapids as 4+ (or in some cases, 3/4 or 4/5).”

Describing rationale for Grade 4 (www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk)

“Extremely difficult rapids with precise and technically demanding routes to be followed. Stoppers, currents and waves will be powerful and inspection is essential.”

Describing rationale for Grade 5 (www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk)

What the grading systems fails to mention is the level of damage that can be incurred on taking on a grade 4 and above rapid. You must at least consider the consequences of a swim or a missed ‘must make’ line down a rapid. There have been reports of broken limbs on ‘Letter Box’ and broken backs on ‘Right Angle Falls’ which I’m not sharing to scare people, I only want to highlight the reason behind these grading’s, which need to be respected.

Lastly but equally as importantly, it is imperative you always run rapids you are happy undertaking. Never let others cajole you into running a rapid and always listen to what your head is telling you. Remember that you learn much from watching and championing those who are capable of tackling the big stuff today, cultivating your own abilities and bringing you that much closer to running that rapid more confidently tomorrow. 

Hugging it out after surviving the falls

 

The Leny, Callendar

The Leny was really my first taste of white water and since we’ve run it numerous times, I wanted to put in writing how much I love this stretch of river. The first time I ran it at 0.8, swimming about 70% of the time, I knew it was going to teach me a thing or two about kayaking on white water.  Please note I’ve only run this at a maximum 0.9 and know from kayaking pals that the whole river changes above this level. I know this is probably quite obvious but I wanted to include the note and if I ever get to the point of running it above a metre I’ll be sure to add to the entry.

We run this from the put in, a long layby just passed the turning for the Ben Ledi Car Park, to the get out, a public car park just passed the Lade Inn, on the left.

From the get in until the 1st bridge, there are no real rapids and this gives you time to warm up by ferry gliding and catching eddies. As you come up to the bridge catch an eddy on either side to have a look at it because there are some challenging eddies to try and make on the way down. This rapid is good for practicing ferry gliding or surfing a wave in the higher levels, but is actually quite a tiring rapid as it’s  relatively narrow and can flow quite fast.

Fergus ferry gliding

A little further down the river on the left hand side, there is a small play hole we normally practice bracing in or shooting across. It’s relatively forgiving however, there are a couple of rocks directly below so ensure you have a quick role or a solid brace!

Dani below the play hole

There is a train of big bouncy rapids just before the falls and on the right hand side, the remains of a railway bridge. On the way down there are a few eddies to retreat to if the speed is too much. Make sure you make Last Gasp Eddy on the right as this is directly above the falls, dropping into the eddy as far right as possible. There is a small drop and at higher levels the stopper could cause a capsize! Portage is moderately easy here but make sure you stop and have a look at the falls!

Ian running the falls

You get back in at a large deep pool, great for practicing roles, edging, bracing etc before making your way towards Wee Stinker. I’ve always run this just right of the middle, before curving slightly to the right to hit right of the rock above Wee Stinker before the drop, ensuring a smoother landing.  Again, at higher levels the landing can be rather bumpy so really positive strokes off the drop and keep paddling out of it.

Ewan running Wee Stinker  

From here there is a bouncy stretch just before S-Bend. S-Bend can be handled a few different ways so suggest getting out for a look before attempting, if you’re unsure.

Generally I run it by eddy hopping down the right and hitting the last eddy before the bend. Take care in getting into this eddy as there is a guard rock located at the top of the eddy which has caught many a paddler out, so try and catch it a bit further down than normal. Depending on the level you can miss out S-Bend and go down the chicken shoot but the rapid is such a thrill to ride!

Fergus on the surf wave at S-bend

From the eddy, ferry glide to the other side, however there is a big surf wave in the way! Try to stay as high up as you can, concentrating on giving positive and hard paddle strokes and either go into the eddy on the left or turn on the rapid and shoot down the curve. I’ve capsized on the hole before, tucked up and dropped into the pool where I rolled back up but I did take a few knocks. This is a grade 3/4 which is mainly that is due to the hole in the middle and the stopper at the bottom. It’s also far easier at 0.7 as even at 0.8 the whole dynamics change.

For the rest of the river, you shouldn’t have too much difficulty, but keep alert and ready for rocks as the remainder can sometimes be a bit of a scrape.

NOTE: Watch out for hidden rocks. I’ve paddled the river up to 0.9 and there have always been something to catch you out. Also if this is your first time running the river, I’d recommend getting out for a wee look at anything you aren’t sure of but Wee Stinker and S-Bend if nothing else.