Artificial courses

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Dave Manby
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Artificial courses

Post by Dave Manby » Wed Mar 02, 2016 9:30 am

Is anyone else getting worried about the rise in the number of artificial courses being built? Personally I don't like them with the best will in the world they look artificial they are an anathema to why I paddle they are merely a gym. It is a bit like going for a bike ride on an exercise bike.

Leaving that aside I get more worried about the knock on effect the unseen consequence of building more and more of them. The Hydro boys will hold them up and say "why do you need this river to be free flowing when you have Lee Valley - guaranteed water clean safe secure with showers changing facilities first aid on site".

Think this is an unrealistic point of view? I went and saw Bill Birkett's talk about his and his son's climbing in the Lake District. He made the observation that people no longer climb the big classic routes in numbers - in the 70s you had to queue to a climb like Central Buttress but now you can walk into Pavey Ark and have your pick of the classic routes - the climbers are no longer on the hills they are in climbing walls and on boulders.

We have in the UK six artificial courses Nottingham, Lee Valley, Cardiff, Nene, Cardington, Glasgow. Nottingham was built in the late 70s and since then there has been an increase in the rate of building new courses. People using the Tryweryn have dropped paddling on the Dee has decreased since these courses were built. Now I know that correlation does not imply causation but we should be aware of this.

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Re: Artificial courses

Post by nippon » Wed Mar 02, 2016 9:53 am

I'm not worried.
Artificial courses are great when the water levels are low in the river or when you want to go for a paddle on your own.
They are like a gym... or a playground.
They will never be able to compare with the experience of a real river.

There is a new breed of paddler emerging though. Paddlers that have never been on a natural river.
I imagine this will leave gaps in knowledge such as water reading, dealing with pins, live bait rescues etc...

Personally the whole experience of a river trip is enjoyable for me.
The traveling, the scenery, staying overnight, losing kit, rescuing kit, beaters, successes, shuttles, walk ins/outs, rocks, down trees, commitment, exposure.
None of this can be had at an artificial course.

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Re: Artificial courses

Post by P00nslayer » Wed Mar 02, 2016 9:55 am

I see what you say. But you can never beat paddling on a real river ;)

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Re: Artificial courses

Post by Strad » Wed Mar 02, 2016 11:48 am

They have their uses as a training ground, but never beats going out to the real thing. I think the number of artificial only paddlers will be a minority of paddlers and hope it won't have too much impact.
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Re: Artificial courses

Post by twopigs » Wed Mar 02, 2016 11:57 am

Like a gym they are great for an hour or two - but a whole day - or a weekend??
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Re: Artificial courses

Post by Franky » Wed Mar 02, 2016 12:30 pm

nippon wrote:I'm not worried.
Artificial courses are great when the water levels are low in the river or when you want to go for a paddle on your own.
Or when you live 4 hours' drive away from the nearest white water river!
They are like a gym... or a playground.
They will never be able to compare with the experience of a real river.

There is a new breed of paddler emerging though. Paddlers that have never been on a natural river.
I imagine this will leave gaps in knowledge such as water reading, dealing with pins, live bait rescues etc...

Personally the whole experience of a river trip is enjoyable for me.
The traveling, the scenery, staying overnight, losing kit, rescuing kit, beaters, successes, shuttles, walk ins/outs, rocks, down trees, commitment, exposure.
None of this can be had at an artificial course.
All very true.

I started paddling the Lee Valley Legacy last year, and for various reasons didn't go on a river at all from March onwards. While my technical skills improved quite a lot at LV, my first trip back on a river this January reminded me with a shock what rocks and strainers were. I got used to them again reasonably quickly, but I was reminded that a large part of the fun of paddling is the tactical, mental process of river reading rather than technical moves.

Plus all the other pleasures of river trips that you mention - altogether a richer experience.

You also don't mention that the eddies on rivers are actually places where you can chill out, not like the vortices at LV.

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Re: Artificial courses

Post by Dave Manby » Wed Mar 02, 2016 12:39 pm

The point is we will bread a generation of paddlers who will be the core of paddling and to whom running some creek in Wales, Lakes, Devon will not be important. Bang goes any access because the number will not be there to give the argument not to dam any weight.

