When did you start kayaking and what/who got you interested in the sport?
When I was at school, my friends and I got booked on to a week-long kayaking course at our local outdoor education centre. When the course finished, still keen to learn more and get back on the water, we joined Thameswey Canoe Club. They kept on pushing me to do better, and eventually persuaded my dad to get involved as well. At the time we were at a similar level which made club nights and trips more enjoyable as we could paddle together and neither one of us had to sit out - this meant we got to do lots more paddling!
How did you get into coaching and setting up your own business?
I got into coaching at the canoe club by helping out on sessions and river trips. I also opted to do my school work-experience at the local outdoor education centre and they helped point me in the right direction to start my career.
It’s always been a dream of mine to run my own paddling business. I love helping others progress in the sport and enjoy guiding people down rivers. The business all came around sooner than planned, but it was the natural next step at that time. During the winter, Tom and I were providing a lot more courses, coaching and guiding and decided we needed an official name that to work under… and so Rapid Skills was born.
Can you describe your most fearful moment in kayaking? Where were you? What happened? And how did you overcome the situation?
To be honest I have never had any near death situations whilst paddling (touch wood this continues) but there have been plenty of times where I have been scared. One that sticks in my head is on the Rio Nevados in Chile at the must run waterfall. I wasn’t having a great day on the river – on the first rapid I pitoned so hard that I pushed the footplate bolt, making it rip through the sidewall of my kayak. It was such any easy move but I just mistimed my stroke. I had to do a bodge-job of a repair before we’d even run any of the slides or waterfalls. As you can imagine, I wasn’t in a great mindset after that, but I had always dreamt about running the Nevados river, so I knew I just had to put that to one side and think about my paddling style (one where I didn’t have to push too hard on the footplate.)
All was great, my bodge job was holding up and then we got to the must run - a 25ft slot drop which you can’t portage. I was struggling to see the line on it because the water has two laterals which hit each other a quarter of the way down before entering the slot. It took me a while to decide whether to use a left or right stroke and how I was going to tuck to get a clean exit. Luckily, I had lots of people around me to talk these problems through and after watching a few people run it I decided that I was ready to go next. I cleared my head and kept walking through my line as I went back to my boat. Once in my boat I splashed my face with water, the fear went away and the adrenaline kicked in. From this point I just knew I had to trust my plan, my gut instinct, and my ability to paddle this thing.
The footplate in this boat did not have a good trip managed to break it multiple times.
What were your three biggest take home messages from going on expedition in Nepal?
- Have a local contact in the country/get to know a rafting company.
- Buses take a long time to get to places, always pad the roof bars with rubbish like cardboard and never sit at the back of a bus!
- When everything is not going to plan in Nepal it is actually going to plan.
- Extra one as its super important: Dhal Bhat Power!
You do a lot of open canoeing, what makes you so passionate about this discipline?
Ahhhh canoeing. I fell in love with this discipline when I worked in the Ardeche, as I was canoeing down the most magical river everyday. I love the ability to load up your canoe with all you need for an expedition and paddle somewhere until you get tired and pitch up camp next to the river. I feel like I can really reconnect with nature when I am out paddling a canoe.
Paddling white water in a canoe is also a huge challenge especially when you start pushing above grade 3. You really have to think about each move and read the water in far more detail to make sure that it is all possible. I love that you have to think through each move differently and really engage a different part of my brain. In a canoe the moves are more precise than paddling a kayak, you can’t just turn a canoe on the spot and continue down river if you miss an eddy once you’re locked in to a move, you’re locked in.
When life returns to the new normal, where do you envisage your next personal expedition will take you? And where will your next foreign coaching trip be?
For my next personal expedition, I would love to return to Nepal and tick off some more rivers out there like the Thuli Bheri.
Coaching trips all going to plan, I should be heading out to Sweden to run a canoe expedition on the Harkan river in October, but we will have to wait and see.
What advice would you give someone who is looking into going on their first ever big water foreign multi-day expedition?
Have a contact in the country so that they can assist you if things don’t go to plan, if you need local information about where to get things or dates for national holidays. Get together with your team before leaving the UK and work out what your going to take as a group and split it up between everyone to make sure you don’t over pack. If you’re going out to do multiple expeditions it’s worth having a rough plan, but I can almost guarantee you won’t end up sticking to it, so don’t worry if this happens. Chat to as many people as you can who have been there before as everyone will have had different experiences and it’s good to learn from them.
Highs and lows of your Nepal expedition.
High – paddling the Karnali river another childhood dream of mine. Meeting so many friendly people during the trip who all helped us in different ways from logistics to accommodation. Watching the sunrise over the Himalayas. Having Matt and Sam on the trip knowing we had each other’s backs and similar goals for being out there.
Lows – My boat not making it on to the plane (leaving the UK). Getting stuck in a town called Kohalpur for 2 days as it was a national holiday and the buses were either not running or full which put a delay on our next expedition and there were no rivers to paddle in this area and we all ended up getting ill. Also, doing an 18hr bus journey through the night sat at the back of a bus.
Words by: Joshua Telling