Our south western correspondent Ruth recounts a rapturous river descent down the Dart.

Steffi shares her experiences from her recent British Canoeing 4 Star White Water Kayak Assessment…


I am sitting in front of the open fire with my dog Mr Bumble (honorary Regents Canoe Club dog member who is acting as a very good foot warmer) reflecting on my 4* assessment which coincided with the March 2016 Mile End Mill trip. I am not sure what to write about but remember that during the RCC Training Meeting a number of questions were asked about what the difference between coaching and leading is and what the British Canoeing Star Awards are about. Mh, I am thinking, why not try and attempt a brief summary? Mh, I’m thinking further…the club is in need of more coaches and leaders. You may well have heard the committee talk about this. Mh, once again… there was some criticism that maybe as a club we do not promote the British Canoeing progression steps enough. Well, if I’m honest, anyone attempting to make sense of the British Canoeing website is being seriously challenged and as such as I can understand the confusion. But, we do need your help and we do listen to what is said and we do try and act upon what is said. There are a number of proposals coming up at the AGM – please do come along as these might well help you to get onto the leadership/coaching ladder. In the meantime, here is my attempt to make some sense of the British Canoeing progression ladder.

BCU 2 Star Training Notes (no prerequisites):

Personal Skills in a Kayak and an Open Boat which include:

  • Forward paddling (250m; awareness of posture, body rotation, awareness of use of major muscle groups)
  • Steering (steering solutions such as stern sweeps, rudders and j stroke and how the paddle effects movement)
  • Manoeuvring (controlling direction in a tight space)
  • Moving sideways (awareness and use of two different ways)
  • Preventing capsizing (awareness and use of different support strokes)
  • Turning (awareness and use of different strokes and edges to achieve turning; awareness of trim)
  • Rescue skills (self rescue)
  • Personal safety (basic journey planning, use of weather information, basic map work, how to keep together as a group)
  • Some theory (basic first aid, access, environment, equipment)


BCU 3 Star Training Notes (2 * required):

Personal Skills in a Kayak which include:

  • Forward paddling (key points of good forward paddling with emphasis of engaging larger muscle group such as the torso and legs; stopping & acceleration, controlled figure of 8 course)
  • Turning on the move (awareness and use of speed, boat tilt)
  • Moving sideways on the move
  • Support strokes both static and on the move (awareness of high and low brace, hip and body movement)
  • Rolling
  • Breaking in and out of the flow
  • Ferry Gliding
  • S turns
  • Rescue Skills (use of tapes and karabiners; use of throw line; capsize skills)
  • Leadership skills (equipment, hydration, identifying hazards, choosing suitable lines to paddle = river reading)
  • Theory (equipment, hydrology of river = river reading; first aid, communication strategies, navigation)
  • Preventing capsizing (awareness and use of different support strokes)
  • Turning (awareness and use of different strokes and edges to achieve turning; awareness of trip)
  • Rescue skills (self rescue)
  • Personal safety (basic journey planning, use of weather information, basic map work, how to keep together as a group)
  • Some theory (basic first aid, access, environment, equipment)


BCU 4 Star White Water Kayak Leader Syllabus (3* required):

‘… the candidate has the skill level required to lead a group of 4 paddlers (not including themselves) in appropriate locations, up to moderate white water conditions [grade 3 white water or equivalent weirs] and to judge the conditions and the standard of the group and make appropriate decisions.’ Leading a group entails ensuring paddler’s safety and fun. In terms of the British Canoeing definition, it does not include developing paddlers’ personal skills (coaching). That said, good leadership includes stopping at features to allow people to play and henceforth enhance their skills; id does entail encouraging paddlers to e.g. eddy hop as this is a skill required for running rivers safely. The main difference is that a coach would stop at features and teach and give people feedback about their personal skills.

‘The BCU 4 Start Leader Award is a leadership award and not a coaching award.’

