I started paddling in 2001 when I joined Edinburgh University Canoe Club. The club mainly paddles rivers, at weekends, of varying grades. So I started on the easy rivers and have progressed to paddling easy Grade 4 (I'm too much of a coward to try anything harder!). All of my river paddling has been in Scotland and my greatest achievement was paddling the Orchy without swimming! Unfortunately now we have moved to Winchester there are not many opportunities to go river paddling.
While at university I have also competed in the Scottish Universities canoe polo competition. The girl's team won the 'not very good teams' section in 2005. I was also in division 2 of the national canoe slalom league. Although unfortunately I haven't been able to do very much slalom recently.
I own my own river Kayak; an Eskimo Quadro which I love. Before that I had an Inazone 242 which is a fantastic boat to learn to paddle in. I have also inherited Iain's old slalom boat!
Iain has been paddling much longer than I have, having started paddling at school in 1995. He has paddled many rivers in Scotland and can paddle grade 5 confidently. He is a qualified level 2 coach and has completed his level 3 training. He is missing the rivers in Scotland lots!!!
Iain was the one that got me interested in canoe slalom as he is very keen and is in division 1 of the national league. Unfortunately because we have been so busy he hasn't really had time to compete this year so it looks like he may be demoted to division 2.
Since moving to Winchester Iain and I have started playing lots more canoe polo (see the section below).
Different areas of kayaking...
This is Iain and my main area of interest as it allows you to enjoy kayaking in amazing scenery, push yourself on harder rapids if you want or just enjoy rivers well within your ability. It is sociable and fun and you get to see places that would otherwise be inaccessible - fantastic. If you want it can also be a big adrenaline rush or just scare you witless!!!
Iain Kayaking on the Allt a' Chaorainn.
There are several sections of the Tay that are good to paddle and it has some great trips for beginners.
Aberfeldy to Grandtully is a great trip if there are beginners in your group as it starts off nice and flat for quite some time with enough eddies to practice break outs. There is also the option to get off at the SCA access point if anyone is having difficulties. After the SCA access point to Grand Tully is grade 2/3 with some fun rapids. Grand Tully itself is a great fun grade 3 rapid with lots of opportunities to practice break outs and mess around. If you have any swimmers then you generally can't do much for them until the end of the rapid and in high water you need to be quick to get them out before the final drop after the bridge which isn't very nice! The main hazard for swimmers (and paddlers in boats) is 'boat breaker' a large rock in the center of the river near the end of the rapid.
Stanley to Thistlebrig is another grade 2/3 section of the Tay which makes a fun trip. It has lots of play opportunities including Stanley weir. There are metal spikes in the water at the weir so make sure you are aware of the correct route. Just above the get in at Stanley if Campsie Linn. This is a very strange bit of water with nasty whirlpools - best avoided is you are not very confident. It can take a while to rescue people on this stretch of river so isn't always great with groups of complete beginners.
I really like this river (even though it has been a bit of a nemesis for me!!! - I have now defeated it), it was the second river I ever paddle and I swam lots! It is a good grade 2/3 (3 in high water) with some lovely rapids. It definitely worth inspecting Hollow weir - I find it surprisingly difficult! I have always run it river left and somehow the angle of the weir always catches me out. I have seen lots of swimmers here but luckily there is a pool to collect swimmers, boats and paddles in! After The weir it is all to easy to relax and forget the last rapid which can again result in lots of swimmers in my experience! All in all an interesting all round good trip.
A great beginner river - lots of interesting easy rapids and great scenery as well (and changing rooms at the end). This is a great river to teach people river skills on and has some spots you can play on at the right level as well. Good for people that want to practice surfing waves, going in holes etc.
The Findhon has loads of sections that you can paddle (well 4!). The middle section is the one that I have paddled the most. It is a great grade 2/3 river. Fantastic scenery and fun rapids - a good river to improve on river running skills. My one word of warning is that in high water it can be harder than it looks! I have experience of a couple of trips at high water which resulted in lots of swimmers and great difficulty retrieving all swimmers and kit. In high water there are a lot of trees overhanging the river making it very difficult to get people to the bank.
The upper Findhorn is also an amazing stretch of river and the scenery is fantastic. A good grade 3/4 river.
It is a great river to paddle when it is dry as you can always get down it! It is grade 3 with the Linn of Tummel at the end which is grade 4. It has 3 main rapids on it. The first of these is Saw Mill falls. My advice on this one is if you are not sure if you can get down it without swimming then don't do it - it really hurts!!! It is a nice fun rapid though. After this the next main rapid is Z falls which if you aren't very confident you can get well protected from the bank and do in stages. And then finally the Linn of Tummel. It is fun but I haven't tried it again after capsizing after the top drop and having to roll very quickly before the second!!!!
