After quite a few years on the river I have realised that people make all the difference. It doesn’t matter whether you have paddled the hardest rapid, or dropped the biggest waterfall. The best days on the water are those with the best people. You need to have a solid crew around you whom you trust and who inspire confidence in you to be the best you can be. It means finding those people you ‘click’ with on the river. I’m all about finding the best eddies, S-turns and spots to attain, so I’m not going to click with someone who just wants to get down the river as fast as possible!

Photo – David Ernst

Don’t commit too quickly

Try lots of things out before you put all your time and cash into something! In the beginning, lots of people want to know what the best type of boat is for them as a beginner. My response is ‘none’ – it is better to join a club and try lots of boats out. Spend some time to work out whether this is the sport for you – river running, canoe polo, marathon kayaking or freestyle.
The exception to this ‘try before you buy’ rule would be that if you have the means, get yourself some good kit to keep yourself warm, dry and afloat. You’ll enjoy trying all that stuff out. Otherwise, you end up hating the sport simply because you’re cold and uncomfortable. A good dry top and buoyancy aid are key.

You get out what you put in

If you go kayaking four days a year, you’re not going to improve at the rate of your friend who gets on the water two hundred days a year. We all make our choices, and I’m not saying either is better, but it will make you happier if you can give yourself some slack about not being as good as your mate who has also only been paddling for a year (nominally).

Style is the most important thing

It is all about doing things with STYLE! There will always be a paddler you know who will volunteer for the biggest, hardest rapid and bounce down, completely offline, on their head, but survive – then think that they are the better paddler! Focussing instead on being stylish will for sure make you a better and safer paddler, although does not guarantee you will not run the occasional rapid in the way I have described (and I have done so many times) – key here is aiming for style will eventually get you down that hard rapid and you will be the better paddler for it!

Make it happen

Do you want to go on a trip or achieve something (like a paddling qualification or hard river)? You can do it, you just need to work hard. Don’t wait for your friends to join you – get yourself out to that exotic paddling location, talk to people and make some new (international) paddling friends. The world is your oyster!

Strive for progress not perfection

If you start off as a beginner aiming to be as good as Bren Orton, then you’re probably going to see only a massive, unachievable stretch ahead of you. If you beat yourself up because you’re not perfect, that negativity can get in the way of actually achieving something. Set yourself small, realistic goals – and keep doing that – focus on the little steps and the huge leap will take care of itself. Before you know it, you’ll be up there on the SEND video.

Do what makes you happy

Do your mates tell you it is all about paddling class 4 but you feel happier on class 3? Do the cool people say polo is no fun? Does it matter? You have one life – just do what makes you happy. Don’t worry about what people think, just do what you think is fun – that’s my key to real enjoyment of the sport.