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25
Jan

A Month in New Zealand

In early December, I left the frigid East Coast and flew to New Zealand into Auckland to meet Boise North Fork boater Ryan Mack for the beginning of what would soon to be one of the most epic paddling adventures of my life. Ryan and I had never met, but we had mutual connections with two friends, Adam Johnson and Brian Kish. I’ve kayaked with Adam and Brian on several trips internationally and both are exceptional paddlers. They arrived in New Zealand two months prior to us and were currently paddling on the South Island.

Ryan getting his boof on at Tutea Falls. Photo by Brenton Petrillo.

Ryan had a friend in Auckland who had picked us up from the airport. She let us stay at her home for a few days so we could take some time to purchase a car and recover from the jet lag. Thank you to Amanda and her family for putting up with us for a few days!

We spent three days in Auckland looking for a car and being typical tourists but we eventually made our way to Rotorua. This is where we paddled the beautiful Kaituna and spent the next few days of our trip.   After a day of running laps on the upper section, we hooked up a group to paddle down the Awesome and Smokey gorges.  Thank you to the local paddlers, Mike Roy and Rhys Elliot, for leading us all down this magical section of river! We waited another two days in Rotorua for our third compadre, Michael Charles, who was flying into Auckland to join our adventure. Michael caught a ride from Auckland to Rotorua and we took the opportunity to show him down our new favorite run. Michael was renting a boat out of Christchurch on the South Island (over 500 miles from where we were currently located) so we found him a boat to use for the day on the upper Kaituna.

The first leg of my New Zealand journey.

The next day we left Rotorua to catch the Sunday release of the Wairoa River in Tauranga. We met up with Rhys again, who graciously showed us down another one of his favorite runs. This river is short but action-packed with some quality rapids. We needed to catch our ferry ride to the South Island so we asked Rhys if there was anything worth running on our way to down to Picton. He recommended Huka Falls in Taupo which was very close to the Wairoa. We arrived at the falls around eight in the evening and took some time to scout our line.  All three of us were able to fire up the falls right before dark, which was the perfect way to end our time on the North Island.

It’s a little hard to see but here I am coming off of Huka Falls. Photo by Michael Charles.

Michael throwing a mean switch wheel.  Photo by Matt Winter.

Over-rotating just a tad too much. Photo by Matt Winter.

We made our ferry ride the following afternoon and secured a boat for Michael to use on the South Island in Murchison. This was all thanks to Ryan’s friend, Allison Dwyer, who flew into Christchurch to paddle with us on the South Island. She strapped the boat to the top of her rental (a Toyota Yaris) and drove it all the way to us in Murchison. Along with Allison, we met up with our friends Brian Kish, Adam Johnson, James Douglas, and Hannah Kessinich to do some boating on the Lower Mātakitaki.  James and Hannah were other boaters from the States and were in New Zealand on work visas. Afterwards, our established South Island friends showed us to Mauria Falls, which is a perfect thirty-foot waterfall that is great for stomping or throwing downriver freestyle moves.

We began to make a move to our next paddling destination, Hokitika, and our radiator unexpectedly cracked. We ended up in Murchison for an extra day but we were super lucky the small town’s only mechanic could get us in right before the holiday. So we didn’t lose a day of paddling, we went to the Earthquake section of the Buller right outside of town while the car was getting worked on.

Coming through the first drop on the Upper Kakpatahi. Photo by Brian Kish.

We continued our trip to Hokitika, which is where the real fun began. We got our fill of class five boating immediately when Adam volunteered to show us down the Upper Kakapatahi. This is a short run with a super steep hike out but totally worth it for the quality of rapids.

The next morning we met up with Burgess, a friend of Ryan’s from Boise, who lives in New Zealand for part of the year. Burgess volunteered to show us down the Styx River which is one of the best runs you could access by foot in Hokitika. This run has a four hour hike in and I was stoked to have a portage pack (a backpack used to carry your kayak long distances) for the first part of the hike.  The rapids on this run were complex and allowed little room for error, but it felt especially good when you would style your line through them.

After getting a taste of the West Coast white water, we decided to try to do some of the wilderness runs we had heard so much about before arriving on the South Island. The team thought the Arahura River was a great one to start with.  We used a helicopter to fly our boats in and hiked up the trail for a good five hours that went along the river.  It was a good move considering the trail was difficult enough without having a boat on your shoulder.The Arahura has a very unique set of rapids which demands you to catch break outs fast and the ability to make your move on the fly. Some of the hydraulics were pretty sticky and would hold you if you weren’t careful.  It reminded me of some of my favorite rivers back on the East Coast in the States.

 

Dent Falls marks the half way point on the Arahura river. Photo by Tegan Owens.

The Arahura has a very unique set of rapids which demands you to catch break outs fast and the ability to make your move on the fly. Some of the hydraulics were pretty sticky and would hold you if you weren’t careful.  It reminded me of some of my favorite rivers back on the East Coast in the States.

