Category Archives: Blog

My Coaching Process Model Presentation Slides

Recently amongst other things I attended the British Canoeing Coaching Conference in Bedford.  During which I delivered a morning workshop about developing your own Coaching Process Model.  Here is a link to the slides: CP Model

my coaching process Model

In a recent assignment for a Masters in Performance Coaching I was requested to develop a model of my coaching, which focuses on BCU type short 2 day courses and the episodic nature of these sessions. See below

My Coaching Process Model
Earlier in the semester I was challenged to construct out coaching role frame, in essence the boundaries in which I coach. Looking back to Figure 1, and as I construct the coaching model within that role frame, the complexes of the coaching process, coupled with the influence of the playing space and management of the environmental risks. Traditional sports are set by fixed boundaries and sets of game rules that defined the playing space.

Coaching Role Frame

Figure 1: My Coaching Role Frame

For white water kayaking, there is of course a physical boundary, yet the nature of the down river flow, means the show is always on the move, and as such the safety scope of coaching practice has considerable bearing on the coaching process. Risk management is of prime importance, especially as the coaching I undertake is normally on Class IV or more, on a difficult scale of I to VI with Class VI considered the limit of possibility. And although through implicitly managing the descent of the river, controlling outcomes is highly challenging when so much contributes to a successful descent. I attempt to orchestrate coaching venues to control the variables that directly affect the athlete, yet I can not be the captain of their ship, and as such minor mistakes in such a dynamic environment leads to occasional interventions. The personal inter play between the athlete and coach, has considerable context in the coaching process, shaping and forming outcomes, that may not been apparent in the initial goal setting.

As much of the coaching practice is in principle problem solving, with a considerable environmental influence, the core of my coaching process model is based on Fair (1987). The short term episodic nature of the mainstay of my coaching, centres on both technical or tactic issues where the environment plays a significant part in each element of the coaching process. As such in Figure 2, the environment is both the boundary of the framework and a main contributor. Session’s framed by the students upfront aspirations, which allows the coach to set a task, based on reflective practice of previous solutions to similar athlete wants. Where the student wishes to go in terms of river or rapid selection, is often a main contributing factor as to what they wish to do. Within the UK’s temperate climate, the conditions for white water kayaking are not always abundant, students may wish for near ideal conditions, which in turn may prove challenging to get the session(s) off the ground in the first place.

CP-model

Figure 2: Episodic White Water Kayaking Coaching Progress Model

Once the wants of the student have been presented and framed, similar sessions may be recalled to offer a set of tasks, again the environment conditions, will heavily influence as to where and what coaching venues are on offer and whether the students aspiration can even be met at such locations. Given the common episodic nature of the mainstay of short course white water kayak coaching, the initial tasks may test the athlete’s fundamentals rather than directly address their demands, as is often the case the coach may not of observed these student(s) before hand. Once the session is underway, the task is set, explanations of the rivers topography are given along with a demonstration. White water kayaking is made up a set of principal skills that blend both tactics and technique together, whilst descending down river. In the main, these skills are straight forward, yet the understanding of both gravity’s role and kayak/paddler’s momentum is often significant hurdle with the comprehension of what needs to be done. Hence the requirement for demonstrations, in addition to being the coach that is also in a kayak, the coaches other role is that of front line safety. Being a bank based coach, can work at selected coaching venues, yet it does not mean that all the possible rescue scenarios can be easily executed.

From the task, the coach can observe and analysis the athlete performance, and measure this against what should be happening. A rudimentary model of the skill’s application, should frame the performance analysis. Questioning of the student, may provide wider clarity of what they attempted to do, and their perception of what they actually did. This helps shape the feedback and the coaching comprehension of whether the student understands both the nature of the task, the elements at play to execute the task and the river environment in play. Awareness of specifics within the river environment is a key contributions to the feedback, and subsequence goal setting. Communicating the changes required to alter the performance, directly govern the coaching style applied, and may in turn change the student’s initial aims.

‘Good Practice’ can be admirably framed as anything that brings about repeatable consistent results. A students and coaches reflection and review sessions, can aid the changing of performance and be of benefit in the next session. The cyclical nature of the model, allows the setting of Practice Structure, which is important if the student is able to perform in an adapted manner in a changeable and variable environment. This can of course be challenging if the available resource, has limited venues, even more so when the river trip is linear in nature. And can often give the appearance that sessions may be delivered off the hoof, even the fine balancing acts of providing added value and a successful descent, may mean the pace and timing of the practise structure are morphed and applied at the appropriate venues, and not necessarily at the desirable moments.

Within the available literature there is little research in adventure sports coaching, and certainly no coaching process model on offer for white water kayaking. Cushion, Armour & Jones (2006) proposed that the coaching process is a dynamic activity which has at its core the environment, the student, the coach and the contextual relationships of all of these, rather than something which is delivered. There are several flaws in the model in Figure 2, the most noticeable is the lack of scope for longer term development, the short session focused cycling of the coaching process, lends little to developmental performance coaching. Unfortunately this is the nature of the market place at present, students budgets mean they search for quick fixes, tips if it were, to step on from the plateau they find themselves on.