To achieve this level:

  • 4* formal training in personal skills [river running skills such a breaking in and out; ferry gliding; s-turns; surfing small waves; paddling into and out of stoppers; moving sideways on the move; rolling] and leadership [tactical understanding in respect of positioning, safety awareness, group control ; throw line use; capsizing support]
  • White Water Safety and Rescue
  • Evidence of experience paddling in 4 different regions and must include:
    • Paddling with a variety of groups, variety of levels including narrow and wider rivers
    • 12 grade 3 river trips as a member of a group
    • 12 grade 2(3) river trips as an assistant


BCU Level 1 Coaching Course Guide:

For people who wish to work with paddlers. A level 1 coaching qualification enables to coach on flat/sheltered water. A level 1 coach can plan, deliver, review short coaching sessions normally with the support of a more qualified coach. They can work with paddlers at any stage of development most commonly within their first year of activity e.g. run taster sessions. The training and qualification includes topics such as:

  • Prepare activities taking account of people’s needs and motives
  • Establish a safe environment
  • How to coach taking account of different learning styles and needs
  • Evaluate the sessions
  • Coach forward paddling, turning and controlling, getting in and out of a boat, capsizing, and personal risk management

To achieve this level:

  • BCU 2 Star Award
  • Foundation Safety and Rescue

A level 2 coach is able to plan, deliver and review a series of six progressive sessions on flat/sheltered water. Level 2 coaches will predominantly work with paddlers in their first 3 years of paddling.


I know there are a number of you out there who would like to get more involved. This is my call – please get in touch with me and I promise I will get you involved. It would help me to know whether you might be more interested in organising a club trip, help with coaching or would like to assist with things like equipment maintenance/hire; organising training events e.g. rolling course/New Members Evening, Beginners Courses, Drop In Sessions or social events.   Depending on what you are interested in, I am happy to talk you through what it would entail which would allow you to assess how much time it might take. The new club year is starting in June and that means we need to ‘allocate’ trip organisers to the various different club trips. There are a number of coached sessions planned including some more forward paddling and river running/river reading Drop In Sessions. There are Rolling Courses and Star Award Training Sessions planned and there is another Beginners Course starting. So, get helping – you can get me on [email protected] or 07903 964010.


Steffi on a trip to Slovenia

Andrew and Alex share a couple of memories from this year’s Christmas Dart trip…


There’s a first time for everything and this time it was being led down the Dart Loop by an inanimate object (no not Krzysztof), albeit one with a great deal more charisma than most. Congratulations must go to our newest paddler and river leader, the inflatable punchbag minion with some silly name, who was given to Christine by Secret Santa and judged river worthy enough to handle whitewater on his first outing. Even though he didn’t take the perfect line and was really rather slow (everyone else was fully changed and waiting by the time we got off) he was was willing to join in all fun activities and surf some waves with a mesmeric spinning gyration.


Regents’ newest club member – Dave the minion

In other news, congratulations must also go to those others practicing their river leading skills for the first time. Water levels were good, first time I’ve paddled the Dart with a decent amount of water, and much fun was had. I’ll just let the pictures do the talking…


Craig & Adam C in a flurry of paddling glory



The Upper Dart is legendary, a thing of folklore, a notch that every aspiring Regent’s paddler needs to have on their belt alongside the Olympic course at Lee Valley and the Briancon Town Gorge.  Having secured the first two in 2015 it was time to hit the triple whammy for the season.  And who better to be next to me than my stellar teammate from the 2014 River Gyronde high-water swimming and hitchhiking championship –  Debs.


The start is innocuous. If you didn’t know what was ahead you’d consider it rather dull.  But one shouldn’t rest on one’s laurels as  they navigate downstream, because it doesn’t take long before you realise this isn’t the Loop any more.  Everything is rocky – boulder garden after boulder garden.  It would be foolish to try this river before feeling confident in your technique  – you’d spent the entire time hugging rocks (probably upside down) and that wouldn’t be fun.  The need for that technique becomes starkly apparent as you approach, and get stuck into, the Mad Mile.  You need to be limber, to have confidence, and to know how to turn….quickly. And to THINK! I swear my brain had more of a workout than my arms!