 

A much better perspective of Dent Falls. Tegan Owens coming out of the last sequence with Brian Kish following behind getting vertical. Photo by Brenton Petrillo

Hokitika was hammered with rain over the next few days so we were apprehensive to do any runs that required a helicopter to access in fear that the rivers would rise on us while on the water.  Michael and I used our two days off the water to develop a plan for when the rain would subside and scheduled our group a flight to the Perth River for the end of the week.  While researching all potential rivers in Hokitika, we came across a section river that was recently descended by locals a few years ago called Toaroha Canyon. We gathered some beta concerning levels for the canyon from Josh at Eco Rafting, a local rafting company who had ties with the local paddlers in the area. We decided to make an attempt to go in the next morning.

Looking at the landslide we would soon be hiking down. Photo by Michael Charles.

We had severely underestimated how intense the hiking would on the trail into the canyon. The majority of the hike was uphill and after four hours we were feeling completely exhausted. After the grueling hike up, we needed to descend down a sketchy landslide off the trail in order to access the river from the top of the canyon. We eventually came to a dead end where the landslide falls off of a hundred foot cliff with heavy jungle blocking both of the sides.

Feeling defeated and ready to hike back to our car, we suddenly heard a ‘yip’ from the top of the landslide and to our surprise it was a group of boaters! Jordy Searle, Ari Walker, and Taylor Westin were all locals trying to bag their first run of the season. Not only did they lead us to the put-in but they also let us tag along on their run. If you are reading this and considering epic section of white water for your next kayaking trip, I would highly recommend you go in with someone who is knowledgeable of the access and the run itself. Although the run is short, it is also tight, steep, and very hard to scout in certain spots. Huge thanks to those boys for leading us down!

This drop begins with a technical lead in and ends with a fifteen-foot boof to the left. Photo by Taylor Westin.

Getting the boats ready for the flight.  Photo by Brian Kish.

Michael and I were up again early to meet the rest of our team in Whataroa where they were staying for our flight into the Perth. Along with our core group members, we were joined by Tegan, Burgess, and paddling superstar Nouria Newman.The flight to the top was short and sweet. From above it was hard to tell how steep the rapids were actually going to be because everything looks so tiny from the sky.

Burgess nailing one of the best boofs on this run. Photo by Brian Kish.

The flight to the top was short and sweet. From above it was hard to tell how steep the rapids were actually going to be because everything looks so tiny from the sky. The Perth was one of my favorite rivers from the trip. There are so many quality rapids on this run and it ends with one of the most spectacular gorges I’ve ever seen.

 

Adam coming through a unique rapid on the Perth. Photo by Brenton Petrillo

Brian, Adam, and I were completely exhausted after a long day on the water so we spent the majority of the next day recuperating. The rest of the group drove back to Hokitika to catch up on sleep and take a break from all the rain. After two long days of kayaking, my intentions were to spend the day sleeping in the car. To my surprise, I ran into Ari from our Toaroha Canyon mission. He recommended that we should try to get on Tatare Creek. Tatare Creek is Franz Josef’s local high water run and it only comes in after heavy amounts of rain. After an afternoon downpour, Brian shuttled Adam and I to the top. It proved to be a really sweet run with a continuous set of rapids! What started as a day that was meant for recovery had turned into one of the most memorable times from the trip.

The rest of the week was spent making our way down to Queenstown for the Nevis Bluff Rapid on the Kareawu River. On our way there, the group bagged descents down the Moeraki and the Turnbull rivers, which are both very close to Haast (Over 100 miles North of Queenstown). The Nevis Bluff Rapid doesn’t seem like much when you are scouting it from a hundred feet up from the pull-off, but once you are on the river the rapids are massive. The Retrospect Rapid tested what little big water reading skills I had. Joined again by Nouria, our core group of paddlers had a successful descent down the Citroen Rapid.

Coming through the end of Citroen on the Nevis Bluff Rapid. Photo by Brian Kish

We spent the last leg of our trip in Hokitika and Franz Josef doing three more runs down the Whitcombe, Waitaha, and Whataroa rivers. All three runs require you to fly in with a helicopter and have their own unique rapids, spectacular scenery, and beautiful wildlife. My favorite of the three was the Waitaha. Currently, the Waitaha is under threat from a white water dam proposal. It would be a shame if other kayakers were not able to experience this incredible river. Please take a moment to sign this petition to stop the dam that is being put in place on the Waitaha.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN THE PETITION

Brian watching the pilot attach our netted boats to the helicopter for our ride up to the Whitcombe River. Photo by Brenton Petrillo.

One of the drops on the lower section of the Whitcombe. Photo by Brian Kish.

One of the more complex rapids on the Waitaha at the beginning of the run. Photo by Brian Kish.

Adam nailing the line on one of the final rapids on the Waitaha.  Photo by Brian Kish

Michael following me through a long and intimidating rapid on the Waitaha. Photo by Brian Kish.

The last leg of my journey in New Zealand.

Our group was challenged with some of the most difficult white water and portages we had faced yet but in the end, we had all persevered with some incredible stories to remember. Michael, Brian, and I all flew out of Christchurch leaving Adam and Ryan with vehicles to sell. Although I was bummed to see the trip come to an end I was also stoked to get home and see my friends and family.

I have been home for over a week now and am just now beginning to feel settled in again. The weather outside is a little bit colder but not too much different than when we were on the South Island. Hopefully, the rain will bring in some classic runs in Northeast Pennsylvania or West Virginia so that I can prepare for the next adventure.