There is little doubt, “A fundamental problem with coaching knowledge so far, and its accompanying ‘models’ approach, is that knowledge producers have not taken the time to adequately acknowledge and explore the complex nature of coaching before developing general explanations of and recommendations for ‘good practice’ (Strean, 1998). Oversimplification of the phenomenon and over-precision of prescriptions is the unfortunate price paid”, Jones & Wallace (2005). And although the coaching process model presented is based on episodic coaching sessions, the inputs and environment considerations could be of value to the community of white water kayaking coaches. Yet “coaches learn to live with the ambiguity inherent in coaching, and so render it relatively manageable.” Jones & Wallace (2005) and whilst the market place remains quick fix hungry, whether rightly or wrongly, there is little desire or worth to over-conceptualise coaching process for white water kayaking.

References
Chelladurai, P. (1993) Leadership, in: R. N. Singer, M. Murphy & L. K. Tennant (Eds) Handbook of research on sport psychology (New York, Macmillan), 647–671.
Côte ́, J., Salmela, J., Trudel, P., Baria, A. & Russell, S. (1995). The coaching model: a grounded assessment of expert gymnastic coaches’ knowledge, Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 17(1), 1-17.
Cushion, C.J., (2007). Modelling the Complexity of the Coaching Process: a Commentary – International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching – 2(4), 395-401, Brewer, B. pp. 411-413. Gilbert, W. pp. 417-418. Mallett, C. pp. 419-421.
Cushion, C.J., Armour, K.M., & Jones, R.L., (2006). Locating the coaching process in practice: models ‘for’ and ‘of’ coaching, Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 11:01, 83-99.
Fairs, J. R. (1987). The coaching process: the essence of coaching, Sports Coach, 11(1), 17–19.
Franks, I., Sinclair, G., Thomson, W. & Goodman, D. (1986) Analysis of the coaching process, Science, Periodical, Research Technology and Sport, 1, 1–12 (January).
Lyle,J. (2002). Sports Coaching Concepts: A Framework for coaches’ behaviour. London: Routledge.
Jones, R.L. & Wallace, M., (2005). Another bad day at the training ground- coping with ambiguity in the coaching context. Sport, Education and Society, 10 (1), 119-134.
Jones, R.L. & Wallace, M., (2006) The coach as ‘orchestrator’, in: Jones, R.L. The sports coach as educator: reconceptualising sports coaching. London: Routledge.
Mageau, G.A., & Vallerand, R.J. (2003). The coach-athlete relationship: A motivational model. Journal of Sport Sciences, 21, 883-904.
Mallett ,C. J. (2005). Self-Determination Theory- A Case Study of Evidence-Based Coaching. The Sport Psychologist, 2005, 19, 417-429
Smoll, F.L., & Smith, R.E. (1989). Leadership behaviors in sport: A theoretical model and
research paradigm. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 19, 1522-1551.
Strean, W. (1998). Possibilities for qualitative research in sports psychology, The Sport Psychologist, 12, 333/345.

Devon Life

Upper Dart

As autumn rolls on, the space between the summer’s excesses and winter work speeds on and on. When it’s time, I head back for some Devon life on Dartmoor. My normal residence at the River Dart Country Park starts in late October, with weeks of courses, lots of demand for performance coaching. All this relies on the autumn rains, sometimes it comes and other times its spare, its the luck of the draw. My visits are in batches, the first of which it was wet, and the days on the river were great, all mainly work, but I got in a West Dart, Erme and East Okement outside coaching. Check out my autumn colours too, that Palm FXr PFD is just so, so fine.
sunrise in the forest
Image Satu Vänskä-Westgarth – http://www.todestinationunknown.com
autumn run away
Image Satu Vänskä-Westgarth – http://www.todestinationunknown.com

When the rain does not come, the weather is dry, clean and bright at times, a phenomena known as northern blocking, means its colder days but dry. Not ideal for the work, I even had to postpone some for January, which is leaving 60+ paddlers in 16 days on the river to a tight schedule. Alas only work for me in the New Year. At least I have the southern summer to enjoy soon after. More of that next time. The family joined me in Devon for the second trip, and the little lady enjoyed country walks and farm animals, granny came to visit and all in all it was wonderful.

Satu biking
Cardingham Cafe
Image Satu Vänskä-Westgarth – http://www.todestinationunknown.com

With the dry days, my attentions turn to biking, as the UK has some of the best enduro style trails around. Satu enjoyed too, and the new routes at Cardinham Forest and the Woodlands Cafe, in Cornwall are excellent. Certainly worth a visit, and I have already been back several times on the bike trails. Normally I hit Haldon Forest Park as it’s local, but for me Cardinham is a better spot, bigger trails and longer rides, on what is excellent flowing tracks.

Totnes Christmas Market
Image Satu Vänskä-Westgarth – http://www.todestinationunknown.com

Another Devon highlight on the run up to Christmas is the Totnes Night Market. Totnes’s main street, called Fore Street is full of local businesses, and during the night market, the whole place is full of addiitonal stalls with local fare and great gifts too. The toy shop had a bubble machine and the little lady was over joyed at the spectacle.