But I seemed to be getting it, and when I chose perhaps the very worst line on one rapid and flipped, my roll seemed to be working.  I even dropped the permanent grimace that I possess while paddling, as fear turned to sheer joy.  My fantastic Upper Dart chauffeur squad (Benjo, Christine, Mogey and Amy) had counselled me to look back as much as you look forward.  Why?  Because the rapids are so damn impressive to look at.  Of course you don’t appreciate that until you actually see them, but rapid after rapid along the way I couldn’t help but marvel what you’d just been through. Need I say it again, this really wasn’t the Loop anymore.


I’d already convinced myself that I’d portage the mega rapids at Euthanasia and Surprise Surprise, so when I did set eyes on them I was relieved that I wasn’t going to tackle them.  I can see myself taking on the former in the not-too-distant future.  The latter, no chance.  Christine’s perfect line through Surprise Surprise showed how it was meant to be done; Benjo’s sad outcome demonstrated just how risky an encounter it is.  Christine and Benjo headed off swiftly to get that man some medical attention, which left us with two boats. A sterling group of paddlers from Leicestershire ended up guiding those down the river – an amazing job.  It’s important that you keep your wits about you after the big rapid because there’s yet another surprise around the corner.  Blimey! That was almost the worst of the day.  And so on we went, but the fun had been lost when Benjo went down, and the rest of the route was about getting through it without a scrape.  That, of course, didn’t happen.  As with the Gyronde swim, a nasty rock came and bit me on the eye.  That took the final fun out of it. The last stretch – max Grade 3 – couldn’t go quickly enough.


But when the dust had settled, and the carnage that the afternoon had turned into had faded a little, I couldn’t help but think of the day with pride.  The Upper Dart is a real ‘step up’ river – sublimely beautiful, technically challenging, a thrill a minute – an outstanding experience.  2015’s progression had been sealed. The Loop, which we did on Sunday, will never be the same again.



Selina, Dave & Dave taking a moment to get to know each other

Images by Rachael & Carol

Sean shares his experiences from his recent Moderate Water Endorsement Assessment…

The journey so far

Moderate Water Endorsement is the next coaching qualification for White Water after becoming a UKCC British Canoeing Level 2 coach. Getting to the point of assessment was a long and bumpy journey not without its trials and tribulations but you can read other articles for those.

Dartmoor in the cold and wet

The assessment is for a maximum of two assessees at a time. I had no friends ready at this point and was determined to get my assessment done before my big birthday in December so I booked onto an assessment with Darren Joy of Fluid Skills. I’d heard about Darren but never paddled or been coached by him before. So off I headed on a dark and dismal Thursday afternoon for the drive down to Dartmoor. I had planned on boating the Loop on the Thursday just to get my bearings as it had been almost a year since I was last on the Loop – but that never happened. I got sidetracked talking to folks at Lee Valley and got some helpful handy hints for the assessment from Dan.

I checked into the hotel and had a terrible night’s sleep as I couldn’t stop thinking about everything that could go wrong on the assessment! Needless to say I woke somewhat shattered and not ready for the assessment. I then was a bit gobsmacked that even Ashburton gets morning rush hour traffic so my plan to check the levels before I met Darren at the Dart River Country Park wasn’t the wisest. Luckily I made it time and didn’t appear too flustered (I hope).

Having never met Darren before and my efforts in Face-stalking had failed – I didn’t really know who I was meeting. Luckily his van is branded!


The assessment

There wasn’t really any time to sit back and relax. The assessment started pretty much straight away with Darren reviewing all my pre-requisite credentials and giving me a very thorough grilling over my coaching logbook. There was a point during this that I thought I had already failed before we even got on the water!

I was then given two students: Sarah & Jordan. Both very nice people and got to chatting with them. Apparently I’m long winded and need to just get to the point! Oops! After a quick chat with the other assessee, we agreed to both take our groups on the Dart Loop a) because we couldn’t go to different rivers and be assessed and b) it was pretty damn convenient.

