Charlotte’s journey into white water kayaking

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I have been white water kayaking since joining Durham University in 2021. Now in my 3rd year (studying mechanical engineering) I have been fortunate with the number of opportunities provided to me at Durham University Canoe Club the club. From integrating quickly into the club on social chill paddles, to chucking myself down rapids, trying slalom and even competing in wild water racing in a kayak, a single canoe, and doubles. My love of white water has allowed me to make lasting memories and friends; the canoe club is like a family, and we still have Durham alumni return to partake in club trips continuously.

I watched the 2012 Olympics and thought that kayaking looked so cool and different. Fast forward to 2015 and I finally went to a beginner’s course for kayaking! I lived in Kent and had brilliant access to the River Medway and Maidstone Canoe Club. With the help of coaches, and my love of learning, I progressed to my 3 Star Touring Award and Paddlesport Instructor. I learnt to roll and even did my Gold Duke of Edinburgh in a canoe – I was hooked! Once I got to University, I immediately joined the club and was welcomed instantly and informed of all the kayaking styles. I dabbled in both white water kayaking and canoe polo but nothing beat the adrenaline rush of going down a rapid, getting the right line, the freshness of the water and the overwhelming thrill of having succeeded on a rapid, as well as being among my fellow kayakers who always cheer from the sides – whilst providing safety too!

I remember in my first year going to Scotland in March; the weather was incredible. There were eight of us in total, two girls – me and Laura. We crushed that week, from sending it on rapids, to rolling when needed. It was such a thrilling experience.

That same year the club went to the Alps, there were around twelve of us. This time it was me and Ellie representing the female white water paddlers. We progressed so much and even managed to make it down the Lower Guisane – a continuous river with grade 3 and 4 sections – that was an adrenaline rush! I returned to the river again last summer (this time in my half-slice) with the club and loved it.

Now within the club, I help lead others down rapids and give back some of the incredible experiences that were provided to me.

My aspirations for the next 12 months are to create a secure environment for girls to give white water kayaking a go. Our club recently went on a #ShePaddles themed peer paddle down white water on the River Tees to provide an educational experience and a confidence boost to the girls. I want to create more of these days to progress the female white water community. I also hope to complete my White Water Leader assessment this year, utilising a whole female group to lead down for the assessment.

What advice would you give to other women and girls wanting to try white water kayaking?

White water kayaking is in a league of its own. It’s a balance of thrill, excitement, control, confidence, and self-belief; whilst respecting the water and rivers. Make sure you are in a comfortable environment with the group. Address concerns and excitement of rapids and talk them through, it’s always better to say something so things can be implemented or explained. Try to ask advice from the leaders of the session but don’t overthink and get overwhelmed. If you are nervous, try to be sandwiched in between people you trust on the river.

Make sure you wear the correct kit. Kayaking can be a wet and cold sport if you aren’t dressed correctly. We all sometimes go for an ‘out of boat experience’ (a cheeky little swim) so wearing the right clothing makes it a lot better. Items include: dry suits, dry cags and wetsuits, and many fleeces, these are vital. Don’t skimp on the layers and try to see if your club has them to lend. Another tip is to look on second-hand sites for pieces of kit.

Do what works for you, listen to your body: try new waters if the situation is right and you feel in a safe environment. Have the self-belief to trust your judgement but the confidence to progress yourself.

My final point is to keep going. Every day is a new experience and a learning opportunity, you never know until you try it; white water kayaking may be the style for you!

Interested in trying white water kayaking? Why not try the White Water Award. The White Water Award will give you the skills needed for a safe and fun day out white water paddling. This will be on rivers up to grade 2. You will learn how to use the environmental factors to identify where and when to paddle. This includes the water grade, the weather, other paddlers and the features. You will learn to choose the best equipment to keep you warm and safe on the water. As well as any water etiquette that there may be for the water on which you wish to paddle.

Why not become a White Water Leader.This will support you to lead safe and enjoyable journeys. You will lead white water paddlers with a range of experience on trips based on their needs and aspirations in a moderate white water environment.


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