Back in the day when I was young, dinosaurs roamed the planet and Mars was inhabited by Donald Trump, Robert Mugabe, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, Simon Cowell, Elmer Fudd and other strange, vaguely humanoid life forms I used to teach people how to paddle a kayak. My mates Omar and Norman were also instructors.
A couple of evenings each week we would teach people how to do an eskimo roll. This is a technique used to get yourself upright again if you capsize. Very useful. We used a school swimming pool for our classes – a nice, warm, controlled environment.
All of our pupils were proficient kayakers. They could paddle in a straight line, use steering and support strokes and had capsized many, many times. They were of all ages and some were women which was splendid as there is no better sight than a woman in a wet tee-shirt! The terminology was great too although it may have changed since my day.
“Ok Janet. The Screw roll. Lean forward, grip the shaft firmly with both hands. Not too hard, you’re not trying to kill it! Tip over, sweep the shaft around, flick your hips et voila, up you come.”
The Reverse Screw. Lean back, hold the shaft firmly……Carol, your tee-shirt is awfully thin……”
God I loved that job.
For our pupils it was an essential skill to have as most weekends they would load up their cars and go off to tour rivers or paddle along the coast and there is nothing quite so embarrassing as capsizing and watching your dry kit float off into the sunset. I wish everyone was as sensible.
I remember Omar and I were preparing for our Advanced certificate. Mostly this was a practical exam carried out on a river with rapids graded at III or more. However, there was also a Leadership and Organisation element to the test as well. So we planned a trip to the River Wye. We were leading a group of 15 from a touring club and they were a bunch of old fogies. Some of them were in their thirties but worse, most of them were in their forties and fifties. Positively decrepit in our eyes. None of them had seen a rapid let alone paddled down one so we decided to forgo the pleasures of the Upper Wye around Builth where there were some honky-tonk Grade IIIs until the second day. Day one was spent further downstream but it did have a dinky rapid called The Hell Hole. Smashing. It was summer, water levels were not too high so it shouldn’t be a problem.
So we set off. There were a few bumpy bits and some rocks that got them excited. We got them trying out various types of support and steering strokes. We rafted up and got them to take it in turns to get out of their kayaks, run along the front decks, run across the stern decks and get back in without falling in the river. Some did but they all had a hoot. It has also got to be said that the Wye Valley is one of the most beautiful places on Earth and taking a slow paddle down it is far and away the best way to see it.
Eventually we arrived at The Hell Hole. Omar and I got everyone out onto the bank for a look-see and to explain what to do.
Once all the
“It looks jolly rough.”
“I say Dorothy, you DID pack toilet tissue didn’t you?”
had died down we explained what they had to do:
“Right. Dicks going down first ok? Watch what he does. Then I will send you all down one at a time and I’ll come down last.” said Omar
“Yeah guys, you see that ‘V’ shaped tongue of smooth water leading into the rapid? Yes Tarquin?… Your bag’s full?… What again?… Ok mate but be quick please. Just paddle down that ‘V’ into the rapid and keep paddling hard, especially when you get to the little waves at the bottom.”
“Did he say ‘little’? They look awfully big to me.”
“I think he’s on drugs. I’m sure I could smell margarinewana earlier!”
“Oh! Now you mention it, I’m sure I saw them sharing a reefer before we set orf.”
“Yes. I thought I saw them rolling some hay or straw or whatever it is these beatniks do.”
“You know, I DID say they looked a bit rough but I must say I’ve had a jolly marvellous time.”
“Yes but those waves are NOT little I tell you!”
I will say now that Omar and I NEVER smoked grass when we were instructing or leading expeditions. We smoked hashish as it’s much easier to light if it gets wet.
“Pay attention please people. Once you have paddled through those little standing waves….
“He said ‘LITTLE’ again!’
“Giles! Hush please. Once you get to the end , raft up over there on the right hand bank. Clear?”
“Yes” they all said.
“I’m just saying they are NOT little waves.” muttered Giles.
They were probably 2-3 feet high which, thinking about it, made them about head high when you’re sitting in a kayak, Little then!
“Just remember, keep paddling and don’t lift your paddles up into the air. That raises your centre of gravity and you may capsize.”
With that, we set off. I shot the rapid, burst through the LITTLE waves at the bottom and broke out to watch the next one down.
“That’s it Tarquin! Keep paddling, well don….NO, don’t lift your…Aw Shit.”
A swimmer! I went over, emptied his kayak and was putting him back in when the next one came down.
“Brilliant Giles. Keep going. Paddle hard. NO! Don’t…..Aw Shit.” Another swimmer. Same procedure.
“Well done Dorothy. Power in your strokes girl. NO. Don’t raise….Aw Shit.”
There were 15 “Aw Shits” as everyone one of them raised their paddles above their heads and capsized. Not one knew how to do an eskimo roll. So we made them do it all over again and again and again and soon they all were managing to say upright. Once they realised they were unlikely to die, they had a bloody good time.
I’ve wandered slightly off topic again.
Meanwhile back at the swimming pool. Once they had become proficient at the eskimo roll some left the class although we would often bump into them at various rivers around the country. For some however, it was also a social thing and they attended week after week, developing their skills so that eventually they could do a roll using one hand and no paddle (it’s all in the hips) followed by a trip to the pub. One of these regulars was a guy called Ralph. Ralph was very well off, (In fact he was disgustingly rich) and lived in a huge house in a very expensive, leafy suburb in London.
Now Omar, Norm and I were only part-time instructors. We had day jobs. I worked in the print industry, Norm had just finished the second year of his plumbing apprenticeship and Omar was a gigolo I think.
Knowing this, Ralph asked Norman to install a brand new central heating system in his house. He would pay for the equipment and give Norm a great many tax-free pounds. Norm readily agreed. Omar and I looked at each other then shrugged. Norm knew what he was doing didn’t he? He knew his onions (or olives) from his elbow. What could possibly go wrong?
Find out soon.
Have a lovely day.