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07
Feb

MUCHO REMAR, UN POCO NEDAR

While the Northern hemisphere was providing a poor winter, Zan and the guys went far South to reunite with friends and Rivers they met last year. In Chile and Argentina they found them, summer and many more. Whitewater, smiles, good times and living from day to day; those are things worth chasing!

Love towards Rivers never ceases, no matter where they are, as long as they are flowing Freely! Loads of paddling, a bit of swimming it was!

Leeway Collective

05
Feb

Nile River Festival 2016

The Nile River Festival’s aim is simple; to celebrate the warm water, big rapids and perfect waves of the mighty White Nile with awesome people.

The NRF is a four day event which begins with an evening Big Air Ramp Competition at the NRE base camp; beer fuelled, aerial antics promptly kick off the start of the festival. The Irish boys were as always up for the “craic”, and led the charge on ridiculousness by somehow managing to fit four people in/on the same kayak down the ramp. Whilst there was an abundance of big tricks and crashes throughout the night, nobody quite wowed/shocked the crowd quite as much as Scott Robinson, who took the win with some big airscrews and panams, along with an “artistic” final lap (see photo above).

Day two marks the beginning of the white water events with a gruelling 40km endurance race through big rapids and long flat pools, ending with an obstacle course and obligatory funnel at the finish line. Competitors have to race with a partner to act as safety for each other during the race, and your time doesn’t stop until you both cross the finish line; this rule makes choosing a partner that wants to go at a similar pace essential. My team mate was the infamous Yusuf Basiwaldra, potentially Uganda’s best kayaker right now, and all-round powerhouse on the water. Our pace and race strategy was pure and simple, balls to the wall; we went as hard as we possibly could and led the race for a long time, but sadly by the time we got to around the 35km mark, we both had nothing left when Koa and Nasa began a late charge for the lead and we couldn’t hold them off. Koa and Nasa took a well deserved win and it was truly impressive to see them somehow still have something left in the tank after sprinting non-stop for two hours. Myself and Yusuf finished in second place and were the only team in the top 5 to run Itunda as part of the race.

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Taking place on my favourite wave, and with a scoring system that rewards kayakers that go big and take chances, the Nile Special Freestyle Comp. might well be my favourite freestyle event in the world; competitors pleased the crowd with huge tricks, old school moves and the quintessential wipe out, which on Nile Special can be quite spectacular. I finished in 1st place, with Sam Ward just behind me and young up and comer Jonny Williams in third place.

Check out some of my training rides below:


The NRF concludes the Hendri Cotzee memorial race at Itanda Falls. Itanda is one of the biggest and longest of remaining rapids on the Nile, and with a tight move at the bottom to get to the finish line, it makes for a great race course. I put down a safe and solid run in the prelims, which was sadly not quite enough to make the finals against the local boys who run this rapid almost daily. The stop watch is cast aside for the top five that move on and the finals are all about style and pleasing the crowd. Sam Ward took the win with a great run down but it was Sadat Kawawa in second place who shocked everyone by dropping into the meat of the biggest hole on Itanda and somehow managing to surf out.

My race partner Yusuf had solid performances in all of these events and was crowned NRF Champion, with myself in second, and Sam Ward in third. Palm’s Lowri Davies also took home a well deserved win in the women’s category, with Aminah Nakiirya in second.

With the impending dam already well under way; we are rapidly facing the last few years of Nile River Festivals, be sure to get yourself to Uganda in January 2017 to enjoy this unique event before it’s too late.

See you on the water,

Bren

www.savethewhitenile.org

Photos by Marcus Farnfeild, Martyn Kirby and Haley McKee.

03
Feb

Dominican Republic – Part II: Rio Blanco

Below: The road to the put-in is so infrequently driven it is almost completely taken over by moss. Photo by Steve Krajewski.
Mossy road by SK

In December of 2015 Matthew Beauchamp, Steve Krajewski, Shannon Goshorn, and I headed to the island of Hispaniola to check out the rivers of the Dominican Republic. Although the island was experiencing a pattern of dry weather, we still found options to paddle daily and enjoyed a great time in this lesser known paddling destination. If you missed Part I which included pictures and video from the Rio Yaque del Norte, you can find it HERE.

