Ian White introduces us to the first part of our how to get ahead in kayaking series

For more information on the accredited BC awards available for personal paddling, leadership and coaching take a look at our training resources.

Five years ago I did the 4* leader training with coach Dan Daley, the award is split into two parts with two days for training and two days of assessment and covers leading on grade 2-3 water. This has now evolved into the White Water Leader award following the restructuring of British Canoeing and their award systems, but the old training accreditation and the award itself are still valid in the new programmes. Equally the same is true for the 5* leader award which has now become the Advanced White Water Leader award.

The training accreditation only lasts for three years at which point a refresher is required. Incessant procrastination, work, house refurbishment and a desire to go on kayaking trips all took precedence and I never made time to take the assessment.

Last May Steffi, myself and Olga were paddling with Dan on the beautiful Soca river in Slovenia. This is something we do every few years. As well as being a great guy, Dan is a terrific coach and we both enjoy his ability to impart his skills and knowledge. Dan asked me to lead on a grade 3 section of the Soca called Srpenica 2, although it was running with a lot of water which made it feel like grade 4.

Dan asked me why I hadn’t taken the 4* assessment, it was the jolt I needed and the fact that I hadn’t really irked me. Over the next few months, whilst still being really busy, I resolved to complete the task. There are certain pre-requisites, however, to taking the assessment. In addition to the training including an up-to-date White Water Safety and Rescue certificate and a First Aid certificate are also required. I had done the advanced White Water Safety and Rescue course with Darren Joy in within the last year. That just left me requiring a First Aid refresher course, mine had just expired but with good timing I was able to join the upcoming course arranged by the club and run by Ian ‘Scotty’ Scott [what a great name, must be a great guy]. We managed to complete the course on the second attempt after Scotty damaged his knee and was forced to pull out of day two upon instruction from the A&E department at his local hospital. The rescheduled date in was in January went without issue and so now I was ready to do the re-do the training and then go for the assessment.

Coach Dave Kohn-Hollins was advertising a White Water Leader assessment on the 22nd/23rd February 2020. I still needed to redo the training though, and fortunately Dave was able to squeeze me into his busy schedule on the 30th/31st January 2020. Ruth Hughes and her Machno came too. Prior to this, I had printed off the three relevant documents from the British Canoeing Awarding Body (not to be confused with British Canoeing, which also has information about the awards):

  1. Syllabus
  2. Course notes
  3. Assessor notes

White Water leader Training, Llangollen

This will give you all you need to know about what is expected of you and what the assessor will be looking for during the course.  The training was based in Llangollen [I think we need to set the mood here; the storm clouds were brooding overhead, the crowds were gathering on the old town bridge and just out of sight round the corner Ian White was squeezing all his Jaffa cakes into the back of his oversized dry bag].

I stayed at the Llangollen hostel right opposite our morning rendezvous spot with Dave. We kicked the morning off with a chat about the things we need to take into consideration when leading a river trip. After this we met our “tourists”, the paddlers we were to take down the river. After resolving the “forgotten helmet” issue (I think Regents have caught this virus [forgive the use of foul language, I believe Ian wrote this a few months ago]) we got on at the Upper Dee section and made our way down to Horseshoe Falls with Ruth leading. I took over at Horseshoe Falls while Ruth and I discussed whether we should or should not run the weir. Was it within our remit? Can we see a safe line? Are the “tourists” good enough paddlers to make it? We discussed our findings with Dave and he was okay with our decision to run it and our decision making process. Next was Serpent’s Tail. We broke out above and took the “tourists” to have a look at the feature. I was happy that the ability of the “tourists” matched the technicality of the feature and they all agreed and wanted to paddle it. We got off at Mile End Mill after one small swim at Serpent’s tail.

Day two – just Dave, me and Ruth. We paddled from Llangollen to Trevor while practicing leadership and boat rescue techniques while being amazed at the huge viaduct and aqueduct that cross the Dee.

