2020 has been some sort of year. For us, one of our best. This blog is a summary of all the important trips and bits that we did kayaking throughout the year.
Starting from the beginning, we were paddling most weekends. Going on some of the classic sections like Tal-y-Bont on Usk, doing the Yscir for the first time, and doing CIWW a lot. I also bought my dream boat in early February which I still love today. Little did we know, everything changed the next month…
15TH March. Boris Johnson makes the announcement that all of the UK will be going into a full lockdown from midnight that night. Disaster. No kayaking for what we were told would be 4 weeks. We had to improvise. We decided to buy a paddling pool. It didn’t seem like we could do a lot in a 10ft pool that’s 30 inches deep. So, after watching videos on YouTube, we used the pools to practise rolls and learn how to back deck roll and hand roll. Every day, after home-schooling, we’d chuck on some kit and launch in. I’m very happy we came up with this idea because those few weeks of improving our rolls in a small pool have really helped with our paddling.
As time goes on, the lockdown was extended multiple times. Each time, Boris slightly relaxed the restrictions. This finally allowed us to get back onto some moving water at Symonds Yat. So again, on Fridays after school, we’d chuck some kit in a bag and load the boat on the roof and go to the Yat. Symonds Yat isn’t a big rapid and not as big as some of the stuff we had done in the past but it had eddie lines, eddies, a strong enough current and a rock which you could boof over and surf the hole created at higher levels. This was all we needed, and it was a good, safe environment to practise the skills we had learnt. I was especially excited to be rolling on moving water as before the lockdown, I had never rolled in moving water.
After many Symonds Yat sessions, our instructor Sean invited us to go on some slightly bigger trips with him as he had seen how we had improved and felt comfortable for us to come on bigger trips with him. The first one was on the River Dee at Llangollen in North Wales. I had done this river once before and Ollie had done it twice but at that time we couldn’t roll, and the levels were much lower. So, on the 11th of July, we made the 3 hour drive up to Llangollen. You can see the story of what we did on the Dee on the Dee laps blog on this website and watch the video on YouTube.
Just two weeks after doing the Dee, we stepped up the difficulty and went to the Tryweryn at the National Whitewater Centre down to Bala. The Tryweryn is a dam release river and has some rocks put in to make some rapids, but the majority of the section is natural. We had watched many videos of people doing to Mighty T and had high ambitions of what we were going to do. When we arrived, we got changed and walked up the riverside path to be taken back by how much bigger it looked in real life compared to on video. Some of the moves we dreamt of hitting, we wouldn’t stand a chance at doing. The Tryweryn had a few small rapids until it got to the graveyard. A long, steep descent. From below, it looks quite scary but when you’re on it, it’s just wave trains down the middle. A few other main features are Miss Davies bridge-a big, meaty, angled stopper below the bridge; ski slope-a long fast channel over V-wave and then over another nasty and shallow stopper. Further down at the main centre is café wave. This wave is a fast, shallow wave with a stopper on both sides. It’s quite intense when surfing because the main wave is shallow, everyone at the café is watching you (although there weren’t many people there because of COVID), and right below, is a drop into the fingers rapid. After one lap, Ollie decided to go into his new piranha ripper he had bought from Radical Rider (on site shop). The boat needed a lot of outfitting as it was quite big for him and he struggled to roll it at first but soon got the hang of it. After three laps at the centre we continued down towards Bala, almost an 8km paddle through grade 2/3 rapids, a few surf waves and some trees to portage (one of which I swam on after getting pinned) until you reach Bala Mill Falls-a grade 4 rapid. This is a double drop rapid with a stopper at the bottom. After scouting, I decided I shouldn’t do it because from my experience that day, the first wave on the rapid was similar to ones at the centre and they had thrown me off sideways and you would not want to go into the second drop sideways. In the end, Ollie ran the falls whilst I waited with a rope just in case below the falls. For the next few weeks, Ollie kept going on about how happy he was about how he did his first grade 4 probably just to make me annoyed with myself for portaging.
