A new perspective

Over the weekend we were joined by two groups from Baldock Canoe Club. One group headed to Pont Cyfyng and Swallow Falls to work on their technique in a challenging and steep environment with David Fairweather. The other group joined myself and Patrick Clissold for a session on the Dee at Llangollen. Despite the heavy frost enthusiasm levels were high and we barely stopped for a breather all day, making the most of the short daylight hours.

Working on ferry gliding at Mile End Mill

A round of applause for a rapid well run.

I have just taken delivery of a GoPro HD, and as soon as I get my computer updated to cope with the work-load of editing the footage I will add a video of the day. The GoPro is a great tool for capturing the action, and should prove a useful coaching tool.


I have now cracked the computer conundrum (more coal shovelled into the fire, hamster in the wheel given fresh water etc), here is a short video from the weekend.

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Book of Legends : Lower Bashkaus

A few years ago I was lucky enough to be part of the Four Borders Expedition to Siberia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. We paddled some amazing multiday rivers in the Altai Mountains, and the Bashkaus was the krux of our trip. Our video footage did not really do it justice. The recent sickline trip does.

I am very proud to have signed the book of legends. Thank you to Olaf Obsommer for producing this video which brings back memories of one of my favourite river trips.

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Anyone for the Glen?

The pool where the Fairy Glen meets the Lledr is frozen over with a good few inches of snow atop, as is Beaver Pool. So, anyone for a run on the Glen?

Conwy-Lledr confluence

The End of the Glen
The final rapid of the Glen

End of the Lledr
The end of the Lledr

No Canoeing? OK!
No Canoeing: I think on this occasion I’ll take heed

For more photos of our wintery wonderland, including monster tracks over Beaver Pool, take a look at our Facebook page. Do you have any winter paddling pics? We’d love to see them – just add them to our Facebook page.

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Fran’s trip to Nepal

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to go to Nepal for 3 and a half weeks. A tip for anyone who wants to go there; factor in some ill days :-S

Here’s jus a few pics from my trip. Photos taken by Me, Paula Volkmer, Sara James and Adam D.

Just like North Wales!!

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5 reasons to: Wear Earplugs

Getting water in your ear is bad for you. Fact. Why risk this?

Surfers Ear

1. Prevent Surfer’s Ear

Surfer’s Ear (or Exostosis) is caused by your ear being repeatedly subjected to cold water & cold wind (perhaps by going kayaking?). Bony growths start to close the ear canal (see photo above) which can lead to loss of hearing, tinitus and further infections. Although this happens over time, do not think that just because you are young, you can get away with it… you won’t realise it’s started to happen until it’s too late. The first you’ll know is when you are struggling to make out what your mate is saying in a busy bar.

The only cure? An operation where they peel back your ear and literally drill the excess bone away.

Result of a Surfers Ear Operation
Post-op in his mid-20s! (See comments for full story)

That’ll keep you out of a boat for a few months…

2. Prevent Swimmer’s Ear

No, you do not only get Swimmer’s Ear by falling out of your boat! It’s a colloquial name for a nasty infection caused by water trapped in the ear – particularly dirty water (anyone for Holme Pierrepont?).

Swimmers Ear diagram

And guess what? Having Surfer’s Ear makes you more likely to get Swimmer’s Ear too!

3. Wearing earplugs can be cool and stylish!

You don’t have to look like a complete dork (though if this is your look, then go for it). Ear plugs come in whole range of styles, colours and sizes so you can get ones to match your eyes or your cag…

Funky Ear Plugs
Photo from surfplugs.co.uk

I chose really bright ones that float to reduce the chance of losing them. You can buy ear plugs in most good kayak shops and good swimming outlets. But for the best fit, you’ll want a custom mould from the NHS, a hearing centre or a company such as surfplugs.

4. YOU CAN STILL HEAR (so there’s no need to shout)

Many people say they don’t want to wear earplugs because they won’t be able to hear while paddling. Poppy-cock! I wear custom-fit ear-plugs with no vents and I can still hear everything I need to. Yes, I usually take one out while in direct conversation in the eddy, but that is mainly because I don’t like the sound of myself with them in! I can still hear people calling me and can certainly still hear whistles.

Sure, they can take some getting used to but wouldn’t you rather have slightly dulled hearing on the water than permanently damaged hearing throughout the rest of your life?

5. The best ones are FREE!

The NHS make custom ear-plugs (which they call swim plugs) through the audiology departments in hospitals. You can either be referred by your GP, or just call and make an appointment. Explain that you are a kayaker and that you constantly subject your poor ears to cold, dirty water – which is often propelled into your orifices at great force by rapids, waves and stoppers. They’ll soon have you strapped to a seat while they fill your ears with gooey cotton wool to make the mould!

When I got my most recent pair done, I was able to opt for floating ear-plugs. I highly recommend this option!

