Organising Women’s Sea kayak Festival – another side of paddling

This year is a busy year as we are again organizing the Women’s Sea kayak Festival in Devon. Did I ever think that I would be organizing a sea kayak festival? No, not really.

This summer it will be eight years since I started kayaking. I didn’t like it much at first. The sea was too unpredictable for me to be comfortable, the waves were more enemies than friends. Everyone was always faster, sitting in the boat hurt my knees, I used to be cold during lunchtimes in my wet suit and so on. I went to a few symposiums but it was hard to enjoy the paddling when everyone mostly wanted to push themselves, while I just hoped to survive. So why did I persevere? Thanks to my husband really, and his grand ideas I have become a sea kayaker. I ended up having a little bit of a fast track journey to become a kayaker, one who now doesn’t mind the environments, elements, and considers most waves to be friends.

And yes, I became a leader and coach, but organizing an event, that is a different league completely. Don’t you need to have a centre for a venue, kayaks to hire, and lots of skills to coach and oversee and organize; cars, minibuses, trailers would also be handy (even crucial!) as is having friends who can coach?

Yet, again the reality turned out different from my fears. I signed up to go to the Women’s Sea kayak Festival in Bute as a paddler but ended up coaching there the same year. It was a women’s only event, and it was so much fun. I went again the next year only to find out that the organizers wanted a break and decided not to run one the following year.

P3154670This was the moment when everyone thought: what a shame, while three of us thought: well, let’s give it a go. And so, in a year we learnt how to organize a paddling festival without having a centre and kayaks for hire, without a minibus, and some of us even without driving or a car, without being super coaches, or having connections or extensive network of kayaking friends. We literally made it on green meadow and I like to think that it was a successful event.

If not, we would not be doing it again. At the Women’s Sea kayak Festival female coaches are coaching female paddlers. It has a Man Crèche for redundant paddling partners, but yes, it is women only event.

What is special about our event is that it celebrates women coaches and their high level of skills and brilliant coaching, by no means is our festival meant for beginners or intromediate paddlers only.

It has a great atmosphere and supportive environment, where paddlers understand each other, especially when it comes to different needs and challenges that a female paddler sometimes faces. I hope that our women only event gives people opportunities to share stories, learn from each other and develop confidence, mostly on how to use wit and skill over strength.

What I like most is, that at the end of each day we all socialize together, when we sit down for dinner there isn’t a coaches’ only table, because everyone has something inspirational to tell and we all learn from each other.

I am looking forward to that this year again!

http://womensseakayakfestivaldevon.co.uk

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London has it all!

We’ve lived in London for many years now. When we moved here, we knew we were moving into the capital city and a very busy town with people, roads, tube, buildings, pavements and all. We also knew that London was on the river Thames, however, at that time, it didn’t have any significant meaning to us, because after all most capital cities we knew had a river, Paris with Seine, Prague has Vltava, no big deal at all.

It was only later, when the river became our almost second home, we understood its the importance in the past and nowadays. Then, one day, we realised something even more significant. London isn’t just an ordinary capital city of a country; London could be viewed as a Mecca for outdoor sport, or at least where water is considered.

For a sea kayaker the tidal river Thames is a great place to paddle, we wrote about this many times. The changing landscape due to tide, standing waves under bridges, surf behind boats, powerful workout against tide, and smooth rides with it, we have spent countless hours going up and down through London. It is always different and we can’t have enough. With the conditions varying from mirror flat to wild fast flowing and confused water with waves exceeding meter in high it is an amazing place to learn and improve. Learning is an interesting and complex process. There and now it is important to change ones’ approach and try something new, something different. In the end what could be better than trying and applying the existing skills through different concepts of paddling to explore new levels and then bring this back to the original discipline.

So what role does London play in all this? It is the choice of opportunities. The possibility to do white water canoeing, flatwater freestyle, tiderace paddling or playboating within few days and in close proximity to London.

P6260037P6260042White water OC in Lee Valley. 

13558787_10209965853292395_1197877465244621623_oP6280084 (1)Free style boaters at Shadwell Basin.

13603400_10209998273702885_6307197631366317922_o13528227_10209998275502930_5332193559667065624_oSelsey Bill tide race (2 hours from London)

_DSC0037_DSC0078Olympic course in Lee Valley. 

Last week, there could have been hardly a be better place to work on your paddling.

Old friend Harry

Summer has been coming to an end and I was desperate to get paddling to my favourite location of all, The Old Harry. Unashamedly I often say that paddling around Old Harry is the best paddle on the British Coast. However to make the most of it, it has to be at high tide and the weather should be on the sunny side. This Saturday seemed to be doing just that. Yet, we took a while to get persuaded to pack and go, in the end to some it may seem to be a little bit too far for a day trip location.

But not to me, getting up in the morning, driving for three and half hours is a small sacrifice for what one gets. This time, as a bonus,  we got to go on a ferry.

