WET ‘N’ WILD

Spring is the sea­son when pad­dlers like Matt Flana­gan pre­pare to take on the chal­lenge of the North East’s wild wa­ter­ways.

North East Living Magazine - - News - words Shane Douthie pho­tos Marc Bongers/ Matt Flana­gan/allison Parkinson/ Lita Smith

AS the win­ter snows be­gin to melt and our streams and rivers start to swell it sig­nals the mem­bers of the North East Ca­noe Club it’s time to take to the water. Not that they’re out of the water for the rest of the year but this is the start of the adren­a­line pump­ing “white water” sea­son in lo­cal rivers.

The ca­noe club was started in 2014 by a group of en­thu­si­as­tic pad­dlers who wanted to get a club to­gether to ex­plore the ex­ten­sive pad­dling re­sources we have at our doorstep in the North East. The club has a key fo­cus on white water pad­dling and this takes them to many rivers in our re­gion in­clud­ing the King River (near Whitfield), Ovens River (near Bright and Myrtle­ford), Buck­land River, Buf­falo River (above and be­low Lake Buf­falo), Snowy Creek (near Mitta Mitta) and fur­ther be­yond to the Mitta River near Omeo, the Big River near Jamieson, the list truly goes on and on.

NECC sec­re­tary Allison Parkinson said the sport of white water kayak­ing en­com­passes some of the best aspects of out­door ad­ven­ture - pris­tine re­mote en­vi­ron­ments, chal­leng­ing and ex­cit­ing ad­ven­ture, a col­lab­o­ra­tive group in­volve­ment and in­clu­sive so­cial en­gage­ment.

“We en­cour­age any­one who is in­ter­ested in ex­plor­ing the out­doors and has a sense of ad­ven­ture to join, no ex­pe­ri­ence nec­es­sary,” she said.

“Our group has a wide range of ages (from seven to 65) as well as dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence and cul­tural back­grounds. We try to train our new mem­bers within the group to im­prove their skills and con­fi­dence so they can grad­u­ally progress from ex­plor­ing less chal­leng­ing grade two rapids to in­creas­ingly more com­plex and chal­leng­ing grade three and three plus rapids. This in­volves pad­dling skills prac­tice so that the in­di­vid­ual can ma­noeu­vre their boat quickly and with a min­i­mum of ef­fort, brac­ing and rolling prac­tice so that they can re­sist the cur­rents that can eas­ily tip the boat over and then to re­cover if their boat tips by rolling back up. We call this Eskimo rolling.”

White water train­ing en­com­passes a num­ber of ac­tiv­i­ties. In sum­mer the club runs pad­dling skills train­ing and white water play at the Rocky Point rapid near Myrtle­ford to give pad­dlers the chance to prac­tice their skills in a real river en­vi­ron­ment but where there are min­i­mal risks of in­jury. >>

“This is the ideal prac­tice spot to build con­fi­dence and com­pe­tence in a real-world set­ting,” Allison said.

“We then try to take our pad­dlers out on river trips that match their skill lev­els, so that they can ex­pe­ri­ence the fun and ad­ven­ture of that en­vi­ron­ment but also pad­dle within their com­fort zone to im­prove skills and con­fi­dence.”

In win­ter the club holds rolling skills and ca­noe polo nights at Moore Than Swim­ming in Mason Street in Wan­garatta where par­tic­i­pants are taught to Eskimo roll and brace and hone their pad­dling skills by play­ing a ca­sual game of ca­noe polo (like water polo but in boats). The other pas­sion of the group is ca­noe­ing, a fam­ily friendly ac­tiv­ity that lends it­self to overnight trips in­volv­ing camp­ing and other fun, like win­ery tours.

“This gives us ac­cess to the many flat-water pad­dling spots in our re­gion in­clud­ing Lake Wil­liam Hovell, Lake Buf­falo, the Ovens River (all the way from Myrtle­ford through to the Mur­ray), Mur­ray River, Goul­burn River (the club held a re­cent win­ery tour there at Nagam­bie) and even the Snowy River in sum­mer,” Allison said.

“Ca­noe­ing can be done in the sum­mer months when the white water op­tions are not avail­able due to lack of water. One of the rea­sons I’ve be­come pas­sion­ate about the sport is the unique mix of chal­leng­ing out­door ac­tiv­ity com­bined with a col­lab­o­ra­tive but non-com­pet­i­tive group dynamic. I per­son­ally love the fact that when the group goes out on the river, it can be a mix of ages and skill lev­els, ev­ery­one from re­ally ex­pe­ri­enced and fan­tas­tic pad­dlers to less ex­pe­ri­enced be­gin­ners and each mem­ber is able to en­joy that ex­pe­ri­ence by chal­leng­ing their own skills and abil­i­ties. The only per­son you’re com­pet­ing with in that en­vi­ron­ment is your­self to con­stantly im­prove your skills

and chal­lenge your­self to try more dif­fi­cult and chal­leng­ing ma­noeu­vres. But the group must work as a unit for the safety of ev­ery­one in­volved.”

This means that each rapid on a river must be pad­dled safely by each par­tic­i­pant in the group be­fore the group moves onto the next rapid. Each rapid is checked (scouted) for safety be­fore the most ex­pe­ri­enced pad­dler pad­dles through it and then sig­nals to the pad­dlers above if it’s safe to pad­dle. The less ex­pe­ri­enced pad­dlers pad­dle to­wards the back of the group so that they al­ways have a more ex­pe­ri­enced pad­dler ahead of them to res­cue them if they tip out of their boat. On very chal­leng­ing or dan­ger­ous rapids, there will usu­ally be pad­dlers on the river bank with throw ropes to res­cue pad­dlers as they go through as well as mem­bers in boats be­low.

“All these aspects make the sport safer but also al­low the group to con­nect through en­sur­ing each other’s safety,” Allison said.

“I think if you speak to any of the other club mem­bers, they will tell you how strong and im­por­tant the friend­ships they’ve made through the ca­noe club are to them.”

The club also runs sea kayak­ing week­ends in Port Lons­dale and col­lab­o­rates with a sea kayak­ing club there to ex­plore the very dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment of the ocean and bays.

“Sea kayak­ing can be chal­leng­ing in dif­fer­ent ways, re­quir­ing fit­ness for long dis­tances and tenac­ity to pad­dle a long way from land and safely deal with swell, winds and nav­i­ga­tion (not to men­tion sharks),” she said.

“But hav­ing said that, on a clear sunny day the ocean of­fers a truly sub­lime en­vi­ron­ment to ex­plore in a kayak.”

For more in­for­ma­tion the North East Ca­noe Club con­tact Allison on 0409 964 054. >>

AC­TION / Allison Parkinson on the Snowy Creek near Mitta.

AD­VEN­TURE / Dave Burgess and TJ Chang on the King River.

WHITE WATER / John Evertz on the King River.

FUN / Thomas and Linda Lewis on the Ovens River near Myrtle­ford.

CHAL­LENGE / Eric De Carheil in ac­tion.

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