I’m now putting my adventures on the blog of my coaching company, FlowFree – however this website will remain as some people find it useful or even interesting! I hope you will continue to follow me and my stories, photos and ponderings over on the FlowFree site.
Back in September, the first ever Tryweryn Festival was held – one of the first events to involve almost all the UK market’s manufacturers. With loads of demo boats available, coaching sessions and loads of fun events all weekend – this promised to be an excellent event.
I was there running some FlowFree coaching sessions – as well as getting involved with some of the events. Here’s a summary of a fun, wet weekend in Wales.
Saturday was full of events such as the Dynamic Duo rolling contest and the eddy-hop challenge: where you had to try and get as far back up the graveyard as you could from the slalom hut.
Saturday also saw a “multi-sport race”, which involved running up the Tryweryn, kayaking down and mountain biking back up, round a short course and down again to the finish-line by Chapel Falls. Sadly there were only a few entrants but competition was hot as everyone wanted to beat their mates! Carl Mitchell did a cheeky over-take to beat Lynsey Evans to the top spot.
For those of a less competitive nature, there was an en-masse paddle down to Bala or plenty of opportunity to just play about on the upper section. As well as quality coaching sessions available; from an intro to white water up to nailing those eddies on the Graveyard.
After an evening of films, food and beers; Sunday’s events got going. The morning’s big event was the 8-ball race – an utterly hilarious head-to-head race where various moving obstacles came out to get you at every turn.
Photos by Paul Smith
Having already completed a morning’s playboat coaching session I was stoked to make it into the Open final (after 5 knockout rounds) and finish in 3rd over all. But then the organisers decided to run a Ladies-only final too! Race no. 6…. and this time I got 2nd, to the legend that is Lynsey Evans.
Just enough time to collect my prizes and get a quick sugar fix, it was time for the freestyle at NRA wave. This event was all about fun and encouraging others – and prizes were only given to non-sponsored paddlers. The jam format of the heats allowed everyone to have fun and try some new moves and throw in some old school. Everyone loves the shudder-rudder-to-air-guitar combo!
Photos taken by: Adrian Trendall
All in all, I think this event showed a lot of promise. Getting all the manufacturers involved meant there was something for everyone. It was a shame that the rain and clash with WWPF meant numbers weren’t as high as they could have been – but hopefully next year at least one of those factors will be arranged differently!
Hope to see you there next year!
This time last year I was in Norway competing in Voss Extreme Sports Week (Extremsportveko). As the 2010 event draws to a close, my attention was drawn to this great video from last year’s event – compiled from the best of the “today’s videos”. Some of the shots are truly amazing! If you look carefully you may spot me in full slow-mo glory, and for at least 2 whole seconds!
With the events of the previous week never far from my mind, I drove over some absolutely spectacular mountain passes in convoy with fellow Brit Jenny Chrimes. We made it to Ivrea in the wee hours and found ourselves driving around Ivrea city centre searching for a slalom course, with the river as our only navigational tool. Beating the one-way system we not only found the slalom course but also Rich Brooks, Craig Ayres and Will Hatt sleeping under an open marquee in the park next to the course, along with a bunch of other guys we presumed to be kayakers (though they could have just as easily been hobos!). We snuggled up alongside and were sent to sleep with the loud rumble of the meaty looking slalom course.
In the light of morning it was clear that no slalom course in the UK can compare – this was pushy and big volume with a good 5m of drop over the 150m course. There were several surgy holes and all of the eddies were recirculating worse the infamous river right eddy on HPP’s looping pool! But the slalom course was not the big gun of this event… the long race was to be held on 3km of the grade 4+ to 5 Chuisella; so we took the windy road up the mountain to check it out.
We spent a few days paddling in Valchuisella and trying to remember all of the lines. The low water-levels meant there were a number of piton-rocks to avoid and at some point in the week, I think we all got to know at least one of them!
Jenny made herself a map to help her remember the way!
As the competition approached, flags and banners appeared and the valley filled with some of the best paddlers from around the world. Before I knew it, I was launching off the rock to take my individual long race. I’d been pretty good at remembering the lines in practice and the first half of the race went well – I was making some quick lines. As I went into the boulder garden after the mandatory right line (see map above!), I took a wrong turn and went the wrong side of boulder. I immediately knew this wasn’t going to be good and got stuffed underneath it.