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After that it was quick unpacking and launching to make the most of the now dropping tide. old harry 8old harry 9

I wasn’t paddling alone. Toby and Michal were eager to make the most of the day and we headed towards Peveril Point on the other side of Swanage Bay to play in the tiderce.

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And yes, this time, it was me who got the camera. old harry 2 old harry 3 old harry 5

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We practiced some rescues and rolling and overall were making the most of the conditions and good weather. old harry 4 old harry 10

Our return journey was less speedy, after all the playing in the waves for few hours took its toll on us.  old harry 7

Harry was now at low tide, but even then, he looked as handsome as ever. old harry 11

It’s as good as skiing

This year like every year the question of where to go on Christmas holidays arisen. I love winter. Snow, skiing, ice climbing was my fist choice, and preferably somewhere where such is guaranteed – like Norway.

However very often I think one and Michal something else, so we ended up in Jersey. I braced myself for the prospect of spending my only winter holidays on rainy wind swept island, and off we went.

How very fortunate we were, that I was proved wrong. We stayed in our friends’ house, with sofas and telly, which felt like home away  from home (minus the TV for us). The house was very close to Corbiere Lighthouse, for which reason going to see the sunset became one of our favourite pastimes.

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corbiere toby 1We paddled only 2 hours a day. It was rather cold. Besides we slipped into the holiday routine of lazy mornings, short paddles, late lunches, sunset watching, dinner cooking and film watching – like Big Wednesday or Legally Blond.

Yet, where the paddling sessions lacked in length, they were rich in intensity.

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The weather was very accommodating, and our friends confirmed that it was warmer here than in Istanbul and definitely sunnier. At some point it was so sunny, that we started the day with some rolling practice.

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Followed by cliff jumping.

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Jersey people are very friendly and welcoming. Some days we met them on the water, went paddling with them, or simply had lunch or drinks. DCIM100GOPRO

Some days we also had surf. It was then, when I stopped regretting not going skiing. The waves were such, that going down with them felt almost as good as doing downhill on red slope. Skiing and kayaking have something in common. There are times, when the equipment just gives in. Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 16.55.36

If you want to see more of the surfing, just watch the video.

Written by Natalie

Eddystone Challenge

It was during the quiet months of the winter when Natalie noticed that the Eddystone Challenge was going to go ahead once again after a few years gap. For some reason she finds paddling out into the open sea exciting and tempting, and decided to sign us up. And of course, it had to be done as soon as the booking opened. So when we received an email saying, we were the first ones, we thought: great!. However in the same email we were surprised to read that unlike all the other crafts, single sea kayakers must have buddies. Which was fine by us, until we read that we had to paddle together.

Here, we had to admit to our selves,  that this idea made us feel quite uneasy. After years of paddling together, we couldn’t see how paddling together to a lighthouse would differ from our everyday paddling together, and where would the challenge be.

Of course, it didn’t take Natalie long to sort this out. While she ditched me completely and told me to sort my own buddy on the day, she asked Esther, her friend from a club, to join to form a  girls team. I’ve been considering options of how to paddle independently and not to be disqualified, especially after Paul from Seaborne offered to lend me a Pace 18.

Ready for Race

Ready for Race

Weeks and days prior the “Challenge” went as expected, they were filled with attempts to train (some more or less successful), and planing which cars and boats are going to be used, especially after Alastair decided to join us, too. Everything went well until Thursday early morning, when my tooth decided to wake me up. So, instead of focusing on upcoming paddling, I spent the time between swallowing painkillers and attempts to get dentist appointment. On Friday I was lucky, the painkillers in combination with the  antibiotics and a beer in the evening started to work.

On Saturday morning the Mount Batten pier was lively  with gigs, kayaks, ocean canoes, surf skis, rowing boats of all sorts and their crews running around, getting themselves and their crafts ready for the inspection. At the pre “challenge” briefing at 11am organisers spilled the beans and told everyone that due to incoming weather it wasn’t  safe to go ahead with course all the way to Eddystone.  It was changed to an  alternative course in more sheltered water. Which was fine, until they said that due to  sea kayaks not being as  seaworthy as all the other crafts, they would follow a shorter, more sheltered course inside the breakwater, while the other crafts would go outside of it. I have to admit to feeling slightly insulted for a moment and almost handing back my identification bracelet and walking  away.  The only thing which stopped me, was, that at the same moment they got a phone call to  scrap longer variation and put us all on the same course.

At first the idea of the new course wasn’t very exciting, around 13nm zigzag with a loop inside the breakwater. On the other hand it had its advantage as well, as nobody no longer insisted on buddy system, and so everybody could push as hard as they wanted. And seeing different boats managing the conditions was quite interesting, too.