So, can you give me 5 good reasons not to wear earplugs?

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Floods in Wales: action replay?

This time last year, North Wales was hit by big floods, which I took many photos of.

It’s been a very wet week here again and with more rain due this afternoon, I can’t help thinking that it’s a very similar weather pattern!

Flooding in Llanrwst, Nov 2009. Photo: Lowri Davies

Llanrwst floods nov 2010
Flooding in Llanrwst, Nov 2010. (Taken last night). Photo: Lowri Davies

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The Nile of Wales?

I fell asleep on Wednesday as rain battered my bedroom window. Tomorrow promised to be awesome and I had a few mates free for an adventure. I was excited…

We arrived at Public Toilet Falls having driven on several roads that we could have kayaked down to get there. We jumped out of our cars and ran to the footbridge.


The river was higher than I’d ever seen it… huge crashing waves, large pour-overs and spitting rooster tails. I almost wished I’d brought my playboat for the Lower… maybe Maddach Special was just around the corner?

We hatched a plan to first paddle the Eden then head to the Upper Mawddach once it had dropped off a bit. The Eden was a good level and a very pleasant run, but looked like a stream in comparison. At the confluence, we looked back upstream at the last drop of the Mawddach and raised our eyebrows at the lack of rock showing – not even the big rock that usually separates the two channels of the drop!

We bobbed on through the huge standing waves, occasionally giggling out of sheer enjoyment. At the the take out there was some debate but we stuck by our original plan. Luckily for us, the river was dropping off quickly and we enjoyed a fantastic level with entertainment the whole way down. When we reached the last drop it was clear just how much it had dropped in the time we had been paddling, with the middle rock now at least a foot clear! It was still high though, and a couple of surfs were had in the hole at the bottom of that one 😉

A quick look at the gauge graph shows how high the river was that morning, and how quickly it dropped. It started to rain as soon as we got of the water, ad it looks like the river went mental again…

Mawddach Levels on 4th Nov 2010

Today, I think I will move from the Nile to the Zam…

Dee on 5th Nov 2010

Dee-bezi here I come…

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The Jewel of Eurasia: a White Water Expedition to Georgia

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Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be asked to lead an expedition to Georgia (the country, not the US state!).

The trip surpassed all my expectations with some committing canyons, pushy big volume and playful alpine rivers set in absolutely stunning mountain ranges.

Lowri on the Tergi

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Georgia 312

But it wasn’t just the paddling that blew us away, it was the kind people and friendly cluture that made the trip even more unforgettable.


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A full report from our adventure can be read in December’s Canoe & Kayak Magazine, due in shops from Nov 5th. The front cover shows Mike beaming towards the end of an awesome day on our ‘Picture Perfect’ first descent near Mestia.

CKUK Dec 2010 Cover

But just to give you a taster: we paddled 12 different sections of river (3 of which we believe to be first descents), dined with countless truly hospitable families, drove on some of the most terrifying roads of our lives and on some of the most impressive mountain passes, drank the US Ambassador’s finest wine,  lost some paddles, hiked out of a canyon, found some paddles, drank wine from a horn and learnt the true meaning of Hair of the Dog.

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A selection of photos from the trip can be found on the FlowFree Flickr account.

Until the next time, Gamarjos!

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What’s in YOUR first aid kit?

A couple of weeks ago myself, Jon and Tom attended a first aid course for outdoor professionals to refresh ourselves on those vital skills. I thought I’d take this opportunity to discuss what I choose to have in my first aid kit on the river, and why. What you choose to take with you is a personal decision, but one worth considering.

What do I put it in?

I use a Lifesystems Compact First Aid kit pack. I find it a good size and fairly water resistant.

First Aid Kit

I put this inside a 10 litre drybag with a few extra things (I will come on to them later). I have clearly marked the dry bag as FIRST AID, so other people can quickly identify it in an emergency. You may want to purchase a sticker to put on your dry bag / peli case.

Inside the red pack…

If you open the pack shown above, you will immediately see 2 pairs of non-latex gloves. When an incident has taken place it is all too easy to rush in to try and help. Make sure you protect yourself and others from cross-contamination – WEAR GLOVES. Putting them here means you cannot forget!

Gloves in the first aid kit

So what else?

  • A range of hypo-allergenic plasters
  • Some stretchy sticky fabric tape (hypo-allergenic)
  • Micro-pore tape
  • 3 sizes of sterile dressings / bandages
  • A range of sizes of adhesive dressings
  • 2 tubes of sterile water
  • Face mask
  • 6 alcohol free antiseptic wipes
  • Triangular bandage
  • Ducktape
  • Scissors

I keep everything in little sealable plastic bags, just to give extra protection against getting wet:


I keep the ducktape on a bit of old broken pen. This allows me to store a good amount in a compact yet easy to dispense format.

