Where to Go Surf Kayaking in Scotland

Despite its reputation for being a bit chilly surfing kayaking in Scotland can be a totally exhilarating experience. It has some truly wild and unique breaks and once the first rush of cold is over, it’ll make little difference whether you’re surfing Oahu in Hawaii or Thurso, on Scotland’s very own North Shore, as you’ll soon discover that Scotland has some of the best surf conditions in Europe!

Some of the best spots for surf kayaking can be found between East Lothian near Edinburgh and Eyemouth in the Scottish Borders in the east. In the west there are great breaks off Machrihanish in the Kintyre Peninsula, and on the island of Tiree and particularly off the west coast of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, and in the north the big waves off Thurso are high performance surf kayakers dream.

A dry cag or a steamer wetsuit might be an idea, but the waves that Scotland’s breaks provide are more than worth a sport of cold water for.

Here’s a brief guide to some of the best spots:


Pease Bay

Pease is a right hand boulder reef at southern end of the bay. It can form really nice waves and catches the most swell in the area.

North Berwick

The East beach can pick up fairly big northerly to south- easterly swells. If the wind is cutting up and it’s messy head to the other side of the harbour for some very clean waves… It can produce some sweet lefts.


Whitesands is home to one of the east coast’s best left reef points, which breaks a quarter of a mile out over kelp covered boulder reef. It can often be the first place to clean up and is able to handle it when the swell size increases. It is open to the wind though and there can be a bad rip on outgoing tide on occasions.



The Isle of Tiree is the most westerly island of the Inner Hebrides. It is relatively small, about twelve miles long and three miles wide, but boasts some excellent surf breaks.

Lewis and Harris

Lewis and Harris are islands of the Outer Hebrides. A long journey is involved in getting to them, but the scenery and the surf is stunning.



Scotland’s own version of the ‘North Shore’ Big waves, reef breaks and large tubes make it a challenging venue, and it has hosted the Kayak Surfing World Championships in the past. It had a well-deserved reputation and Thurso is one of the best surfing locations in the United Kingdom due to its isolation and the size of the waves.

How to Kayak Down Big Waterfalls

Running big drops in a kayak on white water rivers carries a risk and a mistake in judgment or technique can carry heavy consequences, so it’s important to have a good idea of what you’re about to do. ‘Huck it & Hope’ is not a wise course of action. When he’s not out winning freestyle competitions or flying on big waves our man Ed Smith loves to challenge himself on steep whitewater and gnarly drops, so he seemed the ideal candidate to run through the correct techniques for getting the best outcomes from running the big ones.

With big, gnarly drops on every video and in every magazine we look at, it’s hard not to be inspired to get out on the creeks and have a go! Just like in freestyle paddling, techniques are getting refined on the rivers and creeks, enabling limits to be pushed and when executed correctly, manoeuvres look effortless. This side of our sport provides us with a huge adrenaline rush and an overwhelming feeling of exhilaration when we push through our own boundaries. If freefall is new to you and you want to give it a go then I hope this article provides you with some of the knowledge needed to kick things off slowly and safely. If you’re already a junkie, then maybe this can help you refine some edges and strokes to help keep your head dry.



Make sure your equipment is suitable for running a waterfall. Your boat will need to be fitted well with plenty of padding on the seat and full-plate footrests. Make sure that central pillars, airbags and backrest are secure. Helmet and PFD need to be tightened up; if you go deep the last thing you want is to lose these!


When running falls, a good safe team, that you trust, is essential. Throw lines, knives, slings, carabiners and handy first aid kits should be carried along with the knowledge to use them. Always make sure you can get out; if it’s a roadside run then all you need is some car keys if it’s a committing gorge then take climbing equipment and a map.


By the time you come to run a freefall you’ll have probably experienced grade 3 to 5 whitewater, but this doesn’t always mean you’re good to go. Whether it’s a river you’ve run 5 or 500 times, each day on the river is different so you need to make sure that if you’re going to run a hairy drop, you’re focused and confident at that moment and can visualise yourself successfully running the fall.

Lead in

With a lot of drops, it’s often the lead in that’s the most challenging part. I’m not going to go into huge details with this as there are just a couple of basic things that will help you be where you want to be as you go off the lip of a fall.

The first thing is keeping good posture in your boat with your head up looking where you want to be. Looking at where you don’t want to be is the surest way to end up in trouble.

The second thing is a simple rule taught to me by my father after one of my first out of control experiences on the river; “There are two ways to be in control as you go down a river: either go slower or faster than the water. If you’re unsure or need to make a line P.L.F. – paddle like *!#@” This remains my number one emergency rule of river running and creeking.


Launching off a waterfall is the bit where a lot of people go wrong. This is due to the very brief heart-stopping moment, which causes people to stop paddling and look down in horror. A bad take off generally means a bad landing!

At the lip of a fall once again look where you want to be going. Obviously down, but no waterfall is perfect, so most of the time we want to be landing in a particular place or at a particular angle. As you look where you want to land, plant a stroke, which will help you maintain control as you follow it through and use it as a leaver for you to change both body and boat angle as you fall.


During freefall, I don’t take my eyes off where I’m wanting to land, but one of the most important things to me in freefall is to keep your body in an upright or forward position, ready for action. Leaning back is a sure way to injure your back very badly. By keeping upright or forward you keep control. If you are in a position where you need to pull the bow up because you have too much angle, you can move your body slightly back and use the active body momentum to pull your legs and boat up. On the other hand, if you are falling with a flat angle then a good forward lean should help your bow drop and arch into a nice freefall.

As my body moves in a freefall my paddle follows for leverage – if I need to drop the bow my arms and paddle are over the bow. If I need to pull the bow up, I pull my arms and paddle back.


The main objective in landing is to reduce as much as your surface area possible to minimise the impact. To do this, you need to adjust your head, shoulders and paddle. Shoulders should be turned at an angle so they don’t face on to the water – around 45 degrees – your paddle should be kept parallel with your shoulders, again at around a 45-degree angle to the water. Having shoulders and paddles parallel keeps you stable and solid.

I like to keep my eyes on my landing pad as long as I can, so I generally keep my head up on falls around the 25-foot mark, as there doesn’t tend to be too much impact if things go to plan. On larger falls, or if things don’t go to plan, tilting your head down and to the side means that the top of your helmet will take most of the impact and there is less chance of your nose making an impact with your cockpit rim.

If things go horribly wrong and you’re heading for a flat landing, the forward position mentioned earlier will prevent the shock from travelling up your spine, hopefully preventing a compression or breakage. However this may provide you with the harsh alternative of your face making contact with your cockpit or deck but given the options, my face is nowhere near pretty enough to take the risk of injuring my spine.


If everything goes well, all you may need for a recovery is to shake the water out of your eyes before heading on downstream. If you’ve gone deep, then trying to get your body forward as you’re under water will help you resurface in a stable position and prevent being back looped. If you end up upside down then a quick roll will help you be in position for the next rapid or prevent you from heading into that corner where you don’t want to be.

The Dry Line

Remember, just because you know how to do something correctly it doesn’t mean you should! Your biggest tool in running big drops is your judgment. Just because someone else ran it successfully doesn’t mean you will. Unless you are one hundred percent focused and sure of a successful outcome take the dry line and walk around. Macho chest beating and peer pressure have no place anywhere on the river or creek, but especially when it comes to big drops. Your friends won’t think your so cool after they have to come visit you in a hospital! Assess each fall carefully; check the lead in, the lip and the landing. If your team are happy for you to go and to run safety for you. You’re clear of your technique and you’re feeling focused and charged go for it. If you’re not, again leave it for another day!


  • Have the right equipment and knowledge.
  • Don’t get pushed offline before you’re at the edge – P.L.F!
  • Spot your landing and paddle for it as you launch. Don’t freeze.
  • Keep your body active in freefall to maintain a good angle.
  • Tuck up to reduce the surface impact on landing.
  • Be on the ball for the next rapid or any hazards.

Whitewater Kayaking Guide to Slovenia’s Soca River

‘The emerald green whitewater kayaking paradise that is Slovenia’s Soca River offers a relaxed whitewater kayaking experience with something for all levels of kayaker, and a trip there is much more attainable than some might think…

The Soca has been a favourite of whitewater kayakers from all over Europe for years now. It’s reliable feed of water allows provides access to stress-free grade 3 whitewater. Set in the north-west corner of Slovenia, The Soca sits at the base of the Julian Alps. With emerald water, rolling mountains and easy access most grade 2/3, paddlers are sure to return to the Soca time and time again.


One of the main attractions of this location for whitewater is that once you’ve made the long journey it has everything you need for a relaxed boating holiday. Your first stop once you’ve gotten over the long drive should be the tourist information in Bovec. Here you can purchase your river permit. This revenue from the sale of this permit is essential for keeping the put-ins, toilets and river facilities maintained. The tourist office will also give you up to date information on water levels and even have photographs of some of the hazards. All put-ins and takeouts are marked from the road too! It really is handed to you on a plate.

The Kayaking

The Soca valley is by no means the most challenging whitewater. If you are looking for steep grade 4/5 whitewater then you are best hitting Val Sesia, Ticino or head to Austria for early season volume. You can fit all the sections of the Soca and its tributary the Kortnica in 7 days easily.

The Soca lends itself well for a first paddling trip abroad; the ideal conditions it offers means that it is overtaking the typical French Alps trip for most clubs and paddling groups as an introductory European destination. Each section of the river is clearly signposted and the name and grade of the section marked. All you have to do is decide what cag to wear! There are so many combinations of the sections of the Soca you can do any permutation you choose as you drive up and down the valley. We’ve included some of the main sections, just to whet your appetite! Some sections do get a bit low as the season progresses so do use your own judgement.

Krosvec – Kamp Toni

Grade 2/3

Bring your Camera! In classic summer levels, this run starts with the typical meandering gravel beds that are a familiar in the Soca valley. After a short stretch to warm you up you come round a corner to spot the river disappearing into a gorge. You can inspect on either side, it is also to walk down from the road on the drive up. This gorge is stunning with a great little lead in that wants some thinking about. A grade three rapid narrows into a stunning section of bedrock and emerald water. It makes for an interesting lead with a group so if you are unsure then walk down from the road to have a look. In higher water, this slot drop becomes more continuous.