This is my other nemesis river (which I have also now beaten!). It is grade 3 with a gorge section. It is fun, has loads of great rapids and spots that you can play. I find the gorge section quite intimidating. The annoying thing about the Nith is that the water is really cold (always), so swimming really isn't fun. There is also a fun seal launch if you can be bothered.
Canoe polo is a great fun team sport played in swimming pools and on lakes. It can be a little rough and some people take it very seriously but generally everyone has a good time and it is great exercise. Since being in Winchester Iain and I have joined Bere Forest Canoe Polo club which we go along to as often as we can for their 2 hour training sessions - hard work!!!!
Basically, Canoe Polo is like basketball - except for the obvious differences - in that the objective is to score more goals than your opponent. It's played in a swimming pool (usually a 25m pool) with 5 players on each team. One player is usually the goalie, whose job is to defend the goal with their paddles.
The goal is a 1m by 1.5m frame with a net, which is hung 2m from the surface of the water.
The other four players are usually split into 2 attackers and 2 defenders, although anyone can play in any area of the pool. They have try and score goals, without giving the ball away to the enemy (ahem. I mean opposition). The ball is about the size and weight of a small football, with a slightly grippy coating so you can hold it, and it floats (fortunately).
Polo boats have padded ends so that nobody gets hurt when they get hit. For this reason, buoyancy aids and helmets with faceguards are also worn! Paddles must be a certain width so that the edges are not too sharp.
While playing you can:
- Pick up and throw the ball with your hands
- Reach for the ball with your paddles
- Block passes with your paddles
- Paddle into other competitors (as long as you don't hit their body with your boat)
- Push other competitors in! Yes this is legal, as long as they are within 1m of the ball, you use one arm only, and push on the shoulder - faceguard pulls etc. are NOT allowed...
- Rescue your team mates if they fall in
And you can't...:
- Paddle while carrying the ball e.g. balanced on your spraydeck
- Hold the ball for more than 5 seconds
- Hit the opponents with your paddles. Even if you're trying to retrieve the ball with your paddle and an opponent reaches in with their hands, you must remove the paddle or a foul will be given against you.
- Put your paddle within 1m of a player in the act of shooting - this one carries an automatic penalty throw.
- Obstruct opponents, either by touching their boat with your arms, body or paddles. You can paddle into their boats, but only if you are challenging for the ball. You may not touch the defending goalie at all, unless they are holding the ball.
- Shout obscenities at the refs, opponents, spectators etc.
As well as the ten players, there are also 2 referees, one on either side of the pool. They will blow their whistle when there has been a foul and indicate (a) the offence and (b) which side is to get the free throw. A player on the team should them take the ball and make a free throw.
There are a few special situations which will occur during a game. First, there is the start of the game (and the restart at half time). All 5 players on each team line up at the opposite ends of the pool facing each other. One player from each team is nominated to sprint, and the referees will then throw the ball into the centre of the pool, and carnage begins as both teams try to get to the ball first.
After a goal is scored, the refs will point to the centre of the pool for a centre ball throw. Once each team is back in their own half, the team who just lost the goal can pick up the ball from the centre and make a free throw.
Side balls can also occur whenever the ball touches the sides of the pool (or goes flying into the spectators). The ref will point to the edge of the pool and signal which direction to play in, and a team member should take a free throw with their boat touching the edge of the pool where the ball went out.
Similarly, there are corner throws, which are given when the defending team knocks the ball onto the poolside behind their goals, including the goalie deflecting the ball with his paddle. This is exactly the same as the side ball, except that a player must have the back of their boat in the corner of the pool when they take the free throw. If the attacking team throws the ball onto the poolside behind the goals, then the defending goalie gets a free throw.
Finally, there is the penalty throw, which is signalled by the ref pointing both hands at the goal. The player taking the shot sits 6m from the goal (about a quarter of the length of the pool) and is given the ball by the referee. All other players are in the opposite half of the pool - even the goalie! When the ref blows their whistle, the player may take their shot, and everyone else is free to move back into their half, in the hope that the player misses the shot, and they can gather the ball up before they get another chance. There are also penalty shootouts to decide drawn games in the knock-out phase, but in these, the defending team is allowed a goalie.
