The Beginners Kayaking Course with the Nelson Canoe Club
Over the past few weeks I was lucky enough to be a part of the latest intrepid intake attending the Beginners Whitewater Kayaking course with the Nelson Canoe Club. Learning to kayak had been on my list of things to try for a while, so I was thrilled when the course came up. There were about 15 people in our group, with a mix of all ages, experience levels and reasons for wanting to give it a go. I was in the older dynamic of the group, and considerably lacking in the ‘previous experience’ bracket, but full of enthusiasm to give it a try.
The Pool Sessions
We met for our first lesson outside the Riverside pools in Nelson and got kitted out with a boat, paddle and spray skirt – which would be ours for the duration of the course. We played some games to break the ice and get to know our group. It was great fun and we were all raring to go as we started our first pool session.
We had numerous instructors and experienced volunteers looking after us and we learned the basics like ‘going straight’ and ‘turning’. We discovered that when you tried to do one, you inadvertently ended up doing the other! I’d like to say we’d nailed it by the end of that first session, but that would be a lie… nevertheless, we all had a great time. We finished the evening by trying a ‘wet exit’ from our kayaks to prepare us for the inevitable.
We came back to the pool again the next night and started with a recap of all the things we’d forgotten over the past 24 hours. In addition, we learned some rescue techniques and some of the more experienced among us began to learn rolling. In our third pool session we recapped everything we’d learned and had a good briefing about what to expect in a river environment.
We arrived bright and breezy to our first river session, and our instructors checked our gear to make sure we’d be warm and safe on the river. The club provided us with life jackets, warm hats and helmets.
Max’s Bush is a large, flat, slow moving body of water, and we started out by practising our strokes and turns on the quiet water. A little further upstream was the Wairoa River itself. We learned how to spot the ‘eddy line’ between currents and eddies, and quickly learned that hanging around on the eddy line isn’t a good place to be if you want to stay upright!
We split into our groups with our instructors and volunteers close by in case of a capsize, and our techniques practised in the pool really came into their own. Next up was ‘ferry gliding’ i.e. facing upstream and getting across a fast-moving current to the other side of the river but hopefully not going too far backwards downstream. There were a few tips and swims, but we gradually got the hang of it. By late afternoon, all the groups had advanced upriver to the small rapids.
The Motueka River
We spent the next day on the Motueka River which was wide and swift compared to yesterday. I had an immediate confidence crisis, but after 20 minutes of practising the basics again, I soon lost my fear and we proceeded down river. The camaraderie in the groups was great, and someone else completing something a little more difficult made you want to have a crack at it too. But it wasn’t all hard work, and we had plenty of time for floating and chatting as we made our way down some of the wider sections of river.
Then came the rapids! We discovered there wasn’t really much we could do in the white water apart from line ourselves up and go for it. We tried to remember the golden rule of ‘if in doubt – keep paddling’ as we bounced, laughed and whooped our way down the rapids.
The Pelorus River
Our final river session was on the beautiful Pelorus River. We had our briefing, split into groups and got ourselves down to the river. We practised our strokes, turns and ferry glides in a quieter part of the river before heading downstream. Today took a similar approach to our other river sessions. We grouped up, talked about the river and any hazards in the coming section, paddled downstream a little, then re-grouped and did the same again.
It was definitely a step up from last week, with more swift water and rapids. I capsized a couple of times. As soon as I tipped, one (or more) of the very experienced paddlers were right there at my side to help by retrieving whatever items I had let go of and giving me a tow back to shore. Having tipped in the rapids I discovered it wasn’t really that bad, and it gave me more confidence to lean into my turns more successfully than I had been doing before.
All too soon the day was over and after we carried the kayaks up to the trailer at Totara Flats we sat on the grass overlooking the river and enjoyed the late afternoon sunshine. The beginners amongst us marvelled at how just a few weeks ago we could barely paddle in a straight line, and here we were having completed this beautiful river run.
See You Out There!
The course was a great introduction to kayaking. We have plenty of experience to gain and many more skills to develop before we can say we’re any good, but it was great fun learning the basics. A few of us are also attending the Wednesday pool sessions in a quest to learn how to roll… The biggest thing now, is to keep it up and get out onto the water as much as possible.
The enthusiasm and fantastic support from our instructors, volunteers and the other club members really made the made us all feel at ease and gave us all heaps of confidence. I look forward to seeing you out there on the river!
Photos by Mark Rainberg and Richard Barry