It was my first April of freedom after the world collectively fell ill…
During the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown, there were all sorts of good/bad ideas that people filled their minds with for how to keep out of mischief and maintain a good mental outlook on the world. Some people started baking bread (sourdough starter conversation was all the rage), some people collected toilet paper much to the worrying discomfort of others and then there was me… I made a boat.
It was after having made this boat that I realised I wanted, no needed to have some skills if I was ever to venture beyond the calm and familiar brown soup that is the Thames in Kingston. Rolling was not something I could do. After a short flurry of activity on the trusty ewe-tube and wider internets and I was a member of British Canoeing and on the hunt for a course where I could learn how to Kayak. Enter the frame: Regents Canoe Club and the Introduction to White Water Kayaking.
With a nervous interest in what the 8 sessions will hold we all met at the IBC (Islington Boat Club – In case you don’t know the lingo) and it was there that a friendly lady Clarissa met the newbies. Conversation quickly moved onto the limited life expectancy of Sea Kayakers and the fact that rolling is not really a beginner skill… So much for my aspirations!
Not withstanding the fact that we were complete strangers, the group quickly got dressed, sorted out with safety information and kitted out enough to venture onto the water. It was there that the helpful guidance from the other Coaches – Jane, Ruth and Rachel that the fun started. We learned about paddle positioning, how to stop and also had little races – each bit building on the last bit of technique and instruction. The next sessions were in the pool and we moved into the realities that would eventually face us all. Capsizing, holding your breath (much longer than you thought you actually could) and practising how to be T-Rescued.
After the pool session we started getting into the other real reason for joining the club: socialising! Rosemary Branch seems to always have a good bunch of people in attendance made all the better for the addition of the RCC paddlers. After a few of these sessions the friendly people started moving into the space of friends and it strikes the newbies all the same point that this adventure also brings about a certain decency of person – bonus! – Who knew paddlers were such sound folk all round!
After the pool sessions and a few more canal outings things started livening up some more and paddling along moving water starts and yet more sound folk turn up to help newbies start to understand the magic that is moving water. Do you know what an Eddie is? Can you tell me what edging means? These are all questions that were answered before the lovely Saturday was out, and the day was ended in a pub for a short after action debrief… Lets not forget that we met Ian, Dave and celebrated Ben’s birthday + Ben let me use his boat (Have I mentioned sound folk yet?)
The course was by now in full swing and excitement started mounting for the first weekend away Wales on the Wye…. Before long a bunch of super excited kids rocked up at a hostel in the Wye along with some seriously seasoned paddling experts. The weekend was on and although there were a few interesting conversations around people acting in fringe theatrics we all got to the water after a good old shore based warm-ip running around like loonies – thanks Mark!
Hitting the water it was time to practice speed, angle, edge and have a play whilst trying to also remember T-rescue is an awesome tool. Everyone swam (apart from the old hands) and we actually SWAM too, practicing how not to smack out bottoms when floating down the river. The end of the weekend came to soon and the long old way back to London made the trip even more worth it (great way to escape the city this paddling melarchy).
Next up was another weekend away and in between making the most of the pool sessions… here we started sneaking some rolling in, although it was not officially part of the course. The number of helpful coaches and willing participants quickly make you forget just how horrible chlorine up the nose is! Plus nailing that first roll feels awesome.
By now the course is nearly at its end, there is another trip to do: Mile End Mill, and the phone book is filling up with new names and numbers as the art of what a well organised trip away looks like is being observed over and over. It later dawns on me (and indeed afterwards confirmed) that the the beginners course is as much about kayaking as it is about learning the ropes of what a weekend away with a bunch of good folks look like, when we are all adults.
No surprise here. That weekend away is also a blast and yet more friends are made and boat buying plans start :-)
It now appears that I have unwittingly traded some of the my intake with other newbies and also some old hands. All is well in the adventure of paddling and being part of this club is making me more and more decidedly happy. We make peace with the now new logistical anomaly of living far away and go on the next weekend away. Oh yeah!!! It is great to be part of this club! What a joy indeed.