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Re: Artificial courses

Post by Rae1 » Wed Mar 02, 2016 1:07 pm

I can see your point Dave, but I think artificial courses are great.
As relatively new paddlers, we both would not have gone on a river to do our first WW, unless it is in a big Club trip, where we knew someone would save us if required. We had our first WW training on the Nene, we loved it, and capsized plenty of times, then got back in, to try to do it properly. The point was, it was very safe. If we had done the same on a river, there would be far more hazards, and we'd be a little more concerned about even setting off.
Distance comes into it too, Nene is 45 mins from us, we've been there 6 times in the last year. But then we've been maybe 12 times to the Derwent at Matlock (the next closest WW to us).
Of course, we are low level (Gd. 2) paddlers, so our experience would not sync with people of more ability, and, basically, we are happy with Gd 2 or a little Gd3 water, we're happy with that.
As for reducing the numbers of people on the rivers, I find that hard to believe, numbers may be down on the rivers, but that cant be because of the WWC's - our Club took 12 out last weekend on the Usk, there were maybe 15 people total at the Nene this week.
I think it is down to the age demographic of a great many sports - older people are doing them, and older people get older and die off, with less youngsters coming in. Alans Rugby Club has more over 35yo players than under 35yo - how can that be in such a physically demanding sport, yet there are just not enough youngsters taking up sport to keep the sport healthy. A great many sports have a similar problem in keeping numbers taking part.

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Re: Artificial courses

Post by DaveWortley » Wed Mar 02, 2016 1:37 pm

I think the number of Man-made courses increasing is a good thing. Paddling at Lee Valley, it's healthy for our sport to offer good conditions year-round. The next generation of paddlers will be able to hone their skills so much by having the benefit of repeatedly practicing the same section of water. Most people I know will paddle a specific river only a couple of times a year and will only do one run of it that day (Richard Brooks being the exception!),but being able to repeat the same bit over and over again as you can at LV should help progress new paddlers much faster.

This being said, I turned up at Lee Valley on Saturday, the course has changed a bit but mostly still the same and I felt underwelmed at this 'river', it's constantly the same through all guises, they don't vary the flow (they do at Cardiff which is excellent), and I wonder how long it will be before people get bored? There is no real challenge at LV except when it's full of rafts and you try racing down and have to avoid the moving targets. I'd love to see a man-made course with a proper boof-drop which we could run over and over again, so many people just don't get boofing. Or some blocks thrown in to make it more like a real river with boulder gardens. This of course would be a nightmare for rafts and there would be pin-risks and holes you could actually get a bit stuck in.

There's a 5th pump at LV which is only used to alternate the 4 they need. It would be awesome to see a side channel added that basically just turns left out of the first pool and drops down a steep drop you'd need to boof and land in a nice deep pool. I asked Scott Shipley why none of these courses ever have deep pools, didn't get an answer....

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Re: Artificial courses

Post by Chalky723 » Wed Mar 02, 2016 1:48 pm

I like the artificial courses, like Franky I live 4 hours from the nearest real WW so they're useful for building & keeping skills so that time on real rivers is maximised.

Even though fuel prices have come down, it still costs to drive 4 hours each way, plus tent/bunkhouse if you can't be bothered to do it in a oner. If it weren't for HPP & LV I'd probably have a touring boat & spend my time watching the cormorants on the Great Ouse.....

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Re: Artificial courses

Post by Dave Manby » Wed Mar 02, 2016 2:12 pm

DaveWortley wrote:
There's a 5th pump at LV which is only used to alternate the 4 they need. It would be awesome to see a side channel added that basically just turns left out of the first pool and drops down a steep drop you'd need to boof and land in a nice deep pool. I asked Scott Shipley why none of these courses ever have deep pools, didn't get an answer....
How many times would you boof this drop before you got bored? A dozen times maybe? Seems like a waste of investment and energy to me!

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Re: Artificial courses

Post by Adrian Cooper » Wed Mar 02, 2016 2:41 pm

DaveWortley wrote: I asked Scott Shipley why none of these courses ever have deep pools, didn't get an answer....
I'm guessing you already know the answer, it's just that the designers and funders won't admit it.

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Re: Artificial courses

Post by Jim » Wed Mar 02, 2016 2:55 pm

I strongly disagree with you here Dave.