The organisers had been quite cunning, splitting the field in half and making one half do safety while the others raced. This was in addition to the Italian “Red Cross” (the “professional safety team” that had also provided safety at the European Rafting Champs where the terrible incident had happened just the week before) and I can tell you it was a bloody good job the paddlers were on safety for each other! However, due to my wrong turn I had put myself under a rock in the middle of the river, downstream of the nearest safety cover. I managed to pull myself up using the rock so that my head and shoulders were out of the water. Realising I was effectively on my own and knowing I only had limited strength to keep myself above water, I summoned all my strength to get myself out from the under the rock, before self-rescueing to an eddy in the middle of the river.
Despite knowing that my time was fairly irrelevant now, I was determined to finish the race. I let a few of the other ladies pass while I gathered myself before pulling back out. I was now just cruising, playing it safe, but ended up overtaking one of the other girls by “left curler lip”. However, she was then overtaken by the fastest lady of the day, Anne Heubner, so I pulled into an eddy to let them both pass before the “big slide”. After being first lady to start, I was the last one to the finish line. The timing officials clearly gave up on me as I was given no time on the initial results sheet – I wonder how they knew I was ok?! I was offered a re-run, but declined as being placed anything but last would not have been fair on the other competitors.
Video from Chuisella Races – courtesy of Teva
That night all of the competitors were fed at a fancy restaurant in Traversella. The courses kept coming and the wine kept flowing which made for a wonderfully sociable evening, including some customary drinking from wetsuit boots. It turned out I didn’t have the biggest carnage of the day… a dislocated shoulder, several beatdowns and most notably Eric Deguils half-helix-to-paddle-snap combo on the top drop of the King of the Falls section. Impressively he finished the race C-1 stylee.
Day 2 was reserved for the 3-man team races on the section we’d races individually the day before. The Team GB Boys gave a the spectators a performance that could only have been improved by being sped up and set to Benny Hill music… As usual, Team New Zealand dominated.
Team Benny Hill getting caught-up on the entry to “bridge drop” – Photos: Lowri Davies
By Day 3, the event had moved down to the slalom course in Ivrea for the Sprint, Slalom and Boater-x. The hot weather combined with rain in the hills had brought the river up and the course was pretty much in flood – the holes, laterals and recirculating eddies even stronger than when we’d paddled it earlier in the week.
Determined to put on a better show than at the Chuisella, I managed to find the clean line on my second run to claim the second fastest Ladies sprint time, 3rd in sprint overall. Nouria Newman was looking really fast – so fast that doing the second half of the course upside-down didn’t stop her being the fastest Lady in sprint. It was a slalom paddlers’ domination all-round with Mike Dawson winning in the mens event.
Lowri in the sprint – Photo thanks to Nouria Newman
After lunch it was time to stick up some slalom gates and see how we all did using the official international slalom rules… but with creek boats. Surprisingly the slalom paddlers didn’t dominate this event quite as much in the mens class, with several of the World’s top slalom guys actually missing gates. Clearly this was a tough course! Nouria’s World class slalom experience unsurprisingly earned her the top spot again – with only 3 or 4 women making all of the gates.
If this was a tough slalom course to conquer on your own, imagine how hard it would be to do it as a team of 3 – starting together off a ramp and all needing to finish within 15 seconds of one another. Penalties from each team-member accumulated. What a spectacle! And Team Benny Hill (aka GBR) did their part for the comedy element by knocking each other off line, colliding mid-flow and plenty of “I’m going, no he’s going, no I’m going, no hang on…” moments. The comedy title was toughly fought though, with one team deciding to do it in borrowed playboats which they didn’t even fit in – resulting in plenty of carnage and at least one swim!
(Gives a great shot of the slalom whole course at about 2:20)
After a long day of competing, there was only one thing left to do… P-A-R-T-Y!
I’m not sure whether it was the French, Swiss, Brits or Belgians that won… they all gave it a good go…
The final day of competition was the boater-x. Heats of 4, starting off the ramp all together and with two mandatory hit-gates in eddies down the course… this event never failed to provide entertainment, surprises and upsets right to the end. It was certainly a spectacular way to end the event!
