French Alps 2010

Earlier this year we spent several weeks in the French Alps, where we had great water levels and super-hot sunshine almost every day 🙂

We ran a variety of trips, bespoke courses and guided river runs around the Briancon / Embrun / Guil / Ubaye area – confidence boosters, white water skills, river leadership skills and playboating days were just some of what we got up to! Here’s a few photos to whet your appetite, a full album of photos from our time in the Alps can be found in our photo section.

Doug on the Upper Guil Gorge

Uber-boof by Bill Norman

Rolling practice

Slides in Italy

Fireworks in Embrun on Bastille Day

Details of next year’s trips will be online soon – so keep your eyes peeled!

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Drowning doesn’t look like drowning

A great article about what drowning really looks like, and how to recognise it. I recommend everyone who ever spends time near water reads it!

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FlowFree at your Club

We are now offering clubs the chance to book us for their own pool sessions, evening meets or weekend trips.

We’ll come directly to your club session so no special arrangements need to be made for the club. We can run flatwater playboating sessions (with demo boats), rolling clinics or any variation of our usual white water or safety & rescue skills courses. Or if you’d like us to display our skills to inspire members (or potential members at an open day), we’d be happy to come and show off 😉

Get in touch for more details.

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Wave-tastic fun in Lyon

Here’s a little write up sent to us by one of our trainee coaches, Fran Kohn.

So after the obligatory long drive, multiple fried breakfasts and dodgy ‘value’ French confectionary, we arrived at our destination of Hawaii Sur Rhone for an Introduction to Big Wave Paddling course with Lowri Davies from FlowFree.

We arrived late in the evening but were keen to see what we had come for, so we went straight to see the wave. In the dark the most noticable thing was the never ending thundering and crashing as about 900 cumecs raced past us, just 10 feet away. In the glow of the street lamps it looked big, fast and exciting and we were all fired up for the next day.

While the clients went back to the comfort of a nearby hotel, Lowri and her Trainee coach (me) bunked down in the luxury of her camper-van.

The next day Lowri talked through where we wanted to catch the wave – ‘the sweet spot in the middle just on the surfers left shoulder of the pile’. We started with a straight forward run through the wave to get our up stream markers worked out, because the massive horizon line obscures your view of exactly where you are on the wave. As we ferryed out it became clear just how big this river was!! On the lip of the drop the surge of adrenaline pumping through your veins is unbelieveable as you are confronted by a river wide 10ft wall of water! We all punched through it shouting variations of “hell yeah” and then fought our way to the get out eddy all excited about our next rides on this awesome wave!!

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Actually catching the wave proved quite difficult. Gauging where you were on the wave using your upsteam markers required a fair amount of balls as you wanted to go far enough river right to catch the wave but not so far river left that you got stuck in the sticky bit!! Both myself and Andy ended up going too far right and both had to battle with the consequences. For me, I firstly felt elation of having caught the wave, and then came the realisation that I was in the wrong place! And stuck! No amount of trying to carve surfers left was working. Both Andy and I got rolled over a couple of times only to roll back up in the meat off the wave! I managed to pull myself out on another roll, whilst Andy’s experience ended with him getting a little bit wetter…. Time for lunch, I think!

The rest of the day was spent working out how to get on that elusive sweet spot, but as the water level rose this proved even harder!!! But by using the techniques like positive thinking and visualisation we each got a few wicked rides on one hell of an awesome wave by the end of the day.

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On the morning of day two we checked the river level and decided it wasn’t ideal for Hawaii-sur-Rhone so making use of Lowri’s expert local knowledge we headed to a slalom course just outside of Lyon which had two great waves on it. We spent the day there with Lowri doing some intensive freestyle coaching to great affect! At the end of the day we were all exhausted.

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It may not have been Hawaii Sur Rhone, but we had had a brilliant day and progressed our wave boating loads.

Day three started a little falteringly as sadly Hawaii Sur Rhone was still not right so we headed back to the slalom course for some consolidation of what we had learned the day before. We then paddled down the course and onto the river Rhone after hearing rumours about another great wave. Sure enough just outside the slalom site another river wide wave WITH EDDY SERVICE!!!

