Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Two Days We Should Not Worry About

There are two days in every week, which we should not worry about,
Two days which should be kept free from fear and apprehension.

One of these days is Yesterday with all its mistakes and cares,
Its faults and blunders, its aches and pains.
Yesterday has passed forever beyond our control.
All the money in the world cannot bring back Yesterday.

We cannot undo a single act we performed;
We cannot erase a single word we said.
Yesterday is gone forever.

The other day we should not worry about is Tomorrow
With all its possible adversities, its burdens,
Its large promise and its poor performance;
Tomorrow is also beyond our immediate control.

Tomorrow’s sun will rise,
Either in splendor or behind a mask of clouds, but it will rise.
Until it does, we have no stake in Tomorrow,
For it is yet to be born.

This leaves only one day, Today.
Any person can fight the battle of just one day.
It is when you and I add the burdens of those two awful eternities
Yesterday and Tomorrow that we break down.

It is not the experience of Today that drives a person mad,
It is the remorse or bitterness of something which happened Yesterday
and the dread of what Tomorrow may bring.

Let us, therefore,
Live but one day at a time. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Kokatat Supports Justine Curgenven

Kayaking around the tip of the world, Tierra del Fuego, has never been successfully completed. Kokatat team member and skilled paddler, Justine Curgeven and her partner Barry Shaw, hope to be the first successful pair to accomplish this rugged 1,000-mile kayak expedition. Kokatat is thrilled to support Curgenven on this expedition, which has previously been attempted by a Kokatat supported team, but was aborted due to uncooperative weather.

The expedition couple will bring in the new 2011 calendar year by departing for the expedition on Jan. 1. They have allocated 70 days to complete the trip. La Isla Grande, the big island of Tierra del Fuego lies less than 100 miles north of Cape Horn; the eastern part of the island belongs to Argentina, while the western part is claimed by Chile. It is a notorious region for high winds and bad weather.

“I know this will be a very challenging trip with a lot of strong winds but I’m really looking forward to being immersed in nature for a couple of months in this wild and stunning place,” said Curgenven. Updates of the expedition will be posted via Justine's blog.

Curgenven will be outfitted in Kokatat gear from head to toe to meet the demands of the unvarying weather and paddling conditions, including: the GORE-TEX® Front Entry Drysuit with drop seat, Scout Shoes, MsFIT Tour PFD, Surfskin Balaclava,Outercore Long Sleeve, Destination Hand Cover, Destination Vent Cap, Womens' Paddling Trunk, GORE-TEX Paclite Storm Cag,Temptest Pant and the Women's Destination Paddling Pants.

About Kokatat Watersports Wear 

For the past 39 years, Kokatat has built a reputation as a friendly company of paddling enthusiasts, dedicated to creating innovative paddlewear and accessories. Kokatat is a highly trusted brand known for its independence, high level of quality in addition to an extremely well respected, service-driven business model. Kokatat is an incredibly strong brand and is known for authenticity and launching game changing paddling products. 

As always, Kokatat continues to support experienced paddlers attempting first descents and expeditions. The company proudly provides the athletes with the best paddling gear in the whitewater industry.

Please visit and follow Kokatat on Twitter “@kokatat” or via the blog

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Kayaking in Thailand

Modern sea kayaking can trace its ancestry to the lands of Alaska, Canada and Greenland. However, unlike the original need for such crafts to be used for hunting and connecting communities, sea kayaking in the present  day is very much a recreational activity that can take place on any type of waters.  Be that lakes, rivers, estuaries as well as the open ocean, at home or abroad.

Interest in kayaking has spread globally, and is a popular activity for many people who want to have a safe adventure whilst on holiday. And even though not everywhere will have the traditional sea kayak available for use, accessing boats like sit-on-tops can be an equally fun way to discover the sea and all that it has to offer. One such destination where you can enjoy a peaceful vacation far away from the crowded city streets, and explore its waterways by kayak, is Thailand.