As soon as my races finished, it was time for me to pack up and head over the hills into France – for it was time to do some work… well, coaching and guiding anyway
Winding up the dramatic Noce valley, surrounded by tall sandy coloured mountains and hundreds of acres of fruit trees, we could never have guessed that the week ahead would be so eventful and emotional – and not in a good way.
We knew very little about the river, only that the race section was pretty continuous – but the nature of the continuity was unknown to us until we pulled up on site and saw the fast flowing, rocky, alpine river. Myself and Fran met with our GB2 R4 team-mates Becky Russell and Sarah Shepherd, who had already recceed the river, got in with the locals and secured us use of a raft for training (despite having an epic 4-day drive from the UK – putting our 45hr mission to shame).
GB2 R4 Team aka Welsh Dragons (Lowri, Sarah, Fran and Becky)
All the GB Teams!
The event was to include 4 races: a straight sprint down the slalom course which would also be used to seed you in the head-to-head races. Head-to-head involves knock-out tournament style races, where two teams race and only the winner progresses to the net round. Slalom involves going round poles in a certain order and direction as fast as possible, while trying not to hit them – just like canoe slalom. Then finally it would be the downriver – a 12km race down continuous and as times pretty pushy grade 3-4 white water – a real test of endurance and skill.
Before getting to the Noce our training had been rather limited by the fact that there had been no water in the UK, we didn’t own a raft or rafting paddles and were rarely all available on the same days – however, we’d slogged our way endlessly around Bala lake (including surely the first ever circumnavigation by raft!), got a few runs on the Tryweryn together and even ventured to the Menai straights. It’s at this point we really must thank Kate Blyth for use of a raft and regularly being our 4th team member for training, despite having no aspirations to race!
The opening ceremony
After the customary opening ceremony (which luckily ended up right next to a gelateria), the European Rafting Championships 210 began. Things kicked off with R4 sprint and head-to-head races. In our first race together, we ranked 13th out of 16 – but by dumb luck this put us against the GB1 girls in the first round of the head-to-head. They have got gold in H2H at both of the last World and European Champs, so we knew it was a tough draw. Starting in the unfavourable river right eddy and with a deflated raft floor, we remembered how the best competitors rise up against such challenges and started full of determination. With a powerful and aggressive start we battled with GB1 for the lead around the first bend, but in the end their experience and strength showed through – they went on to win gold again. We finished the day in a respectable joint 11th place.
The Mens event was dramatic right to the end. GB1 men ranked 2nd in the sprint and convincingly made it to the finals of the H2H. While battling for the lead with the Russians, Adam’s paddle broke! Luckily they carry a spare but in the seconds it took to untie it and get back on the power, the Russians had edged ahead. Overtaking was something rarely seen on this course and despite being on their bumper the whole way down, the GB1 boys had to settle for another silver medal.
On Day 2 it was the turn of the R6 teams to compete in sprint and H2H. Sadly the GB medal count wasn’t so impressive as their focus is more on R4 due to upcoming R4 World Champs, but big up to GB2 ladies who pulled themselves back from a disappointing sprint to win the first of their H2H races.
As Friday rolled around, all teams were preparing for their slalom runs. The course looked tough but achievable. R6 races were in the morning and we were due to be in the afternoon. With no practice runs allowed, we were keen to pick up a few tips and tactics by watching some of the R6 teams. As the ladies began their second runs, we sat mid-way down the course watching the tough 6-7 upstream combo. All of a sudden there was a lot of noise from downstream and we soon realised a team had flipped before the finish-line. With 6 girls in the water, the few safety guys on live bait downstream of the flip began to jump in but not everyone was rescued by the end of the slalom course. Unlike most UK slalom courses, this was part-way down a natural river and once you went past the take-out eddy, you were into a very fast and continuous alpine grade 4 – with very few eddies, even for a kayak. Two of the girls swam into this rapid – one was rescued pretty early on but in the carnage and confusion, no-one seemed to realise there was another girl in the water. In fact, the safety guys went back to their posts as the race was still on-going. No message had been sent to the top of the course to stop the race. Those of us watching from upstream hadn’t seen beyond the finish-line and since the race was continuing and the safety guys were back on their posts, we presumed everything was sorted.