For a start, what do you define as artificial? You have missed Tees barrage for a start, many would class the Tryweryn and Washburn as mostly articial (not sure where you stand on Tryweryn because that sentence seems to be missing words or punctuation?)

Decline in paddling on the Dee is surely down to the aggression of Corwen anglers, from what I have seen through facebook groups it seems that usage of the Dee is increasing, so too the lower Tryweryn - perhaps not back to the hey day, but I frequently see posts like "Is the T on this weekend? if not lets go to Mile end mill instead" Some of them do both. Having the semi-artificial Tryweryn nearby seems to me to be drawing people to that area.

The newest site is my local one, so what am I seeing as a result of it opening?
- Most of the local clubs have sessions booked there where the club coaches can train people up and assess when their skills are up to joining in a river trip - that's a huge step forward from just finding out on the river miles from the car that one of the group really isn't ready to be there.
- I am not seeing my clubs river paddlers moving to the artificial sessions, in fact based on what I see of trips organised through the club facebook page, there are still a great many members who are going on trips but who have never showed up to an artificial session.
- Slalom training is spread over various sites in Scotland, but with an artificial WW course so close to so many universities most of the U23 paddlers and GB hopefuls are able to live a short walk from a training venue and their university
- It has allowed a couple of new of events to be put into the slalom calender covering divisions 1 through 3, we even held the scottish champs on it last year.
- Grandtully is still the main draw of the Scottish slalom calender with a prem, 2 div 1's and a div 2/3 on the calender for this year - the August div 1 is half full and all the caravan and motorhome pitches for that weekend were booked before christmas, before the date was even confirmed. The artificial course has in no way dampened enthusiasm for racing on proper rivers!
- The infrastructure and level of safety provision do make it slightly more popular with event organisers than a potentially muddy river bank, Chris is still looking for someone to run this years Scottish champs, initial feeling from paddlers was that it should alternate between Tully and the artificial course, potential organisers have expressed a preference for Pinkston (the event is in October or November...)
- Scotland has very few good playspots, and those it has have poor access for spectators etc. and often need huge water levels to come in - as things are the first hole on the long course at Pinkston is good for many moves. SCA Freestyle committee has finally got going as a result and are holding open sessions one per month, sometimes including informal competitions or BoaterX racing. The exciting part is that the centre are still experimenting with the long course to try to create a properly powerful, deep, play wave / hole, the original configuration had a reasonable hole but it was very intimidating (walled in) and easy to hit the bottom, but current focus is on using the entire head in one go to create something really good.
- Again, it is in the early planning stage, but it is intended to run a freestyle festival on the site making use of the course and infrastructure around it.
- The local fire service have been using the course to train on swift water rescue techniques, in fact, it has proved so useful that fire services from much further afield are using it too. The design incorporates a side gate which can be opened to allow an obstacle such as an old car, to be brought in and strapped down into the middle of the course, so that they can practice rescuing the occupants.
- The WWR committee have made use of it for it running a WW sprint event - they will never replace full length races with artificial but there is a surprising amount of challenge getting a WWR down 200m of WW with 2 degree bends in it!
- The centre runs park and play sessions on Monday evenings and Saturday lunchtimes, but not through the winter, because as soon as the weather turns and the rivers are in, no-one turns up - they have all gone to the river.