Kayaking in Thailand

There are literally hundreds of pristine areas along the Thailand coast, as well as inland, which offer up numerous opportunities for adventure and exploration in a tranquil environment beset amongst some of the most spectacular landscapes. No other place in the world allows you to kayak to a deserted beach and camp out under the stars, whilst enjoying the food you prepare over an open campfire. For many, it just doesn’t get any better than this.

Many paddlers prefer coastal sea kayaking holidays versus inland ones. Travelers can spend days kayaking around numerous islands in the Andaman Sea, exploring deep into the reaches of the fantastic Mangrove forests, observing all the wildlife the region is home to, and seeing some of the most massive limestone outcroppings in the world. Phang Nga Bay is one of the more popular tourist destinations, especially for those visitors who have come to enjoy a sea kayaking adventure. So you can expect this area to be rather crowded during the peak tourist season.

Kayaking in Remote Area

Although Phang Nga Bay is a popular tourist destination just outside of Phuket, there are still a number of opportunities to avoid the hoards of international travelers and locals so that you can go kayaking in remote areas and enjoy a peaceful environment. One of the most tranquil settings in Phang Nga Bay is the island of Koh Yao Noi. If you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy some excellent camping and kayaking, then this is the island to visit. There are numerous day trips available out to the island with high quality rental equipment available so you can explore the island shoreline unsupervised.

Kayaking Adventures

If you’re looking for a kayaking adventure, then you will probably want to explore the inland reaches of Thailand. The crowded beaches of Phuket will suddenly fade into the distance when you explore some of the hidden islands and lagoons along and off the coastline. This is adventure kayaking at its finest. You can find a number of waterways and swamps while visiting Bangkok as well, but the environment is not as pristine as what the shores along the Andaman coast are. Pollution is still a huge issue in Bangkok, although the situation has improved somewhat in recent years. That is the primary reason for considering the many opportunities that Phuket, the surrounding areas, and the Andaman coast offer.

Getting There

Reaching Thailand by air today is easier than ever before, thanks to a number of international flights to Bangkok available in numerous countries throughout the world. Thailand is one of Southeast Asia’s most popular tourist destinations, mainly due to its excellent cuisine, fascinating culture, great beaches and a tropical climate. However, for many international travellers it is the thrill of sea kayaking and kayaking tours in Thailand that attract these visitors.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

BCU Assessment Weekend

Well folks, this is it. No more BCU Level 3 Coach (Sea) assessments for me, and soon no more assessments in this vein after the 31st December. It has been a tremendous honour to have facilitated, and participated in, the assessment of over 100 coaches, from both the UK and overseas.

I have been very fortunate to have worked alongside some very fine people too, who have been fair minded and thorough in their assessment of these candidates. And whilst not everyone has been successful on their first attempt, those that have come back have done so because of the extended support offered to them. BCU coaches are part of a larger network, being a Level 3 coach is more than just a badge of honour, it is both a way of life and a philosophy.

And so it was that Micky, Richard, Chris, Danny and David presented themseleves for assessment on the 6th December in Trearddur Bay having braved the awful weather and driving conditions. Along with this, Gary, David and Mike were present to complete their BCU 4* Sea assessment. Again, it was great to have another Canadian candidate, this time Chris Lockyer from Nova Scotia who had successfully gone through the APL process and therefore able to attend.

Nick Cunliffe and Aled Williams made up the rest of the assessment team along with myself. We were also graced with the company of Ulrika Larsson from Sweden who was observing the assessment process.

Aled took the 4* candidates out to South Stack and back, to assess personal skills and some leadership dimensions including navigation. Nick and I divided up the Level 3 candidates to examine their skills as educators and engage them is discussion about the coaching process, as well as looking at their ability to present useful information to the students (made up of the faithful and keen from Snowdonia Canoe Club).

