The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

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SimonMW
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The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by SimonMW » Fri Dec 04, 2015 12:14 pm

I've had quite a bit of discussion about this with one of my regular paddle buddies. We are both a bit frustrated with the situation. The problem in question that apart from families and other commitments, we find it difficult to get water in the right condition for paddling. As intermediates we want to progress, but unlike some people we don't want to just get on a nuts river running high and hope for the best! We know people like this, and maybe they are progressing well, but in our opinion they are risking a lot by doing it that way.

We usually end up running the Usk from Talybont to Llangynidr, over, and over, and over again. It's the only easy to get to river that is fairly reliable. And to be frank it is getting a bit long in the tooth, much as we love being outside with mates on the river no matter where it is.

We love the middle Tawe, but it rises and falls so quickly, and not always on a day we can get to it. So it is either a scrape or it is going mental. Same with another favourite of ours, the Irfon. Upper Wye same again.

While we love a high water Usk run, and we love a high water Upper Wye run, we certainly aren't up for a high water Tawe run. This seems to be the issue with being an intermediate. We aren't good enough to take on some of the variety of rivers when the rains are really falling. We aren't of a standard where we can look at the gauge and see a high Mellte going off its nuts and decide to go down there. Even the weirs we know end up being un-paddleable due to being too high. So we are forever in a middle ground where if we want to paddle somewhere other than the flippin' Usk again we have to hope that the rains fall in precisely the right place and for precisely the right amount of time. Otherwise we end up having to go to Cardiff, again.

We watch with envy as people on MyFace post up their exploits doing multiple varieties of rivers per day. It doesn't help that when the rains do fall nicely many of the people we used to paddle with either don't seem to be very active any more or they are off in new groups paddling bonkers rivers.

So how do you guys cope with 'intermediate blues'? Do you just think 'sod it' and go and paddle something nuts and hope you get back home, or is anyone else here stuck in a similar rut?

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by Ruby_W » Fri Dec 04, 2015 12:53 pm

Ok so I am a newbie not an intermediate, but I do know the frustration a bit. Maybe you could make a list of things you'd need to/like to learn (more of) before you'd "risk" these rivers? Or do you have an idea of what you're most worried about? Maybe finding an extra paddle buddy, taking a rescue course or a course in another country/holiday area to work on some of these things (reading water, rescues self or someone else, or just feeling more certain of your abilities).

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by SimonMW » Fri Dec 04, 2015 1:13 pm

We've done quite a few coached courses, and rescue courses. It isn't so much base skills that are the problem. The issue is that there is a big jump between doing a river like the Tawe at a low to medium level and doing them at a high level. Handling big water is a skill, and a swim becomes truly life threatening. Catching such rivers at the ideal levels for us when life is also going on is just extremely difficult. So we end up running the rivers that we know keep water in them, and that is invariably rivers like the Usk or going to Cardiff again.

I don't have any uncertainties about my abilities. I know what my limits are, and I know what level I am happy to be at. I am not striving to become a G5 paddler. G4 is more than enough for me. And while I haven't been paddling for a huge number of years, I have been doing it long enough, known enough people, and had enough experiences, to know what I will risk and what I won't. And that is the difficulty. Finding rivers that offer regular fun around G3 to G4- becomes more difficult because at those levels the rivers run off more quickly and don't come into condition as reliably. I don't really fancy becoming a G5 paddler.

I have travelled. Not much but I have, to places like Scotland and Slovenia. That's fine, but it isn't bread and butter weekend paddling. Once a year in Scotland or the Alps isn't really a reliable progressor. But my question isn't a skills question, or one of confidence, but one of whether others here are having the same frustrations.
Last edited by SimonMW on Fri Dec 04, 2015 1:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by Ruby_W » Fri Dec 04, 2015 1:15 pm

Oooookay. Apologies for the newb comment.

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by Simongelder » Fri Dec 04, 2015 1:36 pm

Even at a reasonably advanced level it starts getting a bit tedious paddling the same rivers repeatedly or spending hours in cars driving around trying to find suitable paddling.

