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Sunday, 2 October 2011

Turned out nice again!

The weather has been outstanding! While looking at the home page on the website I realised that the video of the Smurfs heading off to Jackfield was shot on 2nd October 2010, how different the weather is a year on. We headed down the Severn prepared for a cold session and were quite happy not to be freezing. Yesterday I went to Burton on Trent for a FSRT provider’s course and wearing a drysuit became more an act of endurance that the necessity it had been last October. I could have got away with sharing intimate contact with the water, but there’s probably a very good reason that the water of the Trent became famous for being turned into beer and not taken for its healing properties.

Hence today has become a rest day, much needed after spending Friday night listening to the traffic on the A38. Why do hotel chains put their buildings on industrial estates? Certainly isn’t for the benefit of their guests. Rest day means the course calendar has finally been updated and I may even make a start on the staff profiles. As for the shop prices, this may take a lot longer as I’m not yet suffering from the sort of downward spiralling geekery that motivates me to spend hours producing PayPal button scripts. Just the thought of it is a cure for insomnia, so if you’re after a bargin checkout the shop. The prices are listed still haven’t had the VAT updated on many items.

I know we’re still not as cheap as some of the outdoor superstores, but there is still a degree of ethics in our lines. We do source from UK companies (even if they choose to get the stuff made up aboard – their choice not ours) and paying a little more to the manufacturer helps pay for continuing research and development. Something that is being eroded by the big stores buying in bulk, the amount they buy means they could be stocked for up to two years and the price they pay means less funding is available for R&D. This why boat design may not be changing a fast as it was ten years ago and why designs have ceased being radical. So next time you see a cheap piece of kit at a large superstore just off the motorway – just think about what you’re buying into. As for ebay – don’t even get me started on that one!

Anyway, back to the weather. The dry spell may have seen some rivers at an all time low, but it has meant no summer floods for the first time in years and a summer season without any courses being rescheduled and no dodging day boats on the canal. It has also meant more clients out on the water and hopefully more people deciding to take up paddling as a sport.

As the long days of summer drop into the dark depths of winter the rivers will once more fill and begin to flow. When this happens expect to see us out on the water and hopefully you will feel inspired to join us!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Busy time out on the water!

When the school holidays started, activity certainly cranked up! The usual diet of BCU Star Awards were supplemented by some unusual family days on the water. Firstly congratulations to Greg and Patrick on passing their three star award. Not only did they have a rewarding day at Llangollen, but I think they may also have joined the darkside - short boats, steep waves and fast moves.

One of the family days had Ray and his family join us to celebrate his 60th birthday. This saw us taking out a mixed fleet of open canoes, kayaks with much laughter as we guided the group of 9 around Ironbridge. Such a large group of novices was a new experience for us and I'm glad we were able to make Ray's day such a success.

Another first was taking Jamie, Jed, Zak and their parents down Jackfield. Nothing new there, except I think the 8 year may now hold the record for the youngest person to paddle down Jackfield under his own steam. We've certainly never taken such a young paddler down the rapid and I don't know of any other 8 year olds who've paddled a kayak on their own down there. Please let me know if you know otherwise! From a safety point, paddling young children down simple white water works if there are enough competent staff to guide them and the child feels safe and confident. All three were in place for our trip.

This summer has also seen us take the decision not to renew our AALA Licence. This is because AALS will be wound up next year as part of government savings. To renew I would still have to pay for a full 3 year licence with no refund for the time after abolition.

"There is a fee of £715 to be paid when you submit your application – unless the fee is sent with your application, it will not be processed. You should note that the licence fee covers some of the costs of processing your application, carrying out the inspection and preparing the report that must take place before a licence is issued. It is the stated intent of Her Majesty’s Government that the adventure activities licensing regime will end at some point, and it is anticipated that licensing will remain at least until autumn 2012. You should be aware that in line with HM Treasury rules, there will be no refund of any fees paid in respect of any unexpired duration of your licence at the time the regime ends You are reminded that you must have a valid licence at any time you are providing in scope activities – it is an offence to provide activities without one ."

The only difference not having a licence will make is that under 18s will have to be  accompanied by a responsible adult - something we have always encouraged and a situation that happens for the majority of sessions as parents usually want to paddle with their children. The lack of licence will not affect any aspect of our work as we already adopt safety standards from the BCU and the local educations authorities with whom we have close contact. Many of the standards we work to are in excess of those laid down by AALA and our staff are far more qualified and experienced than many of the centres and companies operating locally. To reiterate this point I’m going to be adding staff profiles and some detail about us to the website. I hope this will showcase the high standards we work to and help make the point that some of the cheaper activity providers do not always offer the same high standards of service.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Open boating!

After years of trying to avoid getting in open canoes, I've finally wasted a weekend getting to know them and passed my 3 star for canoe. As a confirmed kayaker I've always held the view that such boats are for beardie weirdies - well if you can't beat them.....