From here down to the confluence of the Kortnica, which flows in on the right, you can enjoy some mellow read and run grade two. Here you can either take out at Kamp Toni and go again or enjoy the grade 2 run down to the bridge at Cezsoca. The section below is no stress giving time for the paddler to enjoy the valley as it opens up.

Boka – Srpencia 2

Grade 2/3

Put in under the bridge by the hotel on the corner. This section is a mellow warm up for a first-day shakedown. It begins on an open gravel bed, giving paddlers to surf a few waves and break in and out.

The most interesting section begins as the river bends right and gorges in slightly with an almost jungle mishmash of trees distancing you from the road above. Here the river picks up with some fun surf waves and boily eddy lines. All of this adds up to a section that is ideal for paddlers getting used to the nature of the river. All the rapids are read and run.

This section finishes as the river pools out by a beach, on the right-hand side. A great spot for practising rolling having a swim or a civilised lunch. A short but steep walk leads you to your car.

Srpencia 2- Start of Slalom Course Trnovo

Grade 2/3

This section is ideal for paddlers who want to hone their skills whilst on the move. The whitewater is more compact, keeping a paddler busy as they snack around boulders and peer over horizon lines to keep them on their toes.

There is nothing of a real hazard on this section all perfect read and run, with fun grade 2 plus to grade 3 rapids. Lots of eddies and stunning pools give the paddler a real sense of beauty.

You can take out river right on a gravel beach. This is the start of the slalom course section.

Slalom Course

Grade 3 (4)

The slalom course begins as the footbridge crosses the river. This short read and run boulder garden are perfect for the paddler who wants a blast in the evenings or something a bit quicker. A grade 4 paddler will have no problem route finding as they boof and flair their way down. There are small eddies and pools to pick up kit if you are quick. A cobbled path river right leads you back to the top to do it all again.

The only hazard you need to be aware of is the start of Syphon Canyon: a gorge that begins directly below the slalom course. Thus you want to scout the take out previously or speak to the locals. You do not want to be taking paddlers down the slalom course in high water who do not have a reliable roll.

Otona- Napoleonov

Grade 3

This section is one of the best on the river when it comes to quality of whitewater for the grade 3 paddler. The walk down to the get-in is a long way up from the river, and one thing to remember on to take the smaller steeper track down to the river. This will save you a lot of hassle and is the quickest way.

You will arrive after a hot walk down at a stunningly beautiful pool. The first rapid you will see does have a small siphon river left, at low water, this can be sneaked easily, or portaged river right. In higher water, it can be a bit pushier. Take it as you, please.

Next, up lies a fun read and run boulder garden, where a few moves are needed to get a clean line. A quick glance river right can tell you all you need to know if unsure.

The river opens up with some more read and runs grade 2 until you come to a distinct drop in the river. Here the river funnels in and makes a quick turn left. You can easily inspect river left in needs be.

The river continues with clean read and run, keeping you busy. Any rapids can be scouted just keep your wits about you and use your own judgement. The gorge continues but never feels intimidating or pressing. Everything is scoutable and stress-free. This run is a bit busy in terms to whitewater, so it’s best to make a day of it and enjoy the gorge.

The river flattens right out as the walls gorge in, the high bridge of Napoleonov marks the get out. You can scramble up a steep short bank or paddle a further 400 meters down to a gravel beach on river left. Here a clear walk to a big car park can be found.

Koritnica – Kamp Toni

Grade 2

This section is a must for any grade paddler. The lines are clean and clear, with stunning micro gorges breaking up the journey down. The marked steep path down leads you to a messy grade 2 you can walk around this or just bimble on down. There is a big eddy river left where you can have a look at the 300-meter gorge. This gorge is no more than grade 2 maybe 3 early season but is worth having a look for any log jams. The line is straightforward and stunning so take your camera!

From here the fun continues with smooth read and run grade two with small jets, round boulders and a feel of an almost jungle nature. Before you know you will find yourself at a boulder garden rapid leading down to Kamp Toni, usually be marked by swimmers and men in speedos! This is a nice little rapid for walk backs that provide a variety of challenges depending on the levels. (CK Stopper)

Useful Info

Flying in  – The nearest airports for the area are Venice/Lijbunaja. From here it is a few hours’ drive to the town of Bovec.

  • Hiring Boats – Alpin Action. These guys have a full fleet of whitewater boats, which makes for a stress-free trip to the valley.
  • Not Just Boating -There’s plenty to do if you have managed to bring a non-paddling partner. With great walking and mountain biking in the area, not to mention the ice cream that comes in a rainbow of colours in Bovec.
  • Accommodation  – The valley is full of holiday apartments, Bed and Breakfasts and well-equipped campsites, all of which are located right next to the river. Kamp Toni has everything you need for a stress-free camping experience, right next to the Kortinica/Soca confluence and with fire pits, wifi and clean showers and laundry facilities.
  • Local Amenities -The small town of Bovec has everything you should need for a holiday. The small supermarket will stock your needs while the local pizzeria’s ice cream parlours and restaurants make for affordable eating whilst on your holiday.
  • Other Rivers  – Once in the Soca Valley you have got pretty much everything you need for the grade 3 paddler. If you are driving down then pop into Imst or Landeck for a blast down the Inn or Sanna.
  • Ferries  – Depending on your route, you can book very cheap ferries across to Dunkeque. www.norforkferries.com even peak season you can pay £60 for a van.
  • Seasonality  – The Soca has one of the longest seasons in Europe. From slightly pushier grade 3/4 in May down to mellow grade 2/3 all the way to September before things start cooling off.

Kayaking Terms for River Running A-Z

The Paddler team have decided to put together a jargon buster for whitewater kayaking and canoeing.  Here’s an A-Z of some of the phrases you’re most likely to hear whilst on the river. So the next time you’re out kayaking you’ll no longer feel such a cupcake when your peers are talking about; boofing, boulder gardens and free falling.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N P R S T U V W 



A bag constructed by a tough durable fabric with a tube enabling the paddler to fill the airbag with air, very much like a balloon. The bag can then be fitted to the bow and stern of your kayak. The bag full of air will help keep the boat afloat in a swimming situation. An essential piece of equipment for river running. Specially designed airbags can be fitted for open canoes.

Aerated water

Aerated water, is moving water that when flows over a rock or drops quickly collects oxygen. Aerated water can easily be identified, as it looks white and fluffy. Aerated water will always be found in holes and in stoppers. Features that you’ll most likely find whilst river running.




The boof is a dynamic forward stroke that when performed correctly allows the paddler to run a drop or stopper without being caught in the stopper at the bottom of the drop. The idea is that the boat stays flat throughout the manoeuvre and lands flat; keeping the bow above the water helps continues the boats speed ready for the next move down the rapid. The boof stroke is a common skill whilst river running.

Boulder garden

A river or rapid can often be described as containing a boulder garden. A boulder garden is where a rapid is scatted with boulders creating many lines down the rapid. Boulder size can vary depending on the geology of the river. If you where paddling in the French Alps then car size boulders can be familiar, take a trip over to Nepal and house sized boulders quickly become your obstacle.



Creek boating

A creek or creeking is a steep river with drops, waterfalls and slabs. The river will descend quickly and a high level of skill is needed to navigate the rapids. Creek boating as taken off over the last ten years as boats have become stronger and resilient to knocks and of course paddlers have become more adventurous. It is common for creek boaters to wear full face helmets and body armour.


From the acronym CLAP, communication is vital to a successful descent of any river, whether it’s a first descent or a club river trip. Communication with your group needs to be clear and precise. For more information on whitewater leadership have a read of Franco Ferro’s Whitewater safety and rescue book.




A drop is a loose term used when describing a river feature. A drop is exactly that a drop in the river. It could be caused by a rock or a sudden increase in gradient dropping downstream. How you run the drop determines on what kind of drop it is. Boofing is a skill that can be used to run a drop.




The location on any river trip where you decide to get out or leave the river.
As access issues in the UK are strict it is always worth checking out where your egress is and whether it doesn’t interfere with landowners.



Full face helmet

A full face helmet is used in extreme cases of normally creeking when contact with rocks is more likely. The full face helmet is very much like a motorbike helmet. Of course they’re full face helmets specifically designed for whitewater paddlers. Before companies started making kayak specific full face helmets; paddlers use to use normal motor cycle helmets. This however made t
he helmet so heavy as water soaked into the padding that paddlers could roll up, as they were so full of water.


Freefall or freefalling can occur on large drops normally waterfalls. This is a feeling of complete weightlessness as you fall through the air with little contact with the water. There’s still lots of skill in running a freefall waterfall as you need to control your boat and body through the air to enable a safe landing. It may look like falling with grace on the kayaking videos but there is a lot of skill and technique in running freefall drops.



Group Dynamics

How does your group on the river run? Is there a dictator? Or is it a bit horizontal? A lot of the time on the river your dynamics as a group alter depending on a situation. It can alter very quickly from a simple read and run section with your peers to someone taking a swim and immediate action needing to be taken.




A hole is one of many river features that you may have to navigate around whilst river running. Holes come in many characters, but to keep it simple they’re normally two kinds; friendly holes and not so friendly holes. A hole is created water flowing over a rock in the riverbed. Now here is where the hydrology comes in. There are two types of water. Some of the water known as the green water (which contains the power) plummeting really deep and flushes downstream. The second lot of water tumbles over the rock and as it falls mixes with oxygen and becomes fluffy and white. (whitewater) The whitewater is what makes the hole hold a kayaker. Some holes have bigger stoppers on than others. It is possible to find holes at the bottom of drops, slides and waterfalls.



Incident Management

Every now and then things go wrong, but as long as it’s managed well it can soon be rectified. Linked with group dynamics managing your group or your friends comes with experience and time out on the water.




Like driving a car, riding a bike river running is left to the paddler to make forever changing judgment calls as they descend the river. It could be making judgement on when to stop your group for lunch or making a line on a rapid. This is a skill that comes with experience.




A useful piece of equipment that’s uses are limitless for general paddling and for day to day uses on the river.



Line is the route down the rapid or river. A paddler might say. “Where’s the line?” The line is the route you decide to take down the rapid.



