by Horrible Hyde
“How do you get good judgement?
How do you get experience?
From bad judgement…”
During my trip to and from the Blyde I travelled with the very knowledgeable Falk Floether, a German kayaker who is part of the Fluid team. Falk has paddled extensively around the world and his back yard is the steep creeky rivers of the Alps, where steep and continuous descents and young sharp rocks abound. Whilst he would be the first to acknowledge that he is not a ‘top river dog’ he has had sufficient experience in white water all over the world to be able to pass on valuable information. Once, when kayaking a river in the alps his head was smashed against a sharp rock whilst wearing a plastic helmet with a foam liner. He pointed out the danger of a simple plastic and foam helmet to me. After the beating and head bash he looked at the helmet and saw that a sharp rock had pierced the plastic and foam, coming to millimeters of puncturing his skull. His conclusion, and that of many others, is that a helmet must have three distinct layers.
The first layer should be resistant to piercing by sharp objects and should spread the impact over as great an area as possible by that resistance. The second layer should provide a softer impact absorption layer that slows the entry of the object whilst continuing to spread the force of the blow. Lastly, a foam layer softens the impact and further cushions the blow.
A helmet also needs to be well fitted to your head so that it does not slide back and forth, or left and right around your head. This can lead to the helmet shifting position in a manner that can lead to the strap choking you when you are being pummelled underwater. There should be two strap attachment points on the helmet. One should be well back and one well forward before meeting just above your jaw line. This, and a good, tight and comfortable fit, provides the greatest security against the helmet moving around on your head. Take care to choose a helmet that has these characteristics and spend some time getting it to fit just right on your head.
on splash covers…
Following the dramatic Curtain falls rescue with Tammy and Mike we also discussed the pros and cons of splashie designs. Mike was not able to get to the pull strap at the front of the splashie because of the force of the water in the rapid, which pinned him onto the back deck of his kayak. Several other kayakers had experienced similar problems on other rivers. There are two options here: one is to do what Mike did; grab the splash cover just ahead of your hips using your whole fist and pull and twist. Alternatively, buy a splash cover with a knee release strap. I had one of these for a couple of years without realising what the purpose of it was. A knee release/ break out strap is sewn across the splash cover from left to right just about where your knees would pop up if you ‘ungripped’ your knees from the cockpit and tried to get out. The strap is sewn so that it goes under the elastic cord that holds the splashie on the cockpit. When you pull your knees up and out of the cockpit the strap ensures that the splashie is pulled off the boat as your knees come out of the cockpit.
Lessons learnt from experiences like these are extremely valuable and not well known, in my experience. They are lessons derived from the above good judgement/ bad judgement idiom a mate of mine told me.