The start of my session on the Loop was awful. In hindsight I felt sorry for Jordan and Sarah. I was so worried about the assessment that I forgot to actually have fun – I was delivering textbook coaching techniques but with about as much enthusiasm as getting out of bed for work! Darren pulled me aside at one point and gave me a couple of review points. Being so hung up about the assessment, I thought he was telling me I’d failed. I think that was the best thing to have happened because I completely changed from that moment and decided to have fun and make the session as much about Sarah & Jordan as I could. During the debrief after the assessment, both Sarah & Jordan both commented that it was 100 times better as soon as I switched. God I hate assessments!!!

Sarah & Jordan were great guinea pigs for the day. Not a single swim between them so I had to have a “staged” rescue scenario for Darren to observe my rescue skills. Jordan stepped up to the plate and swam down Triple Steps for me to rescue him. I then had to demonstrate rolling for my self rescues – thankfully no mandatory self swim!

Shortly after this Darren paddled up to me and shook my hand and congratulated me on passing. Expletives almost fell out of my mouth at the sheer excitement! I was so happy and we hadn’t even finished the Loop yet. As we set off paddling downstream, Jordan then told me the whammy – he had actually just done his MWE training the previous week with Darren and was looking to see what the assessment was like. For his little fib, I pushed him over 🙂

The wrap up

We all met in a pub in Ashburton that I’d never been to before but will do again – though its name escapes me! It has a big fireplace! The debrief and signing of paperwork was perfect – relaxing and good fun. Got personalised feedback from the students and from Darren which was great. Darren’s parting words were to just get on and do my 5* assessment and then do my Advanced Water Endorsement training. Urgh! And just when I thought I’d done enough….. there are more steps to climb!

I wish I could say that’s where it ends – but that wouldn’t be doing British Canoeing justice. My certificate arrived in the post three weeks later along with a coaching logbook to become a 3* assessor…. MORE coaching, more logbook hours, more paperwork! It never ends *sigh*

Sean on a recent trip to Scotland

River Dart

Steffi recalls her British Canoeing 4 Star Kayak training…


In the spirit of Bah Humbug, a small group deserted the Christmas Dart trip and instead completed their BCU 4* training. Sean, Olga, Clarissa, Gemma, Ian and Steffi headed off to meet Dan and think about their paddling. The 4* is split into three different aspects – personal, leadership and safety skills.

Day 1 was spent spend on the Dart Loop with the main focus on personal skills. And in that respect, it was the ‘little things’. When have you last thought about moving your hips forward and keeping your head up to give you a more efficient power stroke? Dan spied on all of us, there was no escape. It just shows you how much there is to learn. We talked a lot about meaningful warm ups – again, something I had not really thought about much before. Now, after a playful warm up, I notice a difference in mindset and physical readiness. So, much of the day was spent with ‘brain storming’, surfing, stopper work and experimenting with different lines on the features.

We spent Day 2 on the Lower Dart from Buckfastleigh. It is a lovely section and I really think we ought to take some beginners down there – there is so much to play and practice on. And the landscape is just as pretty. Anyhow, the day’s focus was leadership and in that we experimented with different styles of leading. Again, I don’t think I realised there was so much more to it. Leap frogging, pairing up in different ways, defining an area within which to paddle to keep control of the group… lots!! We talked about signals – no signal, no move. I thought signals would become more complex with each extra * training but it turns out to be the opposite. And to add more fun, we all had to think about games and activities to keep the group in good spirits – spinning on eddie lines, breaking out backwards to mention just two. It all helps to build up skills. Another trick for leading: the leader faces downstream with the group facing upstream. Why? It ensures that any nervous paddler is not too busy looking at the feature ahead and instead helps them to focus on what is said. And finally, safety. I really think I need to go on a refresher White Water Safety & Rescue course. My rope work is really lagging behind. Another tip: copy and laminate the section of river you are paddling and keep this with you. If any issues occur, at least you know where you are and can give emergency services your grid reference.

What’s left to say? A very inspiring two days!