a summer long Forgotten

Looking down on to fjord land when hiking near Valldal, Norway

So the last time I updated my blog here was June 2012, after a great Valsesia season in Italy. That’s some time ago, and its pretty truth to course, that if I am very busy, the first thing I do not do is update my blog. So sorry, but with a small one in the house, and working away a lot, my life is busy. Still for 2013, I am going to try and do a monthly update as normal, and have far less time of internet kayaking forums and facebook groups. I will try, after all I must.

The long road north to Norway from the alps is never short of a 2 days affair, where the tip of the European mainland is but the half way point to my summer’s fable paddling home, Sjoa.

On Holiday
After spring comes summer, and every summer since 1995 has been spent in Norway, 2012 was no exception. Originally I came for work, later just for the paddling, and these days both, yet it was always for the love of wide open prefect outdoor adventures. In early June, with another family we headed to the west coast, rented a cabin (hytter) in Valldal, and enjoyed hiking, biking, playboating and lazy evenings too. In Valldal, the fjell reaches high above the fjords, making for spectacular scenery, and as you can see, even the sheep enjoy their place in perfection. En route to Valldal we stopped off at Geiranger Fjord, check out the tiny cruise ships in the fjord 2000m or so below.

On holiday, it’s great I get to enjoy time, in fact all day with the little one, and had some great times, especially as she has starting to crawl and everyday some personality started to reveal itself. Sharing a cabin with friends, meant we were able to enjoy midnight surfing on the middle Valldøla with the unseasonal high water levels, whilst the little one was safely under a watchful eye. These sessions were a highlight for my wife, who had missed her playboat for the last year or so…..

One thing I do like, is the use of modern and original ideas in buildings to be found in Norway. These little turns of art are not everywhere, but often used in wonderful places, below are some hand rails on a walkway at a waterfall spot along the golden route of the west coast of Norway.

West coast Norway in fjord land

Baby times in the summer

Satu midnight surfin'


Man at work

During July & August is peak season in Norway, and last year we had 10 weeks of work in Sjoa and beyond. I love paddling in Norway and of course love working on the rivers there. After all I have been coming every year since 1996, and now I am in Norway for more time in the year than any where else. Within the work, there is a lot of tactical information plus increasingly so more biomechanics of movement, especially with simple strokes like a forward stroke. It’s often the case that most paddlers use little of their core strength to drive the boat forward and as a result try to make their arms do more work instead. This in the end leads to an odd paddling style, that eventually gets challenged either by injury or repeated mishaps. When coaching moves like a boof, I look at core strength and biomechanics to ensure paddler gets the most from their paddle blade.

Part of the job is to give near prefect demos, I have always felt its the job to the coach to lead by example, its the easiest way. Even when the white water gets steeper and harder, the demo needs to keep coming. Sometimes it’s hard after giving lots of feedback to then step to the plate and fire a solid line of what you wish the paddlers to do, but clear focus is important and so is a great demo. Last year we ran to road trips to Valldal, taking in some of the great rivers en route, a prefect slice of Norway’s best white water, it’s great to work this way.

man at work
Setting the demo at Ula, the crowd await
Upper Valldøla exit drop
Passing by Geirangerfjord

Sjoa River Festival
During the middle of the summer, I get to run the Sjoa River Festival with the boys of Strie Strømmer and the guys that work for Gene17, July 2012 was another vintage occasion, with high water and great flows. So much so we needed to move a few races, such as the Ulla Extreme not including the waterfall at the end and the Sweet Rumble yet again was on the Riksanlegget Slalom course at the Sjoa Kayak Camp. High water kept the crowds down last summer, with less Norwegians than before, still great fun for those that attended.