Things to make familiar water fun again include getting a more challenging boat - if you are paddling a big creek style boat, try doing your familiar runs in a sharp railed, lower volume river runner or playboat. Get a slalom boat - older designs can be cheap on ebay. Slalom c1 makes grade 3/4 a whole lot more interesting for a while (and grade 2 to begin with!). You may even want to try competing! My old crowd ended up in squirt boats to make life more interesting before eventually diversifying to mountain biking, climbing and canoe polo.

Alternatively get a longer, faster boat and go on flat water trips - old WWRs can be acquired for very little cash if you don't mind doing some repairs. Get a sea kayak - good for flat water touring as well as the sea.

You certainly aren't the first to get jaded at doing the same old thing.

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by Mr Hoppy » Fri Dec 04, 2015 1:41 pm

I'd suggest just being bolder in your river choices. You describe fairly big rivers, there are enough spatey smaller rivers that need water to get the feeling of spate boating which you then can transfer to running bigger more 'serious' rivers. You'll no doubt get it wrong and arrive at some to find them empty but that's the way it goes sometimes, plan smart and you can probably divert to something else but at least you've tried.

You can get stuck in a rut of doing the same runs because you know them, know they're good and know they run. It takes a push to get away from that when time is limited but it's fun sometimes.
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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by SimonMW » Fri Dec 04, 2015 1:45 pm

I've tried slalom. I have a 3.5m boat, and I love paddling it, though not sure I'd want to risk it on a river run! Competing doesn't interest me, with the travelling to an event for a couple of 1 minute runs down a course. I also have a playboat which I have taken down the river, and like using at Cardiff and on weirs. Flat water touring doesn't really hold any interest for me at all.

We love the paddling, but it is clear that at a certain in between level it is harder to sustain regular paddling, which of course means skills can go rusty so when the rivers do come into the right condition it can be a relearning experience! Personally I have no intention of giving up and moving to something else. I am gradually learning some flatwater play boating to start taking my wave skills forward. Though that is more of a summer thing. I love being on the water and I must admit that I find it odd when people throw their toys out of the pram and sell all their kit and stop doing it altogether.

My girlfriend paddles as well and is loving her discovery of play boating, so I get to enjoy that and the lower grade rivers with her. But as far as my own river skills development goes things have hit a bit of a plateau do to river/water availability.
Last edited by SimonMW on Fri Dec 04, 2015 1:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by SimonMW » Fri Dec 04, 2015 1:52 pm

You describe fairly big rivers, there are enough spatey smaller rivers that need water to get the feeling spate boating
That's kind of the issue. Spate runs don't schedule their spateyness with my friends and I life and family commitments.

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by Mr Hoppy » Fri Dec 04, 2015 2:07 pm

SimonMW wrote:
You describe fairly big rivers, there are enough spatey smaller rivers that need water to get the feeling spate boating
That's kind of the issue. Spate runs don't schedule their spateyness with my friends and I life and family commitments.
Sorry misunderstood, thought you were referring to not wanting to get on a 'nuts river running high'. In general then just get the Welsh rivers guidebook or find a website with lots of river guides (maybe for the UK) and explore. Yes you might bum out but you also might find something you really like. There are enough resources for determining water levels now that you should be able to make pretty good calls. There's enough variation in S and Mid Wales to keep you going at pretty much any grade.

Also don't be afraid to paddle easier stuff you don't know to build confidence in paddling 'blind'.

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by twopigs » Fri Dec 04, 2015 2:08 pm

Sound like you need to move house ...... then you can do the same things on a different sub-set of rivers.

Or cheaper - get an open canoe! At least twice the boat, a broken paddle and more skill required!
Canoeing - bigger boat, broken paddle, more skill!

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by Mr Hoppy » Fri Dec 04, 2015 2:19 pm

A quick glance at Sladden shows 62 sections between gd 2/3 and gd 3/4 in south and mid Wales. Some are cack but there's plenty of choice there to be going at, some run most of the time, some run very rarely. Seek and you will find.