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Usually this wave does not exist but there was construction work on the dam upstream so for the first hour this new wave was rising and falling right in front of our eyes and under our boats… but as soon as work finished for the day the workers left all the gates open, giving us exclusive access for the whole evening. AND IT WAS FANTASTIC! It had everything on it you could want, a hole, a wave with a pile and even a green wave! So we spent our last evening grinning from ear to ear doing all the moves we had learned over the past few days – we were very happy campers.

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Thanks to FlowFree for an awesome trip. If you are interested in a similar trip or some coaching at this fantastic playboating venue – drop them an email on Lowri will be back out there from mid-June to early July or courses for groups can arranged on request – just get in touch to make arrangements.

To see more photos of our trip, check out the photo section of the website!

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Newsletter : April 2010

Hello and welcome to the latest FlowFree newsletter!

Well February and March were very busy indeed here at FlowFree. We’ve run trips abroad, freestyle courses, safety courses, week-long bespoke courses, BCU courses and white water skills courses of all varieties. And our coaches have been just as busy in their spare time: slalom competitions (see below), ski trips, Level 5 development, open boating and much more besides…

New Course Dates Online
We’ve now put all of our course dates for the whole of this year online so you can chose a date to suit you. Of course, if you do not find the course you would like on a date to suit you, just get in touch – we may well be able to arrange (or re-arrange) something for you. Check out our course calendar.

New Confidence Booster Course
Due to popular demand, FlowFree now offers a two-day confidence boosting course for anyone who feels that their inhibitions hold them back on the river. Confidence is a delicate thing and without it, no-one can paddle at their best. Losing your confidence can happen to anyone, of any standard. There may be a trigger – perhaps a you’ve had a bad experience or had a long gap since your last white water adventure – but sometimes you just seem to lose your mojo. We understand how frustrating this can be and would like to help you past that mental block towards happy, relaxed and enjoyable paddling at whatever level you’re at. Low ratios and highly experienced coaches ensure that you will have a very productive weekend, tailored to your needs. For more info and dates, click here.

FlowFree in France this Summer
From mid-June to early July, Lowri will in the French Alps and available for coaching courses, guided trips and playboating clinics. During this time, she will also be running Big Wave courses on demand on the Hawaii-sur-Rhone wave in Lyon. Whether you are freestyle whiz-kid or a river boater who fancies the thrill of surfing a giant standing wave, Lowri can help you to make the most of your time at H-S-R. Our “Intro to Big Wave Surfing” courses have been extremely successful in the past, with big smiles and great feedback every time. Why not come and join the fun? Lyon is perfect if you are on your way to or from the Alps or just fancy a few days of big wave fun as a short break from work.

For more information or to arrange some coaching in France this summer, just reply to this email or give us a call.

Student Boater-X, France
While we’re on the subject of paddling in sunny climes; we’ve just confirmed that we will be sponsoring the 2010 Student Boater-x which takes place on the Durance at l’Argentiere. This event is close to our hearts as our very own Tom Laws was the creator and original organiser of what has become a rip-roaringly fun event. Any Uni groups who will be in the French Alps on 11-12th June should definitely go along. It’s free!

Can we do better?
“To stand still is to go backwards.” – we understand the importance of always seeking to improve. Your feedback is really important to us, which is why we have made it even easier with an online form. If you have recently been on a course with us, please give us any feedback you may have. We take on board anything people take the time to send to us, so whether positive or negative, we want to hear from you!

New Coaching Staff
We take great care in choosing who we employ and have strict criteria: they must be an experienced and passionate paddler who is able to pass on this knowledge, technique and tactics to others through great coaching skills. But most of all, they should be people that we like spending time with and that we think our clients will like too. That’s why we are excited to announce David Fairweather as the latest member of regular FlowFree staff. Dave is an experienced white water paddler who over the past 15 years has paddled in Nepal, Kyrgystan, Morocco, Norway, Italy, India… the list goes on. You can read more about Dave’s adventures and passion for coaching on our About Us section, or check out some of his glowing customer feedback in our testimonials.

