‘Shall we try something else?’ Brian said as I shuffled inelegantly out of the sprint kayak and onto the dock, and thanked my genetic makeup for gifting me with a low centre of gravity.
Kayak slalom boats are smaller, lighter and more agile – giving more manoeuvrability through the gates and rapids of a white water course. Slalom was first included in the Olympics programme at the 1972 Munich Games but didn’t become a regular feature until 1992 at the Barcelona Games.
Under Brian’s expert coaching I’d managed a couple of trips round the lake in a K1 (a single-seater kayak) and a few paddles in a sprint kayak. But Brian had plans.
We carried the two kayaks back up to the Meridian Canoe Club boathouse and Brian started looking for a K2 (a two-seater kayak).
The boating lake at Danson Park doesn’t offer a white water kayak course but the prospect of getting into a K2 for the first time held enough risk for the two of us.
After a couple of false starts, Brian found a K2 I could get into. He removed the seat: ‘so you’ll be lower and more stable in the boat’.
Brian held the boat steady as I manoeuvred my low centre of gravity from the dock and wedged it firmly in the kayak.
In the driving seat
‘What could possibly go wrong?’ Brian said as he slid into the ‘driving’ seat.
We paddled our way deliberately past the rowing boats and came to a halt alongside the pontoon. I looked at the swan and duck shit on the pontoon and made a note to avoid swallowing any water if we capsized. I’d managed not to swallow any water during a capsize drill with my dragon boat team so was hopeful I’d not lost the skill.
‘Shall we try for a trip around the island?’ Brian said. I’d already paddled a few times around the island but it now seemed a very different prospect – less Swallows and Amazons and more The Perfect Storm.
We set off and I tried to copy everything Brian did, matching his stroke and swapping sides to paddle. I started to relax and enjoy it. I’d no idea how relaxed Brian felt and I wasn’t about to ask. During our earlier jaunts around the island, we chatted about everything, while Brian had given me coaching tips and advice. This trip was noticeable for its silence.
The boat wobbled. And Brian made a nifty move with his paddle to bring us back on an even keel, while I held my paddle horizontal across the boat in the hope it might help.
We circled the island and started heading back. The wind caught us, and Brian repeated his paddle move while I took a deep breath and clamped my mouth shut. Just in case.
With the dock in our sights we settled into a rhythm and reached the pontoon without any more mishaps.
Brian’s relief and surprise was loud: ‘That went better than I expected.’
It went better than both of us had expected. Thanks to Brian’s expert coaching and encouragement, I’ll be back for another trip around the boating lake and I may even get to try a kayak slalom proper.
Kayak slalom. 9 July 2016. 0.70km in 6:21mins