Wilko's Paddling Tips

Who to paddle with?

After I started to paddle, I quickly found that, as an enthousiastic newbie, I had a couple of problems. The biggest problem was gear, followed closely by "who to paddle with?". Being new to paddling, being enthousiastic about going on many trips, intent upon improving your skill and wanting to increase the range of what you can paddle confidently, you have to get in touch with people that are willing to paddle with you.

When you're new in a club and new to paddling, try to get on a beginner's course. More experienced paddlers will teach you the basics, and during such a course you can get in touch with other paddlers of your skill level, building up the first pillars of your paddling network.

It helps if you're enthousiastic, show up every time at club meetings and show interest in your fellow paddlers. But experienced paddlers don't always want newbies on their trips, and you need that experience to get good enough to be able to join their trips. Dependent upon the club, you might find one or two who are willing to organise a few beginner's trips a year. I found this to be very difficult in student paddling clubs, where the more experienced paddlers seem to be the oldest students who are about to leave school as well as the club.

Go to rolling sessions, preferably in a pool, where it's easier to see what you're doing. Getting a combat roll and a good brace helps boost your confidence, but it also limits the times you swim during a trip, so that experienced paddlers don't consider you to be only a hindrance to their fun. (I've been on trips where I swam eight times, with experienced paddlers telling me that I would never learn how to paddle... I was just too eager to try out new things, improving rapidly after the first nine months of paddling.)

Find an easy playspot in the area where you know that other paddlers also hang out. Start slowly, work on ferrying, catching eddies and boat control. Just go there regularly, as weekly time spent in your boat will do wonders for your boat feeling.

Don't worry about things like reading water too much. If possible, get William Nealy's "Kayak" book so that you'll have some basic ideas about what happens to the current, and where you want to be on the water. When you paddle with more experienced paddlers, you will quickly pick up the terms used, and most are happy to explain to you what happens to water in a hole, why you often find eddies behind rocks and what a hydrolic is.

When you do go on trips with more experienced paddlers, make sure to help out where you can. If they want your help, try helping to hold boats on the roofracks while they tie them down, help loading gear in the cars and help storing club boats and stuff after you arrive. In our student club we had to wash boats after winter trips so that they were allowed in the pool, that was something that we as newbies could do just as well as the more experienced boaters.

During the trip, see if you can get the more experienced boater to tell you more about the river you're going to, ask them about interesting river tales and if possible, pay attention to where they put in and take out. That last bit will help you by the time you can arrange your own trips!

It helps if you show your appreciation about coming along by bringing some candy for the drive, offer the driver fuel money without them having to ask for it and if people don't want fuel money, offer to buy them dinner.

Getting on the river with your group, it's usually a good thing to follow the trip leader's advice. Listen to what s/he has to say and try to stay out of the way during rescues.

If you have difficulties finding enough people to go paddling with within your club, try to become a member of other nearby clubs, so that you get in touch with more paddlers and get notified of more planned paddling trips.

What also worked for me was to become an active member of online paddling forums, newsgroups and paddling lists and build up your list of possible paddling buddies that way. I've had some of the best paddling holidays with paddlers that I got to know over the internet.

What also helped for me was to go on paddling holidays with a commercial outdoor company. They offer all kinds of guided trips, including ones where they rent you an almost full set of paddling gear, and where you can rent all kinds of boats. It's a good way to spend several days in a row on the water, often making considerable progression in a short time. The good thing about renting boats is that you can try out other designs and get a better idea of what you'd like to buy for yourself. Another advantage can be that you meet other paddlers of your level who could become possible future paddling buddies.

Last, but not least, after you gain some experience, try to organise some trips of your own, inviting other paddlers to come along. It's a nice way to help the club that you started with by doing something back, and it will often also help you to get to know even more paddlers who are willing to go boating with you. Some of my best paddling buddies are people that I helped when they first started paddling.

HTH... :-)


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Copyright 2006 by Wilko van den Bergh