Below: Adam Goshorn in the second half of the rapid that leads to the tightest part of the canyon. Photo by Steve Krajewski.
AG Boof by SK

The Rio Blanco flows out of the steep mountains east of the city of Banao, almost in the center of the country. We were presently surprised at how great this section of river turned out to be! In fact, we liked it so much we ended up spending four days of our trip paddling the Rio Blanco. There are a number of things that make the Rio Blanco unique. First, it cuts an impressively deep and beautiful canyon with vertical walls that narrow to a width of less than twenty feet across in places. Secondly, the lower section of the Rio Blanco benefits from what is more often a nemesis of whitewater paddlers… a hydroelectric project.

Below: Matthew Beauchamp probing a boof on our first run. Photo by Adam Goshorn.
MB Boof by AG

The unfortunate thing is that the hydroelectric project on the Rio Blanco dewaters the upper section of the river, making it only runnable during larger floods when they open the flood gates. However, the fortunate part for kayakers is that the hydroelectric generating station also provides daily runnable flows for the lower section, a section that surely would not be runnable nearly as often otherwise. The result is a dependable, dam-released, jungle paradise!

Below: Steve Krajewski and Matthew Beauchamp getting back in their boats after a quick scout on our first run. Photo by Adam Goshorn.
SK and MB by AG 1

Our first attempt at figuring out how to access the Rio Blanco was a little bold and a little silly. We drove down the road towards the power plant until we came to a closed gate and then we walked around the gate with our boats and down the rest of the road to the power plant itself. The power plant is located high atop a cliff overlooking the river and not a good access point (and supposedly off limits anyway). Lucky for us, no one was around so we explored the area and eventually found a trail that led downstream behind the power plant, where we scrambled down a steep, overgrown gully to the river and put on.

Below: Steve Krajewski boofing into the heart of the canyon. Photo by Adam Goshorn.
SK Boof by AG

On the next run we were stopped by the guards at the gate, but talked to them a bit and eventually they showed us a trail near their guard house that led all the way to river level. The only catch to this new put-in was that it was a quarter-mile upstream of the power plant. The result being that we would have to scrape down part of the dewatered section of the river and then ferry across the powerful outflow from the power plant. Once we did it a few times, we got quite efficient at this process and it would only take us about 20 minutes to hike in, scrape the quarter-mile to the power plant and make the ferry at the power plant, but the process made it feel like a mini expedition every time we paddled the Rio Blanco.

Below: This video is a competition of footage from multiple runs, but the rapids are shown in order. Edited by Adam Goshorn.

Stay tuned for part III which will feature the Upper Rio Jimenoa!

Until Next Time…

-adam

Below: Post boating refreshments in the city of Banao. Photo by Shannon Goshorn.
MB Beers by SG

27
Jan

Dominican Republic – Part 1: Rio Yaque del Norte

Below: Matthew Beauchamp boofing off the wall.  Photo by Steve Krajewski.

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In December of 2015 Matthew Beauchamp, Steve Krajewski, Shannon Goshorn, and I (Adam Goshorn) headed to the island of Hispaniola to check out the rivers of the Dominican Republic.  Although the island was experiencing a pattern of dry weather, we still found options to paddle daily and enjoyed a great time in this lesser known paddling destination.

Below: Shannon Goshorn lining dropping into a tight move that involved ducking the overhanging wall in the landing.  Photo by Steve Krajewski.

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The Rio Yaque del Norte is the longest river in the Dominican Republic and it offers several sections of whitewater ranging from class II-IV.  Its large watershed means it is rarely too low to paddle, although some sections require more water than others.  We ended up spending four days paddling on the Yaque and spent most of our time on the Las Guazarus section, which seemed to be the most channelized and offer the best option for the low water conditions we were experiencing.

Below: Steve Krajewski boofing a fun double drop.  Photo by Adam Goshorn.

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Below: A completion video from several different laps on the Rio Yaque del Norte at a few different levels. Edited by Adam Goshorn.

Stay tuned for more updates from our time in the Dominican Republic!

Until Next Time…

Adam Goshorn

Below: Adam Goshorn lining up for the kicker on a low volume slide.  Photo by Steve Krajewski.

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24
Jan

This Girl Can’t

Like the unwanted youngest sibling, canoe polo does not get enough love here. But as Pyranha and their sister brand Revenge (http://www.revengepolo.com/) have recently supported a protest against rule changes to the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS)  canoe polo championships, I’m going to spread the love.