Even though the conditions where somewhat chilly and at times damp due to the rain, the candidates and the students remained in good spirits throughout. As ever, Nick and I observed a range of approaches to passing on the knowledge and skills of sea kayaking, which in many ways reflected the nature and experiences of those doing the coaching.

Sunday saw the assessment team and candidates gather at Borthwen. Again, Rhoscolyn is an ideal venue for such assessments as it offers a full range of conditions and crossings that will test any leader, and catch the unprepared off guard. And so it was, in the company of Aled and Ulrika, we set out for the Beacon and then Rhoscolyn Head whilst Nick took on the 4* team.

As to be expected, we were not the only assessment taking place on the water that weekend, having bumped into Trys Burke (ne Morris) who is a Community Coach Development Officer for Canoe Wales Trys was also running a 4* assessment with a number of local club paddlers. I think it actually helped our candidates get some perspective, in that they were not the only ones with a grim look of terror in their eyes. Trys is actually a big softy but she knows how to make a candidate work for their pass. 

Those that have followed past reports will know this day is about effective leadership, shaping a good course and dealing with issues and problems. Each candidate took it in turns to lead, guide and manage the others. With Aled on board, creative yet realistic scenarios were also on the cards, which everyone dealt with succesfully, and in one case, with good humour associated with paddle float disasters.

Despite the efforts of some candidates to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, on this occasion everyone managed to redeem themselves having been scrutinised by three assessors. Its is always a welcome and pleasant end to such assessments, but this one in particular, to say well done to one and all on their hard efforts and successes :o)

I'd like to take this as an opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to the likes of Nick CunliffeAled WilliamsDave EvansPete JonesNigel DennisDave BrownMike DevlinAdam Harmer and Trys Burke (ne Morris), as well as many others besides, who have had a tremendous impact on me as a both a trainer and assessor.

Thanks also go out to Kokatat, Tiderace and Mitchell Blades for whom I am an ambassador and whose equipment and clothing has kept me comfortable, dry and happy on the water throughout the year. Pete Baars of Summit to Sea on Anglesey also earns a mention in dispatches for his help with supplying candidates with equipment and providing quality retail services.

Get in touch if you are interested in completing a BCU assessment course or just wish to look at your skills development in a boat.

More pictures of this course available here

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

MLT Weekend

Despite what some readers may think, MLT is not a special Welsh version of a BLT (as in mutton rather than bacon) but rather an acronym for Mountain Leader Training, of which I am a MLTW course provider for the Climbing Wall Award and Single Pitch Award. Friday had me heading up the winding wintery road to Dinorwic for a MLT Course Provider Workshop day, as organised by Bry Williams, the MLTW's National Development Officer along with and Mal Creasey from the MLTE.

The day was held at Blue Peris Mountain Centre, whose head of centre, Mark ‘Baggy’ Richards, is the man behind the popular winter blog for North Wales. In fact, Baggy has been working hard with Si Panton of Ground Up on a new interim guide. North Wales Winter Climbing is due out in December, so just in time for Christmas. However, there were remarks about it being a shame it wasn't available already, considering how much snow we had to contend with :o)

Part of the day was spent catching up with MLT business and future developments, whilst the rest was spent looking at more practical issues, In this case, we strolled over to Bus Stop Quarry after donning duvet jackets and extra warm layers to discuss a number of Single Pitch Award matters including personal safety at the top of the crag as well as problem solving scenarios.

The weekend that followed saw 4 candidates present themselves for assessment, and with the assistance of Paul Poole, we managed to make the most of it, all things considered.

After meeting with Chrissy, Sam, Rebecca and Simon on Saturday morning at Pete's Eats to check over paperwork and the weather, we made our way to Holyhead Mountain on Anglesey. This is still one of the most ideal venues for examining personal climbing ability at the grade and is actually a very pleasant location. So despite Snowdonia being knee deep in snow, Anglesey was bathed in winter sunshine that took the edge of the frosty NE wind.