Mobile Strainers

Mobile strainers are very common during and after floods. The floods tend to dislodge heavy debris from the river banks and send it soaring downstream. Mobile strainers have the same dangers of normal strainers but of course they move. Again trolleys bus wheels and crates can become a huge danger to your river trip. If there is a possibility of a river containing mobile strainers then maybe consider a day in the tea shop. For more information on whitewater hazards have a read of Franco Ferro’s Whitewater safety and rescue book. Franco Ferro’s Whitewater safety. And book yourself on a Whitewater safety and rescue course.



No Signal No Manoeuvre

When paddling in a group a well used tool is no signal no manoeuvre. This enables good management whilst river running. Using this technique on the river helps keep the group safe whilst involves the whole team to keep an eye on the signals and communicate amongst their paddling friends.




A pin is a very dangerous situation in whitewater. A pin is when the kayak gets jammed either vertically or horizontally between rocks stopping the kayaker completely. The consequences can be fatal or leave the paddler injured. The force of the water can hold the paddler under water trapped in the kayak.


A piton is when you hit a rock very hard.



Read and run

Read and run is a phrase used by kayakers who are normally very experienced and happy making decisions in running whitewater. Read and run is used a lot in small quick groups, it enables paddlers to move down a river quickly. Read and run is when group members run their own lines and pick their own route down the river. It ‘s a very laid back approach and works well with peers. Read and run requires experience and quick thinking allowing paddlers to assess the line whilst making sure the rest of the group are safe.




A sling is a long piece of webbing that can be tapped into a big loop or can be left as one long piece with its end unattached to each other. The sling like the karabiner has lots of uses for paddling and river paddling. From towing a boat to a spare roof rack strap. A fantastic cheap must have for river paddling providing you use it safely. One can be purchased at your local climbing shop.


A stopper is exactly that, it stops the paddler. Another obstacle that you may have to avoid whilst river running. Their characteristics are the same as holes and some are safe and others must be avoided.


A vicious river hazard caused by obstacles such as trees and fences in the river that you can get tangled up in. In the UK trees are very common, trees can block rapids and act very much like a tea strainer letting the water past but catching any solid debris such as boats and paddlers. The branches can go deep under the water making it impossible to see what lies below. Strainers must be avoided at all costs and can be anything from fallen branches to shopping trolleys barbed wire fences and incorrectly moored boats. For more information on whitewater hazards have a read of Franco Ferro’s Whitewater safety and rescue book.




Time is crucial whilst paddling but comes into its own whilst on a river. In a whitewater environment the consequences become greater allowing more potential problems. Always allow time for the unthinkable even if you’re on you local river, that’s where most problems occur. If you are paddling with a new group allow more time freak weather can cause the river to rise resulting in a walk out. It is a good habit to build in more time to your paddling trips. Never find yourself getting off the water in the dark if a group member had tripped on the bank it could turn that quick winter afternoon blast to a long cold night.


A Throwline is a piece of safety equipment carried by every group member. The Throwline is a bag of floatation rope that is used as a rescue aid. It is carried in a self-draining bag and ranges in length from 8 meters to 30meters. To find out more about throwlines pick up a copy of Franco Ferro’s Whitewater safety and rescue book. And book yourself on a Whitewater safety and rescue course.



Under cut

An undercut is created by a rock that has been eroded by the power of the river. Most of the time the rock looks perfectly normal above the water but below the water the rock creates a cave shape allowing paddlers and equipment to get swept under and pinned. Undercuts are a major hazard and only an experienced paddler can point them out. To find out more about river hazards pick up a copy of Franco Ferro’s Whitewater safety and rescue book. And book yourself on a Whitewater safety and rescue course.



The V

When sitting at the top of a rapid you might be able to see a natural V pointing the way downstream. Sometimes obstacles either side of the river rocks, holes create two lines slopping downstream that eventually meet. This phrase ‘follow the V’ is used a lot when teaching paddlers the what line to take.



Weakest link

When paddling in a group it is easy to forget that some members can find it harder than you are. Perhaps physically or mentally so it is important that you move at the pace of your weakest paddler. The whole group is only as strong as the weakest link.




A rescue system put together with minimum amount of equipment providing a mechanical advantage. It has many uses but is most commonly used to pull of boats that are pinned or wrapped on a rock or drop. For more information on the latest rescue techniques have a read of Franco Ferro’s Whitewater safety and rescue book. And book yourself on a Whitewater safety and rescue course.


Whitewater Kayaking Guide to the Rivers of the French Alps

River running in the UK is often a cold wet affair and after a hard winter’s river running our thoughts often stray to warmer climes. With the advent of cheaper air travel, UK paddlers have been searching far and wide for warm sun and great whitewater, but with the current economic climate and the price of air travel rocketing paddlers are starting to look a little closer to home. If we told you that there was a place only a day’s drive away, that boasts a generally warm and sunny climate, beautiful mountains, great food and drink, and, most importantly, loads and loads of fantastic whitewater runs to suit every level of paddler, you’d probably think that we were having you on right? Well, such a place exists. And it’s just across the channel in France. That place is the Southern French Alps…

Why the French Alps?

For many years the French Alps was host to an annual migration of UK paddlers. It was the traditional location for many canoe clubs’ annual summer trip and it was a favourite amongst hordes of University clubs, who would make the campsites of the durance Valley their homes for weeks on end. To some degree it still is, but over the last few years, the French Alps has been somewhat overshadowed by other, further-a-field, more exotic locations. The change to the Euro from the Franc and its subsequent strengthening didn’t help matters, as it has certainly driven the overall cost of a trip up, but the fact is that the Southern French Alps still offers pound for pound, or Euro for Euro, a fantastic location with so many great sections of whitewater rivers that you can spend a week there and barely scratch the surface. It’s also a great place to go with non-paddling family or friends and the region is a veritable Meca for outdoor sports of all types, so there’s plenty to see and do off the water to keep ever body happy.

When To Go

If you’re a seasoned alpinist or are looking for pushier water then May and early June can offer big flows, but the rivers should be treated with respect, and you’ll find that the hazards on even the lower grade runs increase significantly in seriousness. Last year there was heavy unseasonal rainfall at this time and the rivers became very dangerous, and one point the French Authorities even closed the rivers to rafting and paddling, due to some very serious incidents and even a tragic death.

Even without the rain you can expect big Spring meltwater levels, but by mid-June things will have settled down a bit, the high flows will have started to run off and the area will provide you and your group an incredible amount of diverse and varied river runs. By the end of June, and into July, there are generally great, more manageable, levels for all and this is the time that many clubs favour to make their trips.

Of course, as we know, rivers can change on almost a daily basis and the above is not set in stone. Factors which can affect the water levels and the length of the alpine season are the amount of snowfall that the region receives during the winter months, and, as we mentioned above, rainfall.

Getting There

The fact that you can drive there with a roof rack full of boats is a great advantage. There numerous ferry companies that run regular channel crossing services, from Dover and Folkestone. Driving to the Alps from a French Channel Port normally takes about twelve hours (using the motorways/toll roads), so add on an hour and a bit for the ferry crossing and any distance you may have to cover in the UK and you’re looking at a journey time of anything from 14 to 20 plus hours. The best way to tackle this is by having two or more drivers share the driving, so you can take shifts at driving and sleep every couple of hours and do the journey in one push. Food, fuel, loo and coffee stops are also recommended every three to four hours to keep you awake and the blood flowing in your legs! We usually catch a late (graveyard shift) ferry and then motor through the night using the above system. This cuts down considerably on the amount of traffic you’ll encounter and can save a couple of hours off the trip. Alternatively, you may want to break it down and stop overnight. There are plenty of cheap roadside motels along the way, or a cheaper alternative is to catch a few hours shut eye in one of the pleasant rest-stop areas or Aires as they are called. We’ve certainly spent more than a few hours snoozing in bivvy bags in such spots.

We’d highly recommend taking a route that avoids driving through Paris and we usually opt for the motorway route from Calais down through eastern France passing Reims, Dijon and Lyon along the way. Playboaters amongst you may want to take a stop at the latter to check if the famous Hawaii Sur La Rhone play wave is working.

This route utilises the motorway system, which in France is paid for by tolls. This can add a reasonable amount to the total cost of your trip and if you have the time you may wish to use main roads, as these are usually free. It goes without saying that a good European atlas is a must, and make sure that all your vehicles have the necessary equipment/spares that are required by law, such as emergency triangle, spare bulbs, first aid kit etc. A quick search of the larger motoring websites will tell you what you’ll need.

Where to Base Yourself

The main centres to stay at revolve around the bigger and more popular rivers. Briançon offers camping possibilities and has some nice apartments. It’s close to the Durance and Guisane. L’Argentiere la Bessee is a small town but has a popular campsite, which sits on the banks of the Durance, right next to the slalom course section. This means that there’s plenty of scope for paddling straight from your tent door, and you can run the classic runs of the Durance Gorge, and the Gyronde and take out just a few yards from your camp. It also sports a nice lake, so it’s good for family fun. It’s fairly central location between the larger centres of Briançon and Embrum makes most of the classic runs fairly accessible. On the downside it is a popular spot with the Uni Crowds, so can get a little noisy at times, and the main road runs directly past it, on the opposite side of the river, so it somewhat distracts from the alpine ambience.

Guillestre and Embrum are also popular places to stay, as they offer a little more if you’re looking for après paddling eateries or nightlife, and the campsite next to the famous Rabioux Wave was always another popular choice for paddlers.

Gear We Go

Although the air temperature is generally hot the water in alpine rivers is snowmelt so is positively freezing! By all means take a short-sleeved cag and board shorts, but be sensible and dress for the swim. Alpine runs are generally faster than UK ones, and it’s easy to get caught out. A long john wetsuit, or thermal layers and dry trousers/dry-suits will offer you more protection on your legs in the case of a swim and a long sleeved cag is also a good idea. It can get pretty cold at river level if the weather turns overcast, or you’re in the bottom of a gorge. We usually save the ‘shortie’ for playboating or short fun runs, or if we do wear it on longer river sections we always take a long sleeved cag and thermal as well. Good footwear is essential and it needs to have a solid grip sole for moving about over rocky terrain.