Despite getting some criticism of my stroke work, I did get a compliment for running ballsy lines, well no change there then! So if anyone fancies a play this week, I'll reach deep in the shed and dust off the Kaos. I may also have a shave.

Happy paddling - what ever your craft!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Blog at last!

With a busy summer, writing the blog has been at the bottom of the priority list! Loads of time on the water has resulted in many happy customers getting the training they need and those much deserved certificates!

Since last time of writing, I've also had a visit from the karma police and a much heralded swim in the Tryweryn. The water spirits get us all eventually! Just nature's way of reminding us who is in charge out there. Talking of nature, the river levels have been up and down this last month, although luckily not enough to cancel sessions, but a two star course nearly had to look for a new venue.

The big news since the last blog has been we nearly acquired some premises in Ironbridge, I say nearly because we have been badly let down by the freeholders who were going to lease the site to us. After all the hard work put in by ourselves, the support staff at Natwest bank and our accountant this has been quite a deflating experience. One thing I have learnt from the experience is that rich people really are bone idle and I don't like estate agents.

So here's to a summer on the water and see you all out there paddling what ever floats!

Monday, 16 May 2011

What no blog?

Yes folks, I know it's been a long time since the last AR Kayaking entry, but we've been kind of busy out on the water. The good weather saw an influx of paddling customers over Easter for both kayaking and paddle boarding; plus we had to take some time out to enjoy a paddle ourselves.

The weather may have been warm but it's played havoc with water levels and a trip down Jackfield was slowly becoming a lesson in rock slalom. Hopefully a bit of rain might be now falling in the right place just to top things up a little. Only problem could be a repeat of the summers of 2007 and 2008; this was when we were just starting out and we don't want that much water falling from the sky again - as a company we nearly had to call it a day before we'd started.

The only problem now is after a warm spell is that returning to thermals, fleece, dry tops and pants; feels horrible! So that takes me to yesterday's trip down the Tryweryn. Yes it was back into the winter gear, okay we didn't need to dress like the Michelin man, but neither was it a rashie and shorts weather.

The trip posed the question -what do you call a wet smurf? Anything you like - cos he can't hear you when he's swimming. Yes folks - team Smurf was unleashed on the Tryweryn and a few swims were endured by some of our members and more more swims by some than others! I was meant to be having a quiet relaxing paddle, but I ended up chasing more boats than on one of our client based whitewater trips. To protect the guilty I'm not going to name the swimmers, but some of us may enjoy some gloating until it's our turn!

The difference was that yesterday's trip was mates in boats, the sort of trip that allows people to take a few risks, try a few new lines and generally push themselves beyond the safe containment of an organised course. That's why I often recommend that following a training course people go off and do some paddling with either like minded people or good club. Courses will outline the skills you need to attain certain level of competence, assessment will even provide evidence of skill, but it is time spent out there getting to grips with the water that counts and changes you from someone who paddles into a paddler.

That's why I'm a real fan of playboating and slalom. Both disciplines will help you build a set of skills that could one day save you from a cold swim. It's never too late to buy a ridiculously small boat and spend many an afternoon on your favourite wave or to start along the path of disciplined learning that will take you faster around the poles. Both disciplines are guaranteed to train your mind and body to achieve a Zen like relationship with the water you paddle.

Before I go on for too long the message is simple - get out there and take the swims! They are all part of the learning curve. Well done to Simon, Stiffy and Tothy (The Smurfs) for taking the plunge on the path to enlightenment that is the Tryweryn.

Water is the best of all things.

PINDAR (C. 522-C. 438 B.C.), Olympian Odes

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Spring at last!

Congratulations to Matt, Max and Jack on passing their BCU Two Star Award. Well done guys, not only did you complete the award, but had a good clean run down Jackfield Rapid! Enjoy your trip down the Wye and I hope you get to use all your new skills.

A first for AR Kayaking was our first all ladies group last Saturday - and what a course it was. I don't think so much fun has ever been had on the River Severn. A big thank you  to Jackie, Amanda, Jane and Chris; for making a morning in canoes and kayaks so enjoyable. I hope the pictures appear on the web!

Now we're well into BST the Thursday Night Sessions will be starting on 28th April. There has already been a lot of interest shown this year and we may have to run a booking system this year, so get any requests for favourite boats in early!

See you on the water.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Busy old month!

With Welsh river levels on the rise Paddlemaster and the Smurfs headed off to the Banwy to get in what was to become a late season paddle. The Banwy is one of those strange rivers that needs loads of rain to make it do-able. Once the spring arrives it becomes a stone beach full of nettles, so this may have been the last chance to get down it before the end of winter.

