Rob Hill the CSA Safety Officer has been casting his eye over the upcoming race and has some wise words of advice:

Paddlers, we’re a few weeks away from the first big river event of the 2016/2017 river paddling season… the 2016 Hansa Fish Canoe Marathon. Sadly the lack of suitable river levels have affected a lot of the pre Fish qualifying events being hosted and in line with this, trips have been encouraged on certain river sections to try and secure those much needed points; not ideal, but doable. Plus, CSA have also made provision with a review on one of the old, long standing bylaws, and this is the 10X rule, which, in summary allowed for a novice, (flat water & river proficient, with not all the qualifying points secured in time for the event) to be back seat passenger with a partner who has done 10 of those events… this is now in effect the 5X rule allowing for more flexibility and opportunity for novices to be entered. Please be assured that this in no way deviates from the current, and ongoing safety protocols.

On this issue, please let me note down a few points in preparation for the upcoming epic:
• The river will be flowing, fast and the water temp will be chilly…. so be prepared; take appropriate apparel
• Ensure your respective craft/equip preparation, be it for a K1, K2 or K3 is as best as you could effect… i.e. when in doubt, check again…
• Pack as mcu buoyancy in your craft to reduce water intake in the case of a capsize..i.e. less water, the high the craft sits out the water and easier to control.
• I would strongly suggest for all to wear helmets 1st day, especially from the start to below Soutpans…. not just for the low level bridges, willows, but other paddlers, craft.
• Ensure your kayaking jacket is in good working order, e.g. fits snugly & can be fastened correctly… i.e. doesn’t pull up over your head when you are swimming..
• Bear in mind that paddlers ultimately assist other paddlers… rescue others. Supports the self, group, victim and equipment policy….. swift water course teaching
• Adopt the safety first, safety always and NO compromise mindset; know your challenge level/limits… when in doubt…. get out… swift water course teaching

Where things can go very wrong for a lot of the paddlers (irrespective of level, from top, to intermediate, to social to novice, be it a K1, K2 & K3 alike) is the approx 11kms of Willows on the first day; where your craft and river reading skills will be called to attention…regularly! Combine the tight, narrow, technical, tree laden, at times unseen view ahead with the on-river traffic/pressure from other craft and you’ve got a serious hazard.

If you make a mistake, you WILL swim and you will swim a long way. Hint, if you have made the mistake of getting on the outside line, remember to lean into the obstacle and in this 11kms of willows, the obstacle will come in the form of a branch &/or thorn bushes… you get my point.. pardon the pun; rather take the pricks than swim!

Another feature on both days of this 2 day event is the amount of weirs you will be offered to run… all can be portaged with options/routes indicated, unlike the willows section as noted above. Rule of thumb for successful running of the weir, is simply, come in straight, on your chosen line, relax, lean forward and lift your paddle above the initial crash through the stopper wave but having maintained good craft speed, then start controlled paddle strokes… For those paddlers that lean back and get their paddles caught behind them resulting in capsize at hazards, try and remember the “foot to knee exercise…” i.e. paddle in at the foot (which forces you to lean forward) and paddle exit at the knee, with a low swing height to improve the stability issue. Once out of the troubled area, i.e. wave trains, eddy’s, then you can concentrate on looking like the ultimate sprinter..! Remember, it’s NOT how you look, but rather how you perform..!

In summary, the biggest and most consistent risk/threat on the river, is YOU, the paddler… so have you done enough, are you ready, are you prepared.!? Ideally, for all, be it the paddler/s, race hosts, organisers, sponsors, seconds and the local community, the boxes that need ticked are, safety, success & enjoyment. On that note, I will be hosting swift water courses soon, hopefully with the arrival of the spring rains, I can host one before the Fish. For those keen, please contact me directly for dates/details. In closing, here’s wishing you all a safe, successful and enjoyable Fish, both on & off the river.

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