It goes without saying that you should be taking your usual river running safety gear. Every paddler should be carrying a personal throw-line, whistle and knife and the group should have at least a couple of longer bank-rescue bags amongst it, as well as first aid kits, pin kits and split paddles.

Boats are a personal choice, but we’d certainly veer towards a general river runner or a full on creek boat. Of course, if you have the roof-rack space then taking a playboat too is great for those play sessions on the Rabioux Wave etc. But if one boat does all then you’ll have a much better time and have more fun on the river in a river runner or creek boat.

A Word of Caution

No matter how many times we visit the French Alps, the speed and power of the water is always a bit of a shock. Even on easier runs the water is fast and eddies can be few (or speed by way to fast). The rivers are generally higher in the afternoons due to the day’s sun melting the snow up high. Take your time. Warm up on a lower grade river than you would normally attempt and get yourself into alpine mode. If you’re going to try something that’s a little pushier than normal. Give yourself plenty of time too; be realistic in your estimations on how long a run will take you. Factor in extra scouting/portaging; allow time to deal with any mishaps… The curfew on the water is six and it’s bad form at best to break this… And no one wants to find themselves at the bottom of an alpine gorge with the sun starting to set.

Running Styles/Group Size

As we’ve mentioned above alpine runs are fast and eddies can be sparse. This means that they are best suited to smaller groups. In our opinion groups from three up to about five work best, maybe six at a push. With this in mind if you are part of a larger group consider splitting into smaller more manageable groups.

Eddy hopping works great on alpine rivers and most runs are predominantly of the read and run, boat scouting variety. Having said that there are occasions where bank scouting, setting safety and portaging are advisable. Be aware of your group and if you’re the lead paddler make sure you always leave plenty of time to grab that eddy a long way before any hazard. Clear river signals are also a must, and five minutes, before you get on to make sure everyone is singing from the same song sheet, can prove invaluable.

OK, that’s enough about what, why when and how… It’s time to hit the rivers!

The Classic Runs and Beyond

If we were to produce a blow by blow account of all the rivers of the South Alps we’d need a book, not a few pages, so the following is to give you a flavour of what to expect and to help you plan your ideal itinerary as you organise your trip. There’s lots of good info on the web, but we’d also highly recommend getting hold of a copy of Whit Water South Alps by Peter Knowles. It’s a few years old now, but it’s still packed with excellent river info.

The Durance

Briançon Gorge Grade 3/4

This section has some fantastic scenery as you paddle around the lower part of Briançon old town. It’s an excellent paddle in high-water and quite solid grade four, but we’d give it a miss in lower water. Get in by turning right down into the valley off the N94 just outside Briançon on the way to Montgenèvre to le Fontenil. The bridge here signifies the get in. The river is rocky and technical with a couple of nice gorges and the guidebook describes it as ‘nice introduction to technical paddling – steep yet forgiving’.

The Durance Gorge Prelles to L’Argentière Grade 4/5

The get in for this alpine test-piece is on river left just below the Prelles Bridge. Once you’re afloat you can expect some good solid action, including some reasonably difficult grade four in higher flows, and three to four in lower. Next, comes the infamous portage. Keep your eyes peeled for the railway tunnel, which marks the portage. Both the tunnel and the portage trail are on the right but it is fairly overgrown, and you really, really don’t want to miss the eddy. The portage on the right bank goes high and may seem scarier than the rapid below, it isn’t! But soon enough the trail leads you back to a good get in. After the excitement of the portage is over the water is a good heavy grade four to for plus depending on level. There are some great ‘named rapids’ such as ‘Slot and Drop and ‘Chicane’ to keep you on your toes, and care should be taken in high water as a portage could be advisable. As you exit the gorge feeling satisfied the river joins the Gyronde on the right and then continues down to L’Argentière where we’d recommend taking out on the right at the slalom course/campsite.

The Sunshine Run part 1 – L’Argentière to St Cléments Grade II

A great section for a warm up, or for paddlers of less experience, although it can become a bit of a drag in low water. Lots of bouncy water, small waves and holes to practice your skills on before you get to the takeout, complete with ice cream and a canoe shop at the take out for St Clément

Sunshine Run Part 2 – St Cléments to Embrum Grade 2/3

A pretty, larger volume section of the river, which is really popular as the first section on a new trip to the Alps, or as a fun run in playboats. It kicks off with some grade two for a bit; before the river becomes bouncier grade three. Soon enough you’ll reach the famous Rabioux Wave, it is a favourite play spot and you’ll probably be greeted with a small crowd of spectators on the bank and an eddy full of hotshot playboaters. This is a great lunch stop, and you can certainly while a few hours away from playing on the wave. After the high action of the Rabioux the river continues with a mix of grade two and three, but with plenty of great eddy lines for tail squirting and cartwheeling, and lots of splat, rock-spin style moves if you’re quick. There’s even the odd tasty play-hole or two to catch on the fly. Soon enough you’ll reach the town of Embrum and the take-out is on the right at the raft take out. Again you can get coffee, beer and ice cream and it has a reasonable canoe shop too.

The Onde Grade 3/4

Many groups choose this as their first alpine run but get caught out by its speed. The main tricky rapid (4) lies right at the start, and t is possible to put in below. But even then at the grade, the little Onde punches above its weight. It’s fast and shallow river and can suffer from nasty tree issues, especially in early season. Small groups are best and despite its grade, it’s not ideal for novices until they have had a chance to warm up on a few of the more forgiving runs, as an extended capsize or swim could be painful. As the saying goes, ‘ I was setting up for a roll and the first thing that went through my mind was a… Rock!’
It can be hard on kit too and we’ve certainly seen a few pairs of paddles bite the dust.

To get to the put in drive up through Valloise towards Les Grésourières, following the road on the left bank. You can park at a wide area by a road bridge over the river leading to a campsite. You can choose to walk over the bridge and carry up to a little to put in on river right and get a short warm up down to the bridge. On river left, just after the bridge, just above the first trick drop, or again on river left just below the drop.

Once the first drop is over the rest of the river is fast moving grade three al the way down to the confluence with the Gyr. Get out on river right, just before below a large road bridge. Don’t try to go down further as there is a nasty barrage lying in wait.

The Gyronde – Grade 3/4 (6)

The river is grade three and four for around three clicks before it passes below a footbridge. Get out on the right after this as soon as you see the next stone bridge and portage the ugly, dangerous and generally unrunnable drop. Follow the small road on the right bank until you see a worn path back down to the river. If you want to push things you can get on straight away, but the drops are manky and we tend to push on and put in a bit lower when things calm down a bit. Once this is passed the river drops down to grade three again. All the way down to L’Argentière. Be careful of a nasty man-made weir about two, or so, kilometres downstream. It has a lot of debris in the base and at higher flows, it forms a very nasty hydraulic with a vicious towback. It has been run and can be sneaked on the left, but we’d recommend opting for the very short portage on the river left bank. From here it’s a cruise down to the confluence with the Durance. Continue down and take out at the slalom course/campsite on river right.

The Gyr – Grade 4/5

One of our personal all-time favourite Alpine runs. A late afternoon blast down the Gyr followed by a cold beer outside the bar overlooking the takeout. This is a run for seasoned paddlers and offers fast furious action from start to finish. It is both incredibly fun (or scary depending on your outlook) and incredibly freezing in equal measure. The later in the day you choose to get on the Gyr, the bigger it will be! In our opinion, if you’re confident, experienced and skilled enough to be getting on the Gyr then the higher the better. We reckon that the best water level is when you can hear the rocks rattling down the riverbed. A surprisingly disconcerting sound! This provides a very fast and furious non-stop grade five-run with hardly any eddies. Be aware though that the nature of the Gyr can change rapidly and hazards can appear and disappear quickly, so drop by drop account would be pointless. Walking up and inspecting the run before you get on (via the river left path) is easy and is highly recommended. If it’s your first descent it will certainly help to decrease the fear and increase the fun. The get in is at the bridge by the holiday complex at Pelvoux, and the get out is immediately above the bridge in Vallouise as there may be reinforcement wires just below this bridge. This river section is quite short, but it is certainly worth the effort and was good fun.

The Guil

Of all the fantastic rivers in the region, the Guil is our absolute favourite. It has it all. From gentle bumbling on it’s very lowest stretch to the drama, challenge and excitement of the Château Queyras and Gorge de L’Ange Gardien gorges, through to the sheer smile-inducing quality of its whitewater laden middle section and its rarely run main gorge, a veritable mini-expedition. We’ve had more excellent alpine days on the Guil than any other river.

The Château Queyras Gorge – Grade 4 +

This, and the Gorge de L’Ange Gardien, which lies below are often seen as test-piece sections, indeed rights of passage into the ranks of the alpine paddler. It can be inspected from river left, from a minor road, with a little bushwacking. We warn you now that the gorge looks horrible from above, because, as we know it is always difficult to judge scale from above. Once to enter the gorge it is tricky and you need to be on your game but it is actually easier than it looks. It is very tight and in places, the width of the gorge isn’t much less than the average riverboat’s length. In may ways it feels a little like being flushed down a U-bend! There is an infamous undercut corner halfway down and care should be exercised, as it is very difficult to protect.

The get in is just past Château Queyras in the shadow of its impressive fortress and the get out is where the river passes under a minor road bridge.

The Gorge de L’Ange Gardien (Guardian Angel Gorge) Grade 4+/5

This section has a reputation and for good reason. It is more Corsican in feel and has many shoots and slide around and over high boulders. It also hides some treacherous siphons and undercuts, and it should be treated with care and respect. If in doubt… Scout. Inspection, and if needed portaging, are usually fairly easy, but with one exception.The get-in is at the road bridge at the end of the Château Queyras gorge. You then get a short warm up to stir before the remains of an old road bridge signal the beginning of the assault. It’s

The get-in is at the road bridge at the end of the Château Queyras gorge. You then get a short warm up to stir before the remains of an old road bridge signal the beginning of the assault. It’s difficult water throughout and there is one ugly looking drop, in a gorged in a section that was impossible to portage and very hard to inspect. It all adds to the adventure though and if you take your time, use good judgement and take care, you’ll be raving about it in the bar that night. The section finishes where you meet the main road again, close to the L’Ange Gardien Bridge.

