Sean shares the highs and lows on the journey to becoming a UKCC Level 2 coach…

The portfolio

At first glance, it seems quite straight forward – just complete a workbook and pull together a portfolio that includes a structured series of six progressive coached sessions. Simple. Not!

The workbook requires a lot of cross reading, reviewing and summarising. At times whilst completing it I felt like pulling out what little hair I have left on my head! It was however, beneficial in ensuring that I understand the differing styles of coaching and developmental needs of participants and students.

The six progressive coached sessions I thought would be pretty easy. I had arranged my students and surveyed them for what they wanted to work on. Dates lined up, session plans at the ready and my observer (Claire T) sorted. But things never go according to plan do they? My open boat session had to get moved as I had chosen the windiest and wettest day the canal had ever experienced and then two students had to drop out of the latter sessions (one because she had a little bump on the way). Anyway – it wasn’t over yet! More paperwork jumped out later to bite me!

I took the opportunity on the Alps trip last year to try out some different coaching techniques and tools. As a whole they were greatly received and I really enjoyed coaching boofing on Le Fournel with a group of people who were at first unsure then tried their hands at it and finally took on the big drop – a great day had by me and by the smiles on everyone else, I can only assume by them too.

Boofing the big drop on Le Fournel

Getting to grips with all the paperwork and add ons!

In October of 2014 I bumped into Rob who I did my L2 coach training with – he had spoken to Dan (Head Paddlesport Instructor at Lee Valley White Water Centre) and managed to wangle me a part time job! I wangled an extension to my L2 training validity and took on some great coaching opportunities and in addition had Dan mentor me on a lot of my portfolio and my actual coaching.

Dan convinced me not to wait for my L2 assessment before doing my 4 Star and 5 Star. So in December, I undertook my 4* training along with Steffi, Olga, Gemma, Clarissa & Ian. We had a blast – I somehow managed to get by with a cracked rib which I picked up two weeks earlier whilst paddling on the Olympic – even with a capsize that Ian came to give me a hand of god rescue and managed to push me back over cause I was actually rolling up at the time! All fun and games (and a little bit of pain). A brilliant couple of days on the Dart with some great friends and a few techniques I hadn’t practiced in ages.

Christmas came and went along with my fourth trip to Uganda. Lots more coaching and personal paddling. I then decided to actually go for my 4* assessment. I went with Jesse from work and it was brilliant working alongside her and being assessed together – we work really well together as a team and having Lowri & Chris Brain as our assessors meant it felt less like an assessment and more like paddling with friends. I did have one slight issue on the first day of the assessment with one of the students bringing a boat without a central pillar – I took the decision to say no to him paddling that boat on the assessment. It meant that I had to do my first day of assessment coaching from my playboat – which I’m used to but the award isn’t about freestyle! Anyway – managed to get my 4* with flying colours which was fantastic.

And on with the training – I went on my 5* training in Scotland in mid April of this year. We spent more time in the car than on rivers with two days paddling and about 18 hours of driving!

There were definitely moments of gritted teeth and slight panic. Leading a group of friends who I’ve worked with at Lee Valley but never been on a river with was a different experience. It challenged us all but it was absolutely great fun – I got to paddle the Coe Gorge a couple of times and the Middle Orchy on high! I can’t wait to run them again now!

Awesome time had by all – here’s Joey’s quick edit of the trip

The sucker punch

I thought breaking a rib when someone else paddles their boat into you at high speed was painful. It was nothing compared to failing my L2 assessment at the end of April. My feedback was that my coaching was fine but that I failed to tick a box on the safety brief. I was utterly gutted and contemplated giving up on the whole coaching path. Thankfully my coaching pals knocked some sense into me and convinced me not to give up because of one setback.

Since then, I was determined not to fail again and made sure I got as much coaching experience as possible in. I ran the first RCC Intro to White Water Kayaking course this year, I more than doubled my hours at Lee Valley and got the opportunity for two brilliant activities – I got to paddle with Olympic Gold medallist Etienne Stott in a hot dog for a charity event and was asked to test drive some action cameras (which will come out in an eight page magazine spread later this year).

Next steps

So with much trepidation, I undertook my UKCC Level 2 Coaching Assessment again and passed in both Kayak and Canoe. Admittedly with a fair few action points on my personal canoe skills – BUT…. I made it. The sense of relief didn’t hit me for a couple of days. Next steps are to take my Moderate Water Endorsement training, do the Advanced White Water Safety & Rescue training and complete the Five Star Assessment. Preferably all before the end of this year.

If you’ve been one of my students over the past few months – THANK YOU! If you’ve been a mentor or friend through it all – thank you and sorry – for being such a miserable git at times. It’s been a rollercoaster but there’s no way I’d want to change any of it.