As you may know, BUCS have dictated that BUCS canoe polo, the highlight of the student season, will not have an open league this year. It will instead have a men’s league, and a ladies league, and ne’er the twain shall meet. This was announced in October without consultation or explanation. A short explanation was eventually published, and a couple of days ago BUCS announced a weird hybrid open league open to mixed teams from universities who do not enter a ladies’ team.

I think it will be obvious to anyone with any awareness of polo that this decision was made by people who lack exactly that. University of London Canoe Polo have written two excellent open letters to BUCS explaining all the damage these changes will do. You can see them here and here. More clubs have signed these open letters than are regularly able to attend BUCS polo, and British Canoe Polo has recently confirmed its opposition to the rule change. Boycott of BUCS polo is now firmly on the cards. I won’t repeat any of what’s been said about why the rule change is bad, but I want to try to explain why we feel forced to boycott because of it.

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Thanks to UoL Canoe Polo for this image

I love BUCS polo. Not because I stand even the most furiously optimistic hope of impressing on the field, or because I fancy dress to impress. (My duo polo game is pretty strong though.) It’s unreasonably cold, – but let God bring shame upon your house should you dare put on a cag – my tent sucks, and everybody there seems to be much better at polo than me.  But it’s BUCS. Somehow, the cold, the losing endlessly, losing everybody at the party, is worth it.    

And so we work hard for it – I write this with extremities still frosty from a “nice for the time of year” training session in the Bristol docks. Logistical problems have to be solved, the SU begged for money, teams put together, hype publicised… But it’s BUCS. It’s worth it.

So when the rules are suddenly changed without any appreciation of the controversy this would cause, I’m upset. When these rules exclude my friends from playing the best polo, and me from playing the best opponents, I’m upset. When BUCS respond to sustained protest with the slenderest of replies, I’m upset. When BUCS use Student Unions to tell canoe clubs to shut up and remove their protest material, I’m upset. When they claim to improve participation by making it much harder for women to play polo, I’m upset. When they claim to be motivated by student feedback, but push through changes which everyone hates, I’m upset.

I love BUCS polo, but BUCS does not love me. Student polo players across the country put in so much to be able to do their best at the tournament. But when they complain about rules preventing them from doing that, they’ve been told to shut up and take what they get. I don’t want to compete in any competition run like this. And this is why University of Bristol, along with many other canoe clubs, might not be going to BUCS this year. For once, it’s not worth it.

If you also oppose changes to BUCS polo’s open league, please use social media to show your support, using the hashtags #takeastand and #thisgirlcant.

15
Jan

Thanksgiving in San Luis Potosi

Below: Adam Goshorn approaching Cascada de Tamul, which is the take-out for the classic day-run section of the Rio Santa Maria.  Photo by Vitaly Prikhodko.

AG Tamul by VP

For more than a decade I have been traveling to Mexico most winters to enjoy the warm water and great paddling in the states of San Luis Potosi and Veracruz.  This year, Mexico was not in my travel plans and I had committed to a trip to the Dominican Republic for much of December.  However, it turned out that my work schedule created the possibility of being off-work for the whole week of the Thanksgiving holiday, which created an opportunity for a quick trip to San Luis Potosi that I couldn’t resist.

Below: Vitaly Prikhodko running a picturesque drop on the Salto section of the Rio Valles in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Photo by Adam Goshorn

VP Salto 2 by AG

Read the rest of this entry »

06
Jan

The One and Only, Pyranha Shiva

Back in the summer of 2015 I got my first creek boat and it was a Pyranha Shiva Small. My first run in it was on the Upper Nantahala, after that I used it on the Upper Gauley, Tellico, and the South Sauty.

The boat was perfect, every boof I hit, the boat just flew of it. Since the Shiva has high bow rocker it punches through any hole. With the rounder hull the landing off waterfalls is soft and if you mess up the boat resurfaces really fast; I learned that when I took my boof stroke too early on the Tellico at Baby Falls, which is about a 15 foot drop.