Sadly just before the festival, news reached us that we lost a paddler on the Lower Jori river whom was due to attend the event. Hans from Belgium, was one of 4 paddlers to die on the rivers of Norway that summer. It reads like a tough stat to swallow, and it is. The guys involved on the Lower Jori that day, had an even tougher day. High water in Norway seldom looks like glacial silt runs of the alps, or flood waters of temperate forests. High water in Norway is often clear and clean looking, yet powerful and unforgiving. I wish I could say more on the matter, but each case was unique with the one trend appearing to be that these accidents happened within days of these paddlers arriving into Norway. Whether that has any bearing on a single incident, is unknown, but Norway is known for its power and clean whitewater, slides and drops, and in this relentless playground, incidents can easily become accidents that may not end well. Play safe, and as safe as you can.

Gene17 Ula Extreme Race 2012
Heavy traffic on the Sweet BoaterX 2012
Introducing the Palm throwbag Olympics to Sjoa
Benji excited to finish the Palm Throwbag Olympics

Hunderfossen Fun Park
Towards the close of the summer, we got to enjoy a day out at the Hunderfossen Fun Park, a local spot for us, opposite the Hafjell Bike Park. An amusement park, but Norway style, some great folklore rides and sights, open air theatre and of course farm yard attractions. I was very surprised how good it was, although having to pay for parking at an out of town place, plus gate entry seamed a little rude, even if they are only open for s short summer season.
Hunderfossen Adventure Park's big Troll

PS, as you can see, I am trying to catch up, the rest soon, I promise.


a change of Pace

autumn sun

Yeah, yeah, yeah it’s been an age. so for the next weeks, I will bring this blog up to date from June this past summer to now. Actually for 2013, it’s less forums & facebook, more writing for me, a change of tract.

bella Italia

Campertogno at night

The years come and go, and the perfection of what is Valsesia in Italy just keeps on giving. It’s simply an amazing spot to hang out, enjoy and go paddling. This year, I was there for 6 weeks, we had lots of work with paddlers coming in from all around the world and also ran the second Valsesia River Festival at the end of the stay. Asides the work though, is the destination, there are few places I enjoy so immensely than my time in Campertogno in Valsesia. The range of food, selection of dishes at the restaurant and the sublime air of mountain living. Whilst my hosts, have become old friends, where the conversation can range from Berlusconi’s famed bunga bunga parties to local fine wines to building model airplanes, yet always the culture observations of people visiting from across Europe and beyond provide insight and enlightenment, of where we are all very different yet mostly the same. This year we had a big amount of work with Gene17kayaking, our biggest year to date, and of course, there is great enjoyment and wonderment coaching paddlers to run slides, drops and the alike, plus show the very best of Valsesia to all the visiting paddlers.

After several weeks of trips we headed straight on into the Valsesia River Festival. This event we run, and is very much based on the highly successful Sjoa River Festival in Norway, which has just completed it’s 16th edition this summer. The event is a grassroots whitewater gathering, with clinics, competitions and entertainment laid on. This year we added the Palm Throwbag Olympics, which was over ran with keen rescue rangers trying to win a Palm Amp or Luna PFD. PLus we placed the Sesia Alpin Sprint at centre stage for the racing, with over 70 racers, gunning for the action on the 3 km boulder garden of Class 3/4 rapids. The Team race provides a lot of entertainment itself, and Gene17’s guys made for some great images….. Also we bought in Ies of Fokiwa fame to fire up the crowd and start the party, following on with DJ’s. Great stuff and a wonderful festival. We’ll do it all again next year, although I may urgently need my 3rd lesson of Italian Politics.

Sesia Alpin Sprint 2012 Team Race
party time

My time in Valsesia was a personal highlight too. This year, the new Mamba has bought a new weapon to the river, and I like the way she moves, faster, cleaner and easier to paddle, which is of course what progress in design should be about, well at least at this point in time. Great works guys, thank you.

Gronda kicker


I headed down to Slovenia ahead of the family to hoover the cob webs off the walls and warm the place up. In Soča, there had been no ryan nor snow all winter, and the peaks were grey, not their normal white in late winter. The situation for the season looked poor. It was warm in the valley, the spring flowers were out, but for a moment, as the lack of water turned them from bright delight into faded blooms. The work situation in Slovenia also reflected the spring flowers, it appears that the expanded competition for kayak trips there, has speed the work around a little thinly. Still we had work, which was great, and also time to enjoy as well. One such time was to go to Venice, where a beach day was a first for a little one, plus great food in Italia as always.

