Saturday, September 30, 2023

Artificial white water

 A few months ago I joined the Cambridge Canoe Club and went for my first paddle on a river in over a decade. But, that was on the rather flat River Cam. Since then, I've been out on the Cam a couple more times; once with other club members heading down river towards Grantchester and another time back up towards Jesus Lock on my own. Other than having to dodge low hanging branches and some ducks and swans, there's not been much of a challenge. However, over the summer the club was running some trips down to the Lee Valley White Water Centre, so I signed up to one to get some white water experience.

A week ago, I went to one of the club's pool sessions to try and see if I could remember how to roll. In my previous kayaking experience I'd become a dab hand at rolling (in a pool or on flat water at least - I don't think I ever successfully rolled on white water!), but it turned out that I needed a bit of practice to get the skill back. My first few attempts in the pool resulted in swims, but after some good coaching and patience from one of the other club members, I was able to roll again. This practice turned out to be useful for the Lee Valley course.

The Lee Valley White Water Centre had been built for the London 2012 Olympics, and I had actually been there before; not to paddle, but to watch some of the Olympic kayaking as shown in the picture below:

For the trip, we weren't going to be on the longer and harder Olympic course, but were instead on the shorter Legacy Loop course. After arriving and getting into my kit (I'd just bought a new Cag as the previous one I'd owned had suffered from some rubber decay around the neck) we got onto the small lake that you head across onto the Legacy Loop. As I wasn't quite sure where to go or what to do, I waited for some others to head over first. Once at the bottom of the course, I asked someone what I had to do and they suggested that I might want to get out and carry my boat halfway up the course and just do the easier bottom section to start with. On looking at the course, and feeling rather cocky as it looked nowhere near as intimidating as a Scottish river, I decided I'd just go straight to the top. To do this you had to paddle on to a short conveyor belt. Once at the top, it looked a bit more tricky, but I went for it and got myself down to the bottom in one piece - the main shock had been the first few times getting a face full of water after going over the drops, but it was fairly mild compared to what I've previously endured. I went straight back up for another go, but this time about halfway down I went over - I managed not to panic and decided that I may as well attempt to roll, so I put the practice from last week into action and lo-and-behold got myself back upright! The first time I'd actually rolled on white water!

I went again, capsized again, but also successfully rolled again getting a thumbs up from one of the more experienced club members who was on safety. I went a couple more times without any incident, but I was getting quite tired - I had the start of a cold coming on and hadn't actually felt great all day. After about an hour and a quarter (into the two hour session we had) I decided that I'd give it one more go before calling it a day. This time when I capsized I rushed my roll attempt a bit (I'll use my tiredness/cold as an excuse!) and failed, I tried once more, but then had to pop my deck and swim - my shoe came off and I didn't manage to hold on to either my boat or paddle, which headed most of the way down the course.

I couldn't end the session on a swim, so after emptying out the boat I went back for another go and managed to successfully complete another run. The swim had somehow invigorated me though and I decided to go again for another clean run. That didn't work out though and I swam again - I kept hold of my paddle and boat (and shoes) this time though, so was able to get back in and complete the course. This time I did decide that it was time to get out - especially as the last swim has caused me to get a big gash on my knuckle and bruises on both knees (mainly from trying to get out the water).

After getting dried and dressed (and luckily having plasters in my bag to dress my wound), I had the drive back up the M11 in the dark to look forward too. My overall experience at Lee Valley was a fun one (the facilities there are great) - it was great to get back on some white water and I look forward to doing it again, but hopefully not when nursing the start of a cold.

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