We had been excited to try White Water Sup since seeing it in 2019 while competing in a GBSUP race at the National Watersports Centre in Nottingham. Further inspired by fellow racer Emily King doing a White Water SUP competition we decided it was definitely on our radar.
Well we all know how 2020 disappeared off the calendar so roll on to this year and after making some enquiries I was put in touch with British Canoeing White Water SUP coaches, Lisa Boore and Louise Royle. We started making plans for some lessons as soon as Covid travel restrictions lifted.
Lisa set me off on an equipment hunt and so I kitted us out with the necessary leg, arm pads, helmet and we already had the all important QUICK RELEASE (QR) waist leashes. I also got some dry trousers and cag tops.
As to footwear, sturdy boots were required so I wore my yard boots - perfect !
We camped at Riverwye Camping, Symonds Yat West. It was a stunning spot with a pitch right by the river. There is always so much to see here with geese, swans, ducks, paddlers and the pleasure boat.
Our Coach, Louise Royle, arrived shortly after we had pitched so we had some lunch before getting ready. The first lesson was on leashes. My QR leash was far too long so we cut a fair bit off. It must be fast and easy to get off. Louise also said I must not tuck the end in to it's keeper. Steve's leash didn't have a toggle to easily grasp so Louise provided an alternative. This had more releases on it so can still be undone easily if slipped around the body.
On our cruise downstream we learned about "magnetic boots" and adopting a diagonal stance that combined with your paddle in the water gave a tripod for extra stability. Then with a lower centre of gravity by bending the ankles, knees and hips, or by kneeling. I actually liked the one knee down and found it very effective. We used a kayak grip lower on the paddle for these lower positions.
Whitewater SUP is definitely not a sport for those who do not want to fall in! So next came the inevitable bit of demonstrating we could safely fall in spreadeagled, star fish style with feet raised. It is important not to go hands or feet first in case you hit under the surface features.
We showed we could self rescue back onto our boards effectively by swimming horizontally back on as opposed to having feet down to kick. Then came another practice of falling in, this time releasing our QR waist leashes before retrieving our boards. I can't impress enough how important this is and later in the session we learnt first hand why. Steve fell in the rapids and his board wedged behind a rock with him the downsteam side in the fast flow of the rapids. He quickly released his leash and swam safely back to the eddy and released his board. Such a different outcome to if his leash had been around his ankle! It's all about mitigating risk to enjoy this sport.
Next came our introduction to the Symonds Yat rapids. We followed Louise down on our knees and this was great fun. We love to SUP Surf and Ocean Downwind on moving water but this is totally different.
Having made it into one of the side eddies, we attempted crossing back and forth to start. Whilst we managed to do it, we were paddling furiously up and across the rapids to get to the eddies on the opposite side.
Louise then gave us some demos and coaching on "leaving the hard shoulder" lots of clock analogies which I love. Then those magnetic boots again. This time to edge the downstream rail with double magnets.
It was fantastic, suddenly the water did the work for you and we were gliding back and forth, by comparable ease. Now the problem here is, we were not working hard enough. We had dressed in long John / Jane and cag top assuming that we would be falling in but working hard so keeping warm. We are normally training hard for racing so we get really hot but with these top tips from Louise it became more about technique. Note to self, wear more layers tomorrow.
So having learnt this "Ferrygliding" we practiced all afternoon on our knees, one knee up and then standing up. Louise showed us a passive stroke opening the blade face and pushing the top hand forward to allow the board to pivot around it. We now had a few tools to continue getting to know the rapids with.
We were pitched together at the camp site and it was great to chat to Louise in the evening. We had a lot in common with our coaching backgrounds as Louise is also a UKCC Level 3 Coach in paddlesport. Mine is in showjumping but we shared stories on the long and thorough process and on becoming British Canoeing SUP Coaches too. The best bit was our friendly Robin that joined us for dinner and breakfast the following morning.
The following day we were grateful for the opportunity of another day on this stunning River Wye. Always a favourite place for us to visit and this trip has to be one of our best yet.
We learnt about using our feet pressure and hips as directional "thrusters" before more practice on the rapids. It was excellent to go back and consolidate the previous day's learning. I gained massive strides in confidence and was standing, ferry gliding, edging and using the paddle effectively. We learnt breaking in and breaking out and then I started to play with changing direction and stance in the rapids. A big thank you here to Louise who expertly navigated my psychology about my weak left leg. A totally different view on the diagonal stance and I was back to feeling anything is possible again.
Our amazing 2 days of 8 hours on the water learning new skills, meeting new friends and gaining loads of confidence had come to an end. Will we do it again? Absolutely as soon as we can!
We booked with Louise Royle through Facebook but sessions are also available via Dorset SUP Coaching and Guiding.co.uk and Lisa Boore from outdoorcoachingandguiding.co.uk
Steve used the Fanatic Rapid Air touring and I was on the Fanatic Fly Air premium. We both used adjustable paddles and chose to take the cheaper nylon blade ones rather than bash our carbon ones up before we know what we are doing!
Louise was on a Tambo 10’5 Core 4.7inch lighter board and used a carbon adjustable paddle.
Your White Water coach will advise you on what to wear and protective gear according to the environment you will be in.
Thank you to Louise Royle and Charlie Fryer for their photographs.