I do like to start the season in Slovenia, its warm there early and you wake up to the season after a long winter’s break in the snow of the north. With Satu pregnant last year, she was happy to be in a boat again. After a Soča warm up we went on a road trip to Plattling, where hearty Bavarian beer and great bread always making car camping a treat. Park’n’play was great with the little one, she even got to watch her mom on the wave.

After a slice of Germany, we went back to Soča, and enjoyed a visit to Hiša Franko near Kobarid, a wonderful place, lots of great food and wine to enjoy. We were lucky one lunch time, as they were closed, so we said hello to a friend in the kitchen and then we were treated to an amazing mussel & wild asparagus risotto, with great cheese to follow, the good life is always at Ana & Valter’s.

life begins at 40

I am not sure what to say about it, the 40. Live at the beginning appears to be very slow, the days last for ever, and then as you get a bit busier, time starts to speed up, and you get a little more busy and the weeks, months and years are flying by. If you have an ace wife or someone in your live to remind you that your 40, its a milestone for sure, but I’m just to busy to appreciate it or perhaps understand what it means. Yeah, I am a little slower in the boat, heavier at times and certainly appear older if I dare look in the mirror, but I feel well 25 with a bunch of years experience. Alas I feel that this is perhaps a common story, until a surprise or two comes along to change everything.

My lady wife, surprised me with a party in Devon and another in Norway and then a weekend in the fjell too. A bunch of surprises, all great, none I expected, least was them waiting at Oslo Airport, I was dashing for the train to get home. Great skiing those days, a prefect time to consider what 40 means, and as you can see, it’s just a number, if you’re too busy to let it bother you…..

a wet winter, well not Really

OK, with a baby in the house, new events to run, I am a long long way be hide updating this blog. Especially at present I am considering this winter’s programme, so to talk about the last one seams odd. so in short 5 things from last winter:

  • The new yet oddly named BCU Advanced Water Endorsement, is actually really really good, and should be been what the old Level 4
  • The new Mamba 8.6 is ace, fast, easy and great to paddle, but I would say that after all the testing
  • In spite of the economic gloom, paddlers love coming to Devon for courses with Gene17, thankfully
  • We started a new event, the Rivers Source at the end of January, a coaching symposium with a river clean up, it was a great start and now I must make it happen all again this November. It’s an open source event, all are welcome to contribute
  • And it appears Devon is best for paddling in the summer, as the last 2 winters have been very inconsistence for rain and runoff. Below is some fun form last winter’s courses & events.

    BCU AWE Training
    Euthanaisa Falls 5 Star Assessment
    Boof clinic East Lyn
    River Dart clean up
    new Mamba fun on the Upper Dart

    Also we took over the running of the Sjoa Kayak Camp in Norway with Strie Strømmer, home of the Sjoa River Festival. Which gives Gene17 an offical summer home.

    Sjoa Kayak Camp grilling

    overland & the shortest of Days

    As I landed in Norway for the holidays, I was greeted with lots of early snow, great stuff, to get going on the nordic skis. For Satu & I, it was great to be back on the skis again. We had a big naming party for little one where the god parents got to be centre of attention, it was quite a cool informal evening. The Finnish in-laws were nervously waiting to hear what the name was, as is Finnish tradition, new born babies do not get a name until 3 months or so old, most certainly a custom from when high infant morality was common place, thankfully we have come a long way, yet the old customs still live on, which is rather good I feel. When speaking to Finland, we learnt of the poor, in fact no snow conditions, skiing at Christmas may not be an option.

    He’s my girls, nice hey, they are en route on the train from Oslo to Stockholm, easier than flying. We in fact left Lillehammer, for Stockholm, overnighted in the Swedish capital, and then took the ferry to Helsinki and train onwards to Tampere, it took a day and a half, we took, 2 roller bags and a pram and it was rather relaxing. International public transport nordic-style, on time, clean and easy, very nice indeed.