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by kayak1 » Fri Dec 04, 2015 2:40 pm

Im at the stage now that im not really interested in the full on rivers that I have been paddling in recent years, Yes they were great fun and paddled with great guys..But now for me its more of a social thing as well.. I like the Usk.. and its my preferred river.. Sennybridge down..It has everything you want..Drops, technical and surfing spots and changes with the condition of the water. So have you thought of doing the other sections of the Usk..there is the other similar grade rivers that are available around that area aswell! You do get to know every crook and cranny with the higher grades as well..Tawe, Twrch. Nedd Fechan, Mellte all have the features that don't change if you run them at similar levels..We are lucky down here in S. Wales as the sea is great for Touring and Surf even Canals on lazy days out...

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by Jim » Fri Dec 04, 2015 2:51 pm

Networking.

You need to expand your network to include more paddlers at a similar level and drive a bit further to meet them.

There is a group of intermediate OC1 paddlers based mostly in the midlands or southern part of the the North, approaching middle age with the time and family commitments that go with that, who have been very regularly running the Tryweryn, Dee, Washburn and Tees over the last year or so with occasional forays into the lakes (Kent, Lune etc.). Some of them have to travel a fair distance for some of the rivers - I only paddle with them very occasionally, although some of the rivers are about as close to me as to them. They also have a lot of easier rivers to do with less driving.
It has all been possible because one guy (who is now in the deep south so joins in about as often as I do) decided we needed to network more and started a specialisy facebook group. Whilst the frequent core members are where I decribed, we have members in Devon, East Anglia, and myself in Scotland - most of the backwaters are covered!
The scary thing is a year ago although my OC1 experience is limited, my kayaking experience put me well ahead of those guys running intermediate rivers in OC1, but because they are out doing it so much more often, I'm pretty they have all passed me - I'll be the swimmer next time we meet up, and they will be rescuing me (unless I bottle it and use a kayak!).

You cite Scotland as being too far for a weekend only good for an annual trip - well go half way then, add North Wales to your options - a hell of alot of boaters from SE England do weekends in N Wales because Scotland is just that bit too far. Sounds like you are S or SW Wales - you should probably be able to add Dartmoor to your list too.

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by TechnoEngineer » Fri Dec 04, 2015 4:39 pm

Simon it may be an idea for you to go on a coached trip to the Upper Dart (WLWW, Gene17 and others), and perhaps a coached trip to Scotland (Andy Holt, Ross Montandon and others) to be challenged on the likes of the Etive.

Have you done non-stop runs of the Upper Tryweryn?

Or just go playboating.
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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by DaveBland » Fri Dec 04, 2015 5:30 pm

Blimey, I seem to be agreeing with Jim more and more these days.
Deffo broaden your network. How?

1. Post on here.
2. Chat to paddlers in eddies.

I looong while back, me and my mate Dave where on the Dart [down from the Midlands] – I think it was the loop, doesn't matter - and messing around in a hole there. Got chatting to a couple of guys in the eddy. "Hey we're off to do the Erme after, wanna join us?" they said. Boom! A new awesome river discovered [It was early 90s and locals only river then]. A short while later, we were off to Corsica and then Nepal with the same chaps and a few new ones. I have similar stories from all over. It's about not just sticking to the same group, but finding, and linking, multiple groups.

It's a fact of paddling, exacerbated by the infrequency of UK rivers, that as you get older and more family oriented, it gets harder. Mates drop out and the gaps between paddling trips get further apart. It then gets harder to paddle well as you are out of shape/practice and it's a vicious circle. Got my ass kicked on the Duddon in spate after not being in a boat for 5 months. Big lesson leant.

The solution is to recognize your changing situation and not to fight it, but come up with a new way or plan to paddle. Maybe paddle less, but go on guided trips to fab places. Design a paddling situation that works for your changing life.

