Spogo White Water Rafting / Kayaking Bloggers Day Out at Lee Valley
I don’t really know what I was thinking when I replied to an email asking me, ‘Would you like to join some other bloggers white water rafting and kayaking?’, with ‘Yes, I’d love to’, given my fear of getting wet. Well, it’s not exactly a fear; I just find getting wet a bit of an inconvenience what with the whole faffing-around-with-towels-to-get-dry-again-after bit.
Still, I’d never been white water rafting or kayaking and it sounded fun and who dares, wins, right? Not that there were any prizes on offer but there was mention of lunch and I’m not one to look a gift sandwich and the possibility of free crisps in the mouth.
After a splendidly seamless journey from Ashford to somewhere in Hertfordshire, taking in the delights of St Pancras and Tottenham Hale stations on the way, I arrived at the Lee Valley White Water Centre (I’m quite tempted to add ‘For The Terminally Insane’ to the end of that) and met up with the other bloggers who were standing around with expressions ranging from excitement to nervousness. I undoubtedly had my default ‘what the fuck am I doing here?’ face on.
We were pointed in the direction of the men giving out wetsuits (sexy) and boots (even sexier) and the changing rooms. Getting on the wetsuit wasn’t as bad as I’d expected but, I’ve got to admit, it’s not the most flattering outfit I’d ever worn. But, obviously, when wearing a wetsuit that’s not your own, you spend more time not trying not to think about what you look like in one, but trying not to think about how many people have peed in it before you put it on.
Next we were given our lifejackets and helmets – blue helmets for strong, confident swimmers and cowardly-custard-you’re-a-chicken-yellow ones for non-swimmers or those, like me, who aren’t confident in the water.
Here we are, having our post-kitted-up briefing about, um, stuff. Hope it wasn’t important, I wasn’t really listening, concentration isn’t my strongest point. I’m second on the left, with the yellow sleeves.
First we went kayaking. This was fun and, despite my nervousness that I’d capsize and get wet, I managed to stay upright and even sometimes managed to go forward, not just round in circles. Here we are, all happy in the water.
And here I am, upright and not in the water. I’ve even got the paddle in the water and not just looking at it thinking ‘what do I do with this then?’
After all the fun and folics on the water, paddling around and playing ‘it’ (a great confidence-building exercise), the instructor turned evil. He made us line up and stand up in our kayaks. I say ‘our’, I mean ‘every one except me’ as I was far too much of a weed to stand up in it; I have trouble keeping my balance on a non-moving surface, let alone a titchy little plastic boat on water. No siree, I was staying sitting down. Fair play to the others though, who stood up and gave a rendition of ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, the instructor then asked for a volunteer to clamber over the front of the kayaks. I, of course, stuck my hand up and said ME ME ME ME! PICK ME! Did I bollocks – I stayed firmly in my kayak hoping no one would volunteer which would mean no one would clamber over all the kayaks as I didn’t want anyone clambering onto the front of mine for fear of it making me capsize into the water.
But, of course there were volunteers, dammit. Where do these people get their lack of fear from? Hardcore.
We all made it safely back to shore, put our kayaks back and went to meet our white water rafting instructor. The instructor, noticing my ear and nose piercings, asked me to take them out. As my earrings have been in my ears so long I think my earlobes have probably grown around them, like that photo of a bicycle in a tree, I couldn’t take them out. So, just in case I wasn’t looking sexy enough in my wetsuit, lifejacket and yellow hat, I was given some grey plastic tape to put over my ears and nose.
After the previous instructor’s ‘this is all great fun, no one’s going to get hurt’ demeanour, the next instructor put the fear into us by telling us every worst case scenario, e.g. ‘You might end up under the boat but you won’t be there for long’, ‘Keep your legs up or they’ll get bashed on the rocks’, ‘If you don’t make eye contact with the lifeguards on the bank, they won’t throw a rope in to save you’. Gulp.
Part of the safety briefing showed us how to pull in anyone who had fallen overboard. This consisted of bobbing them down back into the water, then pulling them up by their lifejacket. We had a dry run, then we had to do it for real in the water. Yep, this meant getting into the water. Because we were an odd number and I was at the end, this meant I was last to get pulled out of the water and had to stay in for longer. It also meant I didn’t get the chance to practise my pulling-people-out-of-the-water skills and just sat there watching, as you can see below. So, just as a warning; if you’re ever in a boat with me and you fall out and look to me to save you, you’re probably out of luck. Soz.
When I was in the water, I had a fail of confidence. The cold of the water was a shock to the system and I couldn’t breathe. I also couldn’t keep my legs up and behind me like the instructor had told us to do as the wetsuit made me buyoant and my legs would only go under the boat. I was holding onto the side willing the others to hurry up and save everyone so it would be my turn to get hauled up back on board.
Still, I didn’t die in the water. Bonus.
Then we had to do a swimming test. A what? A swimming test? Oh, blimey, I was sure to fail. My swimming consists of simply trying to get to the other side without drowning. You can read my blog post of what happened last time I went swimming, which was the first time in about 25 years and I haven’t been back since, so I didn’t think I’d got better in the intervening three years.
We had to jump in the churning water. I managed that bit.
Then we had to float downstream on our backs, then when instructed, turn onto our fronts and swim to the edge. That’s not me in the water below, that’s Sonia, who somehow managed to stay looking immaculate during the whole day.
I managed the float downstream on my back bit; I managed the turn over onto my front bit, but I didn’t manage the swim to the side bit and had to be hauled back on a rope and, again, I couldn’t breathe in the water and it took an age for me to get my breath back. Apparently this didn’t mean I’d failed the swimming test and we were led over to our raft to begin the white water experience. Unfortunately, any shred of confidence I might have had left disappeared and as I fought back tears of frustration of being too much of a weed to go through with it, said I couldn’t get in the raft. The instructor asked me if I was sure. I said I didn’t want to fall in the water as I couldn’t breathe and he said although he couldn’t guarantee I wouldn’t fall in, there were five laps which got progressively rougher and I should be okay for the first one. Knowing I could drop out after any of the laps made me feel HEAPS better and I clambered into the raft and joined the others for our adventure on the waves. Here we are, all dry and happy.
It all started off gently, we even look like we know what we’re doing.
We didn’t stay dry for long though, up and down the slopey bits we went, getting soaked. I’m in there somewhere through all that water. For some reason, I kept putting my arm up – yeah, like that was going to stop me getting wet.
It was great fun but after two laps, I’d had enough and the fear of thinking I might fall in meant I got out and watched the others from the safety of the bank.
After the others had finished their laps (they didn’t capsize, unlike ALL the other rafts on the water – well done, girls and guy), we got dried and changed and caught up with the guys from Spogo (who had arranged the day for us) to find out what they were about.
Ollie from Spogo told us all about them. Spogo is a not-for-profit Lottery funded digital service bringing together over 121,000 sports venues, facilities and clubs, leisure centres, personal trainers and events. All you have to do is visit the website, tell it either what sport/activity you’d like to do, or where you live and it’ll match you up.
Thanks to the guys from Spogo and Digital Radish for a fantastic day. If you’d like to go white water rafting and/or kayaking, I’d definitely recommend giving the Lee Valley White Water Centre a go.