Cheers,

Brenton

20
Jan

Thoughts on the Pyranha Speeder

Pyranha Speeders on the waterside

“The Pyranha Speeder is a great boat to introduce the wing paddle technique, as it is stable enough to concentrate on the paddling technique rather than on balancing the boat; the Speeder also has good speed on flat water.” – Stefan Siebert, Senior Lecturer German Sport University Cologne

“The Speeder really excels when paddling the busy and choppy River Rhein, even with beginners. Its versatility gives the boat a central role in our multi boat approach to learn paddling.” – Edwin Jakob, Senior Lecturer German Sport University Cologne

For more information and specs, have a look at the Pyranha Speeder and Pyranha Speeder Rapid product pages.

17
Jan

2016, A Year in Review

2016 has been one of epic proportions. This year I went to 12 states and 2 provinces, which is a lot for me. I started off January in Rock Island, TN and Columbus, GA. Back in January  there was a lot of rain, like to the point to where is was flooding all over the South East. Since it rained so much all the waterfalls were running at Rock Island. These waterfalls are amazing becasue they are between 15 and 20 ft. Once you finish running one of the many waterfalls you can climb up the side of a rock and run them again. This is practically a playground for waterfall running.

I also spent a lot of my time this year in Columbus, GA. Since it rained, the river was at flood stage, therefore the rapids were massive. While I was there, there was a wave that was formed. It was a really hard wave to get onto because of all the boils and swirly water. Once you did it get on it, it was really fun. The wave was really difficult to get a pass to throw a trick, but once you did you would fly. I was able to perfect my blunt and make it super consistent.

Then in February, there were the Alabama Cup Races. This was slalom and boatercross, the slalom course was pretty easy, but the hard part was after you just paddled as fast as you could the finish the course, you had to hike your boat back up the river, which was a long walk. Then I did the boatercross race, which was my favorite. I came 3rd in finals and I was pretty stoked on that cause it was my first time racing at the Alabama Cup Races.

In April it was Tallulah Fest. This is definitely one of my favorite festivals in the South East. On the Friday I got there, a few friends and I went to go paddle Section 4 of the Chattooga. It was awesome. There was a really fun 7 foot waterfall, but it was tricky becasue if you boofed it wrong you could go slam  your bow into a big rock, which would probably hurt. Then there is part of the river called Five Falls. It sounds worse than it really is. Five Falls is class IV and V, its starts of with Entrance rapid which is basically a bumpy slide into an eddy above an under cut. Then there’s Corkscrew, which is just avoiding big holes. The next part is called Crack which is a little 4 foot drop between two massive rocks, but here’s the catch. It’s only about 2-3 feet wide, so just barely big enough for a creek boat. Then the next part is Jaw Bone. In this rapid you’re trying to avoid the massive rock that sticks out, but if you hit rock you could break your jaw because it’s the perfect height to wear it would hit your face. Then the last rapid is called Sock em Dog, which is a boof that is about 5 feet and if you miss the boof you get trashed in a gnarly hole and you would most likely swim.

The next day I ran Tallulah. I was a little scared becasue there’s a rapid on there called Oceana which is a massive 50 foot slide. With a huge wall of water and you would think  its a rock, but it’s literally just water being splashed up. I was a little scared to run it, but after standing around for hours staring at the rapid, I finally got in my boat. I paddled up the edge, got the thumbs up that says I am clear to run. Once I got the lip I just started sliding. It’s a bit of a bumpy ride and then you see the massive wall of water. You hit it, then you lift your bow to glide over the hole at the bottom and then when I finished I was so stoked. That was one of the biggest things I had ever run and it was amazing.

In May I trained at the Nantahala 2013 worlds feature for the GoPro Mountain Games, which I was attending in June. I was working on all of my tricks and I was going bigger than I ever have. I was able to get so many combos. I started to get my Loop, to Space Godzilla, to Cartwheel. Then I also got my Cartwheel to Split Wheel to Loop to McNasty. Then once June came, I flew to Colorado. When I got in the feature it was very cold, but I loved it because the feature was very steep. There for I got huge loops and Space Godzillas. Then was the freestyle event. I had a lot of fun competing and watching my friends compete. I came in 11th place and  I was ok with that. It was also my first Pro Women’s competition.

Then in July I went to the OKS Keener Program in Canada. This is one of the things I look forward to every year becasue it’s three weeks on the Ottawa River. I learned so many tricks and perfected many too. On certain days we different things, so on Tuesday we practice freestyle kayaking. I chose to go to Garburator (Garb) that day. I told my coach that I wanted to learn to clean Blunt and Pan-Am. Many times I attempted my Pan-Am and kept falling on my face. I was getting a little irritated about it, but that’s the beauty of freestyle kayaking. You can get irritated all you want and fall on your face a million times but the more fail, the closer you are to completing the trick. Then as we were leaving to go to lunch I went for one last ride and as I carved to the shoulder of the wave and got on top of the foam pile. I came down and I had a huge take off and I threw the biggest Blunt of my life. What made it even better was that if was a left blunt, which is my offside.