Several teams completed their second runs, unaware of the incident. Each team had been helped into the eddy by one of the safety team and helped out of the river. Finally, after several minutes there was a realisation that there was a competitor missing. There were no safety kayaks or rafts on the water, so no easy way to make chase until a couple of rafts were put back on the water and some of the competitors got back on to head downstream to try and find her. The competition was finally halted, but most people still didn’t realise what had just happened.
Branka swam over 5km and was finally rescued by kayakers who just happened to be on the river downstream. She was given CPR on the bank and rushed to hospital in a coma. Sadly, I received news a couple of weeks ago that she did not make it. My thoughts are with all her friends, family and team-mates; this must be an extremely difficult time for you.
The following day a vote was held whether to continue the competition and with the majority of teams in favour, the event carried on. However, all GB teams pulled out of the competition; along with a few other nations.
This was a tragic incident and what makes it so sad is that it was totally unnecessary and totally avoidable. So many mistakes were made and simple preventative measures not taken. I can only hope that the right lessons are learnt from this horrible event to ensure that the same mistakes are never made again.
Rest In Peace Branka.
For the past month or so I have been off swanning about the continent going paddling, rafting, competing and coaching. It’s a hard life… To make sure I don’t bore you all with too much whittering at once, I am going to split my blogging into bite-size posts of roughly a week each.
We start our exciting adventures in Val Sesia, North-West Italy. Well, actually the adventure really began by chugging across 7 countries, with a few closed mountain passes and long motorway queues to tackle along the way – but after a mere 45 hours on the road(!), we arrived at Campertogno.
We joined a plethora of British paddlers to enjoy some good water levels in the baking hot sunshine, with tasty ice cream and good wine to make it a true Italian experience.
A week of top notch paddling on classics such as the Egua, Lower Semenza, Mastalone, Sorba, Gronda and the many sections of the Sesia passed. We were too busy paddling to take any photos – in fact the only evidence we have of our paddling that week are a couple of grainy photos of the bottom drop of the Gronda!
Committed to proving to everyone that we really did do some boating, Fran selflessly threw herself at a rock to produce a stonkin’ bruise as further evidence!
The week seemed to come to an end all too soon and as we saddled up for the next part of our adventures we were quite sad to be leaving; but as soon as we were trundling through the spectacular valleys of the Dolomites, any melancholy was replaced with tingling excitement and anticipation for the week ahead…
I realise that it has been some time since I updated this blog. That’s partly because I have been putting most of my recent adventures on the FlowFree blog; but also because I have been too busy doing stuff to write about doing stuff!
If you want executive summary:
coaching, NSR, coaching, snowboarding, shenanigans, coaching, Level 5 development, Hawaii-sur-Rhone, new river-wide wave, slalom, Rugby 7s, player of the match, players’ player, won trophy, more coaching…Val Sesia, European Rafing Champs, Teva Extreme Games, French Alps…
If any of that interests you further, read on!
For the first time in 6 years, I went to NSR as a non-student so rather than competing, I was running coaching clinics and promoting FlowFree (as we were an event sponsor). The event was once again bigger than ever before and is a real credit to the organisers. More competitors than ever, more events, more sponsors, a bigger party and the Dream Result premier with star guests Tyler Bradt and Rush Sturges. However, there was but one star of the show, and that was without a doubt the legendary Rodeo Rabbit.
Snowboarding & Shenanigans
Not satisfied with the weeks of snow on my local hills, I travelled to Andorra for what was to be a fantastically fun week skiing, boarding and general shenanigan with some old Uni friends. It seems that with a ratio of 1 guy to 4 girls, we were in high demand in Mandorra – perhaps too high a demand when a couple of drinks were spiked. Other than that, it was an awesome week with plenty of banter – both on and off the slopes.
Level 5 Development
After just a week back at work, it was time for my BCU Level 5 coach development, which was certainly a valuable experience with plenty of affirmation and positive feedback. I am now even more fired up about coaching as my chosen profession and look forward to continuing my professional development.
Big Wave Surfing
Straight from the Level 5, I headed to Lyon to run a FlowFree Intro to Big Wave Surfing course. It was great few days, made memorable by discovering a river-wide wave with eddy service that never normally exists! A write up and photos can be found here.