When we got to the river, the water level was already dropping and the sun poking out from behind the clouds. Although the trip was a bit of a scrape - Team Smurf acquitted themselves well with no major dunkings or swims. The video isn't our most exciting, but it does how beautiful the Banwy can be and how powerful the floods were this winter. Just take a look at the trees that have washed down and remember to respect the river, for even the mildest stream can become a raging giant.

Around this time a young man called Chris booked in for some coaching towards a Two Star assessment, after some intensive training I can congratulate him on passing his assessment.

March has also seen the return of weekly paddle sessions, until the clocks change these are going ahead on Saturday mornings. Once we're back to BST, regular Thursday night service will be resumed.This week saw the signs of spring on the Severn and an eager team of old and new paddlers heading upstream to the Buildwas play pot. This might not be a full on rapid, but it certainly gives newcomers a taste for playing the river.

Talking of playing, we've had a new addition to the AR Kayaking fleet - a little red Bigdog Kaos! At only 6'2" this boat fits nicely in the back of the car, giving plenty of opportunity to sneak a play session after work. So if you see someone on the Severn paddling what looks like a plastic bucket, it could be me!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Cold Sunday morning on the Severn

The idea was a trip down the Severn and a couple of runs at Jackfield. The reality was a cold damp morning with water levels holding up and flattening most features. So not much to play on, but Cliff got the experience of running boils and 'funny' water - a type of paddling that requires more power than skills.

I just hope spring isn't far away as this chilly grey weather is no use to anyone. Even snow and ice is useful - closes schools and makes the hills exciting!

Monday, 31 January 2011

Very cold day paddling on the Dee

Very cold day paddling on the Dee at Llangollen with Phil and Cliff. They’ve been begging to go out for weeks, but river levels have not been kind. Today it was the air temperature that wasn’t kind - 0˚C when we arrived and it just about made 2˚C when we left at lunch time.
Just to prove the point I took the above photograph showing puddles on the car park that are actually pools of ice. It also looks like Phil and Cliff have also turned blue with cold – or they’re auditioning for the Smurfs! This blog site won’t allow me to upload the picture, if you really want to see it - have a look at my pictures on Playak.

There was a really impressive display of icicles along the river banks. This didn’t fill me with great joy when I took a swim – something that made Phil’s day as he always complains I never get wet. Anyway, I’m going to blame the manufacturers of my gear for this one. Boat designers have increased deck heights for some obscure reason, while buoyancy aid designers stuff more and more foam into the front of their vests; then add pockets. The result is that trying to roll is a nightmare! When upside down in freezing cold water adjusting my roll to account for modern fashion is the last thing on my mind, come on guys – make something that works rather than a fashion statement.

Otherwise a great day paddling – for our next white water trip we are going to wait until temperatures raise above freezing.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Double peaked depression

During the recent recession we've heard a lot about double dips. Today Afon Banwy  produced a second peak on the Environment Agency gauge. Usually the Banwy peaks under heavy rain and then is good to paddle a couple of days later, this time it peaked again today. A quick text to Chris (an instructor who lives in the area) for her opinion gave me all the info I needed to cancel the trip.

'The Vyrnwy is coming out. The Banwy brown and ugly. I'd give it a miss.'
This was followed by a flood alert being issued for the road at the get out. That was it, trip cancelled - time to ring the crew and fetch the boat off the car. It was almost fate, both Phil and I had the same idea - load up in daylight for a quick get away in the morning. Just the sort of action that angers the river gods into sending a flood to keep you grounded.

Paddling a flood or not paddling is a difficult decision. I've paddled floods, I've got scary pictures of Chris and I running the Vyrnwy and struggling to get under low bridges. With Bill, I  ran through Shrewsbury during the big flood of 2000. Guiding others is different, yes they want it exciting; but you don't want to scare someone so much that they don't want to paddle again or lose expensive equipment during a long swim. I know how it feels - I've paid into both accounts.

So here's to next weekend! Hopefully a dry spell in the week should calm things down a little and then back out to play. Lets face it, paddling is all about playing. If it becomes anything else, when the stakes become bigger than a knocked ego - you should ask yourself seriously why you're out there and will you being there have any impact on the history of kayaking? If you find yourself unable to answer - go home and get a life that matters.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

River Levels

Keeping a close watch on the EA gauges. Hope to run the Banwy on Sunday - the cold weather has kept us off the river and all the regulars are itching to get back in their boats. With a little bit of the luck the levels will stay up, but not turn into a biblical flood.

News on my health front is also good! Eight years ago I was diagnosed with scar tissue in my lungs, after a change of GP and a hospital referral to get things sorted out it appears someone hadn't put his glasses on to view the x-ray. The doc was looking at a healthy blood vessel! Thank God for thorough Asian doctors who don't just issue steroids like smarties.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Pool sessions

Pool sessions start Monday. Learn to paddle, learn to role or just come and practise in warm water.