Then on Thursdays we have Big Water Bacon Beatdown Thursdays. It was the last Thursday of the session and my dad drove to watch. I kept attempting to get beatdown in Right Side Phils. I kept flushing not getting beatdown, I went to see my dad and he told me to go get beatdown and I said it’s impossible. I have tried for the past 2 years and nothing. I went to go get in the water above Phils and little did I know, I was going to get the worst beatdown yet. As I went in I just tucked and hoped I could get beatdown for at least 30 seconds. Well, actually it was about a minute and a half, but when you’re the one getting beatdown, it feels like a lifetime. At first it was fun, then when I tried to breathe flipped over again. So I swallowed a lot of water and I felt like my lungs were on fire. Then after a while I finally attempted to pull my skirt, but I was getting thrown around too much that I couldn’t get to it. Then I was like launched out of the water. I came up and got oxygen and then went back under. At that point I was done. I pulled my skirt and swam. At first I wasn’t to happy, but then I remembered that I am fine and it’s a safe place to learn how to deal with situations like that on other rivers, so after I could finally breathe, my friends and I laughed about it.

In September I went to  Gauley Fest. This year I took my Jed down and I had a blast. I learned where all the Pogo Stick spots are and I attempted many. I failed a lot, but there was this one spot where I finally got it. There wasn’t a lot of water going over the rock so I had to slam my bow down hard and once I got to edge I slammed my bow down the drop and as my bow hit the boils behind the rock I jumped and threw a huge loop. I was so stoked on it. When we got to Pillow Rock I was talked into jumping off the huge rock at the rapid. I was super scared but I did it and it was awesome.

After that I got into my boat and paddled the rapid; this rapid is one of the biggest rapids on the river. Last time I ran it, I experienced the fun part of doing it, upside down… Haha, not really, but this time I took a better one where I wasn’t upside down. I felt like I couldn’t have had a better line through the rapid and the best part was at the end. My goal through the rapid was to not flip and I didn’t, but I stern stalled out the last few waves of the rapid. It was awesome and I was super stoked on it.

In October I did the Ocoee Race. This was my first year doing the race and its four miles of class III and IV. I didn’t expect to win because it was a last minute decision to go. The Ocoee is about 4 miles and my goal was under 40 minutes and I finished the river in about 35 minutes. I was super stoked, and the fun part was becasue it only took me 35 minutes I was able to go do a second lap for fun.

Then in November and though a little of December there was a huge drought throughout the South East, which meant no rain, so no kayaking. Then in December we had a huge rain and my favorite place to run waterfalls was running. Rock Island; I drove up there to go run some stouts. I took my Loki and my 9r. I had a blast in the Loki. I was hitting perfect boofs. Then at the swirly water at the bottom I was hitting stern squirts and it was awesome. I can’t say how much I love my Loki. I ran the waterfalls about 8 times in my Loki. Then I hiked back to my car and grabbed my 9r. I paddled a new part of the waterfall and this line was pretty tricky. You have to go between a tiny slot and boof it on the right but if you boof to hard you will land flat. Which you don’t want to becasue if you land flat off a waterfall you could possibly injure your back. Though if you didn’t boof hard enough you would over vert and land on you face, which isn’t fun. I finally got in my boat and ran the drop. I did it perfectly, I was so happy.

That was how 2016 went for me and I am super stoked on 2017. Here is my 2016 highlight reel.

Hope to paddle with you on the water,

Cat H.

16
Jan

Racing Round the Indian Sub-Continent

I have recently returned home after spending 6 months travelling the Indian sub-continent; the trip was one of the best I’ve been on and was full of awesome rivers, people, food, and cultural experiences. One of the highlights was competing in three events – the Malabar River Festival, MeghaKayakFest, and the Himalayan Whitewater Challenge. All the events had different challenges but were equally fun and I would highly recommend each one to anyone looking for an exciting addition to their kayaking holiday. Here’s a brief write up of my experiences at each one.

Malabar River Festival – July, Kerala

I flew down to Kerala after an incredible couple of weeks of multiday kayaking in Ladakh. I was due to meet some friends in Cochin airport who were arriving from the UK. About a week before my flight problems in Kashmir kicked off and flights were being cancelled. The internet in Ladakh was also cut off, resulting in a tense few days being unsure if I would even make it to Kerala and totally unable to contact anyone. Thankfully everything went to plan (complete with a few hours sleeping with my kayak on the street outside the airport because I was too cheap to pay for a hotel) and I arrived in Kerala ready to defend my 2015 Rapid Rani title. I was also determined to qualify for the final this year – held on the technical Fire Alarm rapid on the Middle Iruvanji, I would need to place in the top 10 after the slalom, boater cross, and down-river heats.

Flying off the start ramp of the boater cross - Mark Swaroop

Flying off the start ramp of the boater cross – Mark Swaroop

The monsoon was light in Kerala this year, giving us ample opportunity to practice the Malabar Express rapid ready for the down-river race. After a week of fun we were soon parading down the streets of Kodencherry and dancing to a band of drummers; this signified the traditional, if surreal, opening ceremony of the festival. This year there were 5 female competitors which was an exciting increase from 2! During the races the speed and manoeuvrability of my 9R was a real asset, particularly in the slalom where I put down the 2nd fastest time of the day in the heats. I comfortably took the win in the female category for each event and my strong performance also meant I qualified for the final in 8th position. Unfortunately, I got pushed into a boulder halfway down the final course and lost valuable seconds upside-down, but I was still buzzing from the whole experience.