Gaf

The Shiva is made to push harder lines, which is one of the things I love the most about it. I love to find the hardest lines of creeks and try to make them even harder, sometimes the lines I take are not even lines you should take. The deck profile of the Shiva makes rolling a piece of cake; I wouldn’t usually be able to hand roll a creek boat or most boats bigger than a play boat, but since the deck also has a good distribution of  volume, it snaps right up, so if you were to be paddling off a really big waterfall where you have to throw your paddle away, the boat will roll right up as long as you know your hand roll or if you flip on a big rapid and you lose your paddle, you can roll up, and it is like you were using your paddle. That’s how easy it is.

Gauley

The outfitting is like sitting on a pillow, at least for me. With the new C4S seat it gives you three different chunks of foam to put under the seat, you can get so comfortable sitting on the seat; once you get the seat to where you want it, it is practically bomb-proof. Once you have your bomb-proof outfitting, you’re ready to take the boat on the water. I can’t say how much I love this boat, it is perfect for me and it just might be perfect for you too!

shiva and me

Hope to see you on the water,

Cat H.

05
Jan

2015, An Extraordinary Year

This year was amazing, I paddled in 3 countries and 6 states. That might not be a lot, but it is a lot for me.

I started off in January with paddling in Alabama, then was off the water for a while because of knee surgery. Then for my first run after surgery, I was off to the Chattooga in South Carolina for a memorial run. Soon after, it was Coosa Fest in Montgomery, Al. I had a blast there, competing in freestyle, and coming in second place. Next, I was off to Columbus, Georgia with the Columbus Hometown Throwdown. I had the time of my life there, competing in boatercross, king of the wave, watermelon race, SUP, and my personal favorite, freestyle. Coming 5th in boatercross, 5th in SUP, and 2nd in freestyle, I loved it. King of the wave and the watermelon race don’t have a placing, the point of those disciplines is just to have fun.

Next I found myself at the Southeastern Kayaking Championship in Bryson City, North Carolina. With coming second in slalom, 12th in downriver racing, and 1st in freestyle. After that I went to the Charlotte National Whitewater Center, where I learned how to have consistent cartwheels and split wheels. That got me pumped, then I was back at the NOC in Bryson City, competing in the annual hometown throwdown, in the freestyle division, I came in 1st.

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I stayed training at NOC for about 3 weeks, then my parents sent me to the Ottawa for the OKS Keener camp. It was life changing. Keeners has made me a better person and boater. I had the time of my life, I couldn’t believe what I got to experience, with big hole beat downs, swift water rescue, first aid training, and big wave surfing. Plus I got to get to know about 15 new friends from all around the world. What made my trip to Canada even better, was that the 2015 ICF Freestyle World Championships were on the Ottawa. Unfortunately I was not there for the competition, but my friends I made at the 2013 ICF World Championships were there, so I got to reunite with them.

Garb

The Ottawa has so many fun rapids like Garburater, where you have so many lines to run. First you can take the main line, which is straight down the middle. If you are like me, you want a fun line, like if you go to river right you have the pipeline. You paddle into a curler wave and then you disappear under water for like 3 seconds. You have the other option of river left of the boof line, there is about a 5 foot drop. You can pogo-stick off it. A pogo- stick is where you pencil into the pour over and throw a sick loop out of it, it’s very hard though. Then once you run the rapid you can paddle up to that ledge, which is a pour-over, you can swim into it and you can get sucked under water for about 15 seconds and pop up down river about 5 feet. My personal favorite is the rapid brain dush. It is a huge whirlpool spot to stick boats in, jump in, and squirt boat.

When I went to go back home to Alabama, I stopped at Hole Brothers in Upstate New York. I had a blast there, one of the great things paddling there was that there was a restaurant on the bank of the river, so after you paddled you just get out of your boat and eat. What could possibly be better, kayaking and food, that’s amazing. Once I got back home, it wasn’t even two weeks, I was off the Gauley Fest in West Virginia. I got to paddle with all of my friends, reunite with my friends from Keeners and other friends from the Ottawa. The Gauley is so much fun. Especially Pillow Rapid, if you get the line right. I did not, I went down it upside down, which was still fun, though it caused a broken camera, busted hands from the rocks, and funny pictures.

Gauley

After Gauley, I went to GAF (Guest Appreciation Festival) and I had a great time paddling. Since GAF is a special occasion, there is a big release of water, so the Upper Nantahala and Cascades are running. I ran the Upper, but not the Cascades. I will leave the Cascades for 2016 or 2017. I had an amazing time of the Upper Nantahala paddling with one of my really good friends. With big boofs, big holes, and technical rapids, it’s a fun run.

