Our safety officer Ben offers a break down of the new training and awards programmes

Regent’s club trips are all organised and led by volunteers, and paddling with a club is a great way to learn kayaking through informal learning from more experienced members. Many of our leaders don’t have any formal qualifications, but their experience and enthusiasm enable us to run a whole range of white water kayak and canoe trips.

That said, doing formal coaching or leadership training can be very rewarding and a great way of improving your own personal paddling skills. The few qualified coaches we have in the club are always in high demand and it would be great to see more members pursuing these qualifications. Qualified coaches bring so much to the club, we currently offer generous subsidies to anyone interested in doing this training.

What’s the difference between Coaching and Leading?

Coaches teach people to kayak and have improve their personal paddling skills. The real skill of a coach is being able to watch someone paddle, identify what they need to improve, and then devise a task or a set of lessons for them so that they significantly improve their paddling. To run any coached course for RCC or otherwise a coach must have a recognised coaching qualification.

Leaders are always experienced paddlers who can judge the conditions and group ability and lead that group safely down the river. We focus on peer paddling, so everyone in a group is empowered to act if necessary, and nominated leaders are normally the most experienced peers in a group. They can offer “top tips” to paddlers following them but are not qualified to coach people further. At Regent’s leaders often don’t have any formal qualifications, but we do recommend getting the training as a way to improve your skills on the river.

Why might people be interested in getting Coaching or Leading qualifications?

These awards have been developed by paddling experts at British Canoeing. At Regent’s we learn from each other all the time, and that’s great. But there’s also something to be said for doing a structured course which follows a syllabus designed to cover everything you need to know. It can consolidate what you’ve learned already and fill in any gaps. In addition, you will have an award which is recognised wherever you go paddling.

Learning to coach has benefits both on and off the water. On the water one of the best ways of improving a skill is working out how to teach it; off the water, coaching is a transferable skill. Coaching techniques in other walks of life are heavily influenced by sports coaching.

What awards does BC offer and what’s the difference between them?

BC offers training and awards in pretty much every paddlesport discipline you can think of, from SUP to canoe polo. For Regent’s paddlers the White Water Kayak and White Water Canoe awards will probably be the most relevant. There’s a lot of information on the BC website, and a summary of the basic whitewater kayak awards is listed on our Training page including:

Personal Performance awards

These awards are about improving your personal paddling skills. This includes decision making and group skills as well as technical ability.

Leadership awards

These recognise the additional skills you need when leading others. Three levels are relevant to Regent’s club paddlers:

  • Sheltered Water (paddlesport leader)
  • Moderate Water (white water kayak leader)
  • Advanced Water (advanced white water kayak leader)

All these awards focus on personal paddling skills, rescue skills, safety, leadership and group skills. There is a two-day training course for each award followed by a one day assessment, though you will need experience as well as training to pass.

The training can be an excellent way to improve your river skills and we’d recommend this for all members looking to feel more confident on the river, the assessment can be taken up to 3 years after the training.   

Coaching awards

These awards are about teaching kayaking. This could be helping complete beginners to learn the basics, or helping more advanced paddlers improve. Either way you would learn to plan and deliver progressive coaching sessions. Coaching well is a real skill and a lot gets covered in this training, from understanding different learning styles to assessing progress and making sure your coaching is enjoyable.

To do these awards you would first do core coach training, which is not discipline specific. Then there are awards for many different paddlesport disciplines. For white water kayaking the awards are:

  • Kayak Coach (sheltered water)
  • White Water Kayak Coach
  • Advanced White Water Kayak Coach

Becoming a coach takes time and commitment – as well as completing the training you need to show that you are putting what you are learning into practice and keep a diary of your coaching experience.

What other training could I think about doing?

White Water Safety and Rescue – this is another BC course which is strongly recommended for anyone who is paddling white water regularly. It covers safe paddling strategies and a variety of different rescue skills. It’s typically a two day course.

First Aid – also strongly recommended. Any first aid is useful but Wilderness First Aid is a popular choice, as we often paddle in rural locations where help could be several hours away. This is a requirement for the leadership and coaching awards.

Personal Paddling skills – there are lots of ways to improve your own paddling skills, starting with paddling regularly at the canal to strengthen your forward paddling (the foundation of all white water skills!) If you are thinking about paying for coaching, Lee Valley offer some good evening courses or you could team up with some friends to hire a coach. The BC Personal Performance awards have replaced the old ‘star’ awards and offer progression in personal skills from flat water to advanced white water (grade 3/4 (5))

OK I’m keen – what should I do now?

It depends what you’re interested in. If you want to do a course (leadership, personal paddling, first aid, safety and rescue – whatever) it’s cheaper to team up with some other members interested in the same thing and hire a coach together. Do some research into courses and work out what you want to do, and contact [email protected] to put a shout out in NfC to see if anyone else is interested.

If you think you might be interested in becoming a coach, get in touch with our safety officer Ben ([email protected]). Ben is currently going through coaching training himself so can talk you through what’s involved in more detail. There’s also a heap of information on the British Canoeing website.

If you have any other questions about coaching and leading, or about training generally, get in touch with Ben and he’ll be happy to help.

Ruth spews her thoughts on another fine weekend

After a tricky trip to the lakes involving rush hour at Euston, luckily not with a kayak, and checking that Boaty II was securely attached on a grade 6 motorway (or perhaps the M6 Motorway, or both) I arrived at the wonderful Hyning Estate with no energy and a strong desire to bimble.

The last time I got on the river was the Dart loop when Mark used his wooly hat as an impromptu cod piece, I was leading (even though I’d swam on the lower) and my newbie went right in off the slaps.

Better luck this time? Yes.

The Crake is beautiful in Swallows and Amazons country form idyllic Coniston, source to sea. It begins at grade 1 gently sliding through overhanging trees like a mangrove swamp but chillier. It glides past chocolate box hillsides and deceased canoes. Did you see that Hugh?