Palm Big Paddle
We are proud to announce that FlowFree will be running clinics and will have a stand at the Palm Big Paddle at Symmonds Yat on May 15-16th. If you haven’t heard about the Big Paddle, check out – something for everyone!

Slalom Success
After whimsically saying she’d enter a slalom, Lowri realised she had just 4 days back in the UK before she was supposed to race in a Div 1 (for those who don’t know much about slalom, it has leagues like football, which go from Premier down to Div 4 – Premier is for very good people, usually GB Team and those sponsored for slalom who regularly train, so Div 1 is kinda like the best of the rest). There were a few problems with this plan: a) She had been in a slalom boat just twice, ever before b) She didn’t own, nor have access to a slalom boat c) The only rules she knew about slalom were that you had to go through the sticks. In order. Fast.

Luckily, Lowri found a slalom boat, someone told her what the beeping at the start meant and she didn’t miss any gates – resulting in her finishing middle of the field and being granted a rank in Div 1 for future races. Well done!

More Congratulations!
To FlowFree coaches David Fairweather and Lowri Davies for becoming Aspirant BCU Level 5 coaches earlier this month. We wish you luck with your continued coach development!

That’s all for now. We look forward to see you on the water sometime soon!

The FlowFree Team

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Video Feedback

We like to give our clients that little bit extra. That’s why if you come on one of our courses, we not only give you dedicated and expert tuition with plenty of feedback on the day – we also email you full written feedback with a summary of what we covered and a clear action plan for you to work on.

During our courses, we will often use tools such as video feedback and as part of giving that little bit extra, we will put the footage captured together in a short feedback video. This means you can watch back what you did from the comfort of your home / office, learn from your own mistakes and marvel at your triumphs. We will add a few little pointers to the video, which will reinforce the written feedback and allow you to put it all back into on-the-water context.

Here’s an example feedback video, from a recent Intro to Playboating course:

More videos can be found on our youTube channel.

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Welsh Universities Competition

This weekend coming (Jan 30-31st), FlowFree are helping to organise the first ever Canoe Wales Universities Competition and party weekend.

The weekend will involve a range of disciplines with the idea being to give people the opportunity to try disciplines they may otherwise never get to try while allowing those with experience to showcase their discipline and excel. We will take the results from each event to determine an overall winning University and to award the best paddler in each category. However, the focus of the weekend is most certainly on making sure everyone has fun.

Below is the timetable and other useful info for those coming along – but first… We are still looking for helpers! We need people to help with the time-keeping, judging, scribing, running etc. No special skills or knowledge required, although if you know anything about sprint, polo or WWR you will be very much loved. In return for your help, we can offer you free accommodation and food for the weekend, plus free entry to the Saturday night party and may even be able to cover reasonable fuel expenses or a few beers. Please get in touch if you can help!

Getting There

The event is taking place in Llandysul, mid-Wales – get directions, please see Camping is available on site and all events will take place pretty much on site too; so once you are there you shouldn’t need to drive anywhere!


Below is a provisional timetable – please understand that times are liable to change so it is important that you come to the briefings and keep an eye on notice boards for an changes to the timetable. You will notice that some events on the lake and the river over lap, this is to make sure we fit everything in. We will do our best to ensure that no-one has clashing events but each competitor’s own responsibility to check and bring it up with an organiser as soon as possible.


Camping will be available, so come along as early as you like. There a couple of pubs within walking distance or the usual campsite capers.


8.30am-9am: Final Registration – club captains please come and confirm your entries. Make sure you know the names of everyone competing and what they will be competing in. We will particularly need final team-lists for the polo event.

10am: Morning briefing – to be attended by all competitors, in the area outside the outdoorkit4u shop. Start lists go up.

10.30am-12.30pm: Polo group stage. Lake.

11am-3pm: Slalom. 2 timed runs on a short course. You may use any boat, some slalom boats will be available to borrow. River.

2pm-4pm: Flatwater sprint. Lake.

4-6pm: Floodlit it’s-a-knockout. We hope to have time for a fun its-a-knockout type event. Details will be announced on the day.

