Spring is in the air, and the change in the season brings the opportunity for adventures and an uncertainty as to whether our paddling is as it was before. This article is the first in a series to guide us all through waking up from the winter.

With snow on the banks of the Soča River, Slovenia, during Gene17Kayaking‘s Next Generation Training Course, Liam from AS Watersports in Exeter, considers his first whitewater of the season.

Excitement and trepidation

In the autumn I put my dried paddling gear away and looked for the wax for my skis. Come spring, longer and warmer days make spring paddling a treat, and new challenges. There is little doubt being thrilled to be back in your boat is totally normal. But there is uncertainty; does being in my boat feel the same? Will this season be as good as the last? After a pause, these feelings are normal, and afford us an opportunity to revisit our own learning, it is this moment in spring I personally savour.

Such joy awaits

Rather than fear the loss of the paddling feeling or even an erosion of core abilities, I use the first paddle to search out those feelings of paddling. To move my body again in a different way, after winter has bound my movement to another type of performance on the snow. To open my chest up wide to simply hold the paddle and place a paddle stroke. To feel the pressure of water resisting against the blade. To turn my whole upper body and present to the coming change in the boat’s movement. The gliding of the boat over the water’s surface. All such simple pleasures, all so personal and of the moment to enjoy. Like rediscovering an old stomping ground from your youth, you know it all from before and yet you see the whole scene with new eyes. Such joy awaits us all in spring.

Stretching the torso with rotation exercises, helps us recall the natural feeling of paddling.

Mental checklist

Now not to get too far ahead of myself, there are tasks to complete before I paddle. Remembering where all the gear was stored, getting the ski box off the roof, pulling the autumn leaves from my boat, digging out the straps from the corner of the garage amongst the cobwebs. Making my way to the water, there is getting changed into stiff dried-out gear, stretching the latex seals after months of cold storage and re-running the mental check list for all the gear needed. Where to go for the first paddle of the season is an important choice, nothing too taxing, certainly not too exposing, somewhere to enjoy without any doubts or fears to accompany the ride. Once at the shore, all changed and ready to go, some gentle stretching, especially the torso and the hamstrings, as neither of these has seen much paddling type movement over the winter.

Getting back on the water with friends again is an important part of the new season, building and refreshing the fundamentals of our own group and its group dynamics.

Sharing with friends

Lastly, who to go with? Who would you love to savour the first outing with? Is fun in your boat always best shared? Or is the start the season on your own the best way to savour this point in time? In a group there is always lots to catch up with, tall tales to recall, perhaps some new gear to paw over, maybe a boat or two and of course the fun of paddling to share. Sharing these times brings us together, refreshes friendships, re-enforces group dynamics and helps us find the fun in what we do.

Next time, I’ll get into the what with your first strokes on the water, talk a lot more about seasonal opportunity and how we can overwrite old undesirable habits and start to build for the season ahead. For many paddlers the pandemic has proved to be an enforced pause in their paddling, whilst others have found other pursuits to enjoy, either way those first times back in the boat can nerve-racking as well as blissful all at the same time. Good luck out on the water, and we’ll speak soon.

Simon Westgarth