Check out the awesome highlights video from the festival by Neil Productions:

MeghaKayakFest – October, Meghalaya

On a trip to Meghalaya last year I fell in love with the beauty of the landscape and the friendliness of the people. The 2016 season fitted perfectly into my travel plans, with the added bonus of coinciding with the first ever MeghaKayakFest. The event would be held on the mighty Umtrew river, my only memories of which were of being very jetlagged and nervous, so I was keen to jump back on and familiarise myself with the section. It was great to be on the water in Meghalaya and see how much my boating and confidence had improved whilst travelling.

Race face! Taking the slalom very seriously - Elvin Lonan

Race face! Taking the slalom very seriously – Elvin Lonan

The expert category included a down river time trial and “expression session” on the last rapid of the lower Umtrew section. I found myself saying for the 2nd time in only 3 months that this was the hardest course I’d ever raced! I was particularly intimidated by the idea of the expression session on such a challenging rapid, but the atmosphere was incredible and all the other competitors were very encouraging. 2 days later there was an intermediate competition alongside the expert slalom and boater cross races, held on the rapid next to the Shillong Whitewater Village (run by the lovely Vincent family who did the incredible job of housing and feeding 40 hungry kayakers throughout the whole festival!). I was the only female competitor in the expert category but it was great to see a decent number of both local and foreign female intermediates.

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Great turn out of both foreigners and locals for the first ever MeghaKayakFest – Elvin Lonan

Here’s the awesome drone footage by Joe Rea-Dickins of my run from the expression session. (Also, make sure you keep your eyes peeled for the new Meghalaya kayaking guidebook which is going to be published and available later this year!)

Himalayan Whitewater Challenge – November, Nepal

This event was a very pleasant surprise during my Nepal trip. Some friends recommended it whilst we were planning to head to the Karnali. Unsure how long the trip would take us and not keen to rush, we decided to enter if we made it back in time. The Karnali was probably my favourite adventure in Nepal – 2 days of fun big volume followed by 2 days of super scenic flat water, thriving with wildlife. After recovering from our long, uncomfortable bus journey back to Pokhara we even had time for an afternoon of practice laps on the very technical slalom course before the festival started.

Super excited to be on the Karnali - Nicole Portheim

Super excited to be on the Karnali – Nicole Portheim

There were 3 days of racing, one each for the down river, boater cross and slalom categories, and 7 female competitors which was an awesome turn out. I felt good during the races – smooth and controlled in my 9R. I managed to get out in front of the crowd in the boater cross and put down a clean, fast 2nd run in the slalom. I was over the moon to come 2nd in the down river and take the win in both the boater cross and the slalom. The prizes were incredible and I even won a free paraglide the next day!

Making the most of my early lead in the boater cross - Steve Merrow

Making the most of my early lead on the boater cross – Steve Merrow

I had such a great time at all 3 events and want to say a massive thank you to everyone who was involved in the organisation and smooth running of the races.

04
Jan

A big day out in the Pyranha Octane

In 2015 Michael Harper and I paddled 120Km on the river Dee from Bala to Chester in one push, taking advantage of high water levels and (questionable) enthusiasm.  It took over 11 hours, It broke me, it was hard, my hands had blisters and I said I’d probably never do it again.  We also chose to do this on the most unlikely day of the year, the one with the shortest daylight.

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Fast forward to the 22nd of December 2016 and once again myself and Mike are gearing up at the start of another big challenge.  To be clear…. this wasn’t my idea…. We had decided that the next stage of our “Big Day Out” challenges would be to attempt to paddle across Scotland, from Fort William to Inverness, once again in a single push.  This trip would be over 90km long and featured several long portages around loch gates too.  Once again following tradition we chose one of the days in the year where we had the least daylight.  I have completed the trip 3 times previously but usually taking 3 days from start to finish!great-glen-map

To keep us moving fast on this trip we chose to use the Pyranha Octane as we knew that it would be able to maintain a good speed but also deal with the harsh conditions we were expecting.  With limited experience in surf skis we made sure we headed out for some training and some paddling in the dark to get used to our boats before the big day.
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We set off at about 6.15am after a little bit of boat set up and packing the kit that we would be taking with us.  Getting straight onto the canal at Neptunes Staircase we had the wind behind us, but it was clear that it was going to be a cold day.

As we started to chew up the miles on the first part of the canal we then moved onto Loch Lochy.  I’ve always experienced challenging and varied conditions on Loch Lochy previously, being able to look behind me and see clear blue skies and sunshine and look in front of me and see a foreboding storm.  Once again Lochy came up with the goods, as the seemingly benign conditions allowed us to paddle into one of the more exposed areas of the Loch just as a storm came seemingly out of nowhere.  The half hour where the storm hit focused us quite a lot, we were separated more than we would have liked to have been and it certainly felt like we were reminded that what we were attempting was not an easy task.  We knuckled down and made it through the storm physically unscathed but mentally we had been pushed.