Apart from all that for me personally the site has revitalised my paddling.
Most of my friends have settled down and become boring, we weren't doing many rivers any more. I was starting to explore OC1 as an option for having fun on easier WW, and occasionally getting out in a kayak to run some harder stuff.
Then Pinkston opened.
I was able to progress my OC1 skills so much more quickly - I can just go the artificial course and paddle, mostly I can self rescue, sometimes the kayakers help. I actually gave up trying to learn to roll the Ocoee and started learning to paddle it instead, then over time I found I was able to roll it, without having practised rolling, just by putting in hours on the AWWC.
But, I wanted to progress even more, so I dug an old slalom C1 that I had been given and never really paddled, and joined the slalom club on site intending to learn to paddle the C1 to support my OC1 river running. I quickly learned that it was the wrong boat for me (and the site) and was able to borrow something slightly more suitable, then I helped out running a slalom, entered as a judge in K1, and 6 mnths later I was competing in C1 and K1 having added a couple of brand new boats to my fleet. It's great, I am training with prem and GB paddlers on a fiendishly tight artificial course, and then going racing in divisions 2 and 3 on real rivers with longer more open courses. I can rarely nail the moves the others are working on on the artificial course, but trying to makes it so much easier for me to make the moves I actually need when racing. Of course there are some div 2 & 3 events on artificial courses and I will be entering some of them, Pinkston obviously as it's my home race, I'm also thinking about entering the div 2 at HPP which will probably be the biggest water a 2 is held on this year unless Tully or Symonds Yat are lucky with levels (in which case the div 3 races at those events will be in jepoardy!)
I have also got back into playboating, been to 2 competitions (at Hurley) and bought myself a new freestyle boat - none of which I would have bothered with if it wasn't for having a convenient training venue nearby. I am now back in the frame of mind where I might actually head up to the Tay in flood to find the playholes, or to the falls of Lora for a big spring tide.
The other benefit is that alongside the artificial WW we also have a polo pitch (will be 2 if the other set of goals ever go up), which has enabled me to get back into polo - nothing to do with rivers but good fun all the same. We have put together a club team over the last few months (well, more than a year in total but for several months there was just me dribbling on my own) and just played our first tournament, where we may have become unpopular by winning all our games.
To go back to the start - my OC1 skills have progressed to the point that whilst I am still more nervous in OC1 and will often switch to kayak, I am now running grade 4 in OC1 when the mood takes me, althought I still find it tricky to find others to boat with much of the time (if I could spare the time to drive to the Dee or Tryweryn every weekend I would have more people to paddle with!).

By the way, I agree with you in respect of climbing walls, a few years ago a bunch of friends decided to take up climbing so I renewed my gear and went with them. After a few sessions on the wall I tried to get them to go to a crag and they weren't keen. Eventually a few of us did go to a crag but they really didn't get into it at all, they wanted to be taught how to place gear indoors first and trying to convince them to try climbing routes indoors that were actually within their ability (i.e. they could climb them without falling on the top rope a few times) was quite the challenge. I've always considered myself a VDiff climber who occasionally forays into S - it doesn't matter whether I'm on a crag or indoors, that is the level I climb at and lead at - I always used to cringe when climbers would list one grade for leading and another much higher technical grade for indoors, but at least they still had an outdoors leading grade!
I have not seen paddling going the same way, everyone I meet on the AWWC is using it as a route to river running, or an alternative because the rivers are empty.

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Re: Artificial courses

Post by purelandexpeditions.com » Wed Mar 02, 2016 6:05 pm

Having worked on the development of artificial ww centers I agree with Dave. Even when I was a teenager and getting in to paddle sport I was told HPP and CT were simply wet Gyms. You need to get on a real river.

Yes they do have a place and I've used plenty, but nothing beats the real thing. To paraphrase Whit, its like having all the gems in Aladdin cave but not caring for them. Paddlers NEED to use the natural rivers, NEED to fight for them.
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Re: Artificial courses

Post by Jerry Tracey » Wed Mar 02, 2016 6:40 pm

Hi Dave,
You've certainly started a good discussion with this one!
I think I remember you having an absolute blast at Augsburg in the mid-seventies, or does this not count?!

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Re: Artificial courses

Post by Franky » Wed Mar 02, 2016 6:59 pm

Dave Manby wrote:
DaveWortley wrote:
There's a 5th pump at LV which is only used to alternate the 4 they need. It would be awesome to see a side channel added that basically just turns left out of the first pool and drops down a steep drop you'd need to boof and land in a nice deep pool. I asked Scott Shipley why none of these courses ever have deep pools, didn't get an answer....
How many times would you boof this drop before you got bored? A dozen times maybe? Seems like a waste of investment and energy to me!
Yes, you can squeeze all sorts of moves out of a grade 3 rapid so that it doesn 't get boring. I think a waterfall on an artificial course would seem a bit of a gimmick.

Also, I bet a waterfall on an artificial course would be constantly clogged with paddlers, and hard to get past (or onto!).
Last edited by Franky on Wed Mar 02, 2016 7:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Artificial courses

Post by gp.girl » Wed Mar 02, 2016 7:06 pm

I'd never go on an artificial course if there was a river handy but I can't afford or justify driving 4+ hours so I use LV. It's more reliable but often closed so not better. Also it's great if you can only drag your other/better half out. Would love one closer although I'd get even less non paddling stuff done! Haven't been for a while (lots of paddling weekends) but will get back and renew my swimming membership :) Some people love them and some hate them, lots of people use them.