Gaf

Next up, was the Fall Columbus Hometown Throwdown. That was fun, I made new friends, learned new tricks, and competed. I came in 4th in boatercross, 5th in SUP, and 3rd in freestyle.

So after that, I thought I was done paddling for the year. I guess I was wrong.

Columbus

I went to the Tellico River in Tellico Plains, Tennessee. Since it was my first creek run, I was a little scared, plus there was a 15 foot waterfall. Then I got on the water ran it and had a blast. My favorite rapid would probably be either the ledges or Baby Falls.

After that I went to run the South Saughty which is in Guntersville, AL. It was awesome, the river’s starting rapid was a little 5 foot ledge, which I thought would be a good starter for people who are learning to boof. The South Saughty had some really technical rapids though, there was one where you had to boof this big hole, paddle your butt off to river left to go halfway under a rock just to paddle back to the right and boof another rock, and paddle to the middle to avoid the undercuts on both sides of the river.

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After that run it was Christmas, where it should be cold in Alabama. Nope, not this year. It was 73 degrees in Alabama, I think that’s crazy, but that’s Alabama. So since it had rained a lot the Mulberry River was up. I went and met up with friends there, the two biggest rapids on there are Lunch Stop and 5-0. Mostly because of the huge ten foot waves. At Lunch Stop there is a nice wave there, it was so fun. I got a couple blunts, pan-ams, and I got my first airscrew. I was super excited about that. Then I paddled down to 5-0, the rapid looked like a rapid on the Ottawa at high water. It was crazy, but the gauge was at 12 foot, so I expected that. There was a good wave-hole, it was fun I got a loop and couple blunts. So that is my end of the year wrap up, I had an amazing year paddling. I am so excited to see what 2016 holds.

Here is my end of the year edit:

Hope to see you on the water,
Cat H.

04
Jan

Gringo Journal

A collection of short diary entries and photos from Mexico, December 2015. 

Day 1
The trip started off with a bang as we headed straight to Truchas, a cool little 20fter into a perfect 50fter. Waterfalls don’t get much cleaner than this, the only downside is a 80ft rappel down the side of an un-runnable waterfall. This was my first time abseiling and I was utterly terrified, if I could have found any way to avoid having to dangle from a rather long way up off a glorified piece of string, I would have. Sadly there was no alternative and eventually after several (hundred) reassurances that as long as I kept hold of the rope all would be okay, I pushed off from the edge and made my way down. I can honestly say I have never been happier to have my feet back on the ground. I was however even happier to be greeted with the feeling of free fall once again!

Day 2
I got to run the famous Big Banana section of the Alseseca, set in amongst a beautiful gorge this river is full of fun moves and great drops. My favourite drop being Silencio, a 40fter with a tricky little move at the top and a cave on river left at the base of the falls. Thanks to some huge boils at the bottom, the hit is really soft and boofing it is the line of choice to stay away from the cave on the left. It also feels amazing to fly off something this size and not even get your head wet.

Day 3
The Lower Jahlacingo has been one of my dream runs for a long time, featuring three main drops, Twisted Pleasure (50ft), Dirty Sanchez (40ft) and Dungeon (30ft) and a whole load more of good rapids and smaller ledge boofs this river quickly became one of my new favourites,

Day 4
Back to Big Banana. More good lines with good people and thankfully as of yet no time in the cave at the base of Silencio. Staying at Adventurec is awesome, all I have to do every day is go kayaking, food is there when I wake up and when I get back from kayaking, shuttles are easy and the only real hardship is the daily struggle not to open a bar tab… Living the dream! Can’t wait to run the Tomatas.

Day 5
Packing up and heading to the Rio Oro, meant to be a really fun, chilled out river with two 20fters, I don’t want to go but the boys are making me. Would much rather stay and run Silencio more.

Day 6
My school teachers were right, I am an idiot, I can’t believe I didn’t want to come to the Oro!
This river is amazing, tonnes of good ledge boofs, two great 20fters and the takeout is on the beach! It’s just like the East Lynn back home, except better in every way.

