Then a few years ago, my father passed away, leaving me and my brother a small sum of money. We decided that kayaking might be a good way for us to stay in touch and keep fit.
I joined Chichester Canoe Club in West Sussex, near where I live, and it was a great place for me to get back into the sport.
In the winter I go out weekly with the club, heading to the canal in Chichester. We use the canal basin for fitness training and then perhaps go for a long paddle. There’s nothing more beautiful than travelling back up the canal towards the city, with the cathedral lit up and the snow falling.
I’ve participated in several disciplines of kayaking and canoeing. I mainly do whitewater kayaking on Dartmoor or in Scotland – and I really enjoyed a trip to the Jurassic Coast in Devon and Dorset – getting to see fossils close-up from a kayak is quite something. But my favourite place is South Wales, particularly the Brecon Beacons. Being on a river in a kayak or a canoe, you get to see so much more than walking.
Sea kayaking is also good fun. I occasionally go across to the Isle of Wight from the Portsmouth peninsular with other members of the club. It usually takes two-and-a-half hours depending on the route and the tides.
I’ve just purchased a surf kayak. It’s a bit like a surfboard that you sit in, but you still use the paddle and it allows you to surf on only two or three inches of a wave. I’m perhaps not doing it justice, but I’d suggest googling some images, and you’ll see how full-on it can be.
Rapids are hard enough, fast enough and furious enough to trap both the boat and the individual
The first thing on the mind of our coaches is safety – of the individual and the group. No one is pushed from their comfort zones, though that doesn’t impinge on the enjoyment. When you’re in a canoe or kayak, you have to understand and respect the tide and the weather. Before we head on to the water we carry out a standing risk assessment taking into account both of those factors; you have to appreciate how they can change.
On the water the conditions can change quickly. If there’s too much rain, things can get dangerous, people’s competency level can quickly become exceeded, and this is when your risk assessment becomes a dynamic one.
When we approach a challenging or new stretch of water, we will climb out on to dry land, visually assess the water and, if necessary, keep some of the team on the bank with throw and recovery lines. If anyone does get into trouble as we go through the stretch of water they can be reached.
We have had some close calls in the past. Rapids are hard enough, fast enough and furious enough to trap both the boat and the individual.
We always wear helmets when we’re alongside the riverbank, not just for protection on the water. Falls and trips are common on a slippery bank and you’re far more likely to crack your head there than you are while you are in the boat.
Clothing has to be suitable for the environment. If you’re in the middle of the sea in the middle of summer, where there’s no shade and the sun reflects off the water you have to think about UV protection. Sunglasses are important too – I’ve burnt my eyelids before and it’s not much fun.
I would definitely recommend kayaking or canoeing to my fellow professionals. It’s incredibly relaxing, a good way of unwinding and staying fit. It also allows you to reflect on your own work and how sensible health and safety in outward-bound activities can enable people’s enjoyment.