After whimsically saying I’d enter a slalom during my Level 5, I realised I had just 4 days back in the UK before I was supposed to race in a Div 1 (for those who don’t know much about slalom, it has leagues like football, which go from Premier down to Div 4 – Premier is for extremely good people, usually GB Team and those sponsored for slalom who regularly train, so Div 1 is kinda like the best of the rest i.e. very good!). There were a few problems with my plan: a) I had been in a slalom boat just twice, ever before b) I didn’t own, nor have access to a slalom boat c) The only rules I knew about slalom were that you had to go through the sticks. In order. Fast. Luckily, I found a slalom boat, a few nice people told my some rules (like what the beeping at the start meant) and I didn’t miss any gates. So I managed to finish middle of the field and now have a Div 1 rank!
Rugby 7s Win
May bank holiday has been blocked out in my diary since I accidentally played one match of the annual Aberystywth Rugby 7s tournament last year. For a few year now, the canoe club (plus a few extras) has put together a couple of charity teams for the event – the boys team being named Hawks and us girls the Sparrowhawks. The tournament gives all us graduates a reason to go back to Aber and see all our old mates while playing in the social league. There is always amazing team spirit, dedicated supporters and plenty of banter as part of the Hawks weekend.
The weekend saw some pretty bad injuries (on top of the standard rugby knocks) with two of our boys suffering from broken shoulders while one of our girls was in hospital for 3 days with a misaligned neck. Thankfully it seems everyone will make a full recovery.
Meanwhile on the pitch, Sparrowhawks went from strength to strength, despite having never played together before. There were some cracking tackles made be every team member and some outstanding runs. I was delighted to get player of the match twice on Saturday and (thanks to Ed missing out on Sunday) ended as top try scorer of all Hawks teams. We played 11 games in total and in the end…
…We won the social league trophy!
I will be at the Palm Big Paddle next weekend, giving coaching clinics and manning the FlowFree stand. Please come and say hi!
Then after a few more days of coaching work, I’ll be setting to sea – well, boarding a Dover-Dunkirk ferry at least – on my way to some bedrock slides, clean waterfalls and steep creekin’ action in Val Sesia.
From there, I head east within Italy to the Noce for the European Rafting Championships, which myself and 3 other Welsh girlies are competing as the GB 2 R4 team. With sprint, head-to-head, slalom and a gruelling 18km endurance event, it is not going to be easy but we can’t wait!
The following week Italy hosts the Teva Extreme Games and I have been invited to compete in the kayak races.
Once the Italian action is over, I will head to the French Alps to do some more FlowFree coaching work – get in touch if you are interested in some coaching or guiding in the French Alps in June or July. I will also be available for all manner of playboating clinics at Hawaii-sur-Rhone, Lyon (even if it is your first time on a big wave!).
Further on this year, I have plans for a couple of bigger expedition-style trips – details coming soon!
So, that’s it for now… expect more regular updates in the action packed weeks to come!
I wrote this a few weeks ago, but for some reason it didn’t publish – but such a memorable experience can’t just be left unmentioned so here we are a little late…
I was once again lucky enough to spent Christmas snowboarding in Sun Peaks with the Laws family.
This year we were joined by the Sladden family and 80′s kayaking legend Fred Wondre.
The mothers of the two families had done a fantastic job of co-ordinating a joint Christmas dinner that would allow everyone still enjoy most of Christmas day out on the hills. For our part, we went exploring out the back of the resort and enjoyed stunning views and untouched powder.
By early afternoon, we were back home to news that the oven timer hadn’t worked and the turkey was yet to cook. No worries though, as Mummy Laws set to it. No sooner had she taken the turkey from the oven, when suddenly darkness descended and all power went out. The Sladdens arrived moments later with the news that the power cut was resort-wide. We donned our head-torches, while the younger Sladdens got out their flashlights.
The power cut lasted all evening and well into the night. We sent Will to cook the vegetables and gravy out on the gas BBQ in the sub-zero temperatures while I entertained the kids (or they entertained me?) with torch-lit Junior Monopoly. We ate our Christmas dinner by atmospheric candle-light, marvelling at what a tasty delight had been created without power. Then just when we thought things had got random enough, 66-year-old Fred suddenly stood upon his chair, leapt across the breakfast bar and produced two bizarre but tasty and extremely alcoholic desserts.
