Thursday, 20 October 2016

A Sickline Experience

The Adidas Sickline has built up a reputation as being one of the toughest extreme races in the world and with good reason! It's not the gnarliest race anymore but what makes the Sickline so hard is the caliber of competitors, its tight racing at it's best!

The moves on the course can be technically easy, the consiquences are still very high. There have been a number of people who have bitten off more than they can chew because the videos make it look easy and have put themselves in extremely dangerous situations. This rapid whether its high or low, is full of siphons. And the only safety before the event starts is your buddies paddling with you or people hanging around. You need to assume you're on your own!

For a lot of people it's a dream to take part in such an event, it was certainly one of mine, but now I've been lucky enough to take part in 4 of the 9 events that have been held. So for anyone who wants to know what it's like to compete at the Adidas Sickline, read on.

                                                             Patiently waiting to board the ferry to Dunkirk 

The journey always starts for us with a rather long drive. So with myself, Jessica, baby Isla and Calum, we high tailed it across Europe to the beautiful little ski town of Oetz. After a short nap upon arrival its always tradition to take the brisk early morning walk up to the Wellerbrucke to see what's new and to get psyched up for the day.

                                                   Checking out the race course the morning of our arrival

It's then time to wash away those tired travel weary eyes on some glacial world class whitewater! This year we booked a great little apartment right near the main carpark which was ideal. I've tried various options of accommodation over the years, its better to splash out and be comfortable, trust me.

                                                                        One of many training laps! 

The rest of the week leading up to the event for me consists of two training sessions a day, one bright and early the other mid afternoon with a nice chill out gap between, apart from the Thursday which is the day before the qualification, I always only do a morning session that day so I am nice and rested.

                                                             Heading out of the mandatory left line 

The Sickline is a finely oiled machine and always runs extremely smoothly thanks to the organizers, you really get what you pay for. After registering and getting your goodies on the Thursday, the next 3 evenings consist of delicious home cooked food and entertainment. On the Wednesday evening we headed up to the Aqua Dome, which is a fancy hot springs spa a little way up the valley. With a variety of hot springs and pools we soaked our sore muscles and even mucked about on the kids water slides.... had to be done.

                                                        Keeping the bow dry amongst the TNT rapid. 

I got up pretty early on race day, showered, did a little yoga and watched some of my training runs one last time before walking up to the course. This year I wasn't able to do the fitness training that I would have liked but I was confident in my skill level and abilities and hoped that a clean line would be enough.

                                                 Setting up that crucial boof and skip through Champions Killer.

Both race runs were pretty clean despite not my best Champions Killer run on my first I came out with two identical time of 1:31. This pushed my to 91st which is my worst result to date at first I was disappointed but this race is getting tougher and a lot of time needs to go into being fit for the qualifier section which after you've cleaned the class 4 is class 2 and flat which requires a lot of stamina to smash a good time. I was 2 seconds off the pace, and that's all it takes to miss out at the Sickline.

                                                      Getting a sweet skip out of Champions Killer.

Luckily the Oetz valley is a fantastic place to be and it's hard to be glum for too long. After getting my complimentary sports massage and enjoying the next day of extremely tight racing it was time to start heading home. After packing up the night before we started our long journey home with some amazing memories.

                                                     Calum getting a sweet line through Champions Killer.

I was extremely lucky to be able to share this experience with my wife and 3 month old daughter and it was so much fun having them with me. I also got to help a good friend tackle his fears and paddle part of the Sickline course.

                                           Walking up to the course with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.

I plan to be competing again next year and I'm planning to go all in, get the training done and put down the race times that I know I am capable of. I've realized that the Sickline has become more than just a race for me, those 3 minutes of racing are a very small part of a fantastic experience!

Lastly a big shout out to my sponsors Palm Equipment for supplying me with the best gear on the market, keeping me warm, dry and safe on the water. Escape Watersports for helping me out with the bits a pieces of kit I need and my newest supporter River Legacy, a charity committed to getting paddlers on British river by improving access. See you all on the water.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Palm Orbit Rand Deck, what's it like in action!?

Before my trip to Italy I wrote a first look review of the much anticipated Orbit Rand Deck from Palm Equipment. Well now you guys can get your hands on one of these spray decks and I can now tell you my experiences using it.

