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.
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. >>
ADVENTURE / Dave Burgess and TJ Chang on the King River.
WHITE WATER / John Evertz on the King River.
ACTION / Allison Parkinson on the Snowy Creek near Mitta.
FUN / Thomas and Linda Lewis on the Ovens River near Myrtleford.
CHALLENGE / Eric De Carheil in action.