Autumn road Trips

Van on Strynefjellsvegen

After the arrival of the little man, we headed for a west coast road trip in the van. In September high on the fjell, the autumn colours come fast. We went from Øyer, through Sjoa and over the Strynefjellsvegen to Hoddevik. In Sjoa we visited the raspberry patches at the Sjoa Kayak Camp, a perfect spot for the little lady to have a mini adventure on here bike and an easy picking prizes or 10 for her efforts. The Strynefjellsvegen, is one of the Norway National Route’s, the historical way from interior to the coast. Well above the tree line, and pass the summer ski hill of Stryn. In September there was absolutely no snow left, in fact there was no snow at all. Later I found out that the hip closed in June, which for a summer location is very early. Th glacier is retreating a some pace in recent years.

Hoddevik from the pass

Out along the fjords and some, we finally ended at Hoddevik, the end of the road, literally, with a surf beach, with no surf awaited. Still we found some fun with the little lady’s new bike and long boards from the surf school accommodation. We did a night of car camping too, fresh crabs and an autumn storm to keep the Äiti (Finnish for mother) concerned the high sided van would be blown over. All good fun. A short trip, but a trial experiment with the kids for the October mission to Ireland.

Image Satu Vänskä-Westgarth – http://www.todestinationunknown.com
biker girl
Image Satu Vänskä-Westgarth – http://www.todestinationunknown.com
long boarding with the girl
Image Satu Vänskä-Westgarth – http://www.todestinationunknown.com

After the wets coast, I headed to Paddle Expo, but first Slovenia to closed down the season for Gene17. A few days on the river, and the train to Nürnberg across the Alps. I like that trip, on the German ICE train feeling like high speed easy travelling. At Paddle Expo, working for Palm, lots of new stuff on their stand, little else where, a quiet year of few new releases. The Pyranha Burn III looks a fine improvement, a cool drysuit from Sweet and interesting new paddles from AT. I picked up the Werner Ovation, a touring paddle, it was the most perfect paddle I have ever seen, when air paddling, you can feel the air resistance, no other paddle, I have touched offers that experience, as the material swing weight is more significant. After Paddle Expo, I dropped into the Sickline in Ötztal, I had not been back since the first event, and what progress, excellent stuff, a great atmosphere in town too. I got to paddle with Olli Grau & Matze, with all borrowed gear on the Middle Ötz, great fun, I wish I could paddle more often these days with these boys, next year, next year.

Sickline 2013

From Sickline, I flew to Dublin to meet the family android trio to northern Ireland and around to Galway. I had never been north of the border in Ireland, the frontier did not exist, in fact there was not even a sign, to mark the location. We headed to County Antrim, home to Dark Hedges and the Giant’s Causeway. For my lady’s rocketing side job as a travel blogger, we enjoyed the off season e=delights of these tourist attractions, along with see some Game of Thrones filming too. This part of the world, like so many parts on that land mass, is wonderful. It was certainly odd when driving through a few spots with curb stones painted red, white and blue, but those signs aside, it was not at all easy to tell much difference between the two parts of the island.
Dark Hedges
Image Satu Vänskä-Westgarth – http://www.todestinationunknown.com
gaints causeway
Image Satu Vänskä-Westgarth – http://www.todestinationunknown.com
carrying my girl
Image Satu Vänskä-Westgarth – http://www.todestinationunknown.com

On from County Antrim, we went to Sligo Strand, and stayed near the beach. I got to do some biking, as the surf was not inviting, and Satu did some SUP on a river near by. We meet friends along the way near Easkey and in Galway, and simply enjoyed having the new addition and letting the autumn roll by. It was certainly ace to lessen the pace after what had been a go go go kind of year.

surfers lots of them
Image Satu Vänskä-Westgarth – http://www.todestinationunknown.com

summer and the coming of the little man

Simon on Mickey Mouse

Yes, you have got it, it’s the end of year, and my blog is miles be hide, as normal, but here goes. Summer is full of fun, and the Mikey Mouse run in Valldal is a perfect moment in that summer’s fun. Since 1996, I have been coming to Norway, and now stay longer longer, moving permanently is only a matter of time. The great days of the summer, means I can really enjoy the paddling, and Valldal is a perfect destination, a little more creeking in style and a grander looking destination than Sjoa, with the fjell dropping down to the fjords. En route to runs like the Mickey Mouse, is the Ramua, mini-hucka on the upper section is a great highlight, with a simply 5m boof followed by a classic ferry and hold the line move to a late boof into a huge pool, spectacular to paddle and wonderful to watch. Once in Valldal, there is the famed Mickey Mouse run, with its great slide combos, one of which is “fight club”, and the first rule of fight club, is that you do not talk about it.

Blue angle on Mickey Mouse
Jakub on Upper Rauma

Once back in Sjoa, we work a lot on Ula, and I get to really break down the mechanics of paddlers movements and the technique needs to pull off the moves, plus I also get to paddle myself. This autumn I have started a Masters at Stirling in Scotland in Performance Coaching, interesting stuff, but more of that another time. Still the recent module on performance analysis, certainly frames the level of observation and comprehension of movement we do on the river to that academic level, as I said it’s interesting stuff.