White water Leadership Assessment, North Wales

An email had been sent to me and the others being assessed, asking us to prepare a list of rivers to run with our “tourists”. North Wales had been deluged with huge rain fall for the past week/month. Every river/catchment area had a flood warning and the A5 road at Corwen bridge had flooded. The river was about a quarter of a mile wide as it tried to squeeze its bloated self through the confines of the bridge. It managed to find a gap under a gate, two fields away from the river to flood the busy A5.

I again stayed at the Llangollen Hostel which was much busier than last time, as it was the weekend. I shared a room with three others, one of whom looked very melancholy. A brief chat revealed all. His girlfriend had kicked him out of their home, which he shared with her and the baby after he got drunk and smashed up the car. He had been arrested for DD and was due in court in two weeks. No girlfriend, no home, no car, no license, no job and probably a fine [just another weekend in North Wales]. And there was I, dealing with the concerns of whether I could deliver a safe river to paddle. It seemed so trivial in comparison. Before I left, I wished my sorrowful roommate the best of luck for the future. Surely, life could only get better from now on.

I had an idea. We were to meet at the Rhug (pronounced” rhig” in Welsh) Estate Cafe. This is where they have a metal bison sculpture beside the A5. The river Alwen is nearby and the get off is next to the Rhug Estate. Early in the morning, before the meeting, I went to check the get on and get off. At the get on, the water was running through that trees on the bank! At the get off, the water coming through the bridge’s arches sounded like a steam train at full speed. Maybe not the best choice. I was clean out of ideas.

One of the possible venues was the Tryweryn. The dam normally release at 9 cumecs. Today it was releasing at 16. If you add in the water from the tributaries, it was expected to be 30 cumecs at Bala Mill. I couldn’t see that this was viable either.

I met Christ Eastabrook (an assessor) and the other two people to be assessed plus the “tourists”. Chris was interested in our plans but he decided that we should paddle the Tryweryn. So we jumped into our cars and made the 40 minute drive to the T. We got changed and went to look at Chapel Falls. Wow! It was bigger than I have ever seen it and a definite class 4 rapid. I could see a line but not one which I could lead some inexperienced paddlers down. We got on below.  

I had three “tourists” – Mark, Charlotte and Paula. Mark had been paddling two years and was very good. Paula was a decent paddler but her nerves were shredded as she had previously been caught in a tree on the Tryweryn. It didn’t settle her nerves seeing Chapel falls and now she was about to paddle the river at nearly twice the volume.

Charlotte was the least experienced, nervous and wobbly. All three of my “tourists” we’re really nice and I did my best to put them at ease before getting on with an Ian White warm up and stretch. I was hoping that we could use the get on section to do a few warm up ferry glides to and from the eddy. I broke out and went to have a look at the eddy on the other bank. Looking downstream I saw a tree trunk at the bottom of the eddy where it joined the flow. Anyone taking a swim here after an eddy line wobble would be under that tree. That would be a very bad start. I signalled “all down”.

I had a great time. The river is great fun at this level, far better than I could have hoped for. We did have a couple of swims in my group but swimmer and kit were reunited and we paddled to the road bridge where the “tourists” got off (except Mark). We blasted down to the get off at the car park, missing out Bala Mill Falls.  

Day two – no “tourists” today. Met Dave Kohn-Hollins at the Siobod Cafe at Capel Curig to discuss our options. A two river day – the Glaslyn followed by the Llugwy. Mount Snowdon feeds Llyn Dinas which is a lake which feeds the  grade 2 section of the river Glaslyn. We all took turns to lead on the Glaslyn with Dave assessing our leadership abilities and styles. We got off before the Aberglaslyn gorge, which is spectacular at these levels.

Back to Capel Curig to run the Llugwy where we did three different rescue scenarios (1)broken arm (2)dislocated shoulder (3)unconscious paddler. When it was my turn to fall in, I was the unconscious paddler. I really felt sorry for the other two who had to get my 18 stone carcass to the riverbank and then haul it up onto dry land while I was motionless. I am waiting for an Oscar nomination.  

Got off at Forestry Falls and then back to the Siobod Cafe for a debrief, coffee and cake. Dave gave me some excellent and valid feedback with the news that I had passed.