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After a few hours of improved conditions and with the wind still behind us we arrived at Fort Augustus which is virtually half way on the journey.  Meeting up with our support crew (my Dad and his car) we quickly grabbed a well-earned bite to eat and put back on into the biggest Loch of the day, Loch Ness.

Loch Ness is that big that your mind certainly begins to wander and it is no surprise that legend has it that a giant mythical creature lives in there, after spending a few hours on its dark water you can certainly believe it.

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As darkness fell once again, so did the temperatures and we began to get cold….worryingly cold.  There was certainly a moment where we felt like we could have called it off but it is surprising what a couple of energy bars and gels can do for you when you need a boost.  After a bit of food and with new found motivation to finish the task we carried on, with a drop in the wind once more it felt like we were flying again!

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After 15 hours we finally arrived at the end, beaten, exhausted and cold, the full day out had really taken its toll on us.  We never set out to break any records or to be the first, but we did set out to have an adventure and we most certainly did!

Huge thanks go to Mat Wilkinson from Pyranha, Andy Lees and Will Evans from Go Kayaking North West and Stu Morris of VE Paddles for all of their help and support in making this day come together

21
Dec

Meghalaya 2016

It’s been an absolutely awesome season out here in Meghalaya. A few of us headed out in July, a month or two before the conventional season kicked off, to see what gems were hiding in the monsoon months.

First descent of the Lower Umkhen

After five years of paddling out here we’re really starting to understand how the rivers work, what gradient to look out for and where to find the good sections of whitewater.

During the rainiest part of this year’s relatively weak monsoon we headed to the Jantia Hills, home to Meghalaya’s steep bedrock creeking. We paddled some great new sections and found a lot of massive rapids and drops that needed a bit more water and the next generation of chargers to come and throw themselves off.

Below a massive set of drops and slides near Rymbai, Jantia Hills

Below a massive set of drops and slides near Rymbai, Jantia Hills

As the rains started to subside we set off on some longer multiday missions, and have found some incredibly high quality whitewater on the Umraw, Umngi and Myntang.

Wah Umraw, by far the most beautiful river I have ever paddled

Wah Umraw, by far the most beautiful river I have ever paddled

As the rains started to slow kayakers started to arrive en mass for Meghalaya’s post-monsoon season. We organized the first ever whitewater festival in Northeast India, Megha Kayak Fest. 30 international kayakers as well as 20 paddlers from around India turned out for an amazing weekend on the water.

Patrick showing off his moves during Meghakayakfest's Expression Session

Patrick showing off his moves during Meghakayakfest’s Expression Session

In between new rivers we stopped by classics and had a lot of great laps and good times on the classics like the Umtrew, Kopili, Rymbai, Wah Blei and Kynshi.

Will Chick getting airborne on Wah Blei

Will Chick getting airborne on Wah Blei

The rains ended as per usual at the end of November, and now we’re getting our heads down and compiling all our photos and information collected over the last five years for a guidebook to paddling in Meghalaya, coming out in Spring 2017.

Photos by Callum Strong, Jamie Conn, Nick Bennett

15
Dec

Okere Enduro 2016 – New Zealand

Last weekend, kayakers from across New Zealand’s North Island made the annual pilgrimage to Rotorua for the 2016 Okere Enduro. This amazing event involves paddling down the Kaituna, running back up to tag your team mate, in a three person relay. The team with the most laps in 6 hours wins.

Top marks to Sandra and Lee for the epic outfits

 

This was my first time to the event and the amazing Kaituna paddling community made it a wicked day. The race format allowed for lots of time to hangout between laps, catching up with friends and enjoying the awesome atmosphere.

The pain face having a good time deep down. Photo – Alan Ofsoski

 

The Kaituna is such a sweet river to race down. Warm water, amazing gorges, awesome rapids and a super sweet waterfall to keep you on your toes. The 9r made the paddling a joy; flying off drops, gliding over boils and slicing effortlessly through the flat sections. Pity the run back up wasn’t as pleasurable!

It was great to be racing with fellow brits Sandra Hyslop and Lee Royal which made for a fun and super motivating day. After watching the two favourite teams smash their first laps, it became apparent that we were racing two other teams for third place. This made for a really good competition, with everyone going hard to try and stay ahead. As the 6 hours drew to a close, we knew we had clinched 3rd place and were super psyched to hear that we had snatched 2nd as well.

Go fast leggings powering through the run. Photo – Alan Ofsoski

 

Beers were then enjoyed in the Okere Falls Store to celebrate a brilliant day of racing.

Thanks to Sandra and Lee for being such great team mates, Ben for organising a fantastic event and Pyranha for their continued support.

 

14
Dec

British Universities Kayaking Expedition 2017 – Selection Event

The British Universities Kayaking Expeditions have been running every other year since 2005, and the teams selected have chosen all manner of interesting destinations to explore, from Siberia in the north, to Madagascar in south. Venezuela in the west to Vietnam in the east. Students from around the country are invited to submit paper applications which were scored by previous team members, with the top twenty being invited for a 3 day ‘selection event’ in North Wales.

