The rain finally arrived this week. In the space of 24 hours last Wednesday the rivers went from scrapy low to super high.
I must admit to having mixed emotions when this type of weather arrives. As a kayaker I feel very excited as I know that I will probably get some great runs down some of my local rivers in Wicklow. Most of the time these rivers are too low to paddle. These are the days we long for when we can finally get out and have some fun. Woo hoo.
On the other hand, flooded rivers can often bring dangerous conditions with tragic outcomes. Rivers in flood behave very differently to rivers at normal flow. Sometimes the desire to go kayaking means people getting on rivers when they would be better off to walk away.
In a previous blog post I spoke about outcomes. In the age of social media, i-phones, go pros, waterproof cameras etc. it seems that we can become fixated on running a specific river, rapid, drop or section of river. Cameras (sometimes several cameras) at the ready we paddle said sections, sometimes basing our perception of the day’s kayaking on how this section went. So what?
Well I see a couple of problems with this. While driving a young kayaker home later that day he told me how he had missed his line several times on a particular drop. The more he ran the drop, the worse the line was getting. The river was particularly busy that day and there were a lot of people watching on the bank. The young kayaker was worried about what everyone else would think and this was affecting his kayaking performance. More than that though it was affecting his mood and enjoyment of the day. I couldn’t help feeling sorry that after spending a whole day on a river paddling really well and having fun with friends that he would go home disappointed and unhappy based upon making a small mistake because of the pressure of people (and cameras) watching. I too ran the drop badly and less than 12 hours later the video appeared on Facebook!
Two days previously I watched a group of three get on the bottom section of a river in flood. I was fairly sure before they got on that it would end badly so I pointed out to them that no one had run the section that day. They got on the river anyway and one of them swam almost immediately. This kayaker was lucky that there happened to be someone on the bank with a good aim to throw a rope. It is up to each of us to make our own decisions about what to paddle. However where something appears unsafe I think it is pertinent to let others know that they may be putting themselves in danger. Later that day, the same group got on another river in flood and lost their kayaks.
4 times in 4 days I advised people of lesser kayaking experience than me not to run certain rivers or sections of river. This can be a difficult thing to do. Some of this was while I was working and some of it was while I was paddling with friends. If someone of more experience than me advises me to walk around or walk off a river, I will listen. The rivers aren’t going anywhere. We can always come back tomorrow.
Even with good decision making things can still go wrong. I got my paddles pinned on a river, had a client cut her lower lip after she capsized and hit a rock and had a another client’s boat and gear go over a drop to be picked up by other paddlers at the bottom. But we also had some of the most fun and enjoyable kayaking we have had in a long time with a great atmosphere and a community of people brought together by a shared passion for kayaking. We also had some great sing songs in the pub..but that’s another story!
Might I suggest that we all calm down a bit and try to live in the moment a little more. Kayaking down a river is a journey with ups and downs, highs and lows. We are privileged to be there in the first place. We get to enjoy the company of great people and take part in an activity that is respectful of the environment and wildlife. We are out in the fresh air keeping fit and healthy. We are giving our adrenal glands a good pumping. We are having fun. We are trying to keep each other safe.
There’s nothing wrong with getting excited about a crux rapid or drop and taking pictures and footage. So long as we can keep it in context and see it as part of the bigger picture of a day out on the river. It’s far more important to keep our safety skills and decision making sharp and to enjoy what we are doing.
Finally just to say a huge well done to the L4 skills trainees, to the intermediate gang on the river trip and most importantly to the beginners on Sunday morning who braved Baltic conditions to enjoy paddling for the first time.