6.30pm-late: Food & party time! Porth Hotel, within 5 minutes walk of the camp site in Llandysul. You will need a ticket to get food, so make sure your club captain has registered everyone and that you do not lose your ticket!


9am-12pm: WWR. One timed run in any craft, some WW racers will be available to borrow.  River.

12.30-1.30pm: Head-to-head. Seeded heats of 4, top 2 from each heat will go through to next round, and must make their way back to the top of the course immediately. River.

2-3.30pm: Polo finals. Top two teams from each group battle it out for 1st,2nd,3rd and 4th. Plus Ladies teams final. Lake.

4.30pm: Prize giving. Stick around to find out who has won each event (we’ve gt some cool prizes to give away) and which University has won the overall prize!

Other Stuff

We have plenty of recreational kayaks available for use and a few slalom and WWR boats as well, so you can try out each discipline for real – or you can stick to the boat you are used to.

There is a paddling shop on site (outdoorkit4u) who will be offering 10% discount all weekend. On top of that, we have a couple more outfitters coming down with stands to sell gear and lend out demo boats, such as the new Jackson Kayak playboats.

You are free to use the river or lake between events, however be aware that the centre also has a course running so they may ask that you do not use part of the lake at certain times.

To download the timetable as a Word doc, click here.

We look forward to seeing you there!

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Conwy Falls – don’t end up on THAT rock…

Conwy Falls has been an infamous site for kayakers for many years. The waterfall itself has had a handful of successful descents but upstream of the falls lies a nasty rapid, which in recent years has been the scene of an increasing number of incidents. You see the nasty rapid I talk about lies just around the corner from the take out of the classic Middle Conwy, under Penmachno Bridge. The incidents occur when paddlers miss their intended take-out eddy: if you notice your mistake fast enough you may be able to get yourself to safety, however if not you will most likely end up stuck down here:

Missed the take out?

The problem with ending up sat on one of those inviting rocks or in the eddy behind it is that you are unable to get out due to the sheer sided river banks. It is at this point that Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue, the fire services or another suitably skilled and equipped rescue team has to be called out. In the last of these incidents, a member of Ogwen Valley MR was seriously injured.

So why is it that so many people end up here? Well, I think there are several factors: if the river is high the takeout eddy is the middle of a fun and bouncy rapid; the large Penmachno bridge that some people presume they will see is actually virtually impossible to see from the river; some people do not walk down to see what the take out looks like from the river so do not recognise it when they get there; and occasionally there will be further circumstances such as a swim in the rapid above. Many guides to the river make note of warning makers (wooden posts at 200m, 100m and one at the take out eddy) – but over time these old posts, which were originally painted bright white, have become faded, dull and hard to spot.

There has been much discussion about what could be done to help reduce the number of incidents and often that discussion ends up focusing on the moral issues of whether something should be done at all. Here at FlowFree, we felt it was time that talk was turned into action. We respect that the river is a natural environment and paddlers should be responsible their own safety, and the safety of those they are paddling with – but we also could not sit back and watch more paddlers getting into trouble on our local river.

Rather than putting up new warning signs, we decided that the best course of action would be the make the existing warning markers brighter and easier to spot. Here’s some photos of our work:

We left the 200m and 100m writing on.

200m marker
200 metres to go!

100 metre marker
100 metres to go!

Take out marker

Please note that although we hope that this will help people to spot the markers more easily, it is should not replace the need for all groups to be familiar with where the take out is, especially on a river where it is so critical. If you plan to paddle this section of the Conwy, please take the time to walk down to the take out eddy (from Conwy Falls Cafe, walk over Penmachno Bridge and turn left onto a well-worn path then follow the path down to the river and then walk upstream of the yellow mark a bit to familiarise yourself with the view of the eddy from upstream). The section has two harder rapids, usually graded as Vs: immediately after the second of these, there is a grade III+ (fairly chunky in high water) which eases to grade III – stay alert and start looking for the markers and your take out eddy as early as possible in this rapid . If you are not familiar with the river, you may consider hiring one of our local river guides to ease the worry of missing the take out and let you relax and enjoy the river.