Andrew read his notes from the last time: Rekha had flowed down the grade III rapid blind after approximately 7 weirs! To begin with all the action is in front of us, Hugh is stuck on the first rapid and Caroline crashes into Jane who is pinned on a tree.

Then the action arrives with us, I lead Andrew down a braid with only a limited way out but signal to the others to try the other way. It’s quite disconcerting because Andrew has a cold that makes the river seem a bit like a TB ward. Then we are at the Rekah rapid. Andrew goes down the “entry” rapid and under the bridge, I follow but take the other side of the bridge which is low. My paddle gets stuck in the bridge and I go over. I try to roll but the sweep gets rocked. But I remember the swim on the lower Dart, I think – I’m probably in the bridge eddy I’ll ask for a T-rescue. I take the T-rescue. Thanks Andrew. Andrew thinks I’ve lost my paddle but I’ve hung on and that is lucky because I’m not in the eddy I’m in the flow. I’m over again but this time I roll. Now I’m going backwards down the feature but at last I’m at the bottom. Stella leading Ruth – that’s the way to do it. Stylish.  

It is flat from thereon in and Claw and I paddle out of the mouth of the river. The sun is shining and I feel lucky to be alive, especially as I know there are chips to be scavenged at the get off.

In other news Ben “Mr Safety” has decided it is worth taking his splits with him after needing them on the Upper Upper Barle – that’s a good decision as when he is on the river his paddle literally comes apart in his hands.

I get set into drinking back at the accommodation, decide it’s a good idea to insist on trying out my rusty language skills on French Johann. This went quite well but I’m sure he said to me that he was quite a dominant person… perhaps that got lost in translation? Something else that seems to have got lost in translation is the sandwiches order. Marmite peanut butter. Not Marmite and peanut butter. Marmite peanut butter. Did someone put McPhee in charge of the Asda order? Was that wise?

What next? Chasing the water – that’s what, up to the Tees to do a new section. Ben is giving me Elise and Claw a “crash” course in leadership. Is that wise? Boaty II doesn’t want to crash and neither do I.

It is cold but the dark rock formations are beautiful, there are ducks, herons, what is probably a cormorant but might be a shag (I find it difficult to tell the difference – don’t laugh it’s not funny) and some ponies that no one really notices I go totally crazy over. It’s normal to shout “horse horse horse” as you go down the rapid? It’s not?

Ben is like a cross between a little kayak angel on my shoulder and my Land Law tutor from Cambridge. Can you see the line? Do you know that there aren’t any trees in the rapid? Do you know there aren’t any nasty rocks? I’d be surprised. Do you know? Er? Do you know? No. Let’s get out. Can you make the see the eddy? Er maybe. Can you make the eddy? Can I make the eddy? Can I? Probably, but now you are asking maybe I can’t. That looks like quite a substantial ferry glide. Let’s send Kryzstoff down as a probe. What’s your authority? Tulk v Moxhay (1848) 41 ER 1143 – restrictive covenants run with the land.  

When I explain this to Ben it turns out that he has a PhD in some kind of chemistry I don’t really understand – clever. So I can call him Dr Safety without causing offence. Doesn’t he understand that I put the offence into charm offensive?

Using your historical brain what’s that? It’s an Abbey. So we are probably at Abbey rapids. It’s not rocket science. At least I hope it isn’t. I’m allergic to physics – but something I have never understood is why the rocket scientist did not impress Shania Twain much. Why not? But I digress. Do you feel confident leading me down the rapid? Yes. Actually, no but we will gloss over that. Swoosh, splash, nailed it.

Then there is something I’ve never seen before. The river is reefed. Half of it drops like a natural weir off a shallow cliff, but half of it keeps going and there are play wave on the part that hasn’t dropped. Have a go on that Kryzstoff, but he doesn’t fancy being dumped off the reef/weir feature into the tow back.

It’s back to the accommodation for some excellent apple pie, I can’t remember feeling so happy (spoiler actually in the Alps). Articulate gets real. Caroline is recorded at 89 decibels calling time. Theo is on the right wave length. My clue – not Norway. Sweden obviously. Well done Theo. Good game.

So it’s day three and the logistics are more complex than Brexit. There are two rivers. The Leven and the Kent. There are circa 30 paddlers. All paddlers cannot go to the same river.  Parking space is limited. There are some numbers of cars. Each car holds 3 passengers. Some cars hold up to 4 boats. 3 cars are not going to London. There is a van. The van hold an infinite amount of boats. The van keys are lost. Who should do which river? You will do the Kent.

Gnar isn’t helping tho. Andrew’s bought a new boat. Obviously. That isn’t really helping either. Andrew’s gone the whole 9R this time. Gnar is day dreaming out of the window [at a blue boat on a red car]. That’s a beautiful colour boat you’ve got Andrew. So blue. So pretty. That’s your 9R Gnar. That boat is yours. The one you’ve been paddling yesterday and the day before. What a lovely boat. Love. Don’t tell April.

Gnar’s dreaming does not last long as Andrew and Claw pie him like a clown in an orange Typhoon on the river side. Andrew asks me to please protect his paddle from retribution as he does the shuttle.

Oh no. Hugh the Canoe’s boat is damaged.  He was on the Leven yesterday and went down a weir. The kayakers said it was fine so Hugh didn’t look at it and ran it. But we are kayakers – what is a canoe even for?  

It’s a crack team down then Kent which we do in about 45 minutes. There are beautiful wag tails, and the level is good. I roll every feature. There are salmon trying to hop up Force Falls. Good luck. There are those weir inflatable canoes going down it. Some have two people in. Watch out salmon.

The group above are having fun. Andrew’s doing his Maradona impression with Jane and then he’s getting out to video the big drop. And probably committing an offence under the Fisheries Act. Don’t enter those salmon steps. Don’t slip over. Don’t fall over again. That looks painful. Simon, why didn’t you film that?

