The Old Ghost Road
Since coming to New Zealand just over a year ago I have spent a good amount of time partaking in activities other than kayaking. Whilst kayaking is still my favourite way to enjoy the outdoors I have expanded my horizons to hobbies that will keep me occupied when it hasn't been raining, or when it has been snowing. I always swore I wouldn't become one of those kayakers who only actually ever went mountain biking, but it has been a very dry month out here on the West Coast so I've found myself out on the bike quite often. Doing the Old Ghost Road has been something I want to do for a while and is a great way to experience the beauty of the West Coast whilst still getting a bit of an adrenaline fix.
For me the Olympics is all about creating a platform to showcase the abilities of the world’s top athletes across a range of sports. I think the current disciplines represented for kayaking do this very well. Flatwater sprint is kayaking in its purest form and rewards physical strength, power and technique. It would be nice to see some longer races included in the programme to demonstrate the prowess of more endurance based athletes but on the whole it does a good job of providing a spectator friendly, easy to understand event where the fastest paddler always wins. Slalom is also a fantastic demonstration of paddlesport where competitors must combine athleticism with whitewater skill in order to come out on top. At the Olympics there are many issues such as the one-boat per nation rule where you can have a French 1,2,3 at the world championships but only one is allowed to compete at the Olympics which is drastically unfair and cheapens the value of an Olympic medal where participation from under-represented nations is prioritised over allowing those who have committed to training to the level of the best in the world to compete. This and other problems such as the quality of an artificial course are issues for a separate rant, however the concept of canoe/kayak slalom as a test of paddling ability is a very good one and therefore, in my opinion, deserves a spot in the Olympics. Boater-X is not and there are several reasons why this is so.
The Altaimate Adventure
What springs to most people’s minds when they hear the word ‘Siberia’ is an inhospitable wasteland full of ice and snow where unfortunate individuals would be exiled during harsher times. This is completely contrary to the incredibly beautiful, rather hot yet very welcoming area of Russia that we ventured to this July/August. Getting to the Altai region can be quite an adventure (4hr flight from Moscow followed by a 14hr drive in a van) but it is completely worth it for the epic multi-day whitewater in stunning canyons, even the food is pretty good!
Due to the fact that none of us spoke Russian and we were all working full time in the lead up to the trip we thought it easier to book on with Two Blades Adventures rather than organise all the logistics ourselves. Whilst this led to a different on-water dynamic than most of us were used to it did mean that we fully maximised our time out there and got to follow world-class paddlers Tomas, Egor and Alona down the classic runs of the area thus saving lots of time in scouting as they knew all the lines!
Just over a year ago I swam out of a sinking boat into the Champion's Killer eddy in the sickline final; my gopro headcam footage would be unusable by the media due to a string of choice swear words and I was suffering from frustration and bitterness about my performance. Whilst many were quick to blame the equipment - the deck shouldn't have popped, the boat was too small - I knew myself that I hadn't got a clean line down the TNT rapid ever since the sudden increase in water levels the night before the finals and decks are far less likely to pop when you're not backlooping and surfing upside down in holes. My inability to get clean lines down the racecourse annoyed me far more than losing out on the fame and glory of winning the competition and I vowed to return this year to redeem myself.
I have been pretty fortunate to have travelled to many different spectacular places in the world, yet there is one that draws me back again and again…Norway! The stunning landscapes, friendly people and ease of wild camping all make for a great trip but the real pull is the sheer quantity, quality and accessibility of amazing whitewater. Whether you are looking for low volume creeks, bouncy playruns or terrifying yet clean slides, rapids and drops Norway has it all. Pair that with an awesome festival bringing together all walks of extreme outdoorspeople and you have a) a bad hangover and b) the time of your life.
For years and years I’ve wanted to have a crack at the Adidas Sickline Race in Oetz, Austria. Unfortunately, other commitments such as University or work always prevented me from going, but not this year! After a whole summer of playboating on the Ottawa I was very excited to get back in a creekboat, and where better than the Wellerbrucke rapids?
Summer on the Ottawa
A summer of warm water, sandy beaches and perfect waves sounds like most people’s ideal, well this is what you can find if you head to the Ottawa Valley for the season! The past few months I’ve been working as a kayak instructor/raft-guide/summer camp carer/shuttle driver/dining room worker/whatever else they want me to do so I can afford to spend a few months living in a beautiful little cabin in the most idyllic spot on this classic river.
The Ottawa is famed for its world-class freestyle waves and the best come in at high levels due to spring meltwater. Unfortunately, I arrived a little late from Peru to catch the really high water but was in perfect time for 3 weeks of the famous Mini-Bus wave. I went almost every day to this wave whilst it was in, often for 5 hours in a day (I didn’t have much else to do at the time). I managed to try some new tricks I’d never done before such as flashbacks and a few attempts at airscrews, which didn’t go terribly, as well as working on perfecting older tricks and just working on timing and control on a big wave. Huge thanks to Lou and Graham for putting up with me in a spare trailer for these weeks, and giving me the best possible start to the summer.
When I heard the Freeestyle World Championships were going to be held on the Ottawa River this summer I seriously considered having a go for the team. However, I was in Chile at the time the selections were on and flights were expensive so I chose to stay in South America and come to watch as I’d be in the Ottawa Valley working all summer anyway. Not having too much freestyle experience before this summer I think I made the right decision. Watching the British girls tear up the wave and seeing two of them in the finals I seriously doubt I would have had a chance of getting a spot on the team and the summer was much more enjoyable without the stress of competing.
Having achieved the goal of running the Rio Baker we loaded up and set off in search of other rivers and adventures further south. There is probably nobody better acquainted than us with the locations of all gomerias (tyre shops) along the Carretera Austral, but fortunately other than a few punctures and a missing knut the Subaru performed superbly and safely delivered us to Villa O’Higgins, the most southern point of this famous thoroughfare.
For many years now it has been my dream to paddle the Rio Baker down in Patagonia, Chile. After 2 trips down to Chile where, due to commitments with World Class Academy, I was unable to journey further south than the Futaleufu and with the threat of a dam imminent I thought I had lost the opportunity to paddle this unique river. However, thanks to the work of opposition groups the “Patagonia sin Represas” campaign has managed to put a stop to the progress of the dam…for now. This January I was able to join old British paddling buddies Lee Royle and Rory Woods along with a new friend Sebastian Hennig from Norway on an epic trip down to Patagonia and finally got to enter the imposing canyons of the Rio Baker.