Day 7
One more day in paradise on the Oro and then we are packing up and heading back to Veracruz. Nine people, one van… No air conditioning… Living the dream?

Day 8
One of the biggest draws to Mexico for me were the two Tomata waterfalls.
Tomata 1 is a perfect 60fter that is pretty low stress and good fun to fly off. However just down stream lurks her big, bad sister Tomata 2. 80ft tall with a hard lead in and a technical lip, some of the world’s best creek boaters have consumed faeces of this drop. Finally going to get the chance to run the two Tamata waterfalls, been dreaming of flying off these two for so many years! Hopefully it all goes well!

Day 9
Had an okay line on Tomata 1 but I had the line of my life on Tomata 2! So stoked on it, didn’t even roll at the bottom!
One of the boys (Edward) had a great line off Tomata 1 but crashed off Tomato 2 and broke his back, took us forever to get him out of the gorge, but he’s in the hospital and is semi-alright, gonna work on getting him home tomorrow.

Day 10
Put Edward in the Heli to go to a bigger hospital to get checked out properly and then hopefully he’s gonna fly home. Sounds like he’ll make a full recovery in 6 months, phew. Scary stuff!

Day 11
Back on the water, went for a chilled lap on Big Banana. More (thankfully) good lines of Silencio. Also, gave in and opened a bar tab… Sigh.

Day 16
Had the hardest time finding this bloody book, it’s not in the last place you look, it’s in the place you could never have imagined it being in the first place. (Underneath some wet thermals) (Doh). Guess what I have been up to for the past few days? (Asides from looking for this book) Kayaking.

Day 17 
Went back to the Jahlacingo, Had good lines off everything, Starting to feel more and more comfortable on this river. Maybe my favourite creek run ever.

Day 18
More Big Banana laps.

Day 19
Today I ate faeces of Twisted pleasure, can’t believe my deck didn’t blow and that it only sort of hurt. So much for feeling really comfortable on the Jahlacingo.

Day 22
Packing up and heading home. Feels like I have been in a car crash. So sore, So worth it. Mexico is so sick! Can’t wait to come back…

Photos by Thomas Farren

04
Jan

On Kayaking After a Life Changing Injury

The details don’t matter so much about the series of events that led up to my injury. We were at a lake, there was a sandbank, I dove, and then for me, there was darkness. What does matter in this story is that I was 14, I was paralysed from the chest down, and I was face-down in the water.

The next bit of my life was painful, terrifying, and very confusing. After being pulled onto the beach, I was flown to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. I was brought into that bright white room with covered face and rushed actions. There were scans, x-rays, pinching and prodding. My mother arrived first, and then my father, and then the doctor came in. I don’t remember most of the conversation, what I do remember were the words “Your neck is badly broken and we need to operate right now.”

I was in complete denial. I’d been an athlete my entire life. Almost every spare moment of my childhood I had been on a field or on the water. I had taken a few knocks on the head before, and was convinced this was just a stinger, and the numbness would go away. I was quickly pulled back to reality as I moved toward surgery. The neurosurgeon explained I had suffered a burst fracture, and that there was barely anything left of my C7 vertebrae. That one moment of impact changed my life. Before ending up in that bed I was 14 and fearless. Now I’m 23 and fearless, but the difference now is I have eight rods, twelve screws and a cage holding my head onto the rest of my body, so I take a few more precautions nowadays.

What happened in the water that day nine years ago is on my mind every day. I will never forget hearing the words “It is unlikely you will ever walk again,” or the months of painful rehab where I had to learn how to walk again. I’ll certainly never forget lying in a hospital bed and talking about all the things I was going to do in my kayak when I was better. After two surgeries and fifteen days I accomplished what we light-heartedly call in our family “First Steps: Take Two.” I learned to walk all over again. I beat the overwhelming odds and it was nothing short of a miracle, but returning to kayaking was easier said than done.

Without sounding too confident, I was a very good kayaker at 14. I grew up on the water, I was raised by and around former river guides, and to this day I know the currents of a river better than the streets of a city. At the time there weren’t kids’ boats readily available. At 13 and 14, I was finally fitting into adult boats and I couldn’t get enough. Growing up, my best friend and I had shared a little, red fibreglass kayak. We took it down the Middle Yough and learned how to roll and progressed and had one epic childhood on the river. When we finally got bigger and fit into play boats we were going on runs with our families during the day and loop runs in the evening. I was addicted, confident, fearless, and had some monster dreams about what I’d paddle next. We watched kayaking videos almost every night and I was ready to paddle on every continent.