It’s also worth mentioning in dispatches that Jane and Octave did their first white water rolls this trip – well done. And the van keys were found.

Can’t wait for my next lakes trip. Thanks to all those who organised, drove and were willing to put up with my unreasonably aggressive manner of playing articulate.

Frankie pumps up her first white water trip to Mile End Mill

After completing the Introduction to White Water Kayaking course with Regents Canoe Club, a few of us signed up for our first ‘proper’ white water trip. The Intro course was great and taught us lots of essential skills and knowledge. This was, however, my first serious attempt at putting it all into practice. I was full trepidation, excitement and panic.

I felt a bit like a kid who had been allowed to go to the movies for the first time without an adult, I didn’t know what I was going to see, I wasn’t quite sure how to get there and did I have enough money to buy the popcorn?

So, here’s my very personal reflections of being that kid again who’s full of excitement of the unknown.

Everyone was down for breakfast early; the dining room was full of energy and anticipation. The experienced kayakers shared stories from previous trips and the new kids on the block listened with bated breath. We were keen to absorb as much as we could in the hope it would make us better kayakers. The sun was shining and the water levels high, so a good day ahead was anticipated.

We squeezed ourselves into the living room for the river briefing. The trip leader, Jo, outlined the format for the day; who was in which group and with which river leader. The tension was rising [already??] as we checked each other out eagerly hoping to be in a group with someone we knew. Important messages about listening to your river leader and water safety were interspersed with jokes and frivolity. Although good humoured the risky side of this new sport was beginning to sink in. Briefed and ready to go we packed ourselves into the cars, headed for the riverbank and waited for the movie to begin.

One of the many impressive features of Regents Canoe Club is the quality of the river leaders/coaches [we did not have any part in the aggrandising of this post]. They are all volunteers and are great enthusiasts for kayaking. We gathered into our smaller groups appreciating the ratio of 1-2-1 or 2 – 1 leaders to beginners. The number of leaders per beginner ensures you get personalised, focused coaching and lots of attention to help build up a trusting relationship with your coach who in turn inspires you with confidence and self-belief.

Launched into the water we ferry glide to the other side of the riverbank, find an eddy and take stock of the River Dee. Simple indeed to an experienced kayaker but to beginners like myself it was my first achievement to get across safely, wobbly in bits but I can correct myself and I remembered to breath.

My river leader Emma talked us through the next stage of trip. Jo went ahead and set the line for us to follow.  We hit our first small but significant rapids. “sit up straight, gently lean forward, angle your boat into the eddy and paddle. Don’t forget to smile.” Paddling hard, concentrating on the eddy line, feeling the water and wow, I’ve made it. I’m shaking, happy and breathing again. Thank god for the eddy to have a few moments to be still and gather myself.

We do this routine again and again working out way down the river, meeting bigger, faster more furious rapids. The relief of a peaceful eddy increasingly becomes more precious and welcomed. Throughout our paddle Emma encourages, advises, demonstrates and believes in me. This is almost becoming fun.

We stop for lunch and the chatter is as loud as the water gurgling around us. More of the same for the afternoon as we are encouraged to face more challenging rapids, have fewer rests in eddies, paddle higher upstream into the white water, manoeuvre breakouts and break-ins. The aim is always to raise our standards, improve our technique and build up our confidence.

Someone has capsized and is swimming, their boat flashes past, a helmet pops up in the water and the river leaders are there, saving the person, catching the boat, checking the person is OK. They make time for the swimmer to regain control and find some calmness, continuing to give encouragement and talking through what happened and what to do the next time.  The focus on learning and support never ebbs. They go hand in hand at RCC. It is so reassuring to kid who has got herself into the movies but is not quite sure this the film she wants to be a part of.

Tired, heavy muscles and wet bodies drag themselves back to the hostel. The chatter is endless, the energy high and enthusiasm infectious. A quick shower, curry and bed – exactly what the doctor ordered. A lovely end to a good day.

Morning briefing again. Energy levels lower, a few bad swims the day before have left their bruises and dented confidence. We are heading for the Serpent’s Tail, which is not for everyone. We are told that your river leader will let you know if they think you can do it; always respect their decision; be prepared to swim. The tension is palpable, nervous rattle around the room and then Jo tells us they are mixing up the groups. “No!” I scream inside. My group was my comfort blanket, they know me, I know them, Emma said I could do it!

Nothing to fear as my new river leader Kate is wonderful and instantly picks up on my anxiety and reassures me. [Really? Kate?] My new river buddy is great too and together we are up for the next challenge.

We check out the next stretch of river. The Welsh mist is slowly draping itself around us, noises are muted, the mood is sinking, the dankness seeping into our minds. The horror movie is about to begin.

We have a short paddle to warm up, practice our ferry gliding, breakout turns and try to pick up our energy. We reach Serpent’s Tail. Everyone gets out, surveys the river, watches aghast at the size of the rapids, cowers at the power of the water, feels humbled by its strength, respects its beauty. There’s much talk about which line to take, who is going to do it or not, the sickly feeling of fear is upon all the beginners. We watch again as some other kayakers brave the rapids, they bob about in the water like a used cork, some swim, only one or two make it. These are experienced kayakers, yet they are not winning against Serpent’s Tail.  More contemplating about should I or shouldn’t I do it? Kate assesses the risks and talks to both myself and my river buddy about the river conditions and consequences.  She thinks I can do it. ‘Holy Shit” that means I’m on, Emma catches my eye, “You can do it Frankie, go girl!” I’m physically shaking by now and start the short walk across the rocks to my boat. The collective nervous energy and nattering rocks gives way to peacefulness. Kate talks me through the line we are going to take and tells me to follow her, keep the line, lean forward, paddle hard and breateh. Once in the water a strange calmness overtakes me. I can and will do it I tell myself.

