Today I had a great time on the river with a group of all female paddlers.
I consider myself very fortunate that I have plenty of paddling friends both male and female. Although I never really think much of it, I would say I spend most of the time paddling in groups with higher male to female ratios, especially on the rivers. So it is nice every now and then, when the stars align to blast down some rapids with an all female cohort.
We paddled a local river to us called the Dulas, in Mid-West Wales. It's a great river that provides different challenges depending on the water level you run it at. Today the river was on medium, perfect for fun and brushing up on skills.
We had a clear bank brief on signals, group organisation and what to do if you swim. Helen and I would rotate leadership, Steph wanted to blow some cobwebs away and this was Heathers second ever river so she was just super excited!
Once on the water Heather launched herself into practicing ferry gliding and breaking in and out of eddies. The rest of us warmed up by doing exactly the same.
After 10 minutes we were off and into the first set of rapids that take you through a small section of an escapable gorge. The rapids were good and provided enough interest as we went down. Helen and I leap frogged each other and broke the group up when necessary. Heather had a couple of wobbles on the way down but a cheer came from everyone in the team every time we successfully made it down each section. The flow of support was high!
After that section we portaged a weir and found ourselves at the top of the biggest rapid on the river. We had a scout, sorted out the line and came up with a decent strategy. When we first got on the river I had assumed Heather would portage this rapid but as she was doing so well and the bottom of the rapid was friendly we gave her the choice. Of course she went for it.
So I would run it first and then provide bank support and signals. Helen would lead Heather down and then Steph would come down on my second signal.
Helen did a great job leading Heather, taking exactly the right line and styling it all the way. I have to admit this is where I thought Heather would take her first swim however she proved me wrong and made it through. There was more cheering ringing around the river.
Steph nailed the line at the top of the rapid but then on the last bit clipped a rock which flipped her. She stayed cool and collected while swimming, managing to keep hold of her kit and grabbed the line I threw to her. Rather than seeing it as negative experience, Steph was happy and feeling more confident. If you're not getting wetter, you're not getting better!
I then proceeded to hinder getting Steph back into her boat by losing the unattached bung while draining it. Our solution was to stuff the hole full of moss and mud. Oh yes, it worked and lasted the rest of the river!
Further down stream we found an excellent play spot. We all spent 20/30 mins practicing different skills. Being just the four of us meant that it was easy to create a supportive environment. There was no hierachy amoung us despite the varying skill levels, there was no pressure to push harder just tips on how to improve which lead to a desire to try harder. Everyone was buzzing by the time we moved on.
So as we continued on down further rapids with our sharpened skills, Heather finally took a swim. It was on the simplest rapid, she was chatting away to me and then went sideways over a rock and plop! In she went. We had her back and into her boat in no time, with a few laughs all round.
As the river came to an end it was clear to me how much we had all gained. Heather was grinning ear to ear from the completion of her second river. Steph became smoother and more confident with each rapid we tackled. Helen made good leadership calls all the way down and I really enjoyed the discussions we had.
Right at the end we found one last place to play! A rope swing had been set up. We wasted no time in trying it out.
It was such a great day, a great river and an amazing laugh. I don't attribute that all to it being an all ladies team, however sometimes it's great to have girl time and for some members they felt more comfortable pushing themselves within the obviously positive and supportive environment we created.