The Guil – L’Ange Gardien Bridge to Maison du Roy Grade 4 (5)

If the Guil is our favourite river, then this is our favourite section. It starts with a bang at an impressive series of drops known as ‘Triple Step’. You can choose to get in above or below this depending on your mood. It’s trickier than it looks as each drop slows you and pushed to the right and more than one paddler has taken a rinsing in the bottom hole under the infamous ‘Curtain’. From here, in reasonable water levels the section down to the road bridge at La Chapelue is fairly solid four to for plus and from then on is a chunky grade four. With a few drops that call for an inspection, and possibly safety cover. Eventually, you’ll come to a large road tunnel on river right. There used to be a nasty slot rapid here, but flooding has changed the rivers features here considerably. From this point, the river can be paddled without bank inspection by solid groups at grade four and it’s all excellent read and run fun and some good punchy holes until you get to the take out at Maison Du Roy, where the river becomes a lake above the barrage.

Mont Dauphin – Durance Grade 3

A beautiful and picturesque section of the Guil that flows around the back of the Mt. Dauphin rock in a large, open gorge. The get in is at the Pont d’Eygliers and it’s a great section to float, especially for beginners, until you finally meet the confluence with the Durance. From there we’d recommend a bimble down the Durance until you get to St Clements and then take out there.

The Guisane

The Upper – La Casset to Chantemerle Grade 3/4

The get in for the upper is in the village of La Casset, and it begins with some nice rapids around grade three to four mark. If you want you can choose to get on next to some small man-made lakes on the way into La Casset from Briançon.

From La Casset there was about a mile of grade two to three gravel bed type rapids before the river rounds a noticeable right-hand bend and drops into a grade fairly long grade four section at Guibertes, popularly known as ‘S-Bends’. This is easily inspected, protected, or even portaged. But it is relatively easy apart from the initial lead into the rapid. From here the paddling continues at grade three down to the get out on river left at Chantemerle by the roadside car park. It’s a rafting put in, so easy to spot.

The Lower – Chantemerle to Briançon 8km Grade 4 (5)

The get in is the same car park as you tackle out at for the upper. You almost immediately come across a broad bridge with a nasty looking weir at its far end. This is Shelob’s Weir. It can be sneaked on both the left and right sides, but it is manky and has debris at its base, so caution should be used. To inspect or portage, get out above the bridge on river right. A few bouncy rapids follow until you reach the next hazard, a clearly marked large weir, which is usually portaged on the right. This weir has been shot, but it is a bit of a boat wrecker at lower water and has a powerful hole at higher flows. Below the weir the game really begins. The river is now much more continuous and you need to be on your toes. It’s definitely possible to boat scout all the way down, but be careful of tree hazards. In high levels, it’s fantastic fun all the way to the takeout, which is at a road bridge on the way into Briançon.

Info Box

White Water Europe South Alps by Peter Knowles is a must for the dashboard of any Alps-bound vehicle. It is packed with useful information, river guides and some really great maps.

Whitewater River Kayak Group Test

Here at Paddler we have a love-hate thing going on with a doing a river running kayak test. Every few years when new models have hit the water and it’s time to run a test again we get really excited, as it is always one of the most fun group tests that we do. The reason for that is that river runners come in all shapes and sizes and most of them are a real hoot to paddle. But that’s also where the hate comes in. Once the paddling is over we have to write the damned thing up and being a test give a ‘best in test’ award, and when all the boats are so different and usually so good in different ways that can be a real headache…

The problem is that the name river runner is a fairly ambiguous one these days. Back when kayaks were longer than your car the term meant the same kayak, as you’d use to play in, to go surfing, coach from and have a crack at the steep stuff in. But things have moved on and we now have a dizzying choice of whitewater speciality designs to choose from. Freestyle boats, small enough to wear as shoes! Creek boats with all manner of nifty safety features and huge volume, to keep you on top and to help you stay safe as you push it hard. You name it and there’s a boat specially designed for it, but what about those of us who don’t want to drive around with a trailer full of different boats for all occasions, and more importantly in these difficult economic times, shell out for a fleet of specialists. Well, the good news is that there’s also an impressive display of ‘jack of all trades’ lining the walls of your nearest canoe shop. And as we’ve just said they come in all shapes, sizes and styles. We’ve taken a selection of boats that are often referred to as ‘all-round river runners’ and put them through their paces to give you a head start in finding the right river runner for you.

To clarify things a little we’ve split them into two categories. River Play, and River Running. River Play means kayaks that are primary design purpose is to get the maximum fun out of the river’s play features and cope with any rapids along the way. River Running covers the boats that have been designed to get you down the river as easily and as safely as possible, but can still surf the odd wave or spin in a hole on the way down. This type of boat also tends to be more capable if you want to step it up a bit in terms of grade and gradient.

River Running

LiquidLogic Remix

RRP: £799.95 (47 – £649.95)
Info: www.liquidlogickayaks.com

Specs 47 59 69 79
Length: 221cm 257cm 267cm 272cm
Width: 53cm 64cm 65cm 69cm
Weight: 12kg 18kg 20kg 21kg
Volume: 178ltrs 223ltrs 261ltrs 299ltrs

The Remix is a modern design but with more than a nod to the features that made river boats popular in the past. The Remix is fast into and out of the eddies and provides a nimble boat for those whitewater paddlers with a slalom background, as it’s ever so slightly rounded disposition creates an easy roll from edge to edge. It’s developed a bit of a cult following amongst coaches and paddlers who like their water a little pushier as the Remix delivers a safe, predictable ride. It’s been designed to be fast though and it certainly delivers on that front. The overall package is a boat that is very forgiving and fast that can be driven hard across the features of the river and provides no unwelcome wobbles or nasty surprises. It did feel a little sluggish into eddies, as we’re more accustomed to boats with a harder edge, but it stays on the surface well and was easy to boof.

The ‘Bad-Ass’ outfitting is brilliantly comfy, with the whole seat, hip pad and back rest area covered in a quick-drying, supportive pad designed to eliminate hot spots and act as a kind of airbag on landings. The backrest operates on a ratchet system, so you can adjust accordingly to your level of support. Extra pads can be fitted inside the cover to get a snug fit on your hips too.

If it’s a kayak for playing the river’s features that you’re after however, then this is not the boat for you. If, however, you want a safe, confidence inspiring boat for improving your river running skills, a solid, fast platform for instructing or guiding from or a boat to challenge big technical whitewater then it could be just what you’re looking for. We had the largest version on a test but there’s a range of sizes, including a really small one ideal for junior river runners.

Wave Sport D-Series (D75)

RRP: £599
More info: 

Specs D65 D75
Length: 229cm 244cm
Width: 64cm 65cm
Weight: 17kg 18kg
Volume: 246ltrs 284ltrs

The original Diesel was imported from the US and a popular boat, but its design has been refreshed, it’s now being manufactured in the UK and it’s been relaunched under the moniker of the D series – the D65 and the boat we had on the test the D75. The fact that it is now made in Britain means that it has a lower carbon footprint, as it no longer has to be shipped from the States, and helps to keep the retail price down.

It’s kept all the original hull and deck shape and features of its predecessor, but with new cockpit fittings and a new lower price. The original Diesels were an instant success when they were first launched. With a great planing hull, hard, but forgiving, rails and enough hull length to make it a fast, stable and easy to paddle kayak. It also has enough deck volume to comfortably run whitewater up to the pushier grades.

The re-birth of the Diesels is a good move for the Wavesport gang as this boat sells itself perfectly for the river runner who wants a bit of everything. It’s flat hull is loose for surfing and spinning, which it does with ease, and it has enough length and volume for slightly steeper and more technical rivers, such as we here in the UK. The Diesel runs the river well and it’s forgiving on the edging leaving room for paddlers to get to grips with whitewater techniques, but can still provide performance when driven hard by an experienced paddler.
The new simpler outfitting was comfortable and provided a no nonsense set up, great for jumping in and getting on the water without too much fuss. It’s a good solid all-around boat that will handle most UK whitewater conditions and plays surprisingly well when you want it too. It was very close between this and the Pyranha Karnali but the D75’s slightly more playful nature just edged for us.

Riot Thunder

RRP: £699
More info: 

Specs 65 76
Length: 234cm 244cm
Width: 65cm 66cm
Weight: 18.6kg 19.5kg
Volume: 246ltrs 288ltrs

We liked the Thunder and it is a good boat, but only for really good paddlers. Riot has always had a reputation for being no compromise on performance and being hard on the edges and the Thunder is no exception. It’s flat hull allows the boat to play any wave of any size and its sharp rails require the paddler to really commit on the eddy lines. If you can really perform on the river then the Thunder will certainly help you do that. But id you need a helping hand and a boat to look after you when you make a mistake or are trying to learn new moves then it’s not interested and will have you over in a jiffy. Hit a hole, on your way down river, under-speed, off-line or in a lazy-boy leaning back position then you’re probably going to find yourself looking at the bow and sky as you back loop instead of punching through.

On steeper stuff, the Thunder’s rocker allows a quick re-surfacing time from drops, but don’t be mistaken the Thunder is by no means forgiving and it demands concentration and performance paddling skills from you at all times. It’s a quirky boat and the more we paddled it the more we liked it. It surfs waves and holes well and can really carve and spin for a bigger boat. It rails in and out of eddies and is pretty fast too.

If you’re new to whitewater or you’re looking for a boat to learn and improve in then this isn’t for you; but if you want a boat that will give out what you put in and provide dynamic performance orientated river paddling if you’ve got the skills to match it then it’ll probably put a smile on your face.

Big Dog Flux

RRP: £665
More info: www.bigdogkayaks.com

Specs 7.3 7.7
Length: 221cm 231cm
Width: 64cm 65cm
Weight: 15.5kg 16.5kg
Volume: 202ltrs 227ltrs

The Flux is Big Dog’s all-around river running boat and first impressions of the shape were that it had the promise for a good river runner. That theme continued on the water and its edge transition was smooth and the speed was OK. For a river boat, it played really well in holes and one of our testers even had it racking up a few cartwheels!
On the downside all of our testers felt that the outfitting was a bit on the basic side, it just wasn’t very comfortable considering the price of a boat. Yes, you could remedy this with a session with the contact adhesive and foam padding, but why should you have to. Compared to some of the other boats on the test, it just felt like Big Dog just need to up their game a bit in this area.