    When in Stockholm, we even took the transit system, baby and all to the Norrøna outlet, for some great margins. I really like the style, cut and clean functionality of the Norrøna gear, designed in Norway as well. I got a wonderful pac-lite jacket as above for UK rainy biking and a soft shell line up for nordic skiing, if only there was some snow to enjoy….

    We Christmas’ed at the in-laws, on the lake, which is nearly always frozen over by December, however not this year, no snow either. A rather mild affair, we even went sea kayaking on Christmas Day, which I have been recently informed is now called aqua-rambling, that does certainly frames the crowd of paddlers often out on the ocean’s quite well.

    Our non-nordic nordic Christmas thankfully took a turn into winter, with a trip further north, to enjoy the normal state of play, that is snow. New Year’s was taken with friends in Tahko near Kuopio, we hit the tracks and enjoyed the shortest days of the year with reasonable temperatures and smooth gliding, ohh and easy parenting. During our New Year celebrations, we had a few games, one was in teams of two, start your own fire, only using wood and a flint, the dry birch of the northern forest proved excellent, and both Satu and I had our fires roaring in minutes, whilst our baby enjoyed the fun from inside.

    No sooner had we headed back to brown snowless Tampere, than I headed back to Devon, 3 flights in one day, the first from Tampere to Copenhagen, was sporty, as we ferry glided on the glide path into Denmark, I could see the whole runway from the near of the plane, the big storms of near January were a foot, whilst en route west. I hopped to Amsterdam, and then a short hop to Exeter, not a bad route really. As soon as I landed, the rain greeted myself, and I knew for a few days at least the paddling would due very fine.

    Nick Horwood and Finn Burrows, had been filming in Norway last summer, and here’s their fine short movie Vaniljesaus. We played it at the Adventure Paddler’s weekend, and it went down a storm. With great short films like this and amazing paddling documentaries, it’s no wonder that the sale of hard media in the form of specialist DVDs is over. These days I wonder what to do next with Westgarth TV’s productions, either go towards crowd sourcing, for a limited release or make short pre-sponsored segments, either way, it’ll be tough to make an income from either approach. Downloading has killed the specialist film maker, whilst iTunes is a great model for those at the top of the pile, everyone else is left to wonder what if any is the solution, answers on a postcard, or in the comment box below…..

    At least now I am in the same yearn, and only 3 months, well may be 4 be hide blogging.


    5 minutes old

    That’s my new name, well at least to someone new anyway. In November our family of 2 became three, the addition arrived in the small hours of the morning after a protracted campaign, where my wife re-enforced that she is quite the tough being. All went well, and to be there, to witness the moment, after such an intense and lengthy 2 person show, for someone else to arrive is only something you’d best appreciate if you lived through it. No end of wordy descriptions could be used, yet in the end, after lots of effort someone absolutely new arrives into your life, and it is nothing short of amazing.

    4 days to go

    Here’s Satu, a few days before the occasion, the late autumn mist, the stillness reflects the days if not weeks of the same holding pattern, and then it’s all change at the Westgarth house. 

    We choose a finnish name that could not be anglicised, this was especially so, as she would have my rather english surname, and in a way is sounds a little like the phonic of my mother’s name Julie.

    So why Papa, and not as the english tradition of Dad. Well for myself, I’d not had a father present in my up bringing, so have little attachment to the term Dad, and Papa just sounds right for me, so Papa I will be.

    After the big arrival, we were of course slightly busy, still the time at the hospital as ever in Lillehammer was pleasant. The staff were always on hand to help coach us into being parents, yet the first night is always sleepless, any and all sounds are greeted with an urgent springing action to investigate the issue, which is often the baby breathing….it has the potential to be nerve wrecking. The proud day of heading home with the bundle of joy was well, a proud occasion, and of course the bed I built for her, has yet to be used, as she sleeps with us. And before you start offering advise, it appears that everyone has something to say on child rearing, so get in line, if you please.