Only two weeks later, Sean invited us to go the Tryweryn again. As it was our second time, we were more confident and hit more moves and features. Above the normal seal launch put in is the ‘Worlds Hole’ feature. It’s a deep, high volume hole with easy eddies on either side. In our longer boats, we hit moves like pop-outs where you paddle hard into the green water and it pushes your bow under water and puts you up vertical. This was very fun until Ollie messed it up. He got caught sideways and got his paddle pulled out of his hands. He flipped and because the boat was still too big, he couldn’t hand roll it. He decided to swim instead of drown but forgot how to swim out of a kayak. He stands up on the bottom and walks with his new precious boat down over the next drop and almost knocks himself out on the grab handle. The Tryweryn can be very shallow at some spots and this was one of those spots. Sean and I paddled after Ollie and his boat and as I went past Ollie towards the boat, he was making that noise where you’re in lots of pain but too much too do anything. He recovered throughout the day and we finished by both running Bala Mill Falls in the end with Ollie almost messing it up my flipping above the falls as he breaks out into the eddie.
The next major event that happened which we were extremely excited about was CIWW re-opening after being closed for almost 6 months due to COVID. We were both very excited because the features at CIWW are made to practise all of your skills like surfing, ferry glides etc. Starting on a 4/6 cumecs session we quickly got back into the feel of it and booked onto more and more sessions from there. Eventually we booked onto 10 cumecs which is the highest the pumps regularly go to. The features were bigger and stoppers more sticky. The top hole was great for flat spins because it was narrow and not steep. The corner hole however was fun to surf on, but the surfers left side could easily flip you and hold you; as I experienced one time as I flipped left side, rolled up still surfing and got flattened by a raft. Then made the mistake of dropping my paddle and ended up swimming. Since then we have done 10 cumecs once more.
In October, there was a lot of rain, so the rivers were going up. Our instructor invited us to go on the Usk with him and a decent level. On the first lap we went down to Llangynidr. There were lots of surf waves and big wave trains. We hopped out and went for lap two. In the time that we were on the water on the first lap up to where we got in for the second, the river had risen 30cm up to 1.8m on the gauge. This meant bigger rapids, bigger wave trains and more of a challenge. One of the fishing groins created a really nice, smooth surf wave which was easy and satisfying to surf. Further down into Mill Falls, I lead down to try and catch the eddie in the middle, but it had flushed so I had to continue down. Another rapid had huge wave trains which Ollie failed miserably at kickflipping but were fast and steep enough to surf. Finally, Spuhlers Folly was a big stopper but not too difficult to punch through.
Since then we haven’t done much big stuff because COVID kicked off again. We did go to St Davids to go kayak surfing and on the second day at White sands we had a couple close calls getting back out over some huge waves. On the video on YouTube, at one point you see Ollie a bit behind me going up a wave. It doesn’t look that big but if you look closely at me, my 9ft long boat is climbing up it for 2 or 3 seconds. Unfortunately, my GoPro had run out of battery so didn’t manage to get my long airtime on the other side of it.
After St Davids, we have done the Tal-y-Bont section on the Usk twice at low water. For this, I went in a school playboat and Ollie went in his axiom. Because we went in low volume boats, we spent a lot more time vertical and Eddy Mead who ran the trip by the CIWW Kids Academy gave us some tips for freestyle like double pumps. For the first time, we took right line down Mill Falls over the rock ledge boof. Below the rock ledge was a fast, shallow surf wave which I managed to hit some smooth flat spins in whilst surfing.
We have done low water Usk once since that time and also did an 8 cumecs session at Cardiff in the short boats and hit moves such as the wall ride and surfed the bottom wave a lot.
And now we have gone back into lockdown for Christmas and New Year so haven’t paddled since then but as soon as we can we will be back out on the water. Subscribe to the YouTube channel to see what we get up to in 2021 and check out the River Rascals 2020 Highlight Reel of all our best bits from this year coming out soon.