Outfitting aside though it’s a tidy performer on the river, it slices across eddy lines, boofs well and punches sticky holes with ease. Unless of course, you want to stop and play in it for a while and then it’s fun and forgiving.

Pyranha Karnali

RRP: £649
More info: www.pyranha.com

Specs Med Lrg
Length: 257cm 260cm
Width: 65cm 66.5cm
Weight: 21kgs 22kgs
Volume: 280ltrs 303ltrs

We liked the Karnali a lot and it has already become a favourite of club paddlers, coaches and expedition paddlers alike. If you’re the kind of paddler that wants to enjoy running rivers in a boat that are maybe not going to be the best at screaming into that micro-eddy at the top of a heinous rapid or hit the latest trick in the hole, but is going to look after you when the going gets tough and provides a comfortable confidence inspiring ride, then we’d highly recommend that you take a Pyranha Karnali out for a test ride.

The Karnali can cater for an impressive range of paddlers, from total beginners all the way to a seasoned Norway ‘gnarl’ paddler. When you paddle it you soon realise why. The big pod of volume directly behind the paddler acts like a stabiliser, in fact, it is actually quite hard to get it to capsize even when you want to! On the way down the river, the Karnali is fast, it holds it’s line well and the directional speed is impressive. It is very easy going on the river and it gives a feeling of confidence in the paddler with its excellent initial and secondary stability and its dependable nature. It has a semi-displacement hull, a soft, round edge profile and generous rocker, which means that you can be assured that it won’t throw up any nasty surprises, or trip you up when the going gets a bit swirly, which means that you can relax and concentrate on what’s coming up downstream rather than what the boat is doing underneath you. It really is one of the most forgiving boats that we’ve paddled in a long time. Its speed makes ferry gliding nice and easy and the flat bits in between rapids a little less painless. It’s fun to play in too, but don’t expect miracles. It’ll happily spin in a hole and it’s OK on a wave too but its goal in life is to deliver you to the take out safe, sound and happy after a great day on the river.

River Play

Wave Sport Fuse

RRP: £850
More info: www.wavesport.com

Specs 35 48 56 64
Length: 178cm 193cm 198cm 213cm
Width: 58cm 62cm 64cm 66cm
Weight: 12kgs 14kgs 15kg 16kg
Volume: 132ltrs 182ltrs 212ltrs 246ltrs

First impressions of the Fuse were that with its bulbous bow it wasn’t the prettiest boat we’ve ever tested, but the Paddler Testers know that the proof is always in the paddling. As a river play boat it’s very, very wide and stable, which is OK for the beginners, but if you want to chop and change those edges for dynamic paddling, perhaps for a stern squirt or two then it’s not ideal. It is very stable when front and back surfing and the edges are smooth and forgiving but that bow has a large helping of rocker so it’s slow for catching waves on the fly, punching holes and cutting through eddy-lines. Although the outfitting is excellent and the Fuse’s stability will appeal to wobbly, nervous paddlers and it’s forgiving for learning basic playboating moves, more experienced paddlers are going to find it sluggish. On the plus side, it comes in a range of different sizes that will fit paddlers from juniors in the 35 right up to those the wrong side of hefty in the 64. But we couldn’t help feel that the Fuse was confused and doesn’t really know what it wants to be, which means that, unfortunately, it falls between the two classes and misses the target. It’s not a great river runner, and even though the hull is very loose on a wave, it’s really not a particularly good playboat either.

Big Dog Havoc

RRP: £665
More info: 

Specs 6.5 6.9
Length: 196cm 206cm
Width: 64cm 65cm
Weight: 14kg 14.5kg
Volume: 192ltrs 218ltrs

Big Dog describes the Havoc as the Jekyll and Hyde of their range and we can see why. It plays really well and was the only boat that could really come close to hitting a few of the new school moves like loops. It surfed very nicely and it can really throw it down in the hole. It suffers from the same outfitting as the flux and our comments on this are the same, but that aside the Havoc does deliver on the playboating front. When running the river it’s relatively fast for its length and it’s forgiving too. It needs to be driven hard to punch through holes and eddy-lines, but when done so, it copes well. Its design is pretty heavily influenced by its little freestyling brother in the Big Dog range the Kaos, so when you find that sweet wave or hole with a nice big eddy next to it you’re going to smiling. It’s capable nature on the river combined with its excellent playboating performance.

Dagger Axiom

RRP: £669
More info: 

Specs 6.9 8.0 8.5 9.0
Length: 205cm 244cm 257cm 274cm
Width: 57cm 61cm 63cm 65cm
Weight: 12kg 13kg 15kg 16kg
Volume: 148ltrs 193ltrs 238ltrs 295lts

The Axiom is quite different from most of the other boats on the test and it was a struggle to decide what class to put it into, as it comes the closest to really blending the attributes of a play boat with the speed and stability of a stable river runner. It comes from a long line of successful Dagger boats starting with the iconic RPM and on through the GT series and it certainly takes an acknowledging bow to its distinguished predecessors with its long sleek lines. On the water, it split the testers down the middle and it was interesting that although they all liked it and enjoyed paddling it. The younger testers all thought it was a river runner first and foremost and struggled to play in it (it’s not going to loop) the slightly older guys really loved it and enjoyed its play potential on waves, holes and eddy lines.

It catches and surfs a wave really well and, once you’ve got used to slowing things down a bit, cartwheels in a stable, controllable manner. Break out of the eddy into a rapid and it’s the same. It looks like it will be OK, but its river running performance is right up there. It accelerates well, and the surprisingly dry bow lifts and punches through waves, holes and radials with ease.

Basically for paddlers who’ve grown up paddling in the modern world of specialist kayaks – a super-short freestyle boat for playing, a big volume creek boat for river running and the like. Then paddling a boat like the Axiom is going to take a bit of getting used to. Designing kayaks to be good at playing and river running is about getting the compromises right and they will never be as good at playing as an out and out freestyle kayak or as capable on the really hard stuff as a full-on creek boat, but it can, if the designers get it right, is do everything well to a fairly high standard and make it a whole lot of fun. And that’s the Axiom.

If what you want to do is to cruise down the river safely, push your limits occasionally, stop for a play at a sweet wave or hole and have a great time doing all of it then the Axiom is probably the boat for you! The impressive range of sizes gives you options too. If you mainly like to run river and want a boat that’s quick, nimble and good at surfing waves go up a size. If you want to play a bit harder then go down a size. There’s even a really small one for mini-river pups too. The Axiom doesn’t pack enough performance to win the best River Play class, but its successful blend of playboating and river running features meant that as an all-round river kayak we reckon it’s a worthy winner of the Overall Best In Test Award.

Pyranha Z-One

RRP: £649
More Info: 

Specs S M L
Length: 245cm 255cm 265cm
Width: 62cm 65cm 67cm
Weight: 16.1kg 17.1kg 17.9kg
Volume: 180ltrs 210ltrs 245ltrs

The Guys at Pyranha have a track record of designing brilliant ‘play the river’ kayaks with the most successful and famous of these being their Inazone range. It’s a concept that they’ve continued into the Z-One, so it had some pretty big river boots to fill.

On the river, it had a really ‘nippy’ feeling on the water and a good turn of speed compared to many river/play boats. It almost felt kind of slalom-like, which we really liked. Despite its narrow width, which allows you to really crank those edge-to-edge transfers for crisp breakouts and dynamic, carving wave surfing, it’s a very stable ride. Its width also makes it very easy to roll. The raised knee position makes for good positive, efficient paddling. It really responded to being driven hard on the river and just busting some slalom style breakouts and break-ins had us grinning. When things get a little steeper or bigger the Z.One was surprisingly forgiving considering its low volume stern, but you need to be dynamic and decisive when punching bigger holes. On the play front it surf waves with style and can hit nice big blunts. Playing in holes was fun and it’s a stable platform for setting up cartwheel style tricks, but it does need a reasonably deep feature, due to its length. The long, low volume tail means that you can tail squirt and splat every eddy-line and suitable rock on the way down. It’s stable on its tail too and doesn’t tumble over like a short boat. This means that you can start to really crank up the style on tail squirts. It was close between this and the Axiom for the overall, but this nudges just a bit more towards the play end of things.

Whitewater Tandem Canoe Skills

Gearing Up

Before venturing out onto the rapids of the world in your Canadian canoe some basic prerequisites are required. A suitable amount of practice on flat water to ensure a solid basic skill level, forwards, backwards, turning and support strokes should all be quick, easy and reliable. A basic knowledge of what to do when your canoe, or a friend’s canoe, capsizes is also recommended and advantageous to a having a successful and enjoyable day on the river. The whitewater open boat paddler also requires more personal equipment; a correctly fitting buoyancy aid is essential, as is a correctly fitting helmet. Suitable clothing for the prevailing weather conditions and solid footwear is also advised. The canoe itself also requires more equipment; airbags should be fitted and secured in the bow and stern of the canoe and a rescue line should also be secured to at least one end of the canoe. Extra equipment such as a spare paddle in case one is lost or broken, first aid kit and a throw bag are also recommended and should be secured well, but easily accessible.

Green & Dry

The open canoe, as the name suggests, is open to the river and therefore the most important factor to consider when navigating rapids and moving the canoe around in whitewater is keeping the water out of the canoe! The more water there is in the canoe the heavier it is and therefore the harder to paddle and manoeuvre, this will drastically affect your enjoyment of the river trip, so rule number one; keep the water out of the canoe. Two simple techniques for keeping the canoe dry are following the green path down the river and slowing the speed of the canoe to just below the speed of the river.

In all whitewater rapids there are breaking waves, rocks, stoppers and green water, (flowing but smooth water), by paddling through waves and stoppers water can splash into the canoe, so the clever line to take is to manoeuvre the canoe around the hydraulics and stick with the green, thus keeping the water out of the canoe. Slowly back paddling and maintaining a speed just below that of the water keeps you in control of the canoe and increases the time you have to react before reaching a hydraulic and so increases the chances of manoeuvring the canoe around obstacles successfully. Keeping the canoe on the green water will keep the water out of the canoe, and you able to manoeuvre easily, which, of course, is the aim of the game.