Working on Ula
Show man

A summer highlight is the Gene17 Ula Extreme Race, during the Sjoa River Festival, and for 2013 it was a vintage year. 25˚C+, blue bird conditions and perfect water levels. We have some of the best on the world rock up to race, and some new faces too. The atmosphere on the event, and tightness of the competition, gave a heighten delight for myself. Next year is the 19th Sjoa River Festival, and this event has come a long way, I have gone to every one of them, always helped out, but for the last 5 years, have been running the event with the local kayak shop, Strie Strømmer. We moved the whole event up to Heidal from it’s normal location of the Sjoa Kayak Camp, as spring floods had knocked out the road access down there. A new mass start event, lamb BBQ and Saturday night band, gave this normal river side gather more of a festival feel.

Jakub's sister Lucie at the Ula Race
Little Haley Mills chraging at Ula
Finish line at the Gene17 Ula Race
Gene17 Ula Race 2013

I managed to get a cover shot on a Palm ad too, with the 2013 Palm Fuse Freeride top colours, that match my custom colour boat from Dagger Europe. I have always liked orange, but am taking it to much more than a banner colour. The new Palm FXr PFD for 2014 is of course Sherbet Orange too….I wonder if I have any influence on that. Also in the summer, a paddler from Devon whom I have been coaching, Tom Rainey made the front cover of Kayak Session, with a great image from Oregon. Tom required a lot of tactic input, with technique centring on his forward paddling, a typical situation, where taller paddlers often over use their arms, due to natural reach, rather than combine the movement with their torso and shoulder rotation. In the summer Tom moved to Voss and has been charging ever since, great news indeed.

Palm Equipment Fuse FreeRide top Ad summer 2013
Kayak Session Cover shot

In spite of a full spring into summer, busy, very busy indeed, the highlight of the year was the coming of the little man. Onni arrived in fine form, and has play the part of a growing baby rather well ever since. Now with a girl and a boy in the house, the siring part of fatherhood is over, 2 is surely enough. Whilst waiting for the boy, I managed to enjoy extended days out at Hafjell Bike Park, and enjoyed the free ride biking, what a great way to pass the time, life up, jump after jump, after berm after jump all the way down.

the little man's first day out

Tomorrow or next week, I’ll post about September!

Late, but here, Spring 2013

Sorba Slides in the sun

As the title suggests spring across western Europe was very late this year, almost a month be hide normal, which meant we had cold dry days in Valsesia for May. The snow only finally started to melt late in the month. The runoff was a strange pattern of occasional rain storms bringing higher water for a day or so, and then levels dropping off with every cold night with clear skies. This cycle pretty much went on and on all month. This meant that although flows were Ok to good, there was always a sense that we were waiting, and waiting. Thankfully in the late week or so, then into June, the warm weather finally brought the goods and for those heading out to the Alps in June were surely very surprised with fine Piemonte and Ticino conditions.

Coaching on the Gronda
Gronda reflection on paddling

The steep creeking weeks in Piemonte are getting incredibly popular, Gene17 now runs 3 weeks of trips, plus the Valsesia River Festival. Valsesia is an iconic destination, and we all love working there for the quality of paddling and fine food and local culture. The work focuses heavily on the technical aspects of paddling on drops and slides. This can mean actually getting right to the drop, and helping with the tactics, to ensure the paddlers are in the right place to apply the technique. We use a lot multi shot stills images for feedback, as it’s possible to zoom into the specific areas for detailed observations. Jakub got a great shot however of myself running the last drop of Gronda being reflected in a window of a traditional river side house in Rassa, Valsesia, nice!

Ed & Kates wedding party

A short intermission, was a weekend in the UK for a wedding party with the family. We headed to Topsham near Exeter, for a blustery affair. The short boat crossing to Double Locks had the ladies in their finery shivering in the stiff breeze. Still once in the amazingly decked out party tent, with its open fire, a great time was had. Old friends from a far mixed in with the Devonshire locals, an excellent wedding occasion at a shunning location on the Exe estuary. The weekend was all too short, as I needed to get back to work in Italy, and an early morning train stole me away.

Boys having fun on Gronda
Start ramp at the Sweet Rumble

More kayak coaching work and then the Valsesia River Festival, now in its third year, with momentum now gathering to create a well established event in Italy. Dealing with local politicians is every bit like you’d probably think it would be like, in Italy, boringly problematic, especially compared to my Sjoa in Norway experiences. Still with a great partner in the event in the form of il Gatto e la Volpe Camping, I do not really need to concern myself with the frustrations of the local mayor. Over 100 paddlers took part in our race programme, with the team race being the most popular. Teams of 3 charge the Sesia Alpin Sprint, a classic Class III/IV boulder garden section, fun lines and lots of moves to enjoy. Gene17kayaking runs clinics during the week, which are popular and provide a great taster of what we do.

The little ones first sea kayak trip on the home lake

After the chaos that is the Valsesia pack down, Soča turn around and then the long road north to Norway, all in a week, I was happy to be at home for a few weeks before the summer starts in Sjoa. These days I spent a lot of time with the little lady, and we managed a sea kayak outing with friends on the lake at Lillehammer. My daughter would help with the paddle strokes, we stopped for a classic summer grill en route and afterwards she was very happy to get back in the boat again, to my relief.

Corsica – a once in a generation Season

Beware to stay on the path in Corsica!