We’re off. The first stretch uncharacteristically tranquil. I hear the roar of the water but can’t see anything except enormous brown waves frothing over the rocks like the Guinness advert but with fury and ferocity. Keep the line Frankie, PLF and lean forward. I’m following in the eddy line down; I can’t see Kate but am heading for the left as agreed and keep leaning forward.  I’m over, out of the boat, travelling faster than ever before. I see a slither of green on the rocks and there’s a throwline for me. I grab it, hang on, but I’m still under the water not coming up, think my shoulder is about to dislocate, the tension on the line is rigid, suddenly my head is above water. I scramble over the rocks, I’m overjoyed, feel top of the world, where is Kate I want to hug her? I managed a mere 8 seconds in the boat but I’m as high as a kite & the adrenalin rush is making me giddy. I want to cry with joy.

After a lot of deep breathing, words of comfort, encouragement and support from everyone I calm down. I’m emotionally and physically shattered.  My movie has exhausted me, worn me out, left me wabbit.

Would I do it again? You bet.

Words of advice? Be prepared for the emotional journey of your life in just 8 seconds. It’s the best movie ever.

Steph reflects on an eventful White Water Safety and Rescue course

Our little paddling ‘clique’ who all met at the Intro to White Water course last summer (with a few exceptions who were assimilated into the group along the course of the year) decided we were ready for the next step in our paddling careers. We wanted to learn to become a better asset to the club and learn how to be safer on the river and gain confidence in safety and rescue so that we could go on peer paddling trips (most of us bought safety gear for the Alps trip and didn’t have a clue how to use it properly).

We set about researching course to go on [for those looking for a course we have a list of suggested providers]. Ever since the Regents trip to the Tryweryn we were all obsessed with getting back there, they run WWSR courses so it was an obvious choice. It was the first time we’d organised a trip on our own so the usual faff ensued for a couple of month but eventually boats and people were loaded into cars and we were bound for North Wales.

The Tryweryn is an amazing river with a guaranteed flow and with the fantastic facilities of the National White Water Centre from which we could hire most of the kit we needed. The benefit being, if like me you had none of the kit and there were 100 people telling you 100 different bits of advice, you could try it all out there and make your own decisions based on what you learnt and what you liked (most of us were trying out drysuits for the first time, honestly, it was life changing, if you have the money go for it).

I’m no expert but this looks more like being a secret agent than white water safety and rescue.

The course. What did we do?

We learnt how to:

  • Throw ropes
  • Tie knots
  • Rescue boats
  • Rescue people (in all sorts of imaginative ways, see below)
  • And… a lot of swimming (for everyone)

This was what I was most nervous about, I’m the kind of paddler that would do anything to stay upright, I have a roll and I have fairly good balance. So, I didn’t actually have much experience swimming in a river situation and I was apprehensive. So much so I weaselled my way into being last in the group to swim down the rapid and even watching 3 of my colleagues successfully swim to safety I was so nervous I was literally shaking [kudos for practicing the things you don’t like too]!!

Turns out I was fine.

Our coach had taught us how to swim defensively and aggressively so that we could successfully self-rescue. Did you know you can Ferry Glide whilst swimming?!

Whilst feet first in your defensive position, point your shoulder to the side of the river your eddy is and do windmills with your arms to slow yourself in the flow and you will (hopefully) reach that side of the river, then spin over and do your fastest front crawl over the eddy line! Hey presto your safe! Ideally at least, if not make sure there is a friend with a throw line on the bank just in case.

Learning is a process, and on this course (even if some of us had thrown a line before) we were all learning. One of our group (who shall remain nameless) thought that they were the swimming champion, they’d had lots of practice in the past but proper defensive form was harder than they’d thought, which resulted in a teary (and slightly snotty) crisis of identity on the bank after a failed swim (we can all laugh about it now).

But failures will happen, we have to be aware that even if we know all the proper procedure, sometimes things go wrong. In fact, I had taken the brunt of all the failed rescue attempts in our group. This was not 1 but 4:

  1. The Missed Throw line – resulted in me swimming down the rockiest part of a rapid! Good thing I was wearing my helmet! Luckily, we had a 2nd throw rope ready to go!
  2. The Missed Live Bait – playing dead (face down) in the rapid, my rescuer was meant to jump in and catch me before I disappeared down the river… but they missed… I went into the chipper, but I was fine. Keep cool and your feet up, you can bounce along it to safety.
  3. The Failed boat rescue – I’d nudged the boat in to an eddy, but it wasn’t properly secured by the person on the bank. I hadn’t waited to see if they secured it before getting out of my boat to go help on the bank. The boat sailed past me as I had one foot out of my boat. Oh No! Luckily the Tryweryn was fairly populated and a kind person had nudged it into another eddy whilst I was trying desperately to get back into my boat. We then did another rescue and made sure it was safe before I got out of my boat.
  4. Successful throw, but held in a hole for what felt like an eternity – this ironically was probably the most uncomfortable situation. So much so I considered letting go of the rope, and I would have if they hadn’t changed their strategy on the bank when they did.
Checking your phone?! Another very important safety and rescue principle.

WWRS techniques are useful and important skills to learn as a kayaker, especially when considering peer paddles or going for the next grade up, but the most important philosophy I learnt was; if you think the only way you’d paddle a rapid is to have safety set up on it, should you really do it?

Its sensible to put on safety as a precaution if your paddlers are strong but mistakes happen and that’s fine. But if you know you or someone in your group will definitely get into trouble on it, it might be wiser to walk around it.

We all loved the course and came back having learnt so much, I recommend those [who want to keep kayaking] go do one! WWSR, a course, a way of life.

In case you missed it, here is Becky’s account of her Grand Canyon paddling adventure

In July of this year I was very lucky to be part of a group of friends who went to kayak and raft the Grand Canyon self-supported. This trip was different to previous self-supported kayak trips that I had been on in the past, as this experience was not just about the kayaking but exploring the beautiful canyon, with all its side hikes, side creeks and caves.