Did the one on the Tawe again in Feb and as it went well going forwards so I did it backwards instead => T rescued from under the undercut/waterfall.
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Re: Artificial courses

Post by DaveBland » Wed Mar 02, 2016 7:26 pm

I'm all for it. If it keeps those flippin' trick boaters and pointy ended stick dodgers off proper paddling rivers - all the better.

I do see your point Dave, but the focus on artificial rivers is due to the increase in althletic dev mainly. I am not sure there are less paddlers hitting real rivers? And if there are, this won't really harm access. I can see how hydro could use it as an argument, but hopefull there's enough 'real paddlers' out there who can cause a fuss.
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Re: Artificial courses

Post by Dave Manby » Wed Mar 02, 2016 8:07 pm

DaveBland wrote:I'm all for it. If it keeps those flippin' trick boaters and pointy ended stick dodgers off proper paddling rivers - all the better.

I do see your point Dave, but the focus on artificial rivers is due to the increase in althletic dev mainly. I am not sure there are less paddlers hitting real rivers? And if there are, this won't really harm access. I can see how hydro could use it as an argument, but hopefull there's enough 'real paddlers' out there who can cause a fuss.
Living in Llangollen I'll go down to the Ponsonby for a beer over looking the take out for the tail to town and maybe there are three paddlers cars there and then they are gone and no new paddlers cars turn up. With all the posturing and shouting about lack of access on this forum I find it funny that the Dee is empty of paddlers. OK so everything has had water in it for the passed few months fairly frequently and so there is a dilution effect.

My argument is still real padding on real rivers is the soul of our sport and we will lose if we don't preserve it. Whit's comment quoted by Daz in this thread is so apt. I remember Andy Middleton telling me what he was going to write about for my book and the hairs standing up on my arm in delight with his enthusiasm for the real rather than the immitation. This conversation was as I stood in the NEC at the Canoe exhibition he was on the button about paddling and the NEC Canoe Exhibition was so not about paddling.

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Re: Artificial courses

Post by DaveBland » Wed Mar 02, 2016 8:52 pm

Dave, I TOTALLY agree that real rivers are the heart of our sport. I'm a one trick pony – paddling on real rivers is all I've ever done really.

The point I was questioning is whether reduced numbers would really affect access.

It could equally be argued that either:

a) back in the mid 80s and early 90s, rivers were paddled less and yes there were the access hassles on some rivers, but generally we used to just paddle what we liked. Then as paddling rivers got more popular, with large groups, it all got a bit worse on some rivers as landowners got fed up with mass paddling.
or
b) back in the mid 80s and early 90s, rivers were paddled less and yes there were the access hassles on some rivers, but generally we used to just paddle what we liked. Then as paddling rivers got more popular, with large groups, some places realized the benefits and inevitability of regular paddling use, and access got better.

If numbers drop, then it could go either way again. Less mass paddling, so less upset. Or less use so less accepted access.

I fully agree that hydro is the biggest threat to our sport, but the argument that it's going to ruin some padders' fun will not stop hydro. The fantastic work Tom and co did on the Fairy Glen focused on many issues – the paddling aspect was in reality a small % of the argument.
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Re: Artificial courses

Post by Jim » Thu Mar 03, 2016 12:19 am

Hang on - most courses have a limit on the number of paddlers than can use them, they maybe cater for a few hundred out of the thousands of WW paddlers that will be on the rivers every weekend through the wet times.... there is no argument at all, they simply cannot replace real rivers, there just isn't the capacity.

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Re: Artificial courses

Post by Chalky723 » Thu Mar 03, 2016 8:44 am

Dave Manby wrote: With all the posturing and shouting about lack of access on this forum I find it funny that the Dee is empty of paddlers.
Because after driving 4 hours & stumping up for a Bunkhouse, the Dee is the last resort if nothing else is running. But, everytime I have been on the Dee it's been pretty busy.

Personally though, if I'm on a river I'd be quite happy to be in the only group on there, I don't want to be surrounded by other paddlers - otherwise I may as well be at LV fighting for eddies.....