I used this deck pretty much everyday for two weeks so it got some abuse and it took it well. The fit is great around the waist, there is nothing worse than a restrictive spraydeck when trying to perform complex moves and throughout the trip this deck with it's soft neoprene waist tube allowed me to paddle freely. I really like the grippy rubber gasket at the top of the waist tube which is really effective in keeping the deck in place and stopping it from slipping down.

Naturally on a trip like this on new rivers there was a lot of getting in and out of the boats to scout, set safety and take pictures. There is a lot of chunky rand decks on the market which can be a major pain to keep putting on. The Orbit has a relatively small rand which fits perfectly on the cockpit but also isn't too stiff to snap over the cockpit. Underneath the deck is two strips off very sticky rubber, very crucial for keep the deck on and in place but when the deck is dry it does make for an extra effort to put on, an unavoidable niggle.

As most people know Italy is a relatively low volume place to paddle with lots of great slides, drops and boulder style rapids. Although the rand deck was great for everyday creeking, I wanted to test it!

Before I knew it I was dropping into Devils Slide on the Sorba River. This is a drop where you don't want you deck to pop, and from stories I've heard, it's happened before! Needless to say I was glad to be using my Orbit Rand and was confident that it would perform.

I had a successful descent and needless to say my Orbit stayed on!

Pros: Super flexible and comfortable fit.
         Stays in place and doesn't slip down.
         Flexible rand makes it easy to put on and pull off.
         Nice bright highly visible tag.
         Solid fit to the cockpit and stays on when you need it to!
         Even after 2 weeks of being wet, abused and dirty it looks good as new.

Con: If your deck is brand new, dry or you just didn't eat your weetabix that morning you might need to ask your buddy for an extra hand getting it on.

If you're pushing you creeking to the next level or just really want a deck that is solid, secure and durable then I think the Orbit Rand is the deck for you. Head to Escape Watersports in store or online and order yours!

Monday, 6 June 2016

Our Descent into Devil's Slide

Recently I returned from a fantastic trip to Val Sesia, Italy. The trip was fantastic, from sliding down the Sorba slides in the sun, running the manky rapids of the middle Semenza and racing down Mollia Rapid in the final of the Val Sesia River Festival. But the highlight of my trip had to be running the 'Devils Slide' on the Sorba river. 

The Devil slide is a technical slide with a number of bad places you don't want to end up on the way down. It's considered the toughest challenge in the area and is not often run, although it is becoming more popular. There are three waterfalls in the gorge, two 20 footers and the final being the Devils Slide. I had planned to look at the drop but when the opportunity popped up to drop in with a solid crew off we went! Luckily I managed to get my hands on a Palm Equipment, Orbit Rand Spraydeck for my trip and this was the kind of drop that you wanted a spraydeck that was going to stay on! 

Immediately we struggled to find a put in but eventually settled on a small gap in the gorge above. We then quickly made our way to the first waterfall. We had been advised to portage the first waterfall which was good to go but none of fancied it so decided to portage and slide in just below. The next waterfall is a super nice auto boof which swings to the right and dumps you in the calm flat pool above the slide. 

We got out on the right hand bank and the first four of us went in quick succession. We set up minimal safety but quickly realized that there is much you can do from the bank if something went wrong, it's just too tight and steep. 

This was the biggest thing I'd attempted to paddle so after a mental battle I found myself sat in the entrance pool again with Adam Ramadan. Adam was kind enough to let me go first, no one wants to be last! I splashed my face, gripped my paddles, and headed to the lip. 

It starts gentle, then quickly drops near vertical before reconnecting violently and firing you into the cauldron half way down. Landing in this cauldron pointing downstream is crucial! Many have take huge beatings in this hole and swimming the rest of the slide. I got lucky and popped out exactly where I wanted to be and got some speed into the last section, dropping sideways into and undercut wall and finally flushing through into the pool. 

The feeling at the bottom of something like that is truly unique! After plenty of high fives and fist pumps we looked up to watch Adam come down. All looked good till he dropped into the undercut wall, which stopped him dead. He was vertically pinned and there was no way for us to get to him. Luckily he kept his cool and was in a stable position, after ten seconds or so he managed to rock himself off to the side and finished the slide upside down where he was T rescued. 

A dented boat and a few bruises later we got to the take out and started the long hike out of the gorge back to the cars. It was a huge day for everyone and we were all super stoked on our achievement! 

