... or so I was told many years ago when I made my first tentative paddle strokes on white water at Symonds Yat rapids. This week has seen me upside down and back to front almost as often as paddling the right way around, but despite this I'm convinced that I am indeed getting better.
A leisurely canoe on the Wye between Erwood and Glasbury was rudely interrupted by Hell Hole rapid, where my hasty readjustment to run a fast chute backwards was described as 'the coolest thing I've seen all year' by one of our group. If only it had been fully intended...
The Wye was only a warm up for 2 days as a mock student on a 4 star kayak assessment in North Wales organised by Getafix coaching. The first day was spent on the Vrynwy, a new river to all of the candidates, as well as me, Laura and the other 'guinea pigs'. With pretty consistent white water almost from the word go, the upper section of the river was fantastic fun, and not too difficult to run. Reaching Dolanog Weir - a pretty horrendous looking set of drops with a tree in the flow for good measure - we took the sensible option and walked around it.
Further down river, things began to get more interesting. Our leader for one section skidded high onto a rock running one drop that looked fairly innocuous from above, but proved to be far trickier. I tried to run the drop to the left, but was forced onto a rock, capsizing me only about 2 metres above the drop. Common sense overcame my initial instinct to try to roll, and I hunkered down instead with my face pressed close to my deck. Four or five thuds followed as the back of my head bounced off the rocks, until eventually the thumping stopped and I rolled back up, safe but disorientated at the bottom of the rapid. Craig, one of the candidates, insisted that I took the perfect line, with the only problem being that I was upside down at the time! Given the amount of expensive kit involved in kayaking, I was pleased to finally make use of my helmet.
Day 2 was spent on the Dee between Horseshoe Falls and Llangollen. The river was high, with the island at Serpent's Tail rapid partially flooded. After a bit of consultation with Pete, the assessor, I decided to run the main drop, and came up with a fairly detailed plan: Leave the eddy and ferry glide across to the start of the wave train. Follow the wave train towards the drop. Hard left into the drop, hard right out of the bottom. Here's what actually happened: Leave the eddy and battle across the flow, hitting the wave train part way down instead of at the top. Battle to stay on the wave train, struggle to avoid capsizing above the drop. Oh, hold on a minute - there's the drop. Fall down the drop into a foaming wall of white water. Oh dear, I seem to be upside down again. Wait. Wait. I think I might be out of the rapid now, try a roll. And again. That's better, I can breathe again. Head for the eddy. Capsize again on the eddy line. Roll back up again and catch breath.
Further shenanigans and playing in stoppers downstream led to me rolling 3 or 4 times more over the course of the day, but oddly enough left me more confident in my own abilities than before, which brings me to today. Cheque in the post, 4 star training booked.