6 years of BUKE expeditions

6 years of BUKE expeditions

The selection weekend is organised by previous team members and normally it is fairly simple matter of arranging a long weekend in North Wales, choosing what river to paddle, and herding 20 students, plus the old boys in the right direction. This year however was different. With practically no useful rainfall since the summer, the rivers were beyond low and our usual go-to runs of the Glaslyn and Fairy Glen were not on the cards like they were for our last low water selection weekend.

Swallow Falls (pic: Dave Burne)

Traffic Jam for Swallow Falls (pic: Dave Burne)

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09
Dec

My best day of free fall

I arrived in Chile a week before my crew. Mostly because I had nothing better to do but also largely because I was so very desperate to finally get a few days warm up on a trip before I start flying off big waterfalls.

I spent a week training and cruising the classic rivers of Pucon and started dialling in my free fall technique on the perfect but small drops of the Palguin river. As enjoyable as this week was I have to admit that by day 4 I was starting to get a little bit pent up and was eager for the boys to arrive so that we could get down to business.
Bren Orton Dane Jackson Kalob Grady Chile

By Sunday, all of the boys had finally arrived. We wasted no time, immediately heading to the 50ft Tamatita falls and the following day to the 80ft tall Newen falls. This waterfall was only run for the first time last year and since then has seen only four descents.

We got there early in the day and spent most of the morning working to get our photographers, Kevin Kennedy and Melissa Hukson across the river. Once they were across, they were on their own and had a tough time. They had to haul camera gear through dense forest and try to find the faintest of trails that led to the waterfall.

Thankfully they are absolute beasts and made it to the waterfall in quick time. With our photographers in place, we where ready to go.

Our crew split up into teams of two, myself and Dane Jackson were the most eager to go first so we took the first spot, whilst Kalob Grady and Adrian Mattern signalled to the photographers that we where about to drop and filmed from the lip.

On most waterfalls we will set extensive safety but that was not really an option at Newen due to the turn around time to get to the base of the falls and back to the lip again, around 3 hours. Due to this we elected to use the good old “buddy system” and provide safety for ourselves. We would run the falls with only a minimal amount of time in-between each other, which meant that help would either be waiting at the bottom for you or falling out of the sky behind you and on the way…

Unless we both messed up, in which case we would…err, umm, Well to be honest with you, we never did get around to planning for that eventuality! Either way, if all went to plan, it meant that only the first person would be truly exposed and even then only for a few seconds.
Bren Orton Waterfall Kayak Chile

The really cool thing about Newen is that it isn’t a park and huck. There are two must run gorges upstream and downstream that are chock full of great class 4 rapids. Myself and Dane rallied down these rapids as fast as we could, joking and laughing about not missing the last eddy, which forms on the corner of a blind bend just before the falls. We made it to the last eddy and took a moment to collect our thoughts.

We hadn’t until his point discussed who would go first, there was an abundance of “No, no, no…  after you good sir’s” before we finally reached a verdict. Both of us really wanted to go first but where too polite to say it. Dane elected that I could have it as he had gone first off the previous days waterfall.

Going first is a sacred position to have when running waterfalls or rapids. It is your responsibility to make the line look as good as it possibly can and not affect anyones decision by crashing due to a last minute error of judgement or malfunction of skill. I knew because of our safety setup that Dane would run the drop regardless of whether I styled it or not.

Adrain is absolutely unflappable and would also 100% run it. Kalob however was stepping up his waterfall game by quite a lot that day, with his previous tallest waterfall being 60ft. I knew that he was 99.9% going to run it anyway but I still didn’t want to risk putting any negative thoughts into his head.

Me and Dane high fived, tried to say something cool for the Gopro cameras on our heads but instead managed only “see you soon” and then I was pealing out and staring down one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world.

I find my best lines off waterfalls are when I have only a loose plan and am not consciously thinking. Just sticking to my core rules and understandings of how to run waterfalls and reacting instinctively to everything that is happening. In the world of kayaking off waterfalls is one of the biggest debates is; whether to throw your paddle or not. Throwing your paddle means that you eliminate the shockingly common problem of hitting yourself really hard in the face, breaking your paddle or wrenching your shoulder out. It also means that you are much more vulnerable in the chaos below, risk losing your paddle and in my opinion it just doesn’t look as stylish. Holding your paddle however is what separates the men from the boys as you must have a good combination of technique and strength. Along with being okay with the distinct possibility of re arranging your face if you get it wrong, thankfully for me, I was never pretty to begin with.

I had my best line of a waterfall yet on Newen, Safely at the bottom with paddle and face intact. I stayed in my kayak to set safety for the others and watched as one after the other my friends laced perfect lines after perfect lines.

United again at the bottom there was numerous talks of “How freaking awesome was that?!?!?!)” and several schemes on how quickly we could do it again. We cruised the next gorge down to the take out in the evening sun, stoked, tired, and hungry for more free fall…
Chile Waterfall Bren Orton Dane Jackson and crew

Thanks to Kevin Kennedy and Melissa Hukson for going to hell and back to photograph the day and to Ian Garcia for sharing his knowledge on this waterfall! And Pucon Kayak hostel for taking such good care of us!