Sunday saw the group meet us at Lion Rock, another classic venue for to assess group management, rope systems and problem solving. A huge contrast to Friday, when snow was coming down heavily, today had a frosty feel but was actually quite warm in the sunshine. The assessment finished with a visit to the Beacon Climbing Centre. On this occasion it is pleasing to say there are now four more competent award holders in the world. Well done team :o)

Further information about the award can be obtained by visiting the Mountain Leader Training UK website.

Get in touch if you are interested in completing the Single Pitch Award or just wish to look at your skills development on the rock.

More pictures of this course available here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Kokatat Supports Oz Circumnavigation

In 1983 Paul Caffyn made paddling history as the first sea kayaker to circumnavigate the 16,000 km circumference of the Australia continent. Since then, only one other expedition, by Freya Hoffmeister in 2010, has repeated this accomplishment. Kokatat, the 39 year-old independent paddlewear company, is proud to sponsor sea kayaker, Stuart Trueman and his 16-month goal to successfully circumnavigate Australia.

The Australian coast presents many formidable obstacles for sea kayakers to overcome including: jagged steep cliffs, surf, lack of potable water, high winds, invariable tides, and underwater wildlife predators such as crocodiles and sharks. Additionally the colossal paddling distances require extreme endurance and excellent paddling skills.

Trueman departed from Broome, located on the Northwest coast of Australia, in April 2010 and is scheduled to return to Broome in July 2011. Trueman has extensive experience with years of sea kayaking, mountaineering and outdoor adventure to draw on including having kayaked across Bass Strait by three different routes and he was one of a three man team to have paddled 800km of the Antartic Peninsula. He has also worked as a guide and instructor for the NSW Sea Kayak Club.

“It’s taken three years of preparation to be able to get to Broome to start my trip”, says Trueman. “There are many problems beyond the actual paddling side that have to be addressed which if ignored can be just as much of an obstacle as a 200km set of cliffs.”

Kokatat has outfitted Truman with the appropriate gear for multiple conditions including: GORE-TEX® Paclite Anorak, MsFIT Tour PFD, Rear Pocket for PFD, Surfskin Pants, Destination Paddling Shirt, Destination Surf Trunk and Destination Vent Cap.

To follow updates from Trueman’s expedition and learn about other Kokatat sponsored expeditions, please visit Kokatat's blog.

About Kokatat Watersports Wear 

For the past 39 years, Kokatat has built a reputation as a friendly company of paddling enthusiasts, dedicated to creating innovative paddlewear and accessories. Kokatat is a highly trusted brand known for its independence, high level of quality in addition to an extremely well respected, service-driven business model. Kokatat is an incredibly strong brand and is known for authenticity and launching game changing paddling products. 

As always, Kokatat continues to support experienced paddlers attempting first descents and expeditions. The company proudly provides the athletes with the best paddling gear in the whitewater industry.

Please visit and follow Kokatat on Twitter “@kokatat” or via the blog

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

BCU Assessment Weekend

Last weekend was my penultimate BCU Level 3 Coach (Sea) assessment as a course provider in the current scheme. As previously mentioned, after the December 2010, the award as we know it will no longer exist and will be replaced in part by the Moderate Water Endorsement.

With Dave Evans on hand as my second assessor, 6 candidates joined us in Trearddur Bay on Saturday morning along with a group of trusty volunteers from Snowdonia Canoe Club who would be acting as students for the team. Simon, Debbie, James, Meaghan, Peter and Joy had travelled from near and far to present themselves as prepared and proficient coaches, brimming with energy and enthusiasm ready to teach and lead. In the case of Meaghan, she had come a very long way to sit this assessment...Vancouver to be precise.

