torstai 11. toukokuuta 2017

Kayaking to new dimensions - Anglesey experience

Taking off at Rhoscolyn after a lunch at a beach.

April came with my class saying goodbyes to each other and everyone departing for their own travels and practical trainings. After 13 hours return journey from Narvik I casted the skis and winter equipment hastily into my room and packed in a couple of hours everything I thought I would need for 3,5 weeks long stay in Wales. That was a quick change from winter to summer season and, more specifically, to sea kayaking!

So, the beginning of the story goes all the way back to our paddelspecc when an idea came to me, that it might be interesting to go and see how the sea kayaking is being runned in the UK, the Mekka of kayaking. BC 5 Star coach Phil Clegg kindly promised that I could visit his company Sea Kayaking Anglesey, located on Anglesey Island in North Wales, and I took this chance to get to learn as much about kayaking and the international kayaking community as possible. With my drysuit, tent, sleeping bag and some other essential gear I took a flight to Manchester and continued on a train to Holyhead, happy to see so much green around me but feeling a bit unsure how everything would turn out.

Well, there was nothing to worry about, really. I was warmly welcomed by Phil and Stuart and got to the water the very next day after my arrival. Thereafter, on the days Phil or Stuart had quests I went out with them, and well, just that you get to listen and observe the coaches in their work gives SO MUCH, not to mention the time you get to train in so different conditions. The days started always with a coffee and a talk about the days weather/tides, and together with the group we decided which side of the island would give the best arena. Then we would drive out, paddle depending on the day from 3 to 6 hours and when happy, drive back to Holyhead, take a coffee and talk about the conditions we had had or whatever we wanted to get out of the day. About like that were my days when I was "working"; most of the input I could give was to help with serving coffee, otherwise it was just hanging with and learning from the coaches.

Having a coffee in Paddlers Return. Phil.


Incident Management course at Porth Dafarch.

A normal beach lunch after surfing tideraces at Puffin Island.

I was with in a BC 4* assesment as a mock student. Here we are preparing to start the trip that those who would be assessed had planned and would lead.

One of the cool things I had never tried was to do a rocky landing. Most likely useless but still good to know.

We who paddle in the Baltic Sea might learn us to handle wind and some waves, but if you are not a white-water kayaker and stick to sea kayaking, most likely you never have to be in flowing water with your sea kayak. Then suddenly, out in the real oceans, there are tides, and taking yourself from A to B can become tricky. First of all, paddling straight against the tide is extremely hard and sweaty job and in some cases might end up on you actually making no progress at all, thus timing the trip and using the flow for your advantage makes life a lot easier. Secondly, wherever the flowing water masses are pushed together the velocity of the flow increases which happens around headlands, close to islands and if the sea suddenly gets shallower. When the fastly flowing water meets the wind driven swell, it creates phenomena called tideraces and overfalls. A very simplified example is that when the flow and waves are against each other, the waves slow down, the wave height increases and eventually the waves start breaking (check the short video clip below to get an idea). Understanding exactly how the waves behave in a tiderace is not easy, but the important thing is to know the places where you as a kayaker might meet tideraces and thereafter wavy conditions. At the best the tideraces work as a wave machine for kayakers to surf but it is essential to know when the tiderace might be too big to handle. Kayakers who come to Anglesey come to paddle the tideraces because they are a perfect playground to improve balance, wave handling and of course surfing.

In three weeks after the first shock of "whaaaat, the sea water is flowing!!" the thing with tides started to make sence to me because I can not think a single day kayaking when we would not have had some tidal flows. I have a strong memory of being very uncomfortable in flowing water on Outdoor Academys Lofoten-tour and sceptical on how kayaking in a stream can be fun. Well, three weeks can change ones attitude quite a lot. Another great thing I learned to enjoy is rock hopping aka paddling close to cliffs and rocks and in caves. Before Anglesey I would have hold a respectful safety distance to cliffs but well, they are not so dangerous and a great deal of fun to maneuver the kayak in tight spots. Add some breaking waves and addrenalin is quaranteed. Of the wildlife I have to mention grey seals (so cute and curious animals!), porpoises (I was lucky to see once) and the variety of birds (puffins, razorbills, northern gannets, fulmars, pilgrim falcons, to mention a few of my total number of 68 species).

Stuart playing in a wave in Menai Strait.

Menai Strait is a narrow channel between Wales and Anglesey Island, and there the tidal flow is strong. A nice and safe place to play with eddies, eddylines, breaking in and breaking out, and surf. Eva-Lotta Backman from Elba Adventures playing in a surf wave.

(C) Phil Clegg. Me trying first to get to the surf wave :) 

A natural location to stay over my visit was Anglesey Outdoors where I actually camped the whole time getting some 22 nights in a tent. Not only has Phil his kayaks there but the place is also well-known amongst all kayakers visiting Anglesey; most of the other campers came with a kayak on their car. The place has a historical importance as well for Nigel Dennis started to build his kayaks (NDK kayaks) at the main building of Anglesey Outdoors. The worlds loveliest pub, Paddlers Return, worked for Phils groups as a gathering place for morning/afternoon coffee and in the evenings the pub served the kayakers with food and drinks. 

Anglesey Outdoors

Leftover shoes, cool recycling, just pick your pair!

Waking up in a morning sun after a cold night. 

A flock of chickens was living at the camping area. Some of them jumped on your arm, especially if you had food for them. Funny birds!

All of the time in Wales was not on water, some days I had off as well and had time for sight seeing. A few long walks along Anglesey Coastal Path (always useful to observe tideraces from shore - in some of the white mess I saw I would never have gone with a kayak..), two day's hike in Snowdonia National Park (including the peak of Snowdon), a day visit to Dublin (Holyhead is the port to Irland). Not only kayaking :)

The lighthouse of South Stack was definitely one of the most beautiful places I saw. The white mess on the right side of the lighthouse is the South Stack tiderace.

Sheep were even habitating Snowdonia National Park. There is a lot of livestock in Anglesey.

Eagles Rock in Snowdonia National Park.

The way down from Snowdon (1085 m).

How could I summarize everything I learned? I was impressed to see the skilled kayakers like Phil and Stuart on water, their confidence in all the conditions we were in, their ability to make decisions on whether to paddle around a corner or not, their way to work with all the customers as individuals and doing their best to take everyone to a higher skill level. I have seen so many inspiring paddlers amongst our guests, graceful techniques I would like to have in my own kayaking, kayakers who just make you happy when you look at them playing and having the time of their lives in rockhopping or surf, determination to learn something new and understand the behaviour of the sea. The truth is, that after these three weeks the list of what I don't know or can yet is longer than the list on everything I did learn. But there is a driving force in that understanding, a source of inspiration for me that so much remains to be discovered.

Thank you, Sea Kayaking Anglesey, Phil, Stuart, Elba Adventures, and everyone I got to paddle with!

Anglesey, I do recommend ;) The best advice I got: surf every wave you can!

(C) Phil Clegg. The Finnish team by Elba Adventures and I balancing under Menai Bridge. Awesome group, good days with you!

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