One of the things that appealed to me the most about this trip is that I got to do it self-supported with my friends. This means no guides. No guides means you lead down the river. Therefore it is even more important that each member of the group works together as a team to make sure everybody gets down the river safely. You get to plan how far you go each day. You get to decide when you leave each morning and when and where you stop at the end of the day. You decide what hikes you go on and what you want to see and how long you stay there. Basically you and your team get to make up all the rules! What I loved most about being deep in the Canyon was that you lost all sense of time, and that everything you needed to survive three weeks away from the rest of the world was all rigged on the raft.

After a year or so of planning, launch day finally arrived. We launched from Lees Ferry and here we were shown how to rig the rafts. I was issued with my kayak – a fun RPM! Even though I kayaked the whole river to the take out at Pierce Ferry, it was also important for me to know how to rig the rafts properly as it was a team effort every single morning and evening for the next 15 days to break down camp and set up camp.

And then we were off, and it wasn’t long until we were in the beautiful canyon. There were so many cool and fun things we saw and hiked. However, my favourites were red wall cavern and visiting the side creeks of the Little Colorado and Havasu. The colour of the Little Colorado and Havasu creek was just the most amazing turquoise blue, and the water was so warm. There were also many fantastic waterfalls and of course rocks to jump off in to the water.

Having fun at Red Wall Cavern

I am definitely a big water kayaker. I have been very lucky in that I have managed to get to a few big water destinations so far. However this is definitely the biggest water I have ever kayaked. Those rapids were huge! The Grand Canyon has its own grading scale. It goes from 1 (being a riffle) to 10 (with monster waves and big holes and rocks). The biggest rapid on the river is a rapid called Lava, and this is graded as 9. It was fun going down this rapid first, and therefore important to remember all your markers that you looked at when scouting – there were some big holes! The waves were massive and it was such a great feeling to get down it having run a good line and then to see the rest of the team in kayaks and rafts nailing it too.

The next biggest rapid was a rapid called Crystal. There was a nasty hole in the middle of this rapid that was big enough to flip a raft. The kayakers went down first. Two rafts down safely – great. However the third raft ended up in the hole and in a blink of an eye the raft flipped. Immediately we left the eddy to people chase and then…raft chase! I have to say it was an interesting (but kind of fun too) experience people chasing and then raft chasing down one of the biggest rapids I have ever paddled. Everyone got out okay and luckily the raft ended up in an eddy. We lost a bit of kit and food and broke an oar lock of the raft. It then took five people to right the raft. But we managed in the end, and needless to say, with more big rapids coming up everyone was much more careful when rigging the rafts. ‘Rig to flip’ as they say.

‘Rig to Flip1’ Caught out at Crystal

My most favourite rapid of all (but there were so many great rapids) was a rapid called Hermit classed as an 8. This is the biggest and most friendly wave train I have paddled, and I felt so lucky that I got to paddle this rapid. There are no nasty holes on this rapid. The reason it is given an 8 is because the waves a just so huge. It is the coolest feeling riding up the diagonal of the wave and then being able to boof of the top of the apex of the wave if you manage to get the timely right. I get filled with pure happiness and joy when I think about that rapid – it was ace!

Dropping into my favourite rapid –Hermit!

If anyone of you are thinking of applying for a permit to do a self-supported trip like we did, you should definitely do it. I would definitely go back to get to spend 15 or so days kayaking and living outdoors every day. I think I might have to try my luck for the 2021 lottery!

Octave shares some thoughts on a self-organised adventure

The Soča river in Slovenia is breathtakingly beautiful and an amazingly fun place to kayak. As we discovered, however, there’s a lot to organising your own trip abroad – this blog is therefore a practical guide to your very own Soča trip.

What’s the river like?

The Soča is pretty magical – the water is absolutely clear and has a unique colour, and you’re in deep valleys with 1,800m+ mountains all around you as you go down.

There’s a nice range of paddling opportunities, from grade 2 to grade 5 (we mostly did 3 and 4). So heading there after just one year of white water kayaking would be perfectly fine. As the river is very long, it’s quite easy to go to different sections each day, keeping it fresh.

Apart from the colour and mountains, the type of river features is already very different from the UK – we mostly alternated between boulder gardens (we’re talking several meter tall boulders) and deep and narrow gorges (which look very impressive but are insanely fun to paddle).

The section between Srpenica 1 and Trnovo 1 (part of it called “the Rafting section” due to commercial rafts) is a good warm-up. Our coach made us practice several strokes we hadn’t really seen before, e.g C and D strokes, which made it much easier to take tighter eddies and navigate between obstacles – we realised why once we started going between boulders and down narrow gorges!

The North-Eastern part of the Soča (all the way down Čezsoča) was probably our favourite section. It includes several named features, in-between loads of shorter rapids. The Bunker, a pushier boulder garden; the 3rd Soča gorge, a long and narrow passage with 2 technical features (at the entrance and mid-way), and a long tunnel to go all the way back and run it again; and the Landslide, which is probably technical with different water levels but was straightforward for us.

The North-Western section starting with the Koritnica before joining the Soča was also good fun, with the Koritnica gorge and the Black Gorge (presumably named so to frighten the tourists, because it wasn’t that bad). Quite a bit of water is required to run it, so we got lucky. The most dangerous part probably came from a section where we saw a car crossing a rope bridge above us, and never paddled harder and faster to not be underneath it.

Finally the two harder sections, which we skipped: the Slalom section between Trnovo 1 and Trnovo 2 – we started down it and decided to call it a day after reconnaissance showed several siphons and undercut rocks in all the wrong places, and none of us liked the consequences; and Otona to Kobarid, way beyond our skill / confidence level (especially the Cataract section) but supposedly a lot of fun.

How did we organise the trip?