Or wait til you are a bit older, kid's growing up, and move to Canada.
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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by sundaykayaker » Fri Dec 04, 2015 6:21 pm

The answer to the original post is. Ur not the only one feeling this way. Yes. Like u. I too have the same issues. Try my best to get out on a Sunday.( Having said that I haven't been on the Usk for about 6 years.) Relying on club mates has limited the range of river I get to paddle. So what is the Answer.
SOME SAY Network. I occasionally check paddling mates on UKRGB.but there doesn't seem to be that many posts. And I don't feel comfortable enough to put a post up. As some Sundays I definitely feel like Billy no mates.
So maybe I should.

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by YorkieDave » Fri Dec 04, 2015 8:38 pm

Rainchasers http://rainchasers.com usually gives a good guide for runs and you can setup level alerts.

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by Simongelder » Fri Dec 04, 2015 9:25 pm

SimonMW wrote:I've tried slalom. I have a 3.5m boat, and I love paddling it, though not sure I'd want to risk it on a river
I would definitely have a go at running something decent in your slalom boat. Back in the day we paddled Dancers for first time runs on G4. For familiar runs or new G3 we used slalom boats to make life more interesting. This was not only more fun but also good for boat handling skills and confidence for slalom. It also teaches/forces you to paddle more accurately, positively and smoothly, avoiding rocks unless you want to spend lots of time patching your boat that is! Shallow rock bashing runs probably not wise. Put air bags in to help reduce stress cracks as well as for safety. Surfing a long boat, carving turns at speed, getting high pirouettes and squirts are worthy arts. Anyway your boat is only 3.5m long - they used to be 4m long (as mine still is!).

At the end of the day though, even this will get routine unless you can figure out how to add in variety and new purpose.

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by DaveBland » Fri Dec 04, 2015 9:43 pm

Simongelder wrote:
SimonMW wrote:I've tried slalom. I have a 3.5m boat, and I love paddling it, though not sure I'd want to risk it on a river
I would definitely have a go at running something decent in your slalom boat. Back in the day we paddled Dancers for first time runs on G4. For familiar runs or new G3 we used slalom boats to make life more interesting. This was not only more fun but also good for boat handling skills and confidence for slalom. It also teaches/forces you to paddle more accurately, positively and smoothly, avoiding rocks unless you want to spend lots of time patching your boat that is! Shallow rock bashing runs probably not wise. Put air bags in to help reduce stress cracks as well as for safety. Surfing a long boat, carving turns at speed, getting high pirouettes and squirts are worthy arts. Anyway your boat is only 3.5m long - they used to be 4m long (as mine still is!).

At the end of the day though, even this will get routine unless you can figure out how to add in variety and new purpose.
Yeah, we used to go 'creeking' in 4m slalom boats too. To be fair, they don't stay 4m for long! But there is a trill I still miss today in the weight and performance.
We headed out to the Alps* for our first trip back in '85 with a quiver of slalom boats and a boot-full of gaffer tape.

These days there are so many slalom-ish boats available to play on rivers, but I'd look at a Nano to spice up your river-lovin'. So much fun to paddle on local runs to make 'em new.

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by Simongelder » Fri Dec 04, 2015 10:47 pm

5 boats on a Metro! That brings back memories! I had a Nova and sometimes we slotted a slalom c2 on as well!

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by feedbackproblem » Sat Dec 05, 2015 12:38 am

SimonMW wrote:So how do you guys cope with 'intermediate blues'?
FA Cup 2nd round this weekend but usually I just mope around feeling annoyed that I'm not good enough to get out on a mental river.

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by buck197 » Sun Dec 06, 2015 1:44 pm

I share your frustrations, I am a regular Dart Loop paddler but the step up to the Upper Dart seems beyond me, fear and anxiety abound. Perhaps we should change houses for a period!!!! I'm not bored of the Loop per se but yearn to step my paddling up a little in a positive way. If you fancy coming to Devon to paddle my grade 3 then be happy to show you it, always find a new grade 3 an adventure.
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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by SimonMW » Sun Dec 06, 2015 3:26 pm

TechnoEngineer wrote:Simon it may be an idea for you to go on a coached trip to the Upper Dart (WLWW, Gene17 and others), and perhaps a coached trip to Scotland (Andy Holt, Ross Montandon and others) to be challenged on the likes of the Etive.

