Don’s account of his White Water Kayak Leader assessment

Mark in action

I’d like to share my experiences from recently completing the new 2-day British Canoeing (BC) assessment, White Water Kayak Leader (previously call 4 star white water kayak). The BC web site provides details, but the main aim is to be able to lead a group of four paddlers of BC 3 star standard on river graded 2/3. You also need to demonstrate personal paddling and rescue skills, and theory. www.britishcanoeing.org.uk/courses/white-water-kayak-leader/

I did the training last year with Andy Turton (tynantoutdoors.com) and since we had a good time we booked him for the assessment and I’d certainly recommend them. It was a dry January week leading into our weekend in North Wales. You need two days on different moderate white water and they can’t both be the Dee, so when we heard the Tryweryn was not releasing it was almost cancelled. But the less paddled Vyrnwy, another dam release river, was. It was also a really good river for this grade and leading newer paddlers. Lots of interesting sections, small rapids, eddies to catch, blind corners, small waves to play on.

There were 4 people being assessed, including myself, 4 intermediate paddlers to be led and one assessor. The assessor rotated who was leading, the others had to mostly hold back and not assist. When I was up to lead the very first obstacle was a low bridge whose arches were full to varying degrees of tree branches. So first bit of leading was a portage and walk round a field, interesting start. Back on the water things picked up, with a number of rapids and tricky corners successfully behind us. Only main difficulty was trying out an eddy hop on a longer rapid section which ended with a swift change to “all down!!” as people started falling out of the small eddies.

Although my leading ended I managed to demonstrate my rescue skills, racing to a paddler stuck in a tree. I quickly pulled him and boat out, while being live baited. Unfortunately said paddler took another little swim on the next rapid and I decided to walk out with him. But our walk was not long as most of the rest called it a day due to the failing light levels. The second day was on the mighty Dee and covered all you would expect up to Mile End Mill. We got on above Horseshoe Falls and this section is really good for beginners.

I’ve paddled a number of years and much of the course felt familiar as I’ve picked up directly and indirectly good practices from experienced Regents paddlers. Every time I’m on the river I observe really good skills or ways of communicating, but also learn from mistakes which inevitably happen. River leading is not easy and it is a continual learning process. The dynamics of the river and multiple paddlers places a great responsibility on the leader.

Usually with Regents we peer paddle or have groups with a range of experience. This is a great help to me but can mean I rely on other for things I’m less good at. In the assessment you have to demonstrate good all round ability, which is challenging but focuses your attention to improve on those known weaknesses or less practiced areas.

Some things which the course made me think about are: planning, preparing and thinking ahead; visualising the river in terms of the ability of those you are leading; quickly adapting to situations; instilling confidence in those around you; creating a fun adventure for all the group.

I think the course is valuable for all intermediate paddlers who are looking to develop or more advanced paddlers who may or may not be already leading.

I started a River logbook, which is required for the course, and provide this to fellow members as an example. I think it’s really useful and wish I started it earlier in my paddling career.

Mark Donaldson