The first leg of the race took us to the east end of the breakwater and to my surprise I was keeping up with all other singles despite still familiarising with the Pace 18. Unfortunately as soon as we turned directly into the wind, it became clear that there are lots of guys much stronger then me. My only strategy was not to loose too much and hope that others wouldn’t last. Then, as we turned corner around the yacht Arabesque, the  headwind turned into tail wind. Even with much of the swell coming from the right side, I could soon start to appreciate the kayak I was sitting in. Wind across swell started to create small peaks which could be run; here the paddling turned into being quite technical. This worked to my advantage and  as  we were turning into the wind for the second lap, I managed to gain back most of what I had lost previously.

Next leg into the wind was almost a repetition of the previous one. Now, there were three kayaks in front of me, two skies and Nick in Taran, and this time, they started to push even harder. As we were turning around Arabesque for second time, I was third, loosing several hundreds meters on Nick and almost unable to see the first ski. At this point the winner was almost clear. The only question I was asking myself was, how much had Nick left in his tank and would there be enough bumps to surf to catch him before the finishing line?

It was incredible to see how the gap narrowed every time I got a wave, in the same time it was starting to be increasingly harder to catch one. It felt almost absurd in last few hundred yards of the race, but Nick and I were paddling side by side. There were perfectly surfable waves passing under my hull, yet I couldn’t get on them! My arms were shaking, I couldn’t do any acceleration strokes.  I don’t know if in the end I managed to convince myself to slow down and paddle more with the sea, or if it was just pure boat performance but somehow, I got few waves and crossed the line. I came in second place. Job well done.

eddystone 4 Tiderace Pace 18

Although I felt completely whipped out in the finish, it was strangely satisfying.

It was nice to see others as they crossed the line. It was great to see Natalie beating Alastair.  It was good to know that I gave it all in last the two and half hours.

 Tiderace Pace Tour  Tiderace Pace Tour eddystone 5

 

Maybe we should do this  more often.

 

THCC Seakayaking trip to Cornwall May 2014

The first May Bank Holiday we organised a trip to Cornwall for our club members. In the end there were 13 people going with skills ranging from intromediate to advanced; some of us being sea kayakers and some only white water paddlers.

We booked one coach, Richard Uren from Paddlecrest and 7 kayaks. Not everyone in London has a car. We stayed in a campsite close to Praa sands.

The paddling was great. We managed to paddle at the most southerly point of Britain, just west of Lizzard, and around Land’s End. The advanced group had some incident management training, and the intromediate one an introduction to surfing in Sennen. On Monday we all paddled together in the Fal Estuary. It was a great weekend.

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/94703469]

So, why have you bought the boat then?

A question I was asked on the eve of the Oban Race around Kerrera. I’m getting to know the answer to the question, and may talk about it later. What I think should have been asked was: “So, why did you enter the race then?”

I am not a racer. Never was, although there was a history of competitive skiing. I didn’t mind the training but racing, boring. Don’t get me wrong, I like challenges, but ones where I compete with myself rather than others. Still, we were in the area and the race sounded interesting. I signed Michal in and if he was doing it, I wanted it, too.

However a little tiny glitch appeared rather soon. Because of the shape and measurements of my boat, it qualified into the racing category together with the surf skis, the performance boats and three other boats similar to mine.

Touring sea kayaks were starting 20 minutes ahead of us, so it was clear it would be a very solitary paddle round Kerrera. Sure, first five minutes and everybody just sped off. And the gap was getting bigger and bigger. At the first fish farm (6km in the race) the support boat had to wait more that five minutes for me to reach them after the second last one. “Serves you right, I thought, for putting me into the racing category. However I managed to settle into pace which I was never able to keep before (10 strokes max in the past) and at the first corner spotted the Tarran, again. One of the boats, I could compete with, since the paddler, despite being a man, had euro blades like me.
By the second corner he was behind me and once I rounded it, I saw new target, another Tarran. Another boat I could compete with, despite the paddler having wings, she was a woman. Finally, after 15 kilometres since the start I overtook this one, and few touring boats in the process, too.
Fantastic, I though, finally I won’t be the last one and I can have snack, since there was a worry on running out empty.
However one tiny surf ski appeared on the horizon. I did put up a fight at the end, but he reached the finish four seconds ahead of me.

So I won the racing category for women, being there only two of us. However overall I was fourth since all three women winners in touring category were faster than me. There is a little consolation that they actually do race and like it.

Why did I enter the race, then? I liked the challenge of paddling as me only, and needing to push myself. Kerrera proved to be a beautiful island. I don’t have a racer’s mind. I discovered a stately home on the mainland I missed last time, had a good look at the castle at Kerrera, explored and mind camped at few places along the way, greeted a seal and sung few songs. Only later I found out, that you are meant to be looking at the stern ahead of you and paddle fast. Well, I may be excused, there wasn’t a stern ahead of me for sure between the 5 and 45 minutes into the race.

Conclusion? I am thinking of coming next year again and of working on my starting, to keep up with the peloton. Let’s just hope, more women will have similar boats for better distribution of categories. But as we know, it’s not always the boat what makes the difference.

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