Spring, for many paddlers is about dusting off their gear after a winter of frozen rivers for early melt waters to wash away the forgot dreams of last season’s fun. A re-connection to the source of great enjoyment, as the river awakens so does all around, flower bloom and tree rapidly leaf into glorious early green tones. Everything is exciting and fresh to experience and to enjoy. None more so than a river for kayaking on, and the wonderful translucent blue water of the Soča in Slovenia, brings the very best spring wake up I can ever recall. Year after year I return, well before the summer crowds turn this pristine river into a summer fun traffic highway of rafts, duckies and all. I go to start the season, and every year the Soča delivers, it’s simply perfect to open up the arms, reach for the strokes and ride the whitewater again like it was once a forgotten memory of yesteryear.

As soon as the arms were charged and brain focused, Corsica for the frist time in a long while called. A once in a generation snow pack awaited. Corsica famed for its fickle conditions of low snow and little rain during most April’s has been for many a paddler a difficult destination to enjoy time and time again. Thankfully these days with online everything, we can see the snow pack conditions and weather forecasts, to form a fair opinion as to what awaits us, rather than the old turn up and hope approach of the present. The drive from Slovenia, heads through some of Italy’s finest tourist locations, Venice, Bologna, Florence and Pisa, but these were only signposts along the way to Livorno, the ferry port to the fabled isle beyond the horizon.

For myself on the first crossing arriving at dawn to Corsica many years ago, the mountainous island with its granite towers somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean was snow capped, shrouded in clouds, looked almost mythical, like Tolken’s elfish kingdom beyond the sea. Upon arrival the pristine nature and fantastic whitewater added to the whole unique appeal of this far away destination. After the first time I had been back a few more times, these visits were blighted with low water, so when for the first time in a while, the winters had delivered it was time to clear the diary and head to Corsica.

Cafe at Col De Bavella

Gene17 had a trip planned to co-inside with the Kayak Session event, to ensure we got a great off the water atmosphere to go with the great water conditions that were aplenty this spring. With paddlers coming in from Russia, Germany and the USA, it made for a great mix, with Jakub from Czech heading up the trip and myself along for the very pleasant ride. The days were almost completely without clouds and the sun played its part rather well.

Jakub on the Travo
On the Upper Asco
More Upper Asco
Codi waterfall
Even the smallest seed can grow into powerful trees

After a great week there, it was time for me to head back to Slovenia, before Valsesia called. Sadly my Lifeproof case failed leaving my iphone ibricked. A quick trip to the Apple Store in Florence, and I had a new iphone to go on with. Lifeproof however has been far from helpful with their warranty, they do not cover the loss of electronic they claim their cases protect. A fine looking product, but not up to the job. In and out of Soča to unpack and repack, the road west across northern Italy opened up to Valsesia. I managed to get in a run with Italian friends and a run on one of the Strua’s near Lanzo. Check out Beppe launching his Stomper with Steve watching on, perfect.

Strua de Grande with the Italians

I headed soon to England for a weekend wedding in Devon, and fine affair, sadly a very short visit, but wonderful to share a great day with good friends, many from very far away. I got to enjoy beautiful times with Satu and the little one, and Granny had a great time too. A sign of my good health is that I can still fit into my wedding suit, thankfully.

Ed & Kates Wedding
the little one swinging in weston woods

En route back from Malpensa Airport, you cross paddy fields ready for the risotto dishes to come, a strange site for Piemonte, as I am so used to the mountains and granite builds. These grand grange houses were made of brick, more Lombardia than Piemonte, but still a timeless view of an often hidden landscape.

Rice fields of Piemonte near Malpensa Airport

Now I am Valsesia, half way through our full programme of trips and the festival awaits this week. More about that another time, ciao

Cafe in great surrounds

long winter, late Spring

Tamdam Open Boating on the Serpent Tail, River Dee

From Norway a short trip back to the UK to collect my car and hit the Dee River Festival with Paul “Cheesy” Robertson from Palm. On the Sunday we decided to go canoeing, that is in a canoe. The UK tradition for canoeing is to solo paddle a tandem boat, seams a lot of work. Smaller solo canoes are a rarity as is 2 paddlers in a canoe. Still we went for it. On the first little drop at Mile End Mill, we fell out, mainly due to the lack on consideration as to what the front guy needs to do whilst the back paddler is still at the lip of the drop. Paul landed hard on a brace, meaning myself in the back simply fell over whilst still at the top of the small drop. Lesson learnt, no bracing, keep it square and true. At Llangollen’s Town Falls, our wonderful plan of down the left went great, we had little water in the boat, and were online. A small flake at the bottom left was slightly too exposed to ride over so we were reflected right into the slot, still upright we sunk into the seam. Down deep, all square until the coming up, and the boat flipped as it resurfaced, the injustice of it all. Still we gathered it all up in spite of some rescue services trying to control the situation from a raft.