The Ins and Outs

When you are on the river there is always the opportunity to practice and master whitewater techniques, such as breaking into an eddy and breaking back out into the flow. And forwards and backwards ferry gliding. When open canoeing on flat water it is generally accepted that the paddler in the stern is in command of the canoe as they are responsible for steering, however on whitewater this role is reversed and the paddler in the bow is in command. This is because the bow paddler has a better view of the river and the rapids and can, therefore, identify obstacles quicker and react accordingly than the paddler in the stern, whose view is slightly obscured by the bow paddler. Obviously, when you’re paddling solo in a canoe you’re in command!

Breaking out is the term used to describe turning the canoe into an eddy and stopping. The break out can be deconstructed into several easy steps. Firstly select a suitable eddy, it should be big enough for the canoe to comfortably sit in and in an achievable location, trying to learn to break into an eddy you can not easily get to is not smart and will not help you climb the learning curve. Secondly make a plan of how you and your partner intend to paddle the canoe from where it is, to the destination eddy. Entering the destination eddy as far upstream as possible is the best way, as the eddy and the eddy line is most defined at the top and will give you the greatest chance of success. Build up forward speed before crossing the eddy line. As soon as the forward paddler can reach into the eddy use a bow rudder or cross bow rudder and place the paddle blade across the eddy line into the eddy, holding the paddle firmly in position and pivoting the canoe around the paddle and into the eddy. The stern paddler compliments the turn with either a forward or backwards sweep stroke.

Breaking back into the flow is essentially the same process. Make a plan of where you want to go, the next eddy or a route through a rapid. Use several forwards paddle strokes to build up speed and paddle out of the eddy with the bow of the canoe pointing upstream, as soon as the bow paddler can reach across the eddy line place the bow rudder or cross bow rudder stroke into the flowing water, again hold the paddle position firmly in the flow and allow the canoe to turn around the paddle stroke. Do not release the stroke until the desired change in direction has been achieved. The stern paddler compliments with the appropriate sweep stroke, a forward sweep for a bow rudder and a backwards sweep cross bow rudder. Before breaking back out into the flow do not forget to look upstream to ensure you don’t paddle into any oncoming kayaks, canoes or rafts!

Top Tip

Timing is the key to success when breaking in and out, as soon as the bow of the canoe crosses the eddy line the canoe will start to turn because one end will be moving quicker than the other. Lean slightly into the turn and turn your head to look in the intended final direction of your boat. The bow paddler should hold the turning stroke, bow or cross bow rudder, in position with the stern paddler performing sweep strokes until the canoe is pointing in the intended final direction. Then both paddlers perform several forward strokes to finish the manoeuvre. If the first bow rudder does not turn the canoe as fully as desired repeat the stroke.

Timing is the key to success when breaking in and out, as soon as the bow of the canoe crosses the eddy line the canoe will start to turn because one end will be moving quicker than the other. Lean slightly into the turn and turn your head to look in the intended final direction of your boat. The bow paddler should hold the turning stroke, bow or cross bow rudder, in position with the stern paddler performing sweep strokes until the canoe is pointing in the intended final direction. Then both paddlers perform several forward strokes to finish the manoeuvre. If the first bow rudder does not turn the canoe as fully as desired repeat the stroke.

Play the Ferryman

Ferry gliding is the name applied to the technique of moving a canoe forwards or backwards across the flow of a river using the power of the water to push the canoe sideways, whilst the paddlers maintain the position of the canoe in the river. The name, as it suggests, comes from early river ferries, which were used to cross fast flowing rivers, a rope or cable was strung across the river and tensioned, a raft was attached be means of two ropes, the rope at the front was shorter than the one at the rear so the raft sat at about 45degrees angle to the flow and the force of the water pushing down on the upstream side and deflecting off at an angle moved the ferry across the river with no human effort. Ducks and swans are the ideal example to give when trying to explain a ferry glide, the duck sets itself at a slight angle to the flow and paddles forwards, the combined motion of the duck paddling upstream at an angle and the flow of the water pushing down moves the duck sideways across the current. This is exactly what you aim to achieve when ferry gliding in a canoe, practice is the key to understanding exactly how much angle is necessary; however as a simple rule for starting out is this. If there is no flow what so ever on the river it will be possible to paddle across directly to your destination at 90degrees to the flow, as the flow increases so must your angle. Technically speaking the fastest flowing river you can perfectly ferry glide across is one flowing just a bit slower than the maximum speed you can paddle forwards. As well as ferry gliding forwards it is possible to ferry glide backwards; exactly the same techniques apply except in reverse! Backwards ferry gliding is particularly useful for manoeuvring around obstacles in rapids, as the canoe approaches an obstacle the paddlers should be paddling backwards down the rapid, so all it is necessary to do is slightly open the angle of the canoe to the flow and the canoe will backwards ferry glide across the river and away from the obstacle. Cool!

Top Tip

As every river, every canoe and every different combination of different paddlers affects the way the ferry glide works the only real tip is to practice, practice, and practice! Start off with very slow moving water with your aim at understanding how the moving water affects the canoe and its direction. Practice both forwards and backwards ferries. Once this basic idea has been understood and practiced find faster-flowing water and set yourself goals. For instance ferry glide across the river from Point A to Point B the better and more confident you get the harder goals you can set yourself. When ferry gliding in turbulent whitewater it is advisable to lean slightly downstream during the ferry glide, this will assist with the balance of the canoe and minimise the amount of water shipped in.

Early Baths

Occasionally during an open canoe whitewater adventure, it is possible that the canoe will upset itself and tip its contents and paddlers into the river. Don’t panic, this is not a big problem and with knowledge and practice the situation can be corrected quickly. Your canoe should be fitted with airbags, which when correctly inflated should float the canoe upside down on the surface of the river. There are now two options open to the paddlers. Firstly if the river bank is near and a suitable and safe landing point can be identified, a big eddy is ideal, tow the canoe, by means of swimming, into the eddy, empty the water, recover your pride and continue. Secondly if dry land is far off or the rapid is rocky it is beneficial to try and climb back into the canoe and paddle the canoe full of water to the bank. This is advantageous for several reasons, it is easier, and safer, to paddle a canoe full of water down a rapid than to try and swim with one. At least when paddling you have some degree of control over the direction of the canoe.

Top Tip

Before starting on your whitewater adventure, ensure everything you are taking with you in the canoe is secured properly, excluding pets and passengers! There is nothing worse than capsizing and seeing your dry bag with dry clothes and a flask of hot tea floating off into the distance when you finally recover yourself and your boat to the shore. Ensure the airbags are fully inflated and securely attached to the canoe. Never swim downstream of the canoe, if you are caught between a rock and a canoe full of water you will be squashed, simple as that. Always remember to keep hold of your paddle in the case of a swim, as you will need it later. Practice capsize drills in a safe environment before relying on them in a real life situation, practice paddling the canoe around full of water and swimming with it to the side.

Before starting on your whitewater adventure, ensure everything you are taking with you in the canoe is secured properly, excluding pets and passengers! There is nothing worse than capsizing and seeing your dry bag with dry clothes and a flask of hot tea floating off into the distance when you finally recover yourself and your boat to the shore. Ensure the airbags are fully inflated and securely attached to the canoe. Never swim downstream of the canoe, if you are caught between a rock and a canoe full of water you will be squashed, simple as that. Always remember to keep hold of your paddle in the case of a swim, as you will need it later. Practice capsize drills in a safe environment before relying on them in a real life situation, practice paddling the canoe around full of water and swimming with it to the side.

Safety in Numbers

Lastly and most importantly when going on your first whitewater adventure as a tandem, going alone is not the best plan, remember there’s safety in numbers, so go with some friends (even kayakers will do) and let somebody know where you are going and when you intend to return. Ensure the river you intend to paddle is suitable for your ability. So now you ready to become a whitewater open canoe paddler or crew, pray for a week of rain followed by a weekend of sunshine and get out on the river with friends and enjoy.

Why a Folding or Inflatable Canoe or Kayak Might Work For You!

“A modern inflatable boat certainly ticks a lot of boxes for those looking for a compact, easy to store and transport canoe or kayak.”

Canoes and kayaks are not always the easiest things to store or transport and unless you live literally on the riverbank or shoreline then you’re probably going to need a vehicle with a roof rack, or a trailer, to get your boat to the water, so difficult if you don’t drive or have access to a car. And not everyone lives in a location with an outdoor, or garage storage space. If you live in a one bedroomed fourth floor flat for instance then owning a sixteen-foot sea kayak is going to prove problematical! But all is not lost if you long to be a paddler but are encountering one of the above, or similar, problems. There could just be a folding, or inflatable canoe or kayak solution for you just waiting to be discovered.

Skin and Bones

Folding kayaks have been around now for over a century and are a direct descendant of the original Inuit kayaks made from animal skins stretched over frames made from bones or timber. The first real modern folding kayak was built by a German student called Alfred Heurich way back in 1905. Heurich called it the Delphin and paddled his folding creation on the Isar River. The Delphin had a bamboo frame with a sailcloth hull stretched over it. It could be folded up and carried in three bags, each weighing less than 4.5 kg. A year after his building his first boat Alfred took out a patent on the Delphin design. The name that really stands out in the world of folding kayaks, even to this day is that of Klepper. Johannes Klepper, whose factory was at Rosenheim in Germany, really made commercially successful. Klepper kayaks were very popular for their compact size and ease of transport. Klepper’s Faltboot was introduced in 1906. During the Second World War folding boats were utilised by the military, in particular by special forces, and one such mission, by a group of Commandos, that later became known as the Cockleshell Heroes, was later immortalised in film.

Is a Folding Kayak or Canoe For Me?

