Recently I passed my 5 star white water kayak assessment, the assessment is carried out over 2 days and is based on guiding kayaking in advanced waters. I couldn't have asked for a better weekend. The first day was great, we made the couple hour's drive from Cardiff to paddle the Lynn early in the morning and as I hadn't done it before, excitement took over and I seemed to forget about the pre-assessment nerves. I really had a feeling like I was just out boating for fun. This carried on to the second day where I was fortunate enough to get 2 great candidates to guide down the upper Dart. It was super relaxed, enjoyable and we all had an awesome day.
After the assessment everyone had an individual debrief, it got to my turn and In simple and short words the feedback I received was outstanding. I felt really confident within my personal paddling and leadership on the water. And the guys from Gene 17 had confirmed that. It was pretty hard not to walk out with a smile on my face, I was completely proud of myself.
After a short celebratory car park beer with the others who passed It was time to head home. The 3 hour drive back to south Wales left me with plenty of time to reflect on my journey to becoming a 5* white water leader and the person I am today!
6 years ago, nearly to the day I started kayaking, It was something fun, new to learn and actually quite difficult. I really appreciate my friend Becx for getting me on the water because I was hooked. Having a love for the sport instantly gave me inspiration to get better and teach what I've learnt to others.
Very early on I applied for a job in the Ardeche and when I had a phone call confirming my place I couldn't stop jumping around the house! I surrounded myself with paddlers. I coached, guided and learnt a lot about paddling. I made it my job, my life and hobby. Everything thing else in my life at that time was on hold, I found something I loved to do and I was spending it with the best of friends who felt the same.
After a couple of years I moved to a different company called Adventure Ardeche. The choice to move companies as far as I'm concerned turned out to be one of the most crucial decisions I have ever made. Phil the owner really cares about his staff and does what he can to help put people on the path they want to follow. It was my time with Phil and his family that gave me the tools to progress. I was given vehicles to go kayaking on days off, he paid for trips to the French alps, qualifications were there if I wanted them and most importantly I was able to gain heaps of experience.
I really have a soft spot for the Ardeche, It's a beautiful place with beautiful people. Most of my closest friends have come from being out there and I probably wouldn't have met my girlfriend, Beckii if it wasn't for working there. Although I decided enough was enough and I really wanted to travel and paddle in different places around the world.
Beckii and I left France, we headed to the UK, then off to Canada, back to Wales to save up then travelled and kayaked in New Zealand for a year. During this time I started to dial in my boat skills and run some of the biggest rapids I've ever seen. It was great to have a range of rivers from huge volume with big waves to tight twisting, steep and technical creeks. But towards the end of the trip I slightly lost sight of my own goal, I had sold my boat and kit knowing I was heading home and was really frustrated that I wasn't kayaking. I must have been really awful to be around at times.
At the time I was so focused on getting better, fitter and wanting to run bigger rapids, I almost forgot why I fell in love with the sport. It wasn't all about just having fun with those who matter the most. I wanted to see what I was capable of. Sometimes I would go out on the lake to do sprint fitness sessions because I felt like I had to Even though I had nothing to train for. Its really difficult to explain how I felt then because I didn't really understand myself.
The time between not having a kayak in New Zealand to collecting everything new back home felt like a decade. I remember how excited I was to get back in a boat and I made everyone around me aware of that! I quite possibly posted on social media every time I looked at a kayak and definitely every time I got in one. I felt so fortunate that I picked up a sponsorship with Escape Watersports while I was in New Zealand. It allowed me to go 4 months without having to find a job as the less I spent on replacing my kit meant the more I could put my funds elsewhere. A few months in a UK winter to just paddle with friends, have fun and really enjoy my kayaking again.
A trip to Scotland for a week just after new year was just what I needed to confirm what I already knew. Kayaking is made so much better with friends around to have fun with. I still have the same drive to do the best I can and test myself but its great days on the water with great friends that leave me smiling more.
Not long after this, a group of us decided to run a night descent on a South Wales classic run. By day, possibly the best river in the south and by night It didn't disappoint. Between everyone involved there was so much experience, it was an honour to be part of the team. Although we joked around a lot we had safety set on absolutely everything! I really enjoyed the run, not so much for it being dark, although It's something I will never forget; but once again I was out on the river having a great time with friends.
So when my assessment arrived, I was more looking forward to being on the river with my friends and sharing my experiences that I felt there was no pressure. Unaware, I was completely ready for it and It leaves me humbled.
I can only thank everyone who has helped me achieve that. The support I have received from coaches, friends, family, bosses, companies, people I have met on rivers and asked for the line, people who have inspired me to still be motivated at 5am and most importantly Beckii. At some point everyone I have met over the last 6 Years has helped me achieve my goal in some way or another and I'm truly grateful. Finding people who I can share my love for kayaking with will continue to be high on my priorities. But now I see myself at the end of a chapter and I can't wait to carry on writing the next one!
Photography: Adam Heason, Beckii Waters.
Photography: Adam Heason, Beckii Waters.