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Articles - A Guide for the Older Kayaker

Whitewater Kayaking Veteran Nic Burne
Whitewater Kayaking Veteran Nic Burne

Nic Burne - Posted on 07 Jul 2011

I have lost count of the times that I have thought of hanging up my paddles for good or, at least, restricting myself to the more leisurely aspects of our sport. Having had my free bus pass for over a year now I look back and reflect on how I am lucky to have had many years of fun on rivers, sea and lakes, both at home and abroad and in all sorts of boats. I have made many good friends and enjoyed the company of people of all ages who share the same enthusiasm for getting wet, or trying not to get wet as the case may be. However all good things must come to an end - it is just difficult to know when.

As the years pass one takes longer to heal from the cuts and bruises of an out of boat experience and I often wonder if the pain and discomfort is worth it but then the phone goes – “Dad, are you coming to the Wet West Paddle Fest?” How can I resist? Apart from the paddling it is such fun being with the younger generation enjoying their banter, stirring up memories of my younger days, sharing their concerns and, in a surprising way, learning so much from them. I do not feel I add much to the party so wonder why I am asked along. Is it that I take my credit card to the pub? Are my kids trying to get at their inheritance before I have a chance to spend it all? Whitewater kayaks on the River Nevis, Scotland

The WWPF 2008 found me in the Nevis, swimming in Dave’s Hole with a broken paddle. I survived that and the rest of the river, even paddled Scimitar Gorge, a much more committing run than anything I had done before. The next day found me in the Moriston River several times including an inverted descent of the gun barrel with another broken paddle. Perhaps I should have got the message – time to take things easy. But why? I was learning new techniques and my river reading skills were improving. I was having fun.

I am blessed with sons who, apart from being very accomplished paddlers in their own right, engender in me a great deal of confidence. They trust me to follow where they lead and I trust them to stop me if it is beyond my abilities. Also they are very good at rescues!

2009. Ring. Ring. “Dad, are you coming to the Wet West Paddle Fest again?” Of course! I did not want to be beaten by the Moriston. I did the top drop once only and was badly chewed. I swam at the bottom of the top section as well. Not a successful day but great fun. The Etive River Race the next weekend did not go well either. I got pinned across the right angle of Right Angle Falls and swam. Having raced that far I was drained. I did not have the strength left to get myself out of the pool, let alone the boat and had to be helped. This was a salutary lesson. Time to review my paddling.

When the phone rang last year I already knew my answer, but had my strategy prepared to survive both events. I know that my endurance is wilting. I know that I do not have the explosive power to do a stylish boof. I know that my recovery time is getting longer. I know my reaction times are slower. Hence I know that I must pace myself, resist the temptation to play in the holes, rein back my competitive instincts, plan carefully the harder moves, be prepared to take the easy route or portage and accept with grace the indignity of yet another rescue. I must learn to get more vicarious enjoyment from watching others and to be grateful for the privilege of being part of such a fun filled community in such splendid locations. Whitewater kayaker Nic Burne on the River Morrston, Scotland

To those who have practised their rescue skills on me, many thanks. To my boys and their regular paddling buddies, again, many thanks. I appreciate the inclusive way you accept me. To all those older paddlers, come and join the fun! Enjoy the challenge of surviving with dignity rather than starring in style. It would be great to have a veteran’s class in the Etive River Race and some competition for last place! It would be great to see some of the splendid prizes going, not to impecunious students, but to impecunious pensioners!

See you there this year!

For more info on this year's Wet Wet Paddlefest go Here

Are you an older paddler? Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? Want to share your experience with your fellow paddlers? Then why not drop in and join the community at the CK forum

Check out some of the action from the Wet Wet Paddlefest

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