It all began for me a loooong time ago, I learned to kayak as a child with Scouts, around the age of 11 (that makes it 30 years!!!!!) I had a brief re-visit around the age of 18 and again at 20 when I worked a summer season for an Activity Holiday company for kids. It was at this point I saw people ‘showing off’ with high bracing, skulling for support and the mystical art of ‘rolling’ – I had to learn…. so I did. However it would be another 11 years before I get back in a kayak.
Around 2009 I renewed my affiliation with the Scouts as a helper at the Local camp-site, this led to other roles (as Scouting typically does) one of which being with the Activate Team as an activity instructor, initially as climbing & abseiling instructor for walls and towers, but soon migrated to the wet side. It was through Scouts that I completed my UKCC Level 1 Coaching Award and spent 3 years coaching scout groups in sheltered water environments. I also bought my first kayak off another member, Laura (Little did I know at the time, but she would become my girlfriend several years later) this was a very cool looking (compared to what I was used to) slicey play boat – a Pyranha S:8. I thoroughly enjoyed this period but my desire for more soon kicked in and I was seeking an opportunity to develop my skills further.
So in 2011 I joined the local canoe club in order to further my own progression. Following a few pool sessions I attended my first club river trip, the mighty (so it seemed) Canolfan Tryweryn. Getting kitted up on the bank I was feeling pretty confident, I had a reasonable roll, I could brace and thought I had some skills…. that was until one of the club coaches casually wandered over, looked at my kayak and declared “That’s the wrong boat for this river…” and walked off with a knowing smile across his face. It seems that in this case the coach was right, this was not a pretty outing! Several swims and some very bruised and battered legs were my just rewards for the day and this was only the ‘Easy’ section! Another visit some weeks later resulted in a very similar experience – this was definitely the ‘WRONG’ boat for this river.
At this point, feeling very dejected and kind of sorry for myself I declared to my friend that ‘Moving water is just not for me!’ I had made my mind up to stick with flat water coaching and be done with it. Fortunately we were heading in to Spring and a local play spot was just coming in to it’s own as it dropped towards it’s summer levels, so I discovered Knightwick, this is a small weir on the River Teme that creates a pretty friendly surf wave at a variety of levels. Thankfully over the course of the next few weeks and months my Whitewater love affair was forged. Not forgetting of course a change of kayaks, I bought my first ‘Creek’ boat – a Jackson Mega-Rocker, or as it euphemistically became known – the Mega F****r! This is definitely the boat that cemented my new found love of whitewater as a permanent fixture, taking me from flat water to Class IV in around 6 months – My first ever Class IV run being the Upper Dart, complete with the scarily named ‘Euthanasia Falls’.
I have changed kayaks a number of times over the past 6 years and on discovering the joys of ‘playboats’ I have had at least 2 kayaks at a time over the period to cover both aspects of my kayaking; river running and playboating. The list (not necessarily in order):
Jackson Mega Rocker
Wavesport Project 62
As you can see, Jackson Kayaks have become a firm favourite with me, I love the outfitting, simple in design and engineering but infinitely adjustable and super comfy, no faffing around with ratchets or bolted footplates, just a simple but super-effective draw-cord system, brilliant for on the fly adjustments and standard across their range.
You may wonder why I changed from a 2015 Super Hero to a 2011 – well the answer is simple… I broke it! Early in 2016 myself and some friends booked on a course with Andy Grimes at Fluid Combinations the aptly named Steep Creeking course. It was during the first day that we were running the lower waterfalls on the Afon Arddu, I misjudged a boof stroke, got my angle wrong and pencilled (kayak vertical) in to the pool below, unfortunately at such a low level I hit the bottom and dented the nose (later found to be a partial split). However, I managed to carry on and complete the second day, unlike my compadre who on doing the same thing very nearly broke his ankle! As a result of this my beloved brand new Jackson Super Hero was written off by the insurance company (via British Canoeing).
The up side of a written-off boat is that you get to go Kayak Shopping! However it was now that I discovered that Jackson were no longer producing the Hero Series and phoning round the importer and many shops I found that there was no UK stock of them!!!! DISASTER…. I browsed around and tried a few different boats, Wavesport Recon, Pyranha Nano but nothing quite matched, I wanted a short creek boat with big volume and a nice wide leg position (I always find Pyranha too narrow) and so I hit the second hand market (Ebay) and found what I was looking for, albeit a 2011 model, it suited my needs and became my replacement creeker. I was a happy bunny once again.
– NOTE – Mr Jackson, if by some chance you read this blog – we would love a re-run of the Hero Series, it suits our UK rivers perfectly..!)
So there it is, my history with Kayaking in a nutshell – The foundations of my love-affair with Whitewater kayaking and with Jackson Kayaks. It’s been a bumpy road with thrills and spills a-plenty, but the journey goes on, another river, a new skill the never ending search for enlightenment…. Oh and another trip to the French Alps!!!!!