On our way back up the Llangollen canal, Paul and I talked through our improved knowledge of tandem canoeing as we needed a better strategy at the Serpent Tail rapid. We finally arrived and the circus was in town, this rapid was a popular spot on a Sunday afternoon for paddlers. Amongst the masses was famed open boater and author on the subject, Ray Goodwin, whose advise was not what I would of thought. Still we lined her up and ran her dry, the Serpent was sleeping. At the end of the descent, Ray proclaimed he’d hoped we’d taken his advise as it would of clearly lead to a swim! Cheeky, still the fine line was ours. All in all, great fun. Still one thing over the weekend pained me and that was the dump that is Mile End Mill. The slow demise over a long period of time of popular paddling spot in north Wales. There is of course nice people there trying to go good things, yet the general state of the place is terrible, with either demolition or massive capital investment the only solutions. I do hope sense and good fortunate soon change the current position.

trans-europe rocket ship with boats
Predel Pass March 2013

On the Monday after the weekend, across Europe I drove, a short coffee stop with Deb at Lee Valley near London to see this wonderful place and then Dover. My car was a little full of boats, yet the rocketship cruised onwards. Once at the alps, the volume of snow even on the valley floors was evidence for the long cold winter that has been just. Both the northern and eastern reaches have great snow, and the western and southern alps lots of late snow. For paddlers the coming season looks a plumb.

Valburna in Italy Nordic skiing
fresh snow on Soča

At the beginning of each paddling season, Gene17kayaking runs a staff training week, this is more for potential future staff who may come to work one day. From the UK tradition, with a large structure of awards is unfortunately no solid benchmark of paddling or coaching ability. There appears to be a willingness to just have enough experience to clear the hurdle of an award, yet the substance that underpins these standards is sound. Perhaps it’s the small range of rivers available, still keen as keen for paddling is evident in the UK. Alas I divest, the staff training week is always great fun, and this year we hit the ski hill, some of us went nordic skiing too over in Italy close to our base in Soča, Slovenia. After skiing we had a paddle too, the day was blue with cold and fresh snow lined the river.

Easter egg catching the train
Alpine Snow pack 2013

For Easter I went home, and took a fabulous looking italian easter egg too. True to form and in the best italian style, the egg’s chocolate with whole hazelnuts was delightful. During the weekend, we enjoyed easy delights and family time too. The little one now offering commands in both Finnish and Norwegian was in fine form. Thankfully she understands my English, but not a single word, well “bye bye” is the only one. We enjoyed some skiing with friends as conditions were amazing, the local paper’s front page on the Tuesday after, read “Good Bye to our Dream Easter“, it was great to be home. On the way back, a clear vista of the alps revealed the extent of the snow coverage, white down to the valley floors across the ridges, this is very unusual for late March, spring was very late to arrive. In Soča just before Easter, I had seen House Martin’s some of the first summer birds to arrive, and they were later than normal, few others were evident before Easter. There is a sense that spring runoff will be a long waiting game, even now little in the front ranges on both the north and south sides of the alps is moving……thankfully I will be going to Corsica, which has had the best snow pack is years……more of that later.

Lower canyon boofin'
Adam on a swipe move

Just before the Mediterranean get away, we had 2 weeks of trips in Soča, this prefect river is the best classroom for whitewater kayaking in Europe. Why is it go good, well the clear and well defined white water features makes for recognising where to go and understanding the river easy to see, then the white water is made up on deep channels around large boulders, so if you fall in, you simply get flushed through without a scratch, and the pool drop nature of the terrain means it’s easily manageable to take on the rapids in a bite sized fashion. Plus the water is an amazing translucent blue and the nature and local people highly agreeable and welcoming. On many of the rapids, there are numerous free ride moves, and of course we love to hit them. It’s great fun getting the paddlers to try, and then nail these moves through coaching, ultimately its about understanding the white water better and where the energy in the river is and can be used. But hey that’s the work after all, and more on that soon, as the series of articles reviewing “Genes” will be added too soon.

the darkening days of Winter

first days out on the snow
Winter is a wonderland. Yes it is of course cold, and dark at times, but full of promise and adventure. For the little one, adventure starts early, as tradition in Norway, we got a pulk, a sledge you pull on skis, and in the pulk, goes the little one, a chariot to enjoy the winter passing by. From late November, its possible to get up on the fjell (mountainous plateau), just up the hill from Øyer, this winter early conditions were excellent and warm enough to enjoy being back on skis.

in the forest Chistmas tree cutting
Pulling the Christmas out from the forest
First Christmas Tree
One great thing about Norway at Christmas, is that you simply walk into the forest, cut your own tree down and bring it home. Local friends invited us to do just that, we dragged the kids into the whole adventure, and enjoyed Christmas rice porridge afterwards to get us into the festive spirit. The following morning, our little one, examined the new lounge furniture with amazement, and the whole festive season went well, with only a few of the tree decorations being removed, inspected and of course chewed!

Fresh snow at Kvitfjell
cafe at Kvitfjell West
Another great thing, about this past Christmas, I tried out snowboarding again and great news, my broken knee now works. February last year I also tried, but it did not feel right, so a programme of lots of biking last year, and hey, I am back in the game. I mean its not so prefect that I do not feel any pain, its that I can enjoy the slopes again, which is cool enough for me. The funny thing is though, is that I am likely to start alpine skiing at some point soon, may be next winter… On our door step is Hafjell, (a great bike park in the summer), and near by is Kvitfjell, a bigger hill, that has an annual Mens World Cup Downhill, plus a great cafe on it’s westside. Satu loves going there for some prawn sandwich which it appears is always sold out, well each time I’ve tried to order it for her, as they never have any left by the afternoon. We discovered great pesto spaghetti there, of which the little one is a huge fan. Funny what she likes, straight up cod liver oil, waving the bottle in her direction is a sure fired way of getting her out of the shower, also olives are devoured in abundance!! I am not sure what all this means about her eating habits, updates to come.