Images by Sean & Matt D

Steffi shares with us her experiences from her UKCC Level 2 Coaching assessment…


To be honest, it was just a fun day which was a great reward after the quite frankly boring completion of a massive portfolio. That said; the requirements do make sure that you read the BCU coaching handbook and start to really think about supporting paddlers to progress to the next level. So, I shouldn’t moan as actually, I learned a lot. It’s still dry and takes a lot of self-motivation and persuasion.

Anyway, Sean managed to get some great guinea pigs – Rachael, Ben, Emma, Emma again, Jenni and Dave – who complied with our ever increasing demands. Thank you guys! Sean even managed to organise great weather! Thanks again!

So, Leo from Getafix– the most relaxed guy ever – managed to put our nerves at ease immediately and off we went. He was very clear about what he expected and basically gave us a five minute summary of the level 2 coaching training. From then on, there was no planning. It was a matter of asking our guinea pigs what they would like to get out of day and get on with it. Leo said, this is how it’s meant to be. You have to think on the spot and come up with a creative session that takes account of all the different coaching and learning styles.

Sean started with an excellent session on edging and introducing bracing. He was followed by Roger who helped our learners along with their low braces. Lastly, mean Regents witch Steffi, who got everyone wet in an attempt to improve their hip flicking, co-ordinate the use of the legs, arms and heads to improve their high brace. Everyone had to observe, feedback, scale skills and dare devil ‘flicking’ with a polo ball or float. I think it worked! Everyone looked much better at the end of it, well, wet hair look.

The afternoon was an introduction to open boating and a recap on kayak forward paddling. Rachael is now boasting to Dave about her improved forward stroke and volunteered to show how much energy she can save at the next canal session. I am sure I heard some moaning about feeling her core muscles much more! From then on it went downhill with everyone ‘falling like flies’ plunging into the water and needing to be rescued by Sean, Roger and myself. We were that good that Rachael decided she is not going to hang in for a t-rescue in the future and will just wait for a ‘hand of god’. Lazy!

Well then, Regents has now got another two level 2 coaches in kayaking AND a level 2 coach in canoeing. Well done! Where next? Sean is well ahead and already has his 4*. I’m lagging behind but that’s my next step. And Sean is planning his Medium Water Endorsement. Great plan! Regents, I think there are great adventures ahead of us.



Tadhg shares some thoughts on what he learnt as a seasoned paddler in the Alps…

1. Don’t follow my line …. maybe NEVER in fact!


Click the image to view the line in “live action”

2. I always pack too much!

With my clothes taking a holiday of their own, I only had the clothes I was wearing for the first few days on the Alps trip. I had my kayaking gear which most of the day is spent wearing, so really the only thing lacking was clean underwear! Thankfully le faff at riverside allowed some laundry time, and Krzysztof’s car dashboard drying service was five stars (Kris even folds)! When reunited with my bag, I realised how ridiculously over packed I was. Next year, my eyes will be more firmly fixed on a bag one quarter the size!


3. Leading is tough!

Mostly playboating and not having been on a river for quite some time, I rarely think about lines or eddies in the same way creeking paddlers do. Let alone trying to find eddies for more than one boat on Alpine rivers! Leading is my least worked on kayaking skill, so the inevitable faff occurred. But what I did learn:

  • Having a strong paddler (coach) number 2 really helps!
  • Understand and trust the ability of others
  • Know your river signals, and keep line of sight!

A lot more leading practice is required!

Some people have different methods of leading than others…..


4. The Guisane is my favourite river!

Both upper and lower Guisane are stunning, in particular at the end of the upper I loved kayaking through the village with balconies and trees overhanging. The lower is probably the toughest river I’ve paddled but when I did look around it’s such a pretty river running through a forest, even the boulders and other river hazards are pretty although you don’t want too close a look! I’m already looking forward to next year, to be more technical on Guilberts and the lower section, focusing on picking lines and catching eddies and not just making it out alive!


5. Thank you drivers!

Cars are put through the wringer loaded up with kayaks, passengers and their weeks kit driving over alpine mountains. I’m not surprised more often than not there seems to be car trouble on the Alps trip, much more so that trips to Wales etc. Unfortunately Bob’s car this year was hit with a pretty expensive bill. I was travelling in it at the time, it seems I was the common denominator in many mishaps this year.

That said, I’d a fantastic trip, really really enjoyed it. Thanks to all those on the trip for making it so, and in particular Sean and Gemma!

Images by Sean, Tommo & Olga

Simon Drayson shares his experiences from his first RCC Alps trip.

