Whitewater Aptitude is an idea in development to highlight Gavin Hart's skills, adventures and accomplishments with an insight into the thoughts and feeling he has throughout his journeys. As well as this blog please visit his Photography Portfolio Website showcasing his best photography. For shorter more regular updates on Whitewater Aptitude adventures Like it on Facebook or Follow on Twitter. Get in contact via email using gavin@whitewateraptitude.co.uk

Monday, 18 March 2013

Travel Writing #5 - St. Bees Surf Kayaking

St. Bees beach apparently occasionally can get some pretty big surf with the right conditions. The surf is a beach break with the best waves produced when the tide is coming in, after strong westerly or south-westerly winds have died down. This information came from Magicseaweed.com a site I have used regularly when pursuing surf in the sea. Magic seaweed was saying there was going to be a 4-5ft swell coming in on this day. In the morning we had arranged to meet to catch these conditions and we did exactly as planned. However, what we got was a big menacing surf with short intervals, not ideal for learning or developing skills. Tom and Mike ventured into the white water first, both new to surfing on boards they were thoroughly challenged. After a few attempts they came out seeking advice but nothing I knew about surfing or the sea would help on this occasion. They struggled to get themselves and their boards over the whitewater that came after the waves had broken, being pushed back again and again. What they needed was PADDLES!

Luckily on this day I had anticipated these conditions and brought all my gear. Having watched Tom and Mike get thrown about for a short while I was intimidated by the waves. From the car park you could still hear the roar as each wave broke. I sat by myself in my kayak on the pebble beach for a while composing myself, trying to get in the right mental attitude for going straight into whitewater that would push me to my limits. Tyler Bradt, an accomplished whitewater kayaker, said in an interview
"Successful whitewater kayaking is 50% mental and 50% skill. Holding your nerve in and staying focused in these whitewater situations is key to applying your skills to the water your on at the time."
As a warm up exercise I envisaged myself crashing through the waves moving my arms in the motions I would need to perform. I imagined this in slow motion like you would see in the latest viral online whitewater paddling video. In my head I go through multiple waves speeding up the actions each time I go though a wave, this wakes up all the muscles needed for paddling. I also remind myself of the steps need to surf the waves back in. Paddle fast to get to the same speed as the wave, throw your weight forward to drop in then lean/edge in the direction you want to travel along the wave.  I must look pretty stupid doing it but it’s my thing.

After a short time of composure I moved into a position to quickly enter the water. I discussed with Tom and Mike that I was going to need a lull in the wave size to get out. I picked my moment, "Now Now Now!" Tom and Mike thrust me down the pebble beach and into the water. Straight away I was met by breaking waves or "the soup" trying to push me back onto the beach. I fight through it, getting out, this was the easy bit that I was pretty comfortable with, coming back in on the waves the right way up, is what I struggle with. Due to the messiness of the waves coming in it was hard to judge where was a safe place to sit and select a wave to catch, so I caught the first one I was prepared for and it turned out to be a monster.

For my ability in surf kayaking this wave was “pretty stinking big”. Due to my positioning, I didn’t need to paddle fast to get this one. Nor did I need to put my weight forward to drop in. Due to the size and steepness of this monster, coming down the face of the wave I had to lean as far back as possible and pull my legs up so not to nose dive. I managed to stop myself from nose-diving and surfed the wave straight until it broke. I then comfortably "Bongo slide" in the soup, nearly ending up right back on the beach and into the groyne! Luckily I avoided these. I paddled out once more and selected a further wave to catch.

After the thrill of successfully blasting down the first wave this second one was not so big. Whilst I paddled out for a second time and after my potential close encounter with the concrete and wooden groynes, I argued with myself as to whether to carry on in this sea state. This second wave was my last of the day. I decided to surf it right into the beach where my extraction team was waiting. With no life guards on the beach and Tom and Mike unable to swim or surf out through the waves I decided to call it a day as if I had come out of my boat in the waves I would have been in a pretty bad place with no way of being rescued, a place I didn't want to be and if I battled with concrete groynes, well I know how that one ends!  Although my session was short I'm massively chuffed with my effort successfully surfing one of the biggest waves of my life, even more to my delight a passer by managed to get the snaps of me, something that doesn't usually happen. 