The modern folding boat is available in both kayak or canoe style designs and usually has a collapsible frame made of some combination of wood, aluminium and plastic, and a skin made of a tough fabric with a waterproof coating. Many have integral air chambers built into their hulls, making them extremely buoyant, even when swamped. They can be packed down and transported reasonably easily although they do usually weigh in on the heavy side, so it can be hard work to haul them about if you’re on your own. They can be stored on public transport, and planes, fairly easily, and they usually have an impressive ability to stow and carry kit, which makes them a popular choice for longer, multi-day style expedition paddling. There are also single seated, lightweight kayaks available now, which can be packed up and carried in a bag on your back, just like a rucksack making travelling too, and between paddling venues easy. The downsides of folding boats are the price, these are beautiful pieces of design and engineering and that comes at a premium, the other downside is that many designs can take a reasonably long time to assemble and disassemble, so not ideal if you just want a quick blast up your local river after work. If, however, you have time on your hands and want to paddle something that has a unique feel and has been really crafted then a folding boat might well be what you’re looking for.

Hot Air

In the past inflatable canoes and kayaks were little better than the cheap ‘seaside’ style inflatable toys you’d find at many beachside resorts and their performance and build quality was in a similar class to the good old rubber ring too. But in recent years inflatable craft have really come of age and there is now a flotilla of excellent designs, built of tough robust materials that will deliver a real paddling experience that’ll have you floating on air, rather than feeling flat.  Inflatables come in both canoe and kayak designs and in all different shapes and sizes, from short fun boats designed to play in the surf or take on the challenges of moving water, to longer, sleeker craft with rigid bottoms, designed for touring over longer distances.

Is an Inflatable Canoe or Kayak For Me?

A modern inflatable boat certainly ticks a lot of boxes for those looking for a compact, easy to store and transport canoe or kayak. For this reason, they’re becoming increasingly popular amongst general outdoor enthusiasts, such as caravan and motor-home owners, looking to add a little extra adventure and fun to their trips. They’re great for taking to the water with kids too. You can play in the ocean waves, get up close to wildlife or just use it as a glorified diving platform. Inflatable boats are usually constructed from tough fabric skin with a series of inflatable chambers, or baffles. Once these are inflated using a pump they form the structure of the craft. Some designs have rigid sections of foam that fit in to stiffen the hull and further increase performance. The absence of any internal frame means that the inflatable option comes in much lower on the scales than its folding counterpart and they tend to be a lot cheaper too. But beware you do get what you pay for with inflatable canoes & kayaks and those bargain-bucket blow-up boats are still lurking out there, and our advice would be to steer clear and invest a little bit more in a decent make and model for a much more enjoyable time on the water.

Why All Canoeists & Kayakers Should Learn First Aid

Canoeing & kayaking are adventure sports and as paddlers, we spend lots of time in dynamic outdoor environments, often in remote locations so basic knowledge of first aid is a must-have skill for all of us. Taking a first aid course makes perfect sense. But why not crank it up a few notches and take a more in-depth course. It’s a good feeling knowing that in an emergency you’ve got that little bit more knowledge to help out your canoeing & kayaking buddies in a time of need.

 What Sort, of Course, Do I Need?

A Rescue Emergency Care (REC) first aid course is ideal for paddlers as it is tailored towards outdoor sports and will teach you really valuable first aid skills that can be applied in paddling environments. Most paddlers also like to dabble in other outdoor pursuits too, and the skills you learn will cross easily over for sports like mountain biking, rock climbing, fell running, to name just a few, too.

What is a REC Course

Rescue Emergency Care (REC) is a well known and respected first aid training organisation founded in the mid-1980s by Dr Robert Phillips while working in remote healthcare and adventure rescue services. REC was set up to provide a comprehensive and flexible training programme that extends the competency of the participants. This unique style of first aid training has been delivered by REC trainers throughout the UK and Europe for over 20 years.

What Will I learn?

A range of different courses are available from beginner through to advanced level for all participants. We have also developed more specialised courses to meet the demands of our clients.
The REC First Aid course covers the following:

·     Vital Signs
·     Emergency Action
·     Airway Management
·     Unconsciousness
·     Choking
·     Drowning
·     Bleeding
·     Breathing
·     Rescue Breathing & CPR
·     Shock
·     Fractures & Dislocations
·     Spinal Injury
·     Casualty Handling
·     Common Illness
·     Problems from Excessive Heat & Cold

The basic philosophy behind the REC first aid scheme believes that access to first aid and trainer training should be inclusive and ensures that individuals from all walks of life can take the opportunity to train or be trained in first aid. REC specialises in training the trainer so that organisations can fulfil their own training needs. The courses are practical and innovative which brings a fresh dimension to learning first aid.

Why Tandem Kayaking is a Great Idea – Perception Prodigy Tandem Kayak Review

“The brilliant thing about tandem kayaks is that you get to share the whole paddling experience with someone else.”

It all started, as all kayaking adventures usually do, with a conversation over a cup of good coffee and a plate of biscuits.  On this occasion, our coffee-sipping companions were Matt Byham and André Goldsmith of Perception Kayaks. In between munching on bourbons and generally putting the kayaking world to rights, in general, the chaps asked us an interesting question, ‘why didn’t we feature two-person touring kayaks anymore?’  But we do don’t we? Or do we? After some chin scratching and casting of our minds back far further that we can actually remember we had to admit they had a point! Yes, we regularly feature tandem paddling, but it usually comes in the form of open canoes or sit-on-top kayaks. These are great (indeed Perception themselves manufacture some rather fine examples), but André and Matt keenly pointed out that there was a third way, a type of craft that filled the gap between the two. The versatile, and to this point, by us at least, overlooked tandem touring kayak….

They were dead right of course, way back in the mist of time we can recall a time when if you asked any canoe shop throughout this fair isle what their best selling boat was it would not have been the latest ‘must-have’ banana shaped play boat it would have been a boat called the Kiwi 2, an open decked touring tandem kayak made, as it happens, by our friends at Perception. We can remember working at a leading canoe shop in the south-east where for year after year we literally couldn’t keep enough in stock. We reckon that design was probably responsible for putting more bums on kayak seats than any other! We’d literally flog them faster than they could make them. So what’s happened in the interim years?

Well, the dear old’ Kiw1 2 has been replaced in Perception’s line up for tandem duties by the sleeker, more elegant Prodigy II for one thing, but more of that later. The second thing is that we don’t really think that the desire for boats like these has really ever gone away, it’s just that the folks that paddle them just like to get out there and enjoy their paddling rather than writing articles about epic journeys across a wind-blasted Scottish moor with more portages than paddling, and as a sport we maybe got a little dazzled and excited by the apparent ease that sit-on-tops provided for bringing new people into our fantastic sport (all those brightly coloured lumps of plastic sat on racks heading to the coast each summer).
The thing is boats like the Kiwi 2 and now the Prodigy II have always provided that. The more we thought about it the more it appeared that we were missing something important. There was nothing for it we had to put that right; it was time to re-connect with this versatile, unassuming and rather a fun type of craft.

Tea for Two
Emails were swapped, calls were made and diaries were aligned and suddenly we had a date set with Matt and shiny new Prodigy II for a day spent cruising down the gorgeous River Wye as it meanders its way down towards Symonds Yat.  The Wye seemed a natural choice, it’s a river that’s often associated with open canoes but it is the kind of water that a tandem touring kayak is ideal for paddling on. We quickly got changed and carried the Prodigy down to the water. We stowed a couple of dry bags containing the usual day-trip kit, flasks, sarnies, picnic blanket that sort of thing, in the ample storage hatch, which swallowed it up with ease. Most people choosing a craft of this type are likely to be looking for a solid day-tripper, but we were really impressed by the Prodigy’s kit carrying abilities and it could easily accommodate enough kit or an overnight or even multi-day (if you pack light) tandem-kayak-camping adventures too.

Share the Experience
Once the essentials were stowed (the tea) we hopped on board and pushed off into the fast flowing current. The first thing that was apparent was the boat turn of speed. Once we’d spent a few minutes getting our strokes timed right it really flew and even with a rather full Wye it was still easy to travel upstream against the flow at a good lick!

Once we’d warmed up the muscles we pointed the Prodigy’s bow downstream and set off enjoying the first sunshine that any of us had seen in a while. The brilliant thing about tandems is that you get to share the whole paddling experience with someone else. Yes, you get to do that in an open canoe too, but somehow cruising along chewing the fat while hitting the perfect stroke rhythm as your paddles both dip into the shimmering surface of the water as the conservation flows as easily as the river is a special kind of feeling.  You really feel like you’re working together, like a team.

Open canoes can certainly offer some serious capacity for carrying gear and sit-on-tops loads of fun but as we slid effortlessly down the Wye we really began to appreciate the beauty of this type of boat and why so many UK paddlers love them. Performance was maybe the one area that earlier recreational tandems were a bit lacking, but the same can certainly not be said for the Prodigy, we’ve already talked about its forward speed, and you can read a full review later within this article, but it was also surprisingly responsive and nimble for a boat of this length. When we pushed it to do things that maybe you normally wouldn’t it responded with ease and handled ferry glides and S-turns across fast flowing jets and small rapids with surprising ease. And here’s the best bit. It provided that handling performance with a little discernable sacrifice of the stable, rock-solid feel and initial stability, which makes boats like the Prodigy such great kayaks to get people started in!

We cruised on revelling in the magnificence that is the Wye Valley (seriously folks if you’ve never paddled here, go!) and all too soon we passed under the metal road bridge that signalled our approach to Symonds Yat and the end, for now, of our tandem-adventure. For those that are unfamiliar Symonds Yat (east) is literally at the end of the road and boasts a great pub, the Saracen’s Head) a café, a campsite a canoeing centre and shop some B&Bs and a hotel. The original plan was to take out here, but just below is the famous and historic (in paddling folklore anyway) Symonds Yat rapid. Now the Prodigy isn’t for running whitewater, but so impressed had we been with its performance that it was easy to appeal to Matt’s white water paddling background and convince him that, for the sake of a good ending, we should carry on down and run the rapid.

We cruised past the pub and as we sliced through the calm, mirror-flat water above the rapid, and despite sharing a fairly impressive history of whitewater river running between us we admitted to now also be sharing a few butterflies. With a stiffening of the sinews and the upper lips, we dropped down the shallow ramp and into the array of small holes and breaking waves. What a hoot! We needn’t of worried our trusty tandem held its line beautifully and despite crashing through a couple of good waves stayed remarkably dry. It was a suitably fitting end to what had been a fun and illuminating journey, a journey that had reawakened understanding, and dare we say, love, of just what a fantastic and unique paddling experience a tandem touring kayak like the Prodigy II can deliver.