We decided to head to Slovenia relatively late (around March), so the week were picked was early July – we got very lucky with a lot of rain falling in on our first day, which allowed us to paddle everything, but we’d definitely recommend April to June which is when the glaciers are melting.

We were 4 of similar level, having all paddled for 2 years, so wanted a coach who could help us learn more as well as providing safety on the river.  After asking for advice around the club, everyone gave us names of British coaches – but ultimately we decided to hire a local Slovenian coach on the strength of his website, as we thought he’d know the area a lot more. It was also much cheaper than flying and lodging someone, at €375 for 5 days (we paid a bit more as we did more than 3h a day, averaging 4h), including kayak rental. We didn’t regret it, as Matic was great all week long, teaching us loads and keeping spirits high with his non-stop energy.

We stayed in Bovec, which is near the middle of the river. There are plenty of camping options around but we much preferred a proper bed and booked a house via Airbnb – total cost £1,000.

As we didn’t have to carry kayaks from the UK, we flew to Trieste and drove from there (flights to Llubjana were more expensive but car rental cheaper, so overall it’s very similar) – £880 total for the flights (incl. 40kg luggage each) and £360 total for the car rental. We could have been picked up from their airport but not having a car would have been a pain every day for the shuttles, and prevented us from visiting the area.

We got the white water insurance up to grade 5 (in case we ended up in Otona after a long swim) from Dogtag – about £60.

Altogether, about £700 per head for the week (which could reduced by camping + driving there) plus food & drinks (your mileage may vary).

We’re definitely looking to go back – in the meantime, if you’re planning your own trip and want tips let me know, and if you have a good line to recommend we’re all ears!

See our training page for a list of other expedition providers.

How we got on!

Beyond kayaking, there’s so much outdoors sport you can do: hiking, cycling, rafting, canyoning, ziplining… The area is a paradise for that.

We particularly recommend heading to Mangart Saddle unless you dislike driving narrow Alpine roads bordering a cliff for an hour – the landscape is really worth it!

More fun on the T with Ruth

I admit it, I was supposed to write a piece on the May trip to the Tryweryn (“T” – I’m a barrister I’m allowed to define terms!) I’m a bit late with that. Sorry. I haven’t forgotten. I’m double barrelling it with the August T trip.

I faced the two trips with very different feelings: in early May I was towards the end point of training for the Hackney Half. Spriggs made me do it but she got shin splints sprinting around in the way she does (3 hours nearly bang on but I ran all the way and it was my first time so I was pleased, thanks for asking [we didn’t]). I had previously done my ankle on the upper Graveyard (i.e. the bit above the proper Graveyard). So I was worried. I had trained for long hours up hills going into Hampstead and I did not want to waste them with a paddling injury. The result was: I had a good lower, although I rolled in the Bala Mill Falls eddy and then without choice or control took a line far left on the drop that didn’t really run and swam. The next day I cried in the eddy above Ski Jump and got off before Stone Bridge. This did not seem like excellent preparation for the Alps. But nevermind. The bluebells were beautiful.

Fun was had by most people, perhaps not Jolyon, who did his shoulder and tore his pretty green drysuit on the Graveyard.

Fast forward three months. Spriggs, the hero, has sensibly booked us into a B and B and there is a Tempest arriving at the camp site. Wane is having a total ‘mare. He ran out of petrol in Bala in the expectation that the petrol station was one. Wales 1 – Wane nil. The petrol station is open less often than a French supermarket, but Super Karen (and Rob) are there to rescue him. Did you know she secretly did the Ubaye Racecourse when we weren’t looking? She’s a hero too.

But Oh No! Wane’s tent has blown away, and by “his” I mean “his sister’s”! And his car is wet because the window got left open overnight. Don’t worry Wane. Bad lucky comes in threes.

There are three “tents” down on the campsite. Belle’s pole has broken and she’s moved in with Dan Scott and Liza had a bivouac which has collapsed into a puddle on her face! She kept sleeping under it.

I was on the camping trip at the T three years ago when it was literally minus 1 and I got a cold which lasted 6 weeks. Who said camping was a good idea? It wasn’t me. But Steady Eddie is keen as mustard and he wants to paddle the ditch behind the campsite!

I’m travelling with Belle and when we hear we are paddling the Conway she describes a river which sounds like a continuous grade 4 shit show. Apparently, there have been multiple calls to mountain rescue because people didn’t make the get out and they have installed a bar you can hang onto for dear life before disappearing into a grade 5 waterfall. I’m seriously considering not getting on. I really have the fear. But so many people laugh at me when I say this that I’m calmed.

I get on. Why does my Machno feel like a poorly constructed handmade corical? Why have I not been to Lee Valley more since the Alps? Someone points out that the answer to that question is that I’ve been going on so many Bumble dates it is virtually a second career. I can tell you that it’s not as well paid (got any single friends? Don’t forget to set me up – kayaking skill appreciated, must have GSOH).

It starts to go better but then I get pinned on the gorge-y section before the grade 4 rapid. Jane is pleased. She thinks I acted as a buffer so she didn’t get pinned and I got out of it and I self-rescued so that’s ok. Glad I wore the drysuit. And Ed swam too so I feel a bit better about it all. Then Liza asks me if I want to lead. And I say yes. What has happened to the real Ruth? Can I have her back please? Perhaps she stayed in the cosy B and B and let a monster get on the river instead! But then I engage in the most cautious leading on a grade 2 stretch of river anyone has ever seen, maybe it was the real Ruth that got on after all! And the get off was fine (thanks for asking, again).