We hope this helps to prevent further accidents on this fantastic section of river.

Sheep in a syphon
An unfortunate sheep takes a closer look of a syphon under Penmachno Bridge

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Newsletter : January 2010

Hello and welcome to the latest FlowFree newsletter!

After a busy autumn with consistently high river levels throughout November and December, things froze over for a good few weeks here in North Wales. Check out our blog for some amazing photos of some well known North Wales rivers frozen solid!

Now that things have thawed out and the rain has returned, we have plenty of courses and trips to look forward to as spring approaches.

Last minute spaces
Fancy improving your skills on some classic North Wales rivers next weekend? We have last minute spaces available on our White Water Improvers course – 30-31st January. Book asap to avoid disappointment.

You can now book online
We improved our booking procedure to allow you to pay for your course online using Paypal or your credit or debit card. We’ve also added an online booking form, so you can complete the whole booking procedure online within minutes. The printable booking form and alternative payment methods of bank transfer or cheque are still available, check out the booking info page for full details.

Gift Vouchers
We now offer gift vouchers in a variety of values – perfect for giving to loved ones on special occasions. Not only can they be used towards all of our advertised courses but also for one-to-one and bespoke courses.

New course calendar
We’ve added a Google calendar to our website with all of our course dates on, making it easy for you to see what we have going on around any particular date. You can also easily add the course details to your own calendars at a click of a button. We’d be keen to get feedback on this new feature, so please check it out and let us know what you think!

BCU White Water Safety & Rescue
FlowFree are now offering BCU White Water Safety & Rescue courses always staffed by a combination of experienced safety specialists and active white water adventurers to ensure you get a good balance of technical knowledge and practical application.

Current dates:
6-7th February
10-11th April

For more information, see the BCU courses section of our website.

Ladies Weekend
Birmingham Ladies on their FlowFree experienceBack in December, we ran a bespoke ladies weekend course for Birmingham Canoe Club (pictured left). Working alongside their coaches we did workshops on everything from core boat control, ferrygliding and eddying in and out up to some playboating for those prepared to stick their head in the icy waters! The big hit of the weekend was the “stern squeeze” introduced by Lowri – some of the girls couldn’t resist calling “And squeeze!” in the voice of an aerobics instructor every time they used the stroke! From the emails we received from the ladies after the course, it seems a lot was learnt and everyone had plenty of fun. We hope they are still calling “squeeeze!” at each other down rivers for years to come…

Our next weekend of Ladies Specific courses is set to be 24-25th April; with a Confidence Booster day and WW Skills Development available in either 1-day or 2-day options. If playboating is your thing, we’ll have a Ladies Playboating day on February 21st. Check out the Ladies Courses page for more information and prices.

Bespoke Courses
Whether it’s a one-to-one or a course for your club, our bespoke courses have been very well received with very high return custom. Due to their growth in popularity, we have now added our standard bespoke course prices to the website.

We hope to see you on the water soon!

Kind regards,

The FlowFree Team

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Wintery Weather

As I am sure you noticed, the past few weeks have been rather cold in the UK. Here in North Wales was certainly no exception as the snow fell and the rivers and lakes froze over; we swapped our kayaks for snowboards, skiis and winter boots. Here’s a few photos of popular North Wales rivers – can you spot a line?!

Public Toilet Falls on the Mawddach. Photos: Patrick Clissold

It has been a winter of extreme weather… back in November / December we had floods of epic proportions. Here’s some more North Wales classics, in less-than-classic conditions:

Miner’s Bridge!

Mincer on the Llugwy

Fun lookin’ boils downstream of Pont-y-Pair in Betws

Now that things have thawed out, we’ve been back on the rivers enjoying the best of North Wales with runs of the Ogwen, Conwy and Nantygwryd (we’d hoped to paddle from the top of the Nantygwryd to our house in Llanrwst but the lakes by Plas-Y-Brenin were still frozen!).

If you are feeling a bit rusty after the chilly Christmas break, why not brush up your skills with one of our skills courses? We’ve just added plenty more dates to take us up to the summer. Also – check out our new google course calendar!

See you on the water…

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