Breaking my neck changed all of that. During my recovery I talked a big game about getting back into my boat and pushing on to go bigger than ever before. Physically, but most of all mentally, that has turned out to be a mountain I’m still climbing today. I was injured in June and was in rehab until February. For the first 6 months I wasn’t allowed to lift my arms above my head, I tripped constantly over nothing as my nerves misfired, and there were times during that winter that I doubted I would ever paddle again. When spring rolled around, I was still recovering but I was strong and very determined.

In May, almost a year after the injury, the day I had been working towards finally came. That morning I pulled on my spray skirt while sitting next to my best friend in his boat and his father and my father in their Shredder. We were sitting on the banks of my home run, my beloved Lower Yough, and I was among my most trusted paddling partners  — and I was utterly and completely terrified. I paddled out in my playboat, got a sense of my edges again, took a few more strokes and we were off. I didn’t know if I could still roll, if I remembered how, or if my neck would bend to let my head stay down. Sandwiched between my best friend and our fathers I made my way down that river with short, terrified strokes and made every effort in the world not to flip over. I didn’t, and if I had I would’ve pulled my skirt and probably ended up in tears in the Shredder. That was the first day I ever paddled defensively. That was my home river, a run that I had made hundreds of times, and I had made my triumphant return, except it felt far from a victory for me.

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Now we’re getting into the real down and dirty reason I’m telling this story. I had changed. I had to start over, and I was scared. I still am. I thought that once I hit the water it would all come back to me; not just my skills but the fire and passion too. Instead I was met with hesitation on my part and I hated myself for that. For months in the hospital and during my recovery I had imagined myself getting back on the water, kayaking with all the passion in the world and becoming the best female paddler in the world. That first run back on the Yough flipped my world upside down again. It was one of the first times I realized that I could never go back to the way things used to be, and that I would never become the best paddler in the world.

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Here’s the big dirty secret: your injuries stick with you. Even if your surgery goes flawlessly, you work your butt off in rehab and finish sooner than projected, nothing can prepare you mentally for getting back out on the water that first time. As much as I wanted to get on the water and rip around and hit every move I imagined, I couldn’t do it. I have tried for years to throw myself into kayaking with the same daring attitude that I once did, but I simply can’t do it. But guess what? That’s perfectly ok! Every stroke I take on a river is an absolute blessing to me.

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And I’m still a pretty damn good paddler. Don’t get me wrong, despite what happened to me and my pesky, worrying brain, I still charge hard on the water. I travelled and paddled all over the USA this summer as well as hitting up some hometown classic like the Upper Yough, Upper Gauley and The Big Sandy. I was confident in my lines and I made every one of them. I get to get out on the water, experience beautiful places, make new friends and spread the sport I love to people of all ages. Do I think that my injury affects the way that I kayak? Hell yeah it does. I may never paddle Gorilla on the Green or run an 80 foot waterfall. It’s not because I don’t want to, those are some of my biggest dreams, it’s because if I mess up that line, the consequences for me are monumentally huge, and I know what it feels like to lay in a hospital bed and be told I’m never going to walk again, and I will not let that happen again.

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I’m calculated, I’m careful, and I may not go as huge as I’m capable of going but that’s because I’m shaped by my past. We all are. It’s ok to back down from a line if you have doubts about making it. It’s ok to back down from a line if you dislocated your shoulder last year or knocked out a few teeth a few months ago or scraped your knuckles to the bone 10 years ago. There is no shame in that. Kayaking is what you make of it and if you’re restricted by an injury, don’t make it a terrifying experience. It’s always been so important to push your limits, but it’s even more important to know them. It took me an incredibly long time to get comfortable in a boat again, and yes my accident changed the course of my kayaking life, but is knowing for certain you can smooth a line before you approach it such a bad thing? Know your skill, be confident in your line, and if you happen to miss it don’t let it wreck your day. Don’t necessarily kayak for a moment of adrenaline, but for lifetime of satisfaction and challenge. Coming from a bionic woman, don’t put your health at risk just to prove something and smile because you’re on the river and you love to be there. It’s the best place in the world.

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