Have you done non-stop runs of the Upper Tryweryn?

Or just go playboating.
Jason, I have paddled with Ross quite a bit on the Scottish rivers, in Slovenia etc and I've done a few trips with G17 on the upper dart too. That's not really the problem. The problem is regular water on easy to get to rivers that suit my current grade. The rivers either seem to go nuts or not enough water to run them. There's no shortage of rivers, but at the level I'm at there's a shortage of the "right" levels.

The better you get, the steeper the gradient. So once you paddle on between G3 and G4 it is harder to find the right conditions. Too low and you might as well take a mountain bike down them, too high and it's beyond my abilities. So then you have to not only get the right conditions but get those conditions when everyone else is free to go out as well.

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by DaveBland » Sun Dec 06, 2015 5:13 pm

SimonMW wrote:The problem is regular water on easy to get to rivers that suit my current grade. The rivers either seem to go nuts or not enough water to run them. There's no shortage of rivers, but at the level I'm at there's a shortage of the "right" levels.
Ah, sorry, I misunderstood your OP. I get exactly what you are saying. And there is a simple two-part answer.

Part one. There was about an 18 month period at a similar stage in mine and my buds' paddling at the time when we used to hit up the Mighty T a lot. Both before and after that time we didn't really go much. Looking back it was our answer to exactly what you are saying. We used to pile into every big stopper going - in hindsight just trying to get trashed. Pretty much any move that looked scary, we'd just hit things sideways, backwards, whatever. At the time it was 'mucking around' – I don't think we'd formalized the 'it's learning' in our heads. Chapel falls and the newly built ski ramp hale above the slalom start were the best two locations for dishing it out**. And it was worth it. several times in recent years I have been in chewy sized holes and been grateful for those lessons.

I don't think this is something coaching can help with. Yes it's learning technique, but it's also learning confidence and getting the balls to push yourself out of your comfort, in a relatively safe environment, before hitting the next stage of rivers.

The second part of this answer is to ask yourself if paddling harder, riskier rivers is actually what you want and why?

**It's probably all changed and sanitized now though?
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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by Afon » Mon Dec 07, 2015 8:02 am

Hi Simon, to paraphrase "I'm there, doing that". I am also at the same stage (and live in the Brecon area) using the same rivers. Myself and my mates have started exploring the tributaries of the Usk at various levels "not nuts levels", but very often they run at a "nice" level when the main river is high, also the very upper Wye and Usk. Get in touch if you want to explore.

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by MikeVeal » Mon Dec 07, 2015 9:43 am

Yep, I recognise and share that frustration.

I too want to run more 4's. But I'm not keen on running them in at high flows - as I want to build confidence.
Add this to a group of friends who just want to run the loop again and it does get extremely trying.

A new more adventurous set of paddle buddies (to supplement, not replace the great guys I already paddle with) is an option, but it takes a while to gain and earn trust within a group - to assess each other's abilities and the differences between that and each person's perception of their own ability. All of that is not something that I'd want to do whilst stretching my personal skills on water with the potential to cause me serious harm.

'Tis a conundrum.

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by StillNewish » Mon Dec 07, 2015 12:39 pm

Not sure there's much I can add to the above, other than, for people who are wanting to be pushed, get out there and find someone to push you...

My recommendation would be to do a guided commercial trip, with the likes of Escape to Adventure. Yes, this will cost some money, but it is well worthwhile. The plus points of this are that you get a full-on week of good quality 3+ to 4+ paddling, with a guide(s) who know the area and the rivers really well.

They will match the ability of the group to the rivers, so you do get 'pushed', but they will also be mindful of safety; if you see them put down the camera and pick up the throwline you know they are ready for it to hit the fan ;)

I'm just speaking as a satisfied customer here, having been on a couple of the ETA trips. These have (I feel / hope) moved me from being a grade 2 (3) paddler, to someone who normally now paddles gd 4, and keen to build up more stylish skills on grade 4.