After dividing up the candidates amongst the two us, Dave and I set about watching the coaches in action as they employed a number of skills and strategies to improve and encourage their students. It is always a fascinating study of human behaviour as one observes each coach goes through well rehearsed routines and see them deliver effective learning episodes. The reason I say fascinating is because no matter how supportive and open an assessment team try to be, individuals can still put themselves under tremendous personal pressure even when they are doing a good job.

On this occasion the coaches where confined somewhat to the inner sanctum of Trearddur Bay as a strong swell was still present in Penrhos Bay. However, this didn't prevent them for offering up some exemplary on the water sessions, along with interesting and interactive beach based presentations on subjects such as tides, equipment and shore ecology.

Sunday saw us relocate for to the north coast, launching from Bull Bay and heading on a westerly course towards Porth Wen Brickworks. As each candidate took turns to lead the group they faced a number of issues, as one might expect on assessment. It is often easy to exploit an opportunity and turn it into an incident, especially when a coach turns their back on a group member. For instance, as someone explores a cave with heavy swell present, it is almost guaranteed they will take a swim. However, it is important not to create too many artificial situations and sometimes it is easier to see people perform towing duties and deep water rescues by simply asking them too.

One of the great pleasures of working with Dave Evans is that he is a consummate professional and highly knowledgeable on matters of seamanship. He also has a knack of testing and probing what candidates know in novel yet constructive ways. So it was while the candidates showed us the equipment they were carrying and justifying the reasons, Dave was hatching one of his group quizzes. As expected, the candidates took to the task and even enjoyed the humour of the situation as they both answered and asked questions on matter relating to the sea.

After the pleasant break at Porth Wen, the return journey continued in the same vein as before. And perhaps because Dave and I are traditionalists or maybe because this was the penultimate course, the assessment finished with an 'all-in' rescue with a cry of 'thank heaven for drysuits' from the swimming coaches. Once all were safely ashore, Dave and I took time to reflect and deliberate on the performance of each candidate. On this occasion it is pleasing to report we were both in full agreement that all the candidates should move forward to being Level 3 Sea coach. Well done one and all :o)

Get in touch if you are interested in completing a similar assessment course or just wish to look at your skills development in a boat.

More pictures of this course available here

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

BCU 5* Award - Assessment

The last stage of the Level 5 process that I need to complete is that of becoming a BCU 5* Sea course provider. This requires me to undergo a period of observation amongst my peers and second staffing a number of courses until I am deemed suitably knowledgeable in the delivery of both training and assessment dimensions. On this occasion I was fortunate enough to have been invited along by my good friend Nick Cunliffe and was given the chance to watch the likes of Dave Brown and Olly Sanders on the water in full assessor mode.

For those who don't know, the BCU 5 Star award is conferred upon those individuals who are extremely competent leaders and highly skilled paddlers within a particular discipline.  They able to lead groups in advanced conditions and are familiar with the relevant safety and rescue techniques for that environment and discipline. The award is available for white water, canoe, sea and surf.

Saturday morning saw eight candidates from across the UK and Europe gather at Anglesey Outdoors for what would be a very intense couple of days. Nick settled the aspirant 5* leaders down with a calming introduction before setting them their first task which was to plan a significant open water crossing. This allowed the assessment team to discuss the plan for the rest of the day, and address a number of emergent issues. Namely, who gets to have me as their shadow and was there time for more tea before the candidates finished their trip plans.

It is worth noting at this point that the 5* is set out as being the appropriate test for paddlers who wish to lead groups of other paddlers in appropriate locations in advanced tidal waters and in dynamic weather conditions typified by the climate of the British Isles. The idea being that a 5* leader has the skills and judgement to select appropriate trips for a range of ability levels, though it is not a coaching award and is considered not to be a suitable mean of introducing beginners to the sport. It is no wonder then that the 5* is coveted amongst those paddlers who are successful because of the sheer hard work and lengthy preparatory steps required to get to this stage.