Boxing Day arrived with surprisingly little in the way of sore heads and we once again headed out onto the hills. We were keen to go back along the ridge we’d explored the day before and soon we had Chris and Peter eager for the adventure too. As we left the resort boundary, we noted that the avalanche danger had been increased from “slight” to “moderate”. The snow did have a bit more of a wind-crust than the day before and the deep powder proved to be hard work for the older gentlemen on longer, slimmer skiis. I think Peter summed up his feeling on the expedition with the phrase “For me I think the enjoyment will mainly be in retrospect”. Personally, knowing what to expect a little more, I found myself enjoying it much more.
By the 27th, it was time to go home – something that I would have been much more sad about had I have not been given a comfy bed and waited on hand and foot in Air Canada’s “executive class”. Certainly a very pleasant way to travel, but not one I will be getting used to… I’m sure for my next flight I will be crammed into a bright orange seat having paid more to take my kayak and kit bag than for my own airfare!
I am extremely grateful to Jackie and Peter Laws for once again giving me a fantastic Christmas to remember…
And because no skiing holiday with me would be complete without this photo…
Luckily, we also caught Will sliding on his ass too…
For the past couple of weeks we’ve had consistent rain in North Wales which has kept the rivers at lovely levels, but last night’s rain was fairly epic. All across North Wales people woke to find rivers over their banks, towns flooded and roads closed. My Mum was unable to get work and my brother had to use a snorkel to get to Betws (sadly not a facemask and snorkel as I had presumed but the snorkel on his 4×4).
Here’s a few shots from around North Wales earlier today:
Pont-y-Pair aka Chip Shop Drop, Llugwy, Betws
Fun lookin’ boils downstream of Pont-y-Pair in Betws
The postcard image with a twist – Llanrwst
Mincer on the Llugwy
More photos can be found in this FB album.
The water has receded a little this evening, but it is still in fields and across roads. Another band of rain is due to arrive tonight… Noah might not be the only one getting his boat out.
I have been back in the UK for 2 months now and have been keeping myself very busy. Here’s a bit of a photo-based summary of what I’ve been up to.
I arrived back just in time for Pyranhafest in the sunshine and was able to catch up with friends and compete in the fun freestyle. I was given a place in the men’s final and finished second to local junior hot-shot Brendan Orton.
After a month of low water and sunshine, the rain finally arrived in North Wales. I’ve been getting plenty of sneaky mid-week runs in:
Top drop on the Gamlan, 10 years since I first ran it in a Topo. Photo: Chris Eastabrook
Top drop on the Goedal. Photo: Tom Parker
Less than a month after the World Championships, it was time for the British Freestyle Championships and the first 2010 Team selection event!
Photo: Tom Laws
Photo: Tom Laws
A few weeks later and I was at another British Championships, this time for rafting. A gang of us female raft guides from the Tryweryn got together to enter on my 25th birthday weekend and had a superb time. We blitzed the ladies competition in all events and finished 3rd in the open over all. Cheers to all involved for a great weekend.
Team Rafture in action (you can tell by the smile that we’d already won this particular race). Photo: Tom Laws
As well as competitive rafting for the first time, I’ve been getting involved in lots of other disciplines and sports recently including several forays into squirt boating, some fun white water open boating down the Dee, bouncy trampolining and some very muddy mountain biking in Scotland. Fun times.
Photo: Tom Laws
Squirting in Nottingham – extra points for being colour co-ordinated! Photo: Emma Runciman
Sinking – but not how I’d planned! A deck blow gets me wet at selection. Photo: Peter Isaacs
Me and Mum covered in mud after a day on the bikes. Note to self: people who were sponsored for biking are probably still very good even after 10 years of not riding! Photo: Tom Laws
And just cos I like them, here’s a few more photos from the summer:
Upper Rauma. Photo: Dave Fairweather
My Mum watching the finals of the World Freestyle Champs in Thun. Photo: Lowri Davies
Erika and Nina watching me at Skjak. Photo: Tom Laws
But, it’s not all play, play, play. I’ve been busy with FlowFree coaching work and in my new part-time role as coach education co-ordinator for Canoe Wales too! Checkout www.flowfree.co.uk for more information on the coaching courses I offer.