Sunday, 10 March 2013

Travel Writing #4 - National Student Rodeo 2013

Friday 1st saw the beginning of my three day reign as Official Club Captain for my University Paddling Club. During these three days I organised my university team members on a trip to The National Student Rodeo (NSR) the largest freestyle kayaking event in Europe. NSR is a student organised kayaking competition held at the National Water Sports Centre, Holme Pierrepont, Nottingham. The event is attended by clubs from all over the UK and is currently the best student event I have attended.

Friday is mainly a day of travel to the event arriving in the evening to register participants for your university, acquire your camping spot then crack out the drinks and attend the warm-up party. I had the joy of attending the Captains Meeting and represented my university well. Where other captains turned up with pen and notepad I turned up with all captains need, a drink and my captains sailor hat. As I had assumed it would be, the meeting was just to go over all the points in a pack of information that had been sent out to me with the booking information, which I had actually read.

 Saturday - starting off a little groggy from celebrating heavily with my friends who attend other universities around the UK. My hangover was quickly shrugged off by my paddling warm up and first few moments on the water. I was straight onto the whitewater course at 0900 to compete in the Extreme Slalom event. This event determines what heat you are put in for the actual Freestyle Rodeo Competition. It turned out this year I was put into the Intermediate category which I was pretty surprised at, as the only skill I showed was a roll, half a flat spin and making it through 1 of 2 gates. I was also pretty frustrated to have been put in the Intermediate category as if I had been in the Novice heat I might have actually been able to perform on the feature and win some amazing prizes however, it was not to be.

Sunday - Again I battled off a fighting hangover, got into my wet paddling gear and got on the water for the intermediate heat however, I was humiliated by swimming whilst warming up prior to my heat. I then ended up missing the start. I accepted that the heat was a loss pretty quickly when I saw majority of the competitors pulling off cartwheels in the select feature, a kayak move I could not match for points so I retired from the heat. I then got changed again and spent the rest of the afternoon snapping away photos of the few sponsored paddlers and friends appearing on the course in the hope to get some good shots to send off to the sponsoring companies.

Mens Expert Freestyle Finalists

After all competition heats and finals were completed the final part of the event was the prize giving where I became very jealous of all people called up to collect prizes. As prizes included free coaching days, masses of equipment and a few top of the range brand new shiny boats!.

We headed back to Penrith campus in the mini bus. During this journey most people drifted off to sleep and I was awoken by people trying to throw things in my mouth whilst I dribbled on myself. We arrived at campus and unloaded the trailer that had been our base for keeping my kayak and my colleagues media equipment in for the weekend.
I then had to drive my friends Lizzie and Pete down to Ambleside where I was to stay. Whilst driving the last ten minutes of the journey I noticed I was having real difficulty focusing on driving. I dropped Lizzie and Pete off with all their equipment and had a pizza with Pete with the intention of going for a drink with him and some others in town. Unfortunately not knowing it yet, by the time we had arrived the effects of the infamous Trent Belly had started to take hold.

George Younger (green) performing an entry move
The River Trent that feeds the whitewater course is infamous for making people ill. This is due to the sanitation of the water. The Trent holds a cocktail of chemicals and bacteria caused from run off from farmer’s fields and industrial factories along the river, mix these chemicals and bacteria together in the features of the whitewater course and you get a nasty stomach bug that is mainly contracted from people accidentally getting the water in their mouths and "drinking" it.

This bug lead to me leaving town early and deliriously walking to my good friends Mike and Tom's house where they put me up for the night. Tom had experienced this bug before so was very reluctant to come near me just in-case the bug turned contagious. He warned of what was to come, a night of pain and sickness. I'll leave out the nice details just say I haven't ever been as ill as I was that night.

 Since paddling at Nottingham I’ve done some research into the river and found that in 2009 the river contained traces of cyanide, it’s no wonder I was ill. Next time I go to paddle there I intend on trying some of the many tricks people say keep the bug away. One of which includes consuming large amounts of Coca-Cola. Hopefully next time at the event my paddling is more successful and the tricks work to keep the bugs at bay.