    We soon were in a routine of watching the back issues of Glee, feeding, nappies and walking with the flash new pram. We went to the movies, and to the opening day of the local ski hill, live bands and all, plus visited friends, our baby it appears for now is a rather an easy baby, only time will tell….

    tick, tock, tick, tock, one more go around the Block

    Yeah, I know, I am slow and I am late, but it’s been a busy few months. And when I am busy with work and other matters, this blog certainly gets push away. Sorry for that, I will try harder this year. So I have had 2 entries part written for a while now, here’s the second, from the close of last summer…..

    Looking out to sea
    An indian summer has come and gone, and autumn here in Øyer is certainly apparent, grey skies, cool days and wet times. This far north, the leaves turn early, it’s a scene that it’s all shutting up for Winter, every day something changes, a slow orderly turning off of the summer fire. Since the image above taken in late August in Vesterålen, whilst whale watching, much has happened. But lets get to the just before the main event in November in this post.

    On the Soca

    In September, Satu & I headed to the house in Slovenia, it’s always great there, a prefect retreat. We went on a little road trip, as Satu was getting to the point of being a little too uncomfortable with the growing bump. Still we got to paddle on Soča a bunch, this year I was the porter carrying the boats out, and we enjoyed, the brilliance of this great river. We made a short road trip to Bled to cycle around the lake, to Bohinj for lake swimming and Piran to enjoy the sea. It was hot in Piran, a little too much for the wife, I needed to stand guard whilst she cooled off on the sea! What was really apparent it that Slovenia is a small just diverse country, and above all quite amazingly beautiful, not just the Soča Valley. Soon our road trip was over, and it was close to the no-flying time for Satu. I drop her off at Munich and I headed to KanuMesse, the annual paddlesports show.

    Setting up at Kanu Messe 2011
    Deep in the Susna Canyon, north Norway

    This year’s event, had a bunch of new products that I have had a hand in developing, these included the new Spark FreeRide suit from Palm and the Mamba from Dagger. It’s always great to see the new products in their final version at the show, although for both I had been testing them for some time. The Spark Suit, I got the idea at the last KanuMesse, to have a light yet all around suit for paddling, but not a complete stiff dry suit with all the armour and the additional re-enforcements. Barney the designer at Palm came up with a great prototype, and for most of 2011 I had been testing away in Slovenia, Italy & Norway. Check out the image above taken by Benji deep in the Susna Canyon. Also Mark the designer at Dagger had been working on the medium Mamba for a while, and in early Spring I had been charging the first large boat, see Gene17’s wallpaper for that model, this was a great fast charger, although a little small. So for the northern Norway road trip had the second version, which was bigger all around, but in enlarging it, something of the great qualities of first version was lost. White water kayak design is never easy, a small adjustment here and there, makes a huge difference between success and not quite there. I was happy a third version was made, off the first version platform to ensure the final boat is good. I have had the Mamba 8.6 for a month now, and I like it a lot, very much my sole boat for the river these days. Great work guys, and thank you.

    Dave Carroll getting ready to throw for Gene Pool DVD

    After KanuMesse, Dave Carroll & Kim Sickerman, came to Slovenia, for some end of season paddling, happy days, as the cool evenings started to draw in. We got involved in the filming of the white water safety & rescue production, which I will release a kick-starter crowd funding campaign on at some point. Although it’s a real question of how to distribute it, DVD’s are a no, so to BluRay, all are too easy to copy, so I must find a solution, or perhaps direct sponsorship of chapters, either way Genotype 2 DVD cost £40,000 to make in terms of editing time and post-produciton, much of which has not been recovered. Specialist productions are difficult to justify at present.