A huge thanks to Palm for bringing such fantastic rand deck onto the market. It was ideal for a descent like this. Easy to put on, nice and firm fit and most importantly it gave me peace of mind at a time when I needed to be confident in my gear.

You can pick up you Palm Orbit Rand Deck online or in store at Escape Watersports! 

A huge thanks to the boys for dropping in with me and a huge thanks to Matty Nicholas for taking these photo's.

Thanks for reading and see you on the river! 

Thursday, 5 May 2016

The Welsh Open

Last Sunday we hosted the Welsh Open at CIWW, and what a day it was!

First thing all the sponsors of the event set up shop to display the latest gear and supply endless amounts of demo boats for the day. The full production Dagger Nomad models were drawing in some attention!

I had to work for most of the day but that wasn't a downer because I was on freestyle coaching. It was great to see a range of young kids and adults trying to get into freestyle and seeing the quick progress they were making was great! Big shout out to Lowri Davies for helping us out on the sessions!

After work the Boater X began. We had built a purpose made ramp about half way down the course and it worked really well allowing 4 people in each heat. The course was set out with a number of obstacles that needed to be touched, if missed you were out!

My first heat went really well starting with a minor scrap with Natty Cordon, I managed to get ahead and have a clean run to the finish line. My 2nd heat was much the same breaking away from the pack early.

On my final run I was lucky enough to get a prime starting position on the left, so once we hit the water I again managed to get an early lead and avoid the carnage that ensued behind me! It was such a fun race and I was pleased with my 1st place!

Mean while the freestyle was taking place with 3 ability levels. The prize everyone was fighting for was a wooden trophy that Ronnie had worked really hard on during the lead up to the event. I was taking part in the elite category but after the boater X my shoulder froze up a little and I wanted to avoid injury with my upcoming Italy trip. And I would have got my ass kicked as there was some serious talent competing!

Thanks to everyone who organised the event and to all the sponsors who supplied demos, and prizes. Also a huge shout out to everyone who competed, it was nice to see lots of new faces!

Photo Credits to Gav Cooper and Isabel Cuesta


Palm Orbit First Look!

I've been lucky enough to get hold of another piece of kit from Palm that isn't in the stores yet. The Palm Orbit spray deck!

Rand decks have become all the rage over the years with the theory being that they are less likely to implode when boofing big or running waterfalls. I hadn't really put much thought into owning one until I ran Lady Falls (40 foot) last year. I boofed the waterfall because of the shallow landing and on impact my Impact spraydeck (ironic) came off the right side of my cockpit.

So here is my first look review of the new Palm Orbit Spraydeck!

Firstly the whole range of decks have had a fresh new look, with tough, black outer and grey, flexible inner which will absorb impacts and prevent implosion. The new and simpler Palm logo sits bold and proud in the middle of the deck!

The pull tag of the deck is blue, matching the logo and is heavily stitched both on top and underneath the deck adding extra strength. There is also a little quick release tag to clip onto your BA whilst scouting/ out of your boat or to hang and dry.

The waist is flexible and easy to put on and sports the O ring seal which helps keep the deck in place and seals water out, with or without a cag.

The 4mm diamond shaped rand has been tested on a number of boats and creates a nice tight seal around the cockpit. The rubber is nice and stretchy so unlike other rand decks, you wont have to ask your buddies to help you put your deck on!

Heavy duty Gripsil has been used on the underside of the deck to really grip the cockpit and keep it in place.

I can't wait to put this deck through it's paces over the next two weeks in Italy! I will be able to give a more detailed review of it's performance upon return, I'm sure it's going to be a cracker!! Keep an eye out for these in stores and head to Escape Watersports to get your orders in!

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Palm Lightning Throwbag First Look....

Now we all have that 'Beater' friend that we go paddling with, that's why it's important to have the right safety gear for when things go wrong. Most essential in my view is a throwline, but there is so many to choose from and surely they all do the same thing? Well I've been fortunate enough to get my hands on the hugely anticipated Palm Lightning Throwbag and this is why I'm choosing this line to pull my Beater friends out of sticky situations.....

Firstly the Lightning has a fresh look with some new bright colors that will stand out on the river and in low light/poor visibility conditions, you're not going to miss this flying at your face! Considering there is 18m of 8.5mm floating line it is seriously light and compact, perfect for sticking in your boat and not adding too much weight and bulk on long hike ins or on the river. This is without a doubt the most compact line on the market.

