Monday, 5 October 2020

Kayaking confidence

Whitewater kayaking is one of those things, like SCUBA diving, that you shouldn't do alone. When you're dealing with water, even in knee-deep flowing water, tragedies can happen. 

I've been paddling on-and-off for 20 years; more on in the last five years since I've been living in Parys. My paddling has been primarily flatwater or low-grade flowing water with some time spent on the commercial rafting section with its Class 2-3 rapids.

About four years ago, I learned to eskimo roll. With low water, we didn't paddle much that season. The next summer I took to a whitewater sit-on top as my roll wasn't 100% and I also didn't get in much practice. On the sit-on-top I did pretty well and started to practice the essentials of eddy catching and ferrying - but again I don't recall us paddling downriver very often - probably because we'd started Vagabond Kayaks and spent every waking hour working.

By the end of 2018 I was paddling our own whitewater sit-on-top and also taking my long Marimba down the river - Vaal and Orange. Late last year, I started paddling our whitewater creek boat, the Pungwe, working more regularly on rolls and paddle strokes. Celliers has been a good coach, guiding me through progressive skills.

We got in a number of good trips last summer, another in winter and I've had two trips in recent weeks.

Right now I'm still practicing eddy catching and ferrying - to get sharper and more accurate - as well as surfing in waves - a good way to hone skills.

I'm finally at the point where my confidence has developed to the point where I know that I can roll if I capsize and that I can handle water of varying levels without worry. This also makes me less of a liability for those with whom I paddle. And, of course, I know the rapids in our section of river pretty well now too.

With the river up for the first time in ages (up from maybe 15 cumec to 45 cumec), I was keen for a paddle and on Saturday afternoon I headed out with my friend Karen.

Karen below a sweet rapid.

We made it a smooth, quick paddle, getting on around 15h30 and home by 18h00 (with thanks to Graeme who picked us up).

Beautiful afternoon light on the river.

I enjoy teaching people how to paddle, and taking friends and clients out on flatwater and even Class 1 rapids (low risk, good fun), but I certainly don't have the whitewater experience yet to take other people down this section of river without another guide. I am pleased to be making progress off a solid skill foundation.

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