    On the Øyerfjell

    Soon it was time to head to Norway for the main event of 2011, here is a shot from our last hiking trip on Øyerfjell before, 8th November, when my life, out lives changed. Until next time, here’s an interview I did for Unsponsored the paddler’s website and the ad Gene17 ran in the new 3rd edition of the South Alps Guide Book. An excellent new addition, with the proof reading for Piemonte by myself. It’s great to see that this area, which has become so so popular with paddler’s get the coverage in the english medium, just in time for this year’s Valsesia River Festival. Which I hope will be a popular event for Valsesia is one of a few spots acorss the Alps with snow this year.

    South Alps Guide Book 3rd edition

    Until the next post, life all change, I bid you farewell.

    nordcapp & Vesterålen

    Yeah, I know, I am slow and I am late, but it’s been a busy few months. And when I am busy with work and other matters, this blog certainly gets pushed away. Sorry for that, I will try harder this year. So I have had 2 entries part written for a while now, here’s the first, from the close of last Summer…..

    Looking out to sea
    An indian summer has come and gone, and autumn here in Øyer is certainly apparent, grey skies, cool days and wet times. This far north, the leaves turn early, it’s a scene about shutting up shop for winter, every day something changes, a slow orderly turning off from the Summer fire. Since the image above taken in late August in Vesterålen, whilst whale watching, much has happened. The last time I wrote on here, I was about to leave Trondheim, to head north to Nordcapp, and meet Satu who was closing down her work’s summer seasonal office. I had been north before, but in Canada, the tundra has a timeless & endless feel, the depth of field as you look across the vista, plays with you, and then you realise that there is so little in the fore and mid ground, it’s hard to know how far what you are seeing is away from you.

    In flew up to Alta, the near last town in Northern Norway. It’s an exciting approach to the runway. On the glide path, you are over fjell, just west in the fjord, is the town and the airstrip right by the shore all in sight off to the port side. Then the plane banks hard to the west, seemingly just above the mountain outcrops high above the town, and then decsends steeply, then steeper still, than any other glide path I have been on, exciting if you like that kinda thing. From Alta, a long bus ride over the tundra, with only a few trees along the valley floor, soon the barren vista of the Arctic north unfolded. The occasional reindeer gives an idea of perception, yet it’s simply vast, and a scene of timelessness. Dropping off a plateau, we headed north up the Porsanger Fjord to the northernly town of Honningsvåg. A small port, where the summer cruise ships stop off that also has a small university campus. During our time there, we visited Nordkapp at sunset, hiked a bunch, saw lots of reindeer and had near 30˚C blue bird days, more Mediterranean than Arctic. We soon took the Hurtigruten, part cruise ship come part ferry to the Harstad. This trip threads in and out of fjords and islands, stops off on the way, and offers amazing views.


    Walk down to a fjord

    boat in the fjord

    Once we arrived in Vesterålen, we hired a car and headed to Nyksund, and much revived fishing factory village on the Atlantic coast. Closed down and force-ably evacuated in the late 60’s as fishing boats became too big to take the processed fish. A while later the place was re-populated by Germans looking to escape the norm, they build up a community and there now are some excellent spots to stay and eat, it’s a kinda of end of world feel to it, plus great expresso too. Well you might as well be ready if it was indeed the end of the world.


    Nyksund harbour

    small boat heading out of Nyksund

    We’d come all the way here, as Satu, who runs her own blog, that she updates near daily, which is a little different to my approach, still she has a few bloggi friends, one of which is a Finnish fishermen who heads up a whale safari operation in the summer. So we jumped on board, and had a day out on the boat, searching for Sperm Whales. What a day, great fun, and once we found them, just amazing, in fact all of Vesterålen is like the poor relation to the Loforten islands, but no less spectacular. The Atlantic gulf stream makes land fall at Vesterålen, and the abundance of summer wild life high up in the arctic is simply, well just great. I am fully recommend a trip, exploring the area, get on the water too if you can, and eat some sushi, freshly landed fish washed in sea water is wonderful.

    Male sperm whale, blowing in Vesterålen

    A tourist delight, whale's fluke as he dives deep

    I promise to bring the next entry soon, although that is from early Autumn last year. Lots of cool images though. On Friday I head south to start the season, so I must clear a back log of things before I go………