There is more work to do, for sure(!), but progress has been great so far, I've met some brilliant people along the way, which has in turn allowed me to do more peer peer paddling too.

Feel free to PM me or post here if you want to know more.

Cheers,
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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by Geraint » Mon Dec 07, 2015 8:35 pm

I think perhaps you are overestimating how often rivers “go nuts”. From the list of rivers you have paddled you should be enjoying a lot of variety in South Wales. Welsh rivers usually need a lot of water so those weekends where you think things are too high you should initially drop a grade and go try something new. Check this website and the Welsh Rivers for spate runs and get on them. After a few trips on the unknown you will get better at judging how much water you need for various runs and will be able to up your spate grade to your current level.

And get on the South Wales kayakers group on Facebook and check it often. Even if you can't get out boating you will learn how wet it needs to be for various rivers. Another thing to bear in mind is that if you are happy walking a harder non-committing pool drop river might be good for you on the days when your usual runs are too low. Most people wouldn't bother paddling the Mellte when rainchasers puts it on a scrape but there is still fun to be had. The drops get worse but stopping above them / portaging is much easier and it lets you see what they will be like with more water.

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by Kayak-Bloke » Tue Dec 08, 2015 7:31 pm

Simon echoing much of what's been said. Use the wonders of social media and hook yourself up with other boaters and paddle rivers you've never done before.
There's a tonne of stuff not too far away for you and the variation will in itself help you keep your interest levels up.
I've seen you paddle at CIWW and I think you're suffering from a lack of confidence in your ability.
Come join us on something different in South Wales.
There's plenty of safe and competent paddlers about.
I'll give you a shout next time we're out on something and you can join us.
Just knowing what's round every corner can dampen your enthusiasm get some new rivers under your belt. They don't have to be crazy!

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Re: The in-betweeners - frustrations of an intermediate

Post by morsey » Wed Dec 09, 2015 2:51 pm

When the Mellte is high, the afon Llia is usually running. That's a good little mini adventure.
Taff Fechan is also a fun explore (EDIT: Pont Sarn to the Taf Fechan Fawr confluence in Merthyr. Check out the weirs beforehand!). The Crawnon, Grywne and Tarell all generally run when the Usk goes high.
The upper Tawe moors have section near the road which is fun when the heavens open, not mega difficult, and all scoutable from the road and easy to put safety/camera and do laps!

The Middle Tawe is ace. It's very good for getting your skills down sharp, loads of different features and the logistics are easy to do laps and sessions. The 'fall with no name' (That's it's name!) wide ledge drop 500 metres below Pen y cae, is super easy to session. Easy bank access to walk back up and try different lines. Last time I was there and it was low, did eighteen laps on that bad boy, to get boofs firing off like they are second nature. Going back to a time of paddling progression, the Tawe is a location we would session in low flows throwing down 'anything goes' options.

Also catching rivers as they rise or fall is a trick on big water days. Recently in Dartmoor, there were two groups doing the same three rivers in opposite rotations. We wanted to catch the peak and went: Plym, Erme, Upper Dart. Whilst another group wanted more manageable levels and went Upper Dart, Erme then Plym. In South Wales when it goes big, groups mecca to places like the Upper Tawe moor, it is close to the source and even though the rivers are full, they are still small creeks and manageable (Don't get confused with the Upper Tawe Gorge, below the slides where the road goes away from the river, in high levels that gets tasty, and for most they will want a just enough water to fill the channels for their first descent), and can do laps till they drop, once they are no longer in conditions the middle Tawe will be dropping to controllable levels.


As said above the SWK facebook group is all about meeting paddlers to go kayaking with. You need to be a bit flexible, because you can't accurately predict weather more than 24hr ahead. But there is generally people posting about paddling on a regular basis. Also the fb group is a good resource for local chat :D

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