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Readers of this blog know that I am not regular writer of “I went paddling at XYZ” type entries. Instead I prefer to focus on what I hope to be more interesting topics and musings from the world of paddling. However I feel that I should give some props to the Cardiff International White Water Paddle Fest.

The Cardiff Paddle Festival has been running pretty much since the centre opened in 2010. It is a wonderful venue for such an event, with manufacturers able to turn up and potential customers having the change to try out the latest boats on actual white water. While the store that is based on site has a good selection of boats, it is only when the manufacturers turn up that you get to try more eclectic choices such as the new Lettman Plan B, which seemed to be getting rave reviews from all who tried it.

Extremely wet weather didn’t dampen anyones spirits. Probably the first time I have known it to rain continuously at the event. Great food was laid on, and live bands played. It always has a fantastic atmosphere.

It isn’t an easy event to put on. White water kayaking is a niche sport with an image problem. Too much gnar in the publicity puts people off having a go when compared to the open and welcoming image of activities such as Stand Up Paddle Boarding, which I might add is growing exponentially. Proof if ever there was any, that the so-called aspirational imagery that companies insist on putting out of huge waterfalls and Class 5 rapids, is more off putting than they are attractive to newcomers.

The question does need to be asked whether SUP would have taken off so quickly if it’s public image was of nutters doing class 5 rivers? The answer I suspect, is no. This is something that white water manufacturers need to sit up, take note, and learn from.

But that’s another discussion. The fact that white water kayaking is currently so niche, means that the centre can make a huge loss running such events. So this year, unlike events in years past, rafts were on the course. If it keeps the centre in the black then that is fine by me!

A great time was had by all, and it is clear that Old School is the new New School, with boats like the RPM as well as new boats with a similar design ethic to older ones, coming out in force. Watching people on the course, rock spins, splat wheels, and tail squirts are all back with a vengeance, as the idea of playing the river in boats that still have some speed comes back into vogue.

On a personal level, both myself and Emily made some more progress with our flat water playboating, as well as wave skills. We’ve been spending some time in the surf recently, which is really helping with our general boating. While the flat water freestyle practice is helping our dynamic balance substantially. I’m a hairs breadth away from a third end in a cartwheel. My second end isn’t consistent, but it is slowly, but surely, getting there.

The more I mess around in a playboat, the more I realise that I don’t have to risk cracking my skull on a high grade river. While I love a natural river as much as the next person, I am loving the unpressured freedom of freestyle practice and going out in the surf. You can really challenge yourself, and get used to going over in all sorts of funny positions without the worry of a long swim. It shows that there is a reason why good playboaters make the transition more easily to river running and creek boating than a creek boater or river runner does to freestyle. In an activity that works best with great dynamic, balance, the ability to relax under pressure, even when the boat is at all sorts of crazy angles or reacting to forces, playboating prepares the paddler very well for this.

Venues such as CIWW allow people of all abilities to come together on one section of water. Where else can you chat and get hints and tips off some really top boaters on the same water as yourself? It may be concrete, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to practice and have fun in a really relaxed social environment.

I hope to see the centre, and the Paddle Fest go from strength to strength in the future. Pictures below courtesy of Paddle Sport Photography.


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