Paddler Development – White Water

Having learnt how to turn, support, and rescue your kayak (or open canoe) you’re now ready to move on to moving water. But….start gently!

The club has available all the equipment you’ll need, including boat, paddle, helmet, buoyancy aid. You ideally need a wetsuit for protection from scrapes as well as the cold, although many decide not to wear them in the summer when it’s really hot. That’s your choice, but your instructor might insist you wear one if the conditions demand it!

Here’s an idea of the club events we recommend if you want to progress on whitewater:-

Felixstowe Ferry

Although not always a club event, club members sometimes meet at Felixstowe of an evening during the summer. Have a word with one of your instructors and see if you can come along.

Nene Whitewater Centre

There are also organised club trips to easy white water such as the Nene, or local weirs like ‘The Flumes’ so get yourself along.

When the Olympics is over, we’ll have access to the Legacy course at Lee Valley Centre too.

 Symonds Yat

This is an easy white water rapid set in beautiful surroundings deep in the Forest of Dean. The Club normally organises at least one trip here a year and it’s an ideal introduction to paddling white water rivers. It’s normally spring or autumn so not as cold as the depths of winter and the river generally meanders along but every so often there’s a small wave to act as the perfect introduction for you to practice on moving water. Then there’s the main rapid which is a bouncy train of rock-free waves. To start with you can just bounce down the middle but as your confidence and skills grow you can try stopping in some of the eddies on the way down using skills such as the Low Brace Turn that you learnt at 2-Star. You may choose to do this trip (or similar) a number of time before you move on to the next level depending on your skills and confidence – they usually go together at this stage.

 Easy White Water Trip

I’m thinking here of the trips that we run to the River Ure (Slenningford) and River Wharfe in Yorkshire, the lower Dart on Dartmoor, the middle Wye and equivalent. Having decided you’re happy with Symonds Yat and it’s time to move up a level then these trips tend to offer slightly longer rapids and more of them. They still have large areas of flat water between the rapids to allow you gather your thoughts (and any dropped kit!). These trips tend to run late autumn or late winter so can be quite cold but unfortunately this is when it tends to rain in the UK and also when there’s access to these rivers. The rapids are still easy with obvious ways down and you will start to play on some of the river features; perhaps surf a wave or sit sideways in a small stopper – trust me, it’s fun!

Even the younger, more agile and go-ahead types should expect to do a few trips at this level before moving on to more testing waters.

Intermediate White Water Trip

Moving up a level again, the rapids become more continuous and there are now rocks to avoid! Although not a pre-requisite to attending these trips, you will likely enjoy them more if you are starting to be able to roll your kayak. The sort of trips the Club runs here are the Usk in South Wales (a possibility this autumn – see the Programme), the Washburn in Yorkshire, the Llugwy, Conwy and Glaslyn in North Wales, and the Tees white water course.

Some of these are dam fed and have water in the summer but generally these trips take place autumn/winter/early spring and you need good kayaking gear to stay warm and dry.

Most people will do many of these trips before moving up to the next level

Advanced White Water Trip

Now you’re into the big league! These are the Club trips to the Tryweryn, Mid Conwy, Lledr, etc in North Wales, trips to Scotland, and to Nottingham white water course. There are many other trips organised at the Club pool sessions as a spur-of-the-moment thing. You need to be proficient at rolling and a skilled paddler but, if you’re an adrenaline junkie, then the rewards are immense. The waves are big and fast, your kayak should be short and flat-bottomed, and you’ll be flying – if not literally then the adrenaline will certainly make it feel like you are.

For those of you who read canoeing books and mags, this development path will take you up to Grade IV white water. There’s Grade V and even Grade VI above this for the ‘hair boaters’ amongst you but you’re on your own there. Obviously you can stop at whatever level you feel comfortable and explore the great variety of rivers at that level. The two downsides that you may have noticed are that the trips tend to happen in winter when there’s water and also when it’s cold, and it does involve a fair bit of travelling – a consequence of joining a canoe club in one of the flattest parts of the UK!

Remember this is only one of many dimensions to our sport but hopefully it’s given you a flavour of it. See the other articles in this series that might take you down another avenue.

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Ref: [edited from ICC magazine article by Jim Ellis (July 2009), Paddler Development]