There is still time to do the Upper. And by “do” the Upper I mean go down the Graveyard backwards. I don’t swim. I’m surprised. It is sunny and the rafts are out in force. Damn them. One knocks over our knew friend Iain from Marlow over in the eddy above Ski Jump (the rafts aren’t the only thing bowling Iain over, he’s never seen so many women on a kayaking trip, forget Treweryn man, we are Treweryn woman!) Back to the rafts – they have driven Jane and me mad. We fail to make an easy ferry across to Liza on river left and we are off down Ski Jump. Don’t worry Jane! “We’ve got this” I say. I’m in control. I know the line. I’m going to the little eddy river left. Bang – I’m in. Ideal. Eddy the Eagle! And Jane has followed me. Great.

She’s hard left. She catches Mythical eddy. At-a-girl. But now she is going backwards into the hole. And now she is swimming. And I don’t know how to get out of this eddy. The stopper is so big. Surely I shouldn’t break out into that. But Rachel and Liza are still at the top of Ski Jump because of those blasted rafts. Luckily Kate is in the big eddy and she is saving Jane, all I have done to assist is to shout “Help Kate!”

I roll on Fingers – I was too centre and, as Liza describes it, I “flew through the air” when I was buffeted right. Wane punctures a hole in his knee on the Graveyard. He superglues it back together, if only Humpty Dumpty had thought of that. Belle moves into the floor of the B and B. The twins Swim and Claw are back from their travels. Gnar looks so happy! Even though he forgot his paddle! He’s probably not forgotten the elbow pads. I feel like it would not be PC to describe them as the Gnarettes [and yet you have].

The second day is less dramatic, things are going surprisingly well. I’ve tried to boof on the upper Graveyard. I’ve made my first eddy on the proper Graveyard and Mel has inspired me into so great cross-moves. I’m at Fingers again. And again my breakout hasn’t gone right. I can’t get across far enough under Café wave. Why? But this time it’s different. That stopper isn’t going to munch me. My line is now so far right it is probably associated with the BNP. It’s bumpy but its good (unlike the BNP) and I’m done. I’m out. I’m buying cheesy chips.

And Wane is behind an accident on the M6 in a traffic jam. Better luck next time Wane.

Jess’s recollections of a first year in the Alps

As I put my out of office on, and waved goodbye to my colleagues, the excitement of the Alps trip sunk in. Having heard so many positive things from other RCC members, I couldn’t wait to see the rivers for myself!

The first day paddling was a warm-up session at Espace Eau Vive, a man-made course but with a river feel, this was a great opportunity to practise using our throw-lines in a group safety session to ready us for the week ahead. We then jumped into our boats and got on the water to practice our skills (and rolling!!). We decided to finish the session with an epic race down the course which amazingly didn’t result in too much carnage. After a quick ice cream in the sun we were on the road again heading to Briançon.

The first river we got on was the Lower Guil which ends at the St Clements Slalom course. It was a stunning river and was great at getting us used to the quick paced freezing water. In the afternoon, we paddled the Durance from the Briancon du prelle and this fast, bouncy river resulted in the most frantic paddling I had ever done in order to stay upright. This was probably due to other member describing this river as grade 2/Poo and advising us to keep our mouths closed. The day finished with a well-deserved drink in the sports bar, followed by a delicious group dinner and games in the chalet.

The next day Regents started on the Claree. I geared myself up for another great day of paddling, I did my stretches, readied my gear, I was pumped! I was ready for this! We grabbed the kayaks and set off down the river. There I was, bouncing along the wave trains, and out of nowhere I found myself on a collision course with a rock and after a big bump I was swimming, losing my paddle in the process. I ditched the boat at the side of the river, and made my way back along the road to the get-on. A second group went down the river again, and thankfully my paddle was found.

In the afternoon I needed a confidence boost, so we headed to the Durance and got on after Bassin De Slalom, for an easier paddle. With only one word of warning, that we needed to be careful of the big hole in the middle and ‘just stay left!’… a couple of the group got carried away with bouncing on wave trains and they ended up going straight into the gigantic hole. One swam, one rolled and after some quick boat rescuing we were back on the water with minimal faff.

Tuesdays River was the Gyronde but sadly I didn’t get to see much of this river before I had another unfortunate meeting with a rock that seemed to sneak up on me. Despite all my efforts to stay upright, I capsized and swam, but after what happened yesterday, I was determined that I was not going to walk out on another river due to a lost paddle, and managed to get it to the side. My boat, however, had other ideas and decided to run the river by itself. After losing sight of my boat I had found myself stuck on the river bank with nowhere to go, but up. With a steep climb out and stroll through a lovely French farm I made my way back along the road to the get-on so I could catch up with my fellow kayakers. After chatting with some locals we discovered that my boat had been sighted and so we pulled a group together, I borrowed a boat and we set off in search of my wayward boat along the same section of river as the day before. After an hours paddling we honestly didn’t think we’d find it but just as we’d given up hope, there in the distance, the sight of bright yellow and orange plastic could be seen. There it was beached; dead centre of the river waiting to be picked up after it’s little adventure without me. The rescue was a success, and my little boat was found and I once again had a full set of kit!

The next day I decided that I needed a little break from kayaking and so whilst the rest paddled the Upper Guisane, three of us went to the spa Les Grands Bains du Monetier for some much needed and well deserved pampering. In the evening everyone gathered for a BBQ and the night was spent enjoying great food, great company and a lot of great G&Ts.

The next day I felt refreshed and ready to get back on the water at the Upper Guil Gorge which subsequently became my favourite river of the entire trip. After getting out at the first rapid to inspect it, the leaders had discussed the line with me and I was ready, not to mention eager, to go. Both of the leaders went ahead with ease and were waiting for me in the eddy below, so I broke out into the flow with confidence, knowing my plan and the line. It was at this point however that my boat, (which at this point seemed to have a mind of its own) had other ideas and did a full 180° turn. Going backwards down a rapid wasn’t really the plan but despite this, I back paddled as hard as I could and headed down the rapid hitting rocks and scraping the wall of the gorge and finally, to the amazement of the leaders and myself, I made it to the eddy upright! After that experience, I felt I could run anything and thoroughly enjoyed myself having a fantastic time running the rest of the gorge.