So with the first task completed, the candidates gathered again to be briefed on the rest of the day. The intention being that two pods of four plus assessors would launch from somewhere on the north coast and make use of the prevailing conditions and tides. With a north-westerly force 5 and a spring ebb, everything was in place for the teams to take on one of the classic advanced trips in North Wales, that being out to the Skerries which sit off the main Anglesey coastline near Carmel Head.

To that end, 4 candidates along with Dave and myself set of from Cemlyn Bay with the intention of visiting the Skerries, whilst making the most of what the sea had to offer along the way. The outward journey gave rise to opportunities for each paddler to be tested as a leader with regards group management and navigational ability, as well as having their personal skills put under scrutiny. West Mouse offered an appropriate haven for questioning candidates on matters of chart work, whilst the surrounding overfalls offered suitable conditions for a number of personal challenges including rolling and self-rescues.

However, things were far from over and the team set off to complete the next leg of the voyage, which was to get to the Skerries themselves. This was done with enough time to enjoy the last light of day and listen to the seals snort and roar as everyone ate as much as they comfortably could knowing the return journey might be an arduous one. And so it was, as the team launched in the hope of enjoying a flooding tide that would return them to Cemlyn in the dark. Each candidate being aware that their skills of navigation were of paramount importance to ensure the correct course to steer was taken. To further complicate matters, the weather brought with it stinging cold rain that later fell on the hills as snow. Nevertheless, after several navigational stages and relocation exercises, the team paddled wearily back into the bay happy in the knowledge that, for now, the assessment was over till the morning.

Sunday dawned bright, and despite the long night, the candidates faced the new day with vigour and humour. Most claiming that they had slept soundly and were fully prepared for what they might face next. The candidates were divided in to three groups on this occasion, of which I followed one under the mentoring presence of Olly Sanders. This day also saw the aspirant 5* leaders take charge of a small group of paddlers. Most of whom were local club paddlers who had volunteered their time to be lead, and perhaps gain an insight into the 5* process.

Each team set of from Porth Dafarch with the intention of making use of conditions at Penrhyn Mawr, North Stack and South Stack. It gave the would-be leaders a chance to guide and manage some very real people in their care. The autumn light on the cliffs was impressive as we approach Castell Helen and then South Stack. What was even more impressive were the climbing team about to ascend Lighthouse Arete despite the chilly conditions. With that distraction aside, we continued on past South Stack and eventually came to play in the overfalls at North Stack. This came after a brief floating lunch stop as landing at Parliament House Cave was avoided due a seal and her pup being in residence.

The day continued from here with each candidate facing a number of issues and incidents to take care of including group members with suffering with ill health or broken equipment or both. The process of questioning and the tasks set out were both fair and reasonable considering the level of the award. The trip itself was very enjoyable having taken in the most popular tide races and overfalls Anglesey has to offer. Certainly South Stack provided everyone with a few moments of personal surfing thrills on the return to base.

I gained a tremendous amount from seeing my peers in action and discussing their perspectives about the 5* process as they view it through a particular lens. Having previously delivered on a 5* training course, observing the assessment helped me set out the full picture in my own mind as to not only what should be expected of the candidate burt also the obligations incumbent upon any trainer as they set aspirant leaders on this particular path. On this occasion not everyone was successful and at times like these the assessment staff take as long as is practical to explain the reasons why and set out clear actions plans for improvement. The hope being the right guidance will give the candidate renewed impetus to come back stronger and better next time.

The BCU 5* award is an ideal benchmark for those paddlers who journey on the sea in areas where tidal races, headlands, open crossings, swell and challenging coastlines will be encountered. It is intended that this award is accessible to all those people who lead on the sea on a regular basis and should not be seen as the preserve of a few elite performers. It is envisaged that a committed club paddler, sea kayaking regularly in a suitable range of situations, sea areas and conditions should be able to obtain this award within a period of three years.

Get in touch if you are interested in completing a similar assessment course or just wish to look at your skills development in a boat.

More pictures of this course available here