Happy to be back on the nordic skis
looking down from Nevefjell
After a short break from the snow for some work, more of that later, I was back on the fjell by late January, and as you can see, am happy to be gliding down the tracks. In living at a resort, there is a ski bus, and in the morning I can get up lift to Pellestova on top of the fjell, and ski all the way to Lillehammer via he saddle of Nevefjell, and then get the local bus home, a 3 hour round trip, of which 22km is on skis. Over the winter, I found the fastest route, and tried to go twice a week or so. The quickest I managed was 82mins for 22km, but there is a lot of downhill in that, still great fun rolling through the winter wonderland at speed.


coming down Midtfjell
sundown at the Birkebeiner stadium
All this by the way was a warm up for Sam and I to attempt the Birkebeiner trail, 54km from Rena in Norway’s east valley over 2 fjell to Lillehammer. On the day of reckoning, we took an early train from Lillehammer, via Hamar to Rena. In a local sports store we found out that the trail starts 3km out of town, but we could access the start, by walking to a local school, whose trails connect to the Birkebeiner, so that was another 4km. Eventually we started skiing, and the 18km near motorway sized trail going up the hill went on for 18km. On the long climb the snow conditions changed from blue to purple grip wax, and then back to blue again, so some re-waxing was needed. Once on top of the first fjell, we were battling a strong head wind, and heavy snow drifts on the track, clearly Sam commented we should of been coming from Lillehammer. We got to Kvarstad at the foot of the second fjell in 4 hours, which was less than half way, a lot slower than I thought we’d be. We fuelled up on brown cheese & jam, and climbed Midtfjell, from the top we could see Sjusjeon, and off we went, the pace quickened, as we knew from there it was pretty much all downhill to the Birkebeiner Stadium, the end of the race trail, but for us it was 2 more km to Lillehammer. We arrived into the stadium at sun down, I managed to capture Sam celebrating the finish line. 7 hours to do 60km, it was good fun, and now I know the demands of the trail, I am sure we can go faster, especially with no head wind to battle against. Note though the record time is 2 and half hours, that seams some what well beyind our reach, sub 5 hours may be….

A little one needing help
families in a ski pulk caravan
3 papa's in pulk action
waffle house on Øyerfjellet
This winter we had many visitors, and its great to bring them out on the trails, especially when its a multi-family outting, as it appears to be a lot these days. Trying to get non-skiers or alpine skiers to attempt nordic skiing can be fun, its more like hiking come joking, with the downhill parts more exciting. Often you need to help the little guests out with a drag tow, or even lift them off the deck for the downhills. Timing with a group of little ones is everything, trying to get the most out of the skiing, is best when it’s nap time for them. We aim to hit a cafe or waffle house en route or at the end of the trail, there are many great trails and waffles to be had on Øyerfjellet.

packing the pulk for fjell tour
windy fjell tour at Espadalen
Beyond the nordic ski tracks the tradition is fjellskiing, that is touring on the open mountains on often un-tracked although normally marked trails. We have had a few attempts at this. Firstly you really need fjell skis, these are wider than nordic skis and have metal edges, plus more supportive boots, for longer down hill runs. It’s a beginners style of telemark skiing for the downs and walking/gliding on the flats and hiking with skins on the ups. It’s certainly more of an adventure than the classic cross country skiing, off piste as such, but not at my level out of bounds. Fjell skiing is a corner stone of nordic winter life, with weekend’s away common place, especially from mid to late winter once conditions are stable and slighter warmer. Easter is probably the most popular time for such fun in the hills. After Christmas we tried to reach an over night mountain cabin pulling the little one in the pulk, but the lack of trail markers and low visibility meant we turned back. More recently we tried again, but strong northerly winds had other plans, so we enjoyed fun in the trees to avoid being batted about on the fjell. At Easter, no doubt we’ll head up again on to the fjell, I am hoping we can have some more stable conditions this time, please.

5 Star Training East Lyn, low water January 2013

Lastly, I did do some work in January, it was cold and dry. After the wettest December on records, drier times were always going to come. I see that the end of the UK’s paddling winter, has been a barren affair too. It’s always difficult to work consistently on the natural rivers of Devon, happily it’s normally warmer there than else where in the UK, and easy access in and out for me. In January, we had a lot of work, it’s been Gene17’s second busiest winter with 140+ paddlers on 2 day courses. Although these UK paddlers are increasingly less likely to venture on to our trips products due to economic conditions and the weakening of the pound, but hey, we get a lot of others from elsewhere, thankfully.

Soon, I head south for the season, although a weekend in North Wales calls first……

indian summer and the Fall

Slovenian cheese & wine at Hisa Franko
Satu on Soca

Soča for a moment
We stole away from the northern summer, as the last of it fared in early September. Slovenia called, as I returned the Gene17 bus to its winter home, and hazy days in the Soča Valley. It’s always we love to go to Franko for wonderful food, these day sit’s lunches only as the little one needs to be in bed early enough. During Satu’s post-pregancy recovery, there has been little chance of paddling, as I have been at work, and sadly only after the baby arrived did we realise just how much paddling we used to do together, “GRAND PARENTS”. The Soča is wonderful, I love it, a steep sided valley, lush in nature, cool under the cover of the trees or on the river, great for out of the door paddling, biking, hiking & running, plus during the winter, Kanin the local ski hill is not far away too. Plus the local restaurants are excellent too, great slovene dishes, plus a fine influence of Italian food too.