On our last day, we were given a choice of rivers and so I went back to my old nemesis the Lower Claree and triumphantly managed to make it down without losing my paddle this time. In the afternoon we went back to the Durance from the Briancon du prelle, from the first day of rivers and the second time round was far more enjoyable as I was prepared, and knew I wasn’t going to capsize in the waves. That evening we all gathered and ate together at a local restaurant to celebrate a great week of kayaking and all the fun we had each experienced.

At just under a year of kayaking experience, I was one of the newbies on this trip and I even doubted if I was ready for the Alps with the faster water and the risks being greater. This was a challenging experience and different to anything I had paddled before but it’s the amazing leaders that I have to thank for getting me though the week with a smile on my face. Because of their fantastic leadership, wealth of knowledge, patience and their support, they ensured we all had an unforgettable time, all the while keeping us safe.

I would love to say a huge thank you to the organisers and all the leaders for helping me on all the rivers of the week.

I’m already counting down the days till next year!

Thanh shares his thoughts on a memorable end to a memorable year

Blessed with summery weather, mesmerising scenery and memorable company, the Regents Alps trip of 2019 was the definite highlight of my first year kayaking with Regents Canoe Club.

Anticipation and preparation were the key themes running through the preceding weeks. From Lee Valley practice to last-minute kit shopping to the countless YouTube videos on Alpine runs. We had WhatsApp groups firing up, subdividing people into as many separate categories as possible. There were people discussing rivers whose names were mumbo jumbo to me at the time. I thought I was ready, only to be gobsmacked by the sheer beauty and geography of the French Alps. The drive was long, but never tedious. With Ralph at the wheel and Belle on the playlist, I knew I was in good hands (plus, both speak French!).

Our first paddle on Espace Eau Vive was good fun and an important warm-up for what’s to come. Necessary for me as I broke in the Axiom (in hindsight, mildly foolish but extremely rewarding). Once we reached Briancon, I could barely contain the excitement. The adrenaline alone must have shuffled all memories of the next six days into an ecstatic mess. So instead of trying to recount the day-by-day action, I’d like to reflect on the most memorable moments/feelings in the Alps.

  • Ed, Mark, Dave and Julie ran an incredibly well organised trip, despite the quintessential Regents faff. We got to run at least 2 rivers on most days. The leaders were helpful and patient with first-timers, instilling calmness and confidence. Even with the inevitable boat chases people just kept getting back up, cheered on by everyone else. I’d never appreciated so strongly that kayaking is as much a team sport as football or cricket, only that your life depends on others around you.
  • My favourite section is arguably the gorge on the Upper Guil, breath-taking landscape, gorgeous drops and technical eddies. Also memorable because I had my first boat chase on the Alps. After a certain someone, whom shall not be named, nailed the nice gorge-y bit, whooping as he boofed down the last drop, and capsized on an eddy line. I instinctively sprinted after the Burn, like an eager Labrador, only to realise Aisling’s voice in my head (oh shit!) as I kept chase down an unfamiliar class 3 rapid. I turned, and saw Dave right on my tail. Phew! Calamity averted. We got the boat to the side, Aisling joined us shortly after, and not-too-shortly after, Matt showed up with the paddle.
  • The piece de resistance: my first five-river day – Lower Claree, Middle Claree from the bridge, BTG, Briacon du Prelle, and the Upper Gyronde. The Upper Gyronde was on massive level – probably not the best idea for the very last run of the 5-river day on a 7-day river trip. We were focused, and I could feel the trust and concentration Dave and Adam had on me, and on one another should stuff (me) hit the fan (rock). It was the most rewarding paddle I’d had in my first year kayaking. All thanks to Andrew, Dave Calamity, Adam the Gnarl and Clarissa and Liza for shuttling.
  • On a less sentimental note, some other lessons learnt this trip:
    • Holes. Bad. Avoid.
    • So are weirs, unless you follow your leader straight into one (sorry, Ralph)
    • Aisling is Super Cool! #teamAsh

There’s always a feeling of dread as we’re planning and embarking on a kayaking weekend away. Luckily our chair and deep thinker Kate has some thoughts on how to make your journey a little less stressful and more relaxing. The key question is what do you think about when you’re chugging up long stretches of the M1 in a 50 zone, concentrating on the slow car in front of you and the heavy goods vehicle tailgating you from behind. The answer for most of us would be to contemplate what’s in our to-do list, or what rivers we might be able to run, or who we’d like to bunk with.

Apparently this is where we’re going wrong. It’s all about letting the mind drift, just a little, to achieve the right state of meditation. Instead of thinking about what’s been bothering you up to that point, stare out the window and fixate on something near you. That might be a goat in a field, which would draw you back to thoughts of all the wonderful goats you’ve encountered in your lifetime and get you reminiscing about those gorgeous goats the Guardian published a few years back. It might be about the many traffic cones your likely to pass on the miles of unmanned roadworks. You’ll think about how they’re all so similar and then you’ll remember you’ve seen a blue and yellow one before, and maybe a pink one. Why could this be? Perhaps they are owned by different municipal bodies? Perhaps they mean something??

Or you could contemplate how darn beautiful the bridges of the M1 are. Not all of them mind. But there are those on the section between junctions 9 and 16 which remain in tact from the early days of Britain’s motorway developments which represent an “understated but attractive” design. With circular columns, gently sloping feet and beveled edges you’ll see a plain and simple design but look closer and closer at each passing one and remark on how much detail there is to be seen. How pleasing is that ridging on the underside?

They are a very smart piece of design — understated but attractive, though they have the ability to look overly chunky in the wrong light. They must have looked stunning when the concrete was new and white.

To the rest of us we’ll be stuck in our heads introspecting our upcoming problems and just seeing concrete block after concrete block, but the detail is in the eye of the beholder. Dare to look deeper.