When did you start kayaking and what/who got you interested in the sport?
I originally did my one star when I was in year five as an afterschool club. However, the following year I started windsurfing and decided to keep windsurfing weekly through secondary school. In college I started kayaking again and in a push to get the most out of the course I lied about some previous experience and signed up for the advanced group, doing my 1 star 7 years earlier and straight onto a 3 star course; first session at Symonds Yat (and with a spray deck)… it’s safe to say I was terrible at best but the constant swims gave me the determination to improve.
How did you get into coaching and setting up your own business?
I left secondary school with a windsurfing instructor qualification and as far as I was concerned I had my career sorted. I quickly learned there was quite a lot I didn’t know so I decided to gain some more qualifications. I got stuck into coaching as a job which left me with most of the winters free for kayaking, this pattern hasn’t really changed even as I set up Cotswold Water Park Hire, a company designed to get any and everyone on the water having fun. Though to be less reliant on the free food at my parents it became apparent I needed some work through the winter too and as Josh and I were already doing bits of leading and coaching but struggling to advertise ourselves Rapid Skills was born. As we progressed so did the business and since Josh took it over properly, it has expanded exceptionally. We are now running foreign trips and a range of courses from first experiences to performance coaching and mentoring.
Where is your favourite country to paddle in?
That’s tough. Really tough. The one that I am convinced I will one day buy a house in is Chile. I think a huge part of that is mixed with the lifestyle and the locals as much as the exceptional white water. The landscape is stark and stunning, Volcanoes down every valley - views you can’t tire of. I cant wait to go back for my third time with Rapid Skills in 2021. That said, Norway was amazing too, and Slovenia.... New Zealand is pretty unforgettable too....
Can you describe your most fearful moment in kayaking? Where were you? What happened? And how did you overcome the situation?
Two situations come to mind. The first one was many years ago and one of the groups I was paddling with got stuck in a ‘weir style’ stopper and I went to help them. The combo of someone panicking and my lack of skill meant I too ended up swimming in the stopper. I had some limited knowledge about stoppers that was doing wonders. I was able to breathe when I was re-circulated and was tucking small and opening up to no avail as the book I had once said to do. I think the scariest moment of the whole experience was watching the other person float out (turns out she was fine, just exhausted), just as I started wandering about what was going to happen to me as I got pulled out.
The second was in India, I got a sweet boof off a ledge. It was so nice I was mid-way through congratulating myself as the hole I thought I had made it past ate me. The power was completely disproportionate to the size of the feature and made it clear it wasn’t going to be an enjoyable learning experience. The added features to the story are that dark had actually completely fallen by this point and Gareth, the only other person on the expedition with me had just gone round the next corner. I surfed for as long as I could and rolled until I couldn’t get my head up any more and then decided it was time to get out. I had a couple of recirculations and then it pushed me out, it was now I realised how knackered I was. I had pulled all my stomach muscles and my arms were completely lactic. The short swim through a couple of small holes and waves round the corner to Gareth who was diligently collecting my kit was done Eel style. Conveniently, there was a place to make camp that evening.
In both situations I simply got back on the water the next day. The big difference was after the first, in the evening we had a big de-brief as a group. I called friends and talked to them in detail about what happened and generally off-loaded. After the second we were busy, we made camp fast, cooked food, and went to bed. The next morning we got back to it. I really struggled with my head game for the rest of the trip and in hindsight I think not doing this offload was one of the major factors.
What were your three biggest take home messages from going on expedition in India?
1: Take a strong crew of people you know well. We had intended to paddle with others and yet were greeted with the words “you two are probably the only two white water kayakers here at the moment, everyone else left last week”. Which leads me onto….
2: On expeditions stay adaptable, as a two we were able to still paddle together, whilst far from ideal. It wouldn’t have been any hardship adding a night on the riverside if needed and as the water levels lessened and I played games in my head we went to see some of the most stunning sights I have ever seen rather than forcing a river plan that no longer fitted.
3: Expedition fitness. I was boating fit for sure, I went to India after a month of paddling nearly every day and the last few weeks in Scotland. The shear energy used to lump about an expedition boat or do a simple portage (or not a simple portage) absolutely did me in. I know Josh has always had running as part of his training for trips and I think it will be part of mine too from now on.
Highs and lows of your Indian expedition.
Highs: An incredible country, stunning scenery and some of the most genuinely nice people I have ever met. The hardest and most consequential white water I have ever paddled yet, on the most part got good lines and good times. Definitely feels like a win as well as ticking off my first multi-day expeditions.
Lows: Pretty terrifying beatering, low water, a lot of pressure when there’s only two of you, the crazy amount of litter everywhere and one of the most amazing rivers I have ever paddled was definitely poisonous with rows of dead trees along the bank at the end reservoir.
All above said, I have spent a fair majority of lockdown wishing I was back living on the banks of the river in the jungle and can’t wait for the return visit.
You do a lot of Stand Up Paddleboarding, what makes you so passionate about this discipline?
The summer half of my year is spent at work on a lake. I’ve found a love for paddle boarding for three reasons. The first is that it’s easy, literally everyone can do it, this makes it super accessible and enjoyable for those having their first goes. As well as this, as you can push yourself, there is what I would describe as ‘immediate feedback’ as you learn new skills and by that I mean a dunking, but it’s all part of the sport! Also its very unobtrusive, quiet to paddle and gives a great platform to see from. In my experience you can get much closer to nature on a paddleboard than from a canoe or kayak.
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?
My next personal adventure was supposed to be the Zambezi later on this year however, I have a strong suspicion that isn’t going to happen so I am currently not sure. Next year I am hopefully going to squeeze in a dash to Slovenia as well as the Rapid Skills Chile trip towards the end of the year, all of this is in addition to multiple Scotland weeks.