The most exciting addition to the Lightning is the Fidlock closure, which is essentially a plastic clip which locks in place easily with a magnet. Opening the bag and getting line out quickly is essential and with this system you can pop it open with a thumb, closure is just as quick and easy. The closure is also not reliant on the magnet so once closed it is secure. This is a massive step up to competitors popper closure which I find fiddly and hard to close.

The biggest complaint I hear about throwlines is that the neck and opening are too narrow and that packing the bag is a pain. Palm have responded with a super wide opening that has been modeled on climbing chalk bags, the neck has been stiffened so it stays open by itself which makes repacking a breeze. Again there isn't a bag like this on the market!

The line inside has also got a fresh new look to match the bag which again is highly visible. Although the bag is crazy small the line inside is a nice hefty 8.5mm which has a real nice feel and will feel really nice for the thrower and receiver to hold onto during rescues compared to other compact lines which can be a little cheese wirey on the hands. The line is attached with a figure 8 not to a heavily stitched tape, the line can be removed and used by itself or put back in with a knot of your choosing. Finally the line has a breaking strength of 8kn which is more than enough for your paddling needs.

The bag has two loops on the back so it can be carried on a waist belt which is ideal as a lot of compact bags only have one loop so the bag hangs awkwardly, not with the lightning!

And finally the tape pops out of the bottom and makes a small loop so the bag can be attached to karabiners and rescue rigs. The loop is only big enough for a karabiner so there is no chance of someones fingers or hands getting trapped, this is a snag free bag!

In my opinion this bag is going to lead the way in the watersports rescue market, everything has been thought out and there are plenty of minor details that put it apart from the competition. This is my bag of choice and I look forward to carrying it with me through the year, you never know when you'll need it!

The Palm Lightning Throwbag is currently due to be out in May so keep an eye out in your local store next month!

P.S you should probably buy it from Escape Watersports as they are ridiculously friendly and have great stock.

Paddle safe kids and remember always bring your bag!

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Welsh Waterfalling!

Just before New Year, we got treated with a little rain which topped up our local Welsh creeks nicely! 

We decided to hit the Nedd Fechan which is one of those rivers where the higher it flows, the more fun it is! After smashing the warm up drop we decided to lap the 20 footer four times. This is one of my favorite waterfalls. With a fast lead in and a large hole guarding the lip, it's difficult to get a clean line. If you stay dry over the entrance hole you can carry your speed and fly off the lip. If you get subbed out, you lose your speed and pencil which isn't great as the landing is unreliably shallow. 

After some sweet lines and some not so sweet we cruised down the rest of the run which has so many fun drops and rapids which you need to be on your game for. 

The Nedd Fechan has a tributary called the Pryddin which is a small creek with a number of large waterfalls. The levels seemed good and Lady Falls is something we all wanted to tick off the list, so we hopped out and headed up the trail to the raging falls. 

Lady falls is a near vertical 40 foot waterfall with a very shallow pool. The lead in which is a slow moving flat pool is perfect and the lip is fairly clean. Whilst scouting waterfall we had two decisions, play it cool and let the bow drop to a sweet 45 degrees and risk penciling it, or boof and tuck to save our backs from the huge impact. Ben went first..... 

Ben went for the 45 degrees and he had a great line. All smiles, Success! I was up next. I took my time getting in my kayak and made sure I was comfortable and ready to go, a quick splash of water in the face and I started paddling toward the lip. 

I gained some speed heading to the lip hoping I would cruise away from the base of the falls where it is rocky. I placed my blade on the lip and with a big boof stroke I tucked my body forward as far as I could. 

The impact was pretty big. My skirt partially blew off and my back ached but no injuries, success! Pods Turn! He went for a similar technique to me with the same results, big impact but all good. 

Ben was so stoked on his first run he decided to go again. This time he went for our technique, but he didn't tuck enough and winded himself. After Ben got his breath back we paddled down to join back up with the Nedd and headed to the take out with big grins on our faces. 

I'd been looking at this waterfall for years but never caught it at a high enough level, finally it was under my belt! 

Looking forward to some more rain and hopefully many more laps of Lady Falls! Happy paddling people!