Simon reports:
Friday – the outbound journey

Having signed up for the trip under duress (we “newbies” made a pact that all or none of us would go), and following an interim period of nervousness and excitement in equal measure, this day arrived sooner that I thought. Even after paddling several rivers in England and Wales, a six week course at Lee Valley and a two day White Water Safety and Rescue course in North Wales, I did not feel as though I was ready for the Alps! After driving to Dover for the ferry, back to London owing to a forgotten passport (not mine!), and to Folkestone for the Eurotunnel, we finally arrived in France for more driving! Thankfully the other cars waited for us before eating dinner at the chateau outside Lyon where we would spend the first night.

Saturday – Espace Eau Vive

As a warm-up we spent the day paddling on this man-made course, which – unlike Lee Valley – uses rocks to replicate actual rivers. Lots of features on which to practice our white water skills, with relatively painless swims when things inevitably went wrong. The air was hot and the water cool, which made for ideal paddling conditions. After a picturesque drive through the mountains to Briançon, we settled in to our houses (all the “newbies” together in the ‘Lower House’), before heading into town for a pizza and a few beers…

Swim Count = 3


Sunday – Durance (St Cléments to Embrun & Briançon to Prelles)

To introduce us to the speed (fast) and temperature (icy) of Alpine water, we paddled “the sunshine run” which starts at the St Cléments slalom course and finishes after the Rabioux big wave. This was our first experience of Regents carnage on an Alpine scale, with lots of rolls and swims visible from the riverside café (for the record, I stayed firmly in my boat) [Editor’s Note: see Simon in his boat in the main photo!]. After lunch, we went on to paddle another section of the Durance, before heading into town for dinner (steak tartare and red wine).

Swim Count = 2

Bob & Gemma styling the entrance to the Rabioux Wave


Monday – Lower Clareé

Once the hangovers had cleared, we went on to paddle this beautiful stretch of river, portaging a couple of fallen trees along the way. I had an unfortunate incident involving a concealed tree stump, but this did not affect what was otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable river journey. We had the afternoon off from paddling so cooked dinner for the rest of our house (baked camembert and garlic bread followed by pasta bake).

Swim Count = 1


Tuesday – Upper Guisane

Sufficiently carb-loaded, off we went to conquer the Upper Guisane, including the intimidating Guibertes (or “Bear Grylls”) S-bend rapid. After much discussion, both with myself and others, I decided to run it. Much to my surprise, I made it down all in one piece… partly owing to Marcel’s (later given the accolade ‘Leader of the Trip’) perfect line, and partly owing to my new paddle song (Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” featuring Kate Bush). That evening, the ‘Upper House’ hosted a scrumptious indoor BBQ, owing to the rain.

Swim Count = 0

Cooking the BBQ in the rain


Wednesday – Gyronde & spa 

Still high on the adrenaline from the day before, we fearlessly paddled the imposing Gyronde. Before the get-off was the L’Argentière slalom course, where swimmers and boat rescues were plentiful. A small group of us practiced our rolls on the adjacent lake, which offered a welcome respite from the moving water. From there, some of us went to Les grands Bains du Monêtier (a spa built on thermal springs) to savour the views from the outdoor infinity pool. Once pampered, we went back to the house for some leftover pasta bake.

Swim Count = 1


Thursday – Guil

The more experienced members of the group had been paddling gorges all week, but the infamous Guil would mark our initiation into this type of river. In the middle of the run was a long stretch of lively rapids with sheer rock faces on either side, resulting in few opportunities for portage and lots of ‘must make’ eddies. There were numerous swims and even a couple of ‘walk-outs’, with lots of opportunities to put our safety and rescue skills into practice! Back to the house for homemade potato curry and lentil dahl.

Swim Count = 2

Inspecting rapids on the Upper Guil


Friday – Old Town & spa (again!)

We woke up to torrential rain and totally knackered from the past few days, so decided to have a well-deserved break from paddling by visiting the Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). In the afternoon, we headed back to the spa to sooth our aching muscles, our legs noticeably more bruised from the time before. That evening, we descended – en masse – to a local restaurant for a three course dinner (including the best lamb shank I have ever tasted!) and the awards ceremony.

Swim Count = 0


Saturday – Return journey

After crossing the border to Italy to drop Kathryn (the newly-crowned ‘Newbie of the Trip’) off at a train station followed by a cheeky cappuccino, it was time to hit the road again for Calais. The long drive offered plenty of time for reflection; the trip had been amazing in all respects, and I was a far better – and more confident – paddler that I was the week before. We “newbies” were now “intermediates”, and had the T-shirts to prove it!

Total Swim Count = 9

P.S. A big thank you to Gemma and Sean for organising everything, and to Liza and Tokie for being great (even if at times neglectful!) house parents.

Images by Tommo, Marcel & Sean