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Re: Artificial courses

Post by sundaykayaker » Thu Mar 03, 2016 11:21 am

Stopped going to CIWW. (within the group)
Trip 1, broken paddle
Trip 2, broken tooth
Trip 3, scrapped knuckles against the concrete
Didn't think it was worth risking a 4th trip
Like LV though. Event free so far. Touch wood..

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Re: Artificial courses

Post by John K » Thu Mar 03, 2016 2:43 pm

Dave Manby wrote:Is anyone else getting worried about the rise in the number of artificial courses being built?
Living in the south east means that getting to any white water is a significant barrier, requiring a whole weekend (or an epic day for the really committed). For people with family or other commitments this may mean that river trips are only feasible a few times a year. The Dart is my nearest white water river, at 200 miles and around 4 hours driving. South Wales is similar, north Wales about 250 miles and 5 hours driving. On a Friday evening you can easily add an hour or two on those times too. Lee Valley is 100 miles from me, so a couple of hours drive which is much more accessible and easier to fit in with other commitments. The hours I've put in there have made me a much more competent paddler, much more able to enjoy paddling on proper rivers and getting more out of it. It's a lot more concentrated too, so you can easily get more whitewater paddling in a couple of hours than you would on a lap of the Dart loop for instance. For a lot of people the real choice a lot of the time is paddle an artificial course or don't paddle; not paddle an artificial course or a river.

There's still a lack of easier whitewater courses suitable for beginners. The Legacy course can be very intimidating when you're new to whitewater and something like the Nene can be a lot better introduction. That's 150 miles and three hours each way (plus traffic) for us. I'd love to see more artificial courses, and my only concern would be whether there was actually enough demand for more courses not to adversely affect the existing ones.

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Re: Artificial courses

Post by Badknee » Thu Mar 03, 2016 8:38 pm

Lee Valley may be a wet gym but living 30 minutes from it means I get to paddle every week in between real river trips. I plan my visits so that there are as few people on there as possible and I use it to practice skills. You can't beat a real river but it keeps me paddling and the burgers are really good in the bar.
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Re: Artificial courses

Post by Poke » Thu Mar 03, 2016 9:12 pm

DaveWortley wrote: I'd love to see a man-made course with a proper boof-drop which we could run over and over again, so many people just don't get boofing.
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Unfortunately in NZ... if you're heading all the way over there you're probably not going for an artificial whitewater course...
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Re: Artificial courses

Post by morsey » Thu Mar 03, 2016 9:41 pm

Yep it's like going to the gym.

Billy The Fisherman
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Re: Artificial courses

Post by Billy The Fisherman » Thu Mar 03, 2016 9:45 pm

Don't forget to add Teeside's course to the list.

I cannot see anything wrong with artificial courses although I have very little interest in paddling them. Rivers and surf will always have the edge over artificial courses because of their ever changing conditions and interest. Repeating the same run anywhere would get boring and become self regulating. Where does the Washburn fit into the equation; modified to improve the stream's course for paddlers and controlled releases to guarantee water on certain dates?

I don't see as many paddlers as I used to, so maybe numbers are down in general and not just because of a migration to artificial courses. Conversely, the increase in plastic pulling climbers also corresponds to the increase in climbers out on real rock. The bigger routes seem as busy as usual and the smaller edges in the Peak and round here in Northumberland are more popular than ever.

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Badknee
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Re: Artificial courses

Post by Badknee » Thu Mar 03, 2016 9:50 pm

Just a thought..... I see LV courses virtually full each week with new whitewater paddlers. They won't all end up in rivers but new people to the sport has got to be a good thing. The concrete ditch is just the start of a new adventure for some people.
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tjclare
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Re: Artificial courses

Post by tjclare » Fri Mar 04, 2016 12:14 am

As a Uni club we use HPP an awful lot to progress people between our river trips. As a club we run 5 big participation (40+ people) river trips a year, taking 40 people, with normally more than 20 having started kayaking that academic year, onto the rivers of Wales, England and Scotland. In between these we run many smaller day and weekend trips. A lot of the rapid progression of people in our university kayak club is due to having HPP in the city. Without these people would just not get enough water time, but with it we have had people progress from never having been in a boat to running the Glen etc in a year. The accessibility and ability to get water time for newer paddlers to progress onto doing more and more rivers far outweighs any negatives. Without such courses it would take people years to get to the state we can get them to in a year or two.

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