Duck tape dispenser

Also in the dry bag…

I carry some waterproof paper, with a small IKEA pencil tucked in the coils so I can note down any details such as the casualty’s name, what happened, what treatment has been given, vital stats etc. Along with this I carry a little prompt card, cos even the most well trained can find themselves forgetting everything at the sight of a loved one in dire medical trouble. You can use these to record on, but I find that in our environment a waterproof pad is much easier. Pencils can withstand being wet, pens to write on laminated card don’t tend to like it.

Notepad and prompt sheet

Savlon spray is a great antiseptic that also handily dries wounds – very handy in wet environments. And Compeed is fab for blisters / rubbing – the Savlon spray can be used first to dry out the area. these are not essentials, but pretty useful I think.

Savlon and Compede

I also carry a “Blizzard Vest”, which is a like a big corrugated, hooded foil jumper that you can stick over anyone getting cold. It’s vacuum packed, and if you have to use it you can send it back to be re-packed!

Blizzard vest

If someone is injured they get cold really fast, especially outdoors. However, don’t forget that the rest of the group might be getting cold too. This is why I have another dry bag…

The other drybag…

I carry a separate dry bag for what I would call “group kit”. In there I have a group shelter, some emergency foods and spare clothing. The reason I have this separate is because there are some places I don’t feel it is necessary to carry these things, like at managed sites such as Canolfan Tryweryn. At these sites I would still usually carry a first aid kit though, just in case.

The call for help…

AquapacI cannot recommend strongly enough that every group take a mobile phone with them on the water. Put it in an aquapac and carry it on your person.

Yes, there isn’t always signal in the remote and mountainous regions we go to, but it’s usually nearer than the nearest payphone or house. And those things will be there whether or not you are carrying a phone – so why not? If you don’t want to be disturbed, just turn it off. If you are worried about damaging your expensive smart phone, buy a £10 handset and put a pay-as-you-go sim in it – just make sure to check the battery before you leave!


White water kayaking is an adventure sport – one which involves an element of risk and many risks of the elements. Hopefully anyone who goes paddling regularly can see that if something were to go wrong, you are likely to be a little way from help. In my opinion, all paddlers should attend a good first aid course at least once every 3 years. Rescue Emergency Care courses are good because they are not restrained by HSE First Aid at Work and are designed for people who will be operating in the outdoor environment. There is quite a difference between the potential seriousness of a broken leg in an office carpark and one beside a steep-banked river in Scotland in the middle of winter, for instance.

I hope you never need to use first aid; but if you do I hope you are equipped and trained appropriately. I’m sure your friends and family would hope the same.

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Tryweryn Fest 2010

Back in September, the first ever Tryweryn Festival was held – one of the first events to involve almost all the UK market’s manufacturers. With loads of demo boats available, coaching sessions and loads of fun events all weekend – this promised to be an excellent event.

Demo Boats

I was there running some FlowFree coaching sessions – as well as getting involved with some of the events. Here’s a summary of a fun, wet weekend in Wales.

Saturday was full of events such as the Dynamic Duo rolling contest and the eddy-hop challenge: where you had to try and get as far back up the graveyard as you could from the slalom hut.

Duo rolling

Saturday also saw a “multi-sport race”, which involved running up the Tryweryn, kayaking down and mountain biking back up, round a short course and down again to the finish-line by Chapel Falls. Sadly there were only a few entrants but competition was hot as everyone wanted to beat their mates! Carl Mitchell did a cheeky over-take to beat Lynsey Evans to the top spot.

For those of a less competitive nature, there was an en-masse paddle down to Bala or plenty of opportunity to just play about on the upper section. As well as quality coaching sessions available; from an intro to white water up to nailing those eddies on the Graveyard.

After an evening of films, food and beers; Sunday’s events got going. The morning’s big event was the 8-ball race – an utterly hilarious head-to-head race where various moving obstacles came out to get you at every turn.

8-ball carnage

More carnage

Photos by Paul Smith

Having already completed a morning’s playboat coaching session I was stoked to make it into the Open final (after 5 knockout rounds) and finish in 3rd over all. But then the organisers decided to run a Ladies-only final too! Race no. 6…. and this time I got 2nd, to the legend that is Lynsey Evans.

Just enough time to collect my prizes and get a quick sugar fix, it was time for the freestyle at NRA wave. This event was all about fun and encouraging others – and prizes were only given to non-sponsored paddlers. The jam format of the heats allowed everyone to have fun and try some new moves and throw in some old school. Everyone loves the shudder-rudder-to-air-guitar combo!

Deck grab

Photos taken by: Adrian Trendall

All in all, I think this event showed a lot of promise. Getting all the manufacturers involved meant there was something for everyone. It was a shame that the rain and clash with WWPF meant numbers weren’t as high as they could have been – but hopefully next year at least one of those factors will be arranged differently!

Hope to see you there next year!

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