Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Slovenian adventure boosts learning experience

UCLan Outdoors student Jonathan Bradley spent two weeks whitewater kayaking on the River Soca, Slovenia, earlier this year.

He was joined by around 20 first and second year Outdoor Leadership and Adventure Sports Coaching undergraduates, who travelled across Europe for a course designed to enhance their learning experience.

Jonathan has kindly provided us with a blog about the trip:

The Soca Valley offers stunning scenery: 2000m peaks covered in pine forests and capped with snow rise above the valley floor, whilst the River Soca winds its way through the valley like a turquoise ribbon, crystal clear and sparkling under the sun.

We set up camp right next to the river in a small town south of Bovec, which would serve as our base camp for the trip. The plan for the duration of our stay was to paddle different sections of the Soca, starting with easy Grade 1/2 sections before progressing onto harder 2/3 and 3/4 sections of the river.

The coaches that joined and guided us on the trip were of the highest level and provided us with valuable knowledge of the river and assisted myself and the group in acquiring the necessary skills to run harder and harder sections of the river. Kayaks North West were also extremely helpful in lending us some boats to use for the trip.

The first two days were spent on Grade 1/2 sections of the river, not particularly challenging, but hard enough for someone like myself with little kayaking experience, to offer me something to think about whilst allowing me to get used to the river. We practised the basic skills necessary for paddling harder river sections, such as ferry gliding across the flow from eddy to eddy and breaking in and out of eddies.

The third and fourth days we progressed to paddling some Grade 2/3 rapids. Whilst originally challenging, it was on this level of whitewater that I really began to crack the basic skills we’d been practising on the easier rapids.

On the fifth day the group was given the opportunity to test themselves on a Grade 3/4 section of the Soca. This was well managed by the coaching staff and allowed us to get an idea of the level of attention and commitment to a line that you need to be able to run this grade of rapid.

The final two days in Slovenia were spent on Grade 2/3 sectors of the river, however the sections were a lot more technical than those we’d previously run. This required us to use all the skills we'd acquired over the week and it really showed how far we had come in such a short space of time. These last two days were also by far the most enjoyable for me, as the river section was extremely fun and challenging.

As well as running these river sections throughout the week, we also got the chance to do a lot of rolling practice and were given the opportunity to practice our play moves, such as surfing and playing in stoppers, which are both great fun.

Personally, I managed to successfully complete my first two rolls on the trip which was a huge achievement for me. These disciplines also had a practical application as if we were able to perform them at a consistent and good standard, we were allowed to pass and obtain our 3 Star and 4 Star kayaking white water awards.

Lastly, we also took our whitewater safety and rescue course, in which we practised recovering boats and people from whitewater in different scenarios, which could prove to be extremely helpful in future situations when we are out kayaking on our own without instructor aid.

Our final day was spent paddling on the River Ammer in Germany, where we tackled a 12km stretch of Grade 2 whitewater, which includes an awesome weir slide and was a great way to round off the trip.

I would recommend this trip to any future undergraduates taking up Outdoor Leadership or Adventure Sports Coaching at UCLan. It is a great way to round off the year and can be beneficial to both experienced and novice paddlers.

I used the trip as a means of discovering whether kayaking was an activity I might want to continue to pursue in the future, as up until this trip I'd dismissed it as something I wasn't particularly good at and therefore something I didn't want to do long term. Slovenia changed my perceptions completely!

After paddling the Soca and the Ammer I discovered how enjoyable kayaking can be, especially when your skill level allows you to paddle harder and faster sections of river.

I'd encourage anybody holding any doubts about whether kayaking is for them, to not make any assumptions until they've been on this trip or at least paddled a whitewater river in Europe. As well as having an amazing time, you'll also receive instruction from some of the best coaches in the business, who will always push you to reach your full potential.

I know my paddling improved tenfold just in those two weeks thanks both to the standard of coaching and the testing nature of the whitewater. This trip has given me the confidence and the desire to go and paddle Grade 2/3 sections in my own time, something I wouldn't have even considered beforehand.

All-in-all this trip is a fantastic way to end the year doing something awesome in a beautiful setting and improving your skills whilst working towards your qualifications. Just do it!

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