(Full rules and referee hand signals available at here)
Canoe slalom is another form of competitive kayaking, which involves taking timed runs down a course. The aim is to go through all of the gates the correct way in the quickest possible time. It requires lots of energy and is hard work! But lots of fun if you like competition.
Slalom how to...
A slalom course is set up on a river (obviously) ranging from grade 1 up to grade 4 for the top divisions. It is made up of about 20 numbered 'gates' which are two poles, suspended just above the water, and usually 1.2m apart - which is room enough to fit your body through, but not enough to fit a paddle through sideways! The poles are coloured either green & white striped - in which case you have to paddle through them in the downstream direction - or red & white which signifies an upstream gate. The gates also have a number board hanging above them - you must negotiate the gates in numeric order.
The course will be set up so that you have to perform various 'moves' e.g. there will be an upstream gate in an eddy, so you must do a break out in order to reach the gate. There might be a downstream on the far side of the river, so you have to ferry glide to reach it. These kind of moves may seem hard at first, but you only get better the more you try!
During a day's competition you will get two timed runs down the course which count towards your final placing in the competition. As well as this there are a few hours of free practise before the event, and sometimes practice between the two runs - only for the really keen as everyone else is eating their lunch at this point! The event's start list will tell you what times your runs are at, and you should be on the water at the start line, and ready to go at this point. Competitors are set off at 1min or 1min30s intervals, and are timed from when they cross the start line to when they cross the finish line - or swim to the side :) Your result for the run is the total of your time in seconds plus any penalties you may incur on the course. Typical times would range from 120 - 180 seconds, depending on the course and the skill of the competitors. This seems pretty short, but believe me, you can easily tire yourself out in this time!
Judges on the bank will record penalties for each competitor, and they are added up and displayed with your time - so everyone can see where you made mistakes. Penalties are awarded per gate, and there are two kinds. The 2 second penalty is given for touching a gate with your boat, body, paddle (or anything else you may want to touch it with - headbutting seems somewhat popular), but otherwise passing the gate correctly. 50 second penalties are given for missing out a gate completely or going through the gate in the wrong direction (upstream instead of downstream or vice versa). Note that because the gates have to be done in order, if you attempt a gate further down the course (either by passing through it or hitting it) then you will score 50s for all the gates above that one that you have not already gone through correctly! You can only get one kind of penalty for each gate, so you can only score 0, 2 or 50, not any combinations of these. Getting touches is not a big deal, but getting a 50 will effectively put you out of the running, so try to avoid getting these - remember, if you miss a gate, you can come back and do it again as long as you haven't done any further down the course.
Obviously you need all the usual boating gear (paddles, boat, cag, wetsuit etc.) although bear in mind you're not likely to be on the water for more than about 20 mins at one time, so it is possible to paddle cagless if you like. You'll also be given a numbered 'bib' which you wear over your bouyancy aid so the judges can see who you are while you're on the water. On the boat front, you can take any kind of boat you like (until you're in division 1 that is). There are a fair number of fibreglass slalom boats in the bottom lockup which can be used, although you'd want to check beforehand if they were in decent condition, and a try-out first might be advisable ;-) However, plastic boats are OK too, if a bit slower, as they are about twice as heavy and don't have as streamlined a hull. The only other bits of gear that needs mentioned is helmets. Unfortunately, you have you have one which is CE approved so that rules out fancy hats from NFA, ShredReady et al. Any plastic helmet will do fine.
There is a division system for slalom which might seem a bit confusing, so here is a quick explanation. The divisions are Open, 4, 3, 2, 1 and Premier. The Open division is for people who are not members of the BCU, and are just trying slalom out. If you are already a member, you start off in Div 4. You get promoted into 3 & 4 by winning races, and then after that you get ranked by a points scoring system. As well as this, races are divided into four different classes - men's kayak (K1M), ladies kayak (K1W), canadian single (C1), and canadian double (C2). Racers are sorted by division and class, so you will be competing with people of roughly your own standard. You also have to enter in a certain age group, although this only matters for giving prizes - you will be competing against all ages. The relevant age groups are J18 (if you were still 17 at the start of the year), U23 (if you were under 23 at the start of the year), or S (senior!) for the rest of you oldies!
One of the fun things about doing slalom is that you can win all sorts of goodies at the events. Usually there will be a prize for first and second place in each class & division (e.g. K1 Men Division 4), with prizes for juniors as well, which sadly won't apply to any of us I don't think! These range from medals, plastic trophies, real trophies to paddling gear and other freebies.