See you on the water,
Bren

Photo’s by
Casey Bryant Jones, Kevin Kennedy, Kalob Grady and Melissa Huckson

26
Nov

Confidence in kayaking

I have been told time and time again that I need to have more confidence in my own ability. This has applied to my time playing canoe polo and also white water kayaking. I reached my goal of representing GB at canoe polo in the summer of 2015 which is something I had worked hard but didn’t actually believe that I had the right to be there; I was completely lacking in self confidence. In that environment, you are expected to motivate yourself and to deal with any issues that you have in private. Everyone on the team had their own issues and personal demons to deal with so it was really difficult to approach anyone else for support or advice.

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I realised after the championships that my heart wasn’t in it, and I couldn’t carry on training every day for something that I wasn’t enjoying anymore. After a chilly, super fun, high-water weekend on Dartmoor I decided that I needed to get back into whitewater kayaking. I couldn’t stop grinning! Unfortunately this was challenged when my friend Beth Hume sadly died in India, as it made me question that choice. The antithesis was the coming together of her friends and the celebration of her life that made a weekend I’ll never forget and reassured me that I could take control of that decision. It made me realise that friendships have been cemented by the experiences we share, both bad and good. Some of the best times have been on the river and white water kayaking is something I keep gravitating back to.

Why am I telling you this I can hear you ask? I’m telling you as the issues with self confidence extend far beyond the confines of canoe polo for me, and I know that I am not alone. I have given up the relative safety of canoe polo but now often question my ability when faced with new rivers or challenges and find myself doubting decisions I’m making. Again I see this in others and want to explore how we can challenge ourselves and in return build our own confidence.

So how do we define self-confidence?
It is how you feel about your abilities which can vary from situation to situation. It can affect how we perform and how we approach new situations whereas self-esteem is how you feel about yourself overall. You can have have good self confidence but poor self esteem. The two are often confused but it is a lack of self confidence that can hinder progress and stop you from achieving what you are capable of.

Confidence operates in the realm of the known, and courage that of the unknown. This means that we can have a lot of confidence on a familiar run or river, but none when faced with something new.

13958078_10157351645055094_2276740088505635659_oNow we know the difference what can we do to boost our self confidence?

Cement your basic paddling skills on rivers that you are familiar with and gradually push yourself onto harder sections, but only when you feel ready. There can be pressure from others to do this before you are ready. Go with your gut and remember why we do this. It’s meant to be fun!
If you don’t enjoy paddling grade 4/5, then don’t do it. Do what you enjoy!

Choose the right boat for you. I never thought I’d like the 9R, but I tried it and loved it. It’s narrow and fast, suits my paddling style and also performs really well when fully loaded. Such a good creek boat for the smaller paddler!
Try lots of different boats and make sure that it’s not too small/big. It sounds obvious but we are often told what we should be paddling. It’s definitely a personal choice so go with what you feel good in as long as it’s suitable for what you’re doing. If you’re in the right boat then it should boost your confidence.

Paddle with the right people. This may be difficult to figure out. Try paddling with different people and learn how you operate in different groups. Often we paddle with the same people and end up relying on them to make decisions for us instead of developing our own concept of our own abilities. That doesn’t mean that people can’t try to push you; sometimes that’s necessary, but only in the right time and place.

If you’re paddling with people who make you feel bad for messing up, then they’re not the right people to paddle with! It only takes a small comment or a roll of the eyes to undermine someone’s confidence, especially when they’re having a rubbish time. Picking the right group can make a drastic difference in how you feel about your own ability and how you progress.
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Be kind to yourself and to others. If something goes wrong, reflect on it and try not to beat yourself up. Not everything is a competition and you don’t have to do things perfectly every time. Most importantly remember to do things because you enjoy them. Whether that’s enjoyment that you get after a scary run or from surfing or learning to do freestyle or competing. You will gain the most out of whatever you’re doing if you enjoy it and that in turn will give your confidence a lift.

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If you experience anxiety then try to realise it in yourself and how it manifests. Try to identify what makes you anxious and share it with others. For example paddling without scouting things makes me anxious and I get snappy, so now I only paddle with people who are happy to stop and look at stuff. Anxiety can come across in many different ways and can turn into panic. Learning what makes us anxious enables us to form strategies so we can manage it rather than letting panic take over. Strategies may include visualisation, planning trips differently or self relaxation techniques; find what works for you.

Don’t be afraid to push yourself to try new things, even if you don’t think you’ll enjoy it. Surf things you wouldn’t normally surf, and if you need further support then get some coaching from someone you trust. Say yes to things that you feel nervous but not terrified about. Some nerves are good, it’s when they turn into something more that we struggle. We have to reach a level where they don’t affect our performance. Easier said than done when you’re lacking in confidence, right?! Take things slowly, and take a step back if you begin to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes we can push through and sometimes we can’t!

Seek positivity and take it from the small victories. Love what you do and if you find yourself not loving it for some reason then take a break, reflect on things and talk to people. Relish the challenges that kayaking poses but don’t let them overcome you.

A lot of this might sound obvious but all of these things should help you to build your self confidence when it comes to kayaking. It doesn’t have to hinder our progress or stop us from loving what we do. We just need to take the right steps to make things more manageable.

Now to practice what I preach! See you on the river!

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