Wild Water in Wales

It was the May Bank Holiday Weekend and a general hype was building around

the city of Dublin at the dawn of a new summer. While this was going on, the

Irish Junior Wild-Water Racing Squad were leaving their Heineken Green

Energy Festival tickets behind them to go to Bala, in North Wales, to train

on the River Tryweryn. This trip was designed to give juniors (U18) practice

on the river before the Junior Wild Water Racing World Championships in

mid-July. The idea was to learn the river and gain speed and control on the

water. The Junior Squad consisted of Killian Halpin (WWKC), Eoin Doohan

(CPCC), Zena Dunne (Spiddal), Dee Thornton (Spiddal), the remainder of the

party was made up of Martin McCarthy (WWKC), Keith McGuirk (CPCC) and

Annette Kent (WWKC). We also had a few Slalom Paddlers along for company who

were competing in the Graveyard Slalom on the same river. We were to rendez

vouz in Bala with Sean Martin [senior K1 from Richmond Canoe Club and a

member of the Irish Senior Team who competed in the Senior Wolrd

Championships in 1995 on the same river } who was coaching for the weekend

and Richard Hendron (a London Bobby also from Richmond Canoe Club).

We boarded the " Jonathon Swift" in Dublin and the boat left at 6pm. There

were some concerns about the safety of one of the four canoes perched on top

of Martin's roof, it forming a second tier, tied on top of the three boats

attached directly to the roof rack. The whole configuration looked rather

like a pyramid. After literally squeezing onto the Ferry, the quality of the

on-board entertainment distracted us from the precarious nature of the boats

on roofrack situation. In fact the entertainment was so good the only way to

get away from it was to go out on the very windy deck.

The car journey through Wales was fairly uneventful except that Tadhg

[senior C1] disappeared and no one knew to where. "Ah, sure we'll find out

later on the news." - Eoin Doohan (Dooey) [junior K1]. It turns out that he

had gone to surf a tidal wave on a sand embankment nearby with Quinner from

Salmon Leap [slalom K1] (I don't know his first name...unless Quinn is his

first name too - EDITORS NOTE - STEPHEN QUINN IS HIS NAME). It was a lovely

drive though, very scenic in the sunshine none of us were expecting.

Accommodation was a mobile home situated half way up a mountain near the end

of the racecourse. We unpacked and got settled in with tea and biscuits.

Thanks to comfortable if a little cold nights sleep (ask Keith McGuirk - he

had tried to burn the Mobile home down in the middle of the night by

lighting the gas fire to keep warm), we were all set for the challenge of

the river the next morning.

Sat 4th

The first thing we did was a walk down the slalom course

(top-section) conducted by Seán Martin who had driven from London for the

weekend to help us out on the river. The purpose of this was to see the

caliber of the river and to practice finding race lines from the bank. Then

we did two full runs from below the slalom course to Bala town, one to warm

up and one at a slightly faster pace. I think it's safe to say that we were

all glad of the warm-up run!

After lunch in the WW Center we hit the water again. This time Dooey,

Richard and Killian were to attempt part of the top section from below the

ski-jump to below Chapel Falls at the bottom of the Slalom site. This

section is very exhilarating, incorporating rapids such as Miss Davies

Bridge, the Dogs Leg, the Fingers, Chapel Falls, etc. On this stretch of

river you don't have time to catch your breath and we were all very thankful

to get down without any boat damage, swims or back-injuries (journalistic or

artistic license being used here to the full)!

Now, with the paddlers absolutely exhausted, the coaches had decided on us

doing interval training on the bottom section of the river, which provided

plenty more head-ons and tail-bangs... enough to drive some of us to shoot

Mill Falls itself in anger. Mill Falls is tricky no matter which of the

three routes you take. The main falls are big and rocky, the chicken chute

is very fast and narrow. But by far the worse of all the routes down is the

portage, a very long and technical route around angry landowners and

guard-dogs!

That concluded our 'on the water' training for the day. Water training

isn't enough, however. Paddlers must learn the river off by heart. That's

why after a hugely filling meal, Quinn, Dooey, Dee, Zena and Killian were

left to draw out the course on paper while the seniors attended to important

business in one of the local hostelries the town.

 

Sun 5th

Sunday began with another warm-up run on the lower stretch to prepare for

our time trial event. This was split into a classic race and a sprint race.

The results were as follows:

Sprint (Rapid above Mill Fall):

Martin McCarthy 56 seconds

Eoin Doohan 64 seconds

Richard Hendron 66 seconds

Sean Martin 66 seconds

Killian Halpin 68 seconds

Annette Kent 75 seconds

Zena Dunne 80 seconds

Deirdre Thornton 80 seconds

Classic (Tyn Y Cornel Bridge to Head on Rapid):

Martin McCarthy 12.28

Sean Martin 12.58

Eoin Doohan 13.34

Richard Hendron 13.34

Killian Halpin 14.15

Annette Kent 15.50

Zena Dunne 16.24

Deirdre Thornton 17.07

I think everyone was happy with the way they paddled (as Killian timidly

expressed afterwards) although none were more impressive than Dooey, who had

mastered the technicality of the river, and also the three women Dee, Zena

and Annette who came on in leaps and bounds. Zena and Dee are constantly

noted for their commitment and enthusiasm which in terms of their paddling

is starting to really pay dividends.

Later the girls departed. Zena and Dee were required back home and Annette

was "going on a joey holiday"! Dismayed at this loss, the lads went off to

Bala for a game of football, which was enjoyed by everyone whose ankles

escaped Killian "Chopper" Halpin's tackles. Man of the Match went to Keith

"Ronaldo" McGuirk for his superb 10 goals from his goal line, who after a

few mazy runs upfield retired to goals to tighten up his teams defense, not

to rest as the rest of us had initially thought.

 

Mon 5th

With Sean and Richard and the three women gone it was left to the hard core

of Killian and Dooey to practice the river. Keith was nursing a footballing

injury (inflicted by Chopper Killian - his own team mate!) and Martin was

also trying to unsuccessfully blame a chest injury on one of Killians

tackles. As there was no access to the lower course, the Kayak paddlers

(real men - take note Keith) concentrated on the Graveyard rapid a boulder

strewn steep section of river, which was run a number of times. This section

is big, exciting and great fun... my personal favorite part of the river.

Tadhg was on hand to film the paddlers with his video camera and play back

to the paddlers between runs - a great way to show paddlers where they can

improve and it worked wonders as both junior paddlers had mastered the very

difficult rapid by the end of the day.

After lunch in the Center (at which we got free sambos for being such nice

[regular] customers!), it was time to pack up and go home. Thanks must be

given to Martin who treated us to a lovely meal on the way home. If anything

else happened homeward bound, the author wasn't awake to see it. From what I

do remember, the trip was very tiring but loads of fun and extremely

beneficial...a complete success!

 

Special thanks to

Annette, who chiefly organized the weekend

All the seniors who helped organize around the weekend

Seán Martin, who drove up all the way from London just to show us down

the river

Martin, Keith, Annette and Tadhg for driving everyone there and for their

help on the river

Richard, for his shuttles

Special thanks also to our sponsor... EIRGRID.

 

Killian Halpin [junior K1]