Lisbon Tram
Heading back to the beach house

West coast Europe
We hit Portugal on our honeymoon back in 2007, it’s prefect beaches, easy culture and fine cafe’s make for a great holiday destination. This time we hit Lisbon, starting with a city break style. A windy city with lots of old finery, great buildings reflecting the imperial past, along side modern and sometimes run down structures, much like Italy. There is a crazed use of painted tiles to decorate the facades of buildings, these are often numerous paintings in blue on white background, yet make for detailed stories often biblically themed. Portugal, well much of the north is on granite, and the use of granite cobblestones is common place, still after numerous use in town & city centres, these become highly polished, which can make for interesting walking in summer sandals!!

We opted not to hire a car, and went for the public transport options to travel to the beach, and then up to Porto. It was easy with the little one, in fact easier than a car, less stress and although slower, some how the pace was prefect for the baby. The first beach we hit was in Ericeira, Satu went to surf school, and I enjoyed long board sessions. Through Satu’s blog, she won several vouchers for apartment accommodation from Wimdu, so we used a few of them, apartments in Lisbon, Ericeira & Porto, a great way to find alternative accommodation to hotels and the alike. From Ericeira, we got the train via Lisbon to Porto, and back down to Aveiro, after a Travel Blogger’s conference, Satu was keen to enjoy. The little one and I, got to enjoy some long walks through Porto, a city on a steep hill with great views. I managed to rediscover Pastéis de nata, a Portuguese custard tart, which are simply delicious and an ideal snack with coffee. After Porto, we went to Aveiro, just south for more beach time, and some beach and boardwalk surfin’. I managed to enjoy sessions in a Watertech Fly kayak on dumping surf, and the little one got told off for eating sand. Her expression is as many are during these times, priceless.


Not allowed to eat sand!

Sjoa & Soča again
Sjoa Kayak Camp in autumn
Autumn working in Soca on leadership courses.
White water coach training on Soca

After KanuMesse in Germany, and home for a few weeks, a bit of autumn walking, biking and went to close down the Sjoa Kayak Camp for the winter. I had a run on a very low Åmot Canyon, which was more like steep creeking on pool drop white water, than the big volume fun run, a totally new river for me at that level. Sjoa is sandwiched between Jotunheimen & Rondane National Parks, which a mountain plateau’s, so the weather is a lot cooler than just south in Lillehammer, where I spend a lot of time these days. The autumn colours were in full effect, and the empty camp looked very lonely, quietened down for the winter blank to come.

After Norway, it was Slovenia again, this time for work, the river leader programmes run on the Soča, are popular, and its a prefect place to push and test paddlers, coaching there is great. A week later I ran a white water coach course, our first there, and the river shaped up again to be excellent for such learning. My time in Slovenia is these days always shorter than the years before, so it’s a little rush in and out situation, still I got to test a Specialized Enduro bike, and enjoyed it, so ordered one for 2013……

Ireland and one year old
Cliffs of Moher
Surfin in Lahinch
One
Someone's learning to walk

Weddings, yes weddings, I am at that age where all around are enjoying their big weekends, and Ireland is becoming a popular destinations for us to hit for friend’s weddings. We managed to bang a camper-van from a friend and did a little road trip, enjoyed Country Clare and Mayo, Satu enjoyed the surf, which after Portugal must of been a little cooler in the water. The great thing about Ireland, is that it is not far to go before the landscape changes, and there is some great pub or beautiful spot to enjoy. And the people, my fathers descendence are rather friendly and open, which when growing up on the neighbouring island, where a lot of folk are fearfully of anything usual, as the recent politics easily indicates, is quite an odd situation.

Time rolled on, well raced on, and before time, the little one, was one. Above she encounters her first candle on her birthday and hopefully learnt an important lesson to do with flames, and was all about trying to walk. She started to move around from 6 months, but the walking took 6 months more, but now she runs everywhere. Its pure amazement to watch this whole process, and it continues everyday, sheer joy.

A Devonshire autumn
Upper East Lyn's triple drop
Crux 1 on the East Lyn Gorge

During the autumn, I head back to Devon for coaching work, most of it is BCU qualification training and assessments, which are all the rage in the UK for paddlers. They are excellent stand alone courses, yet the entry barriers to get on courses is a little brain numbing at times, where its all about the correct admin, and very little to do with ability, and as such there is often lots of clerical astute people, with no enough river under their boat. Frustrating to watch people leap frog from one assessment to the next training, where for the main part paddlers need experience, and that means the right experience, most of the time, this is can be with solid coaching, and not qualification training. This situation is reflected throughout the whole system, where the qualification you hold is the measure of the paddler you are. The whole system needs a step change, rationalisation and the administrative processes wholesale change. Don’t get me wrong, the wheels in the system work well, its the mechanism of the machine I question. Still on the water, watching paddlers, guiding their learning is what I do, and its great fun and Devon in autumn is always a rewarding home form home to enjoy.

Movember
Simon Westgarth's 2012 Movember entry

Nothing more to say….a one off Movember, ever again.