What a weekend!

It has been a great weekend. We started the weekend with a trip to Shepperton after reading reports that it was on a good 10 gate level. When we arrived, we could see it was down to 9 gates, but I can assure you that it did not disappoint. For one of the party (who shall remain nameless), however, the excuses started flowing – “I am not feeling quite sharp enough” and “I don’t like the look of that” were among them. Despite my best efforts there was no changing Martyn’s mind so we had a photographer instead. (Well, there was only me and him there so even if I hadn’t named him you could probably have worked it out from the photos!!)

9 gate Shepperton
Shepperton on 9 gates in the sunshine

It was proving tricky to actually get onto the wave, but once on there were good rides to be had. On occasion I was even allowed to feel that I was in control!

Me at Shepperton

Me in control

Sunday afternoon saw Martyn, Dave Hodgkinson and myself make a trip to Hurley. The weir had dropped to three gates (with Bucks weir on 4). The first and third gates were producing holes, but the middle gate was forming a lovely wave. Seeing as it was the first time for a few weeks that Hurley had been on 3 gates, we expected it to be heaving with all the paddlers in the Thames valley making the most of it. We were pleasantly surprised to find out expectations proved wrong.

Martyn and Dave Hodgkinson in the eddy at Hurley

Boulters in high water

I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to do some big water paddling on the Thames. With all the rain we had been graced with in the weeks leading up to the weekend, I was hoping to finally be able to catch Sunbury, or Shepperton at the levels it is renowned for. Unfortunately, as the weekend got closer, those two weirs both came into condition, but the rain did not cease there. By the time the weekend had finally arrived Sunbury has completely washed up, Shepperton was questionable and even Mapledurham (which only works when the Thames is very high) had washed-out. Boulters was looking like the only guaranteed option.In order to fit in a paddling session before heading to Birmingham, I planned to be on the water by 0900. This turned out to be too early for everyone else, but a quick post on TVFreestylers found me some buddies to paddle with.

Me on the second wave at Boulters. Photo taken by Gareth from TVFreestylers

Previously, I have only paddled at Boulters during summer levels when the flume is the only thing worth paddling on the Thames. At the levels encountered on Saturday, the flume was well underwater but the main gates produce a few big waves. The top wave was hard work to get on to, but just about achievable with some strong strokes and a good ferry glide from river left – there are some climbing handholds on the wall so that you can work your way high enough above the wave to ferry onto it. I only managed to catch it a couple of times despite the many attempts. It was a nice wave, although not very retentive (I had to paddle pretty constantly whilst on it).

Gareth on the top wave

You just have to be careful to avoid the very nasty stopper in the corner of the weir. Read what happened to Hugh Kingdon when he got a bit too close.

The very nasty stopper on the corner of the weir, taken from the weir bridge. Photo courtesy of Gareth from TVFreestylers

The very nasty stopper from the river left bank

The second wave was easier to catch. There are climbing hand-holds conveniently attached to the wall on river left, which are used to drag yourself upstream of the wave, from where a ferry glide is required to catch the wave. This wave I found quite surgey and on multiple occasions I was on the wrong end of a surge. My final ride saw me, and my boat, completely submerged in a split-second!

Gareth surfing the second wave

It was hard work (my stomach muscles are still sore on Monday evening) but definitely worth the effort. Hopefully the modifications to improve the waves will be made and we’ll have the opportunity to surf it again soon!

Very high Hurley

On my way back from Somerset, I stopped of at Hurley to further test out my new kit. All the recent rain had brought the level of the Thames right up and Hurley was on a very high 4 gates, although not in the stanchions. All of the side radials were open, and Bucks weir was on 4 as well.

Martyn arrived and we decided to get on and see what she was like. Martyn wussed out from dropping straight into the fourth gate. I dropped straight in and even managed to stick the landing. I managed to surf across to gate 2 before surfing off the back of the wave. This was to be my easiest ride of the day.

Hurley on a high 4 gates, with Martyn trying to paddle up

To get back onto the wave, you had to paddle hard against the flow since the radial at the top of the eddy was open. Then, once you got onto the wave you couldn’t relax either, since the water was much faster than normal and you had to concentrate hard to stay upright! It was a great session though, and I am glad we decided to get on.

I really enjoyed my new boat today. I think that the extra length and rocker in the tail over my old SuperStar made it more controllable in the wave, and I found that it handled predictably in the very swirly water after the wave – I did not have the issues with the sneaky little whirlpool things that I usually do in the SuperStar.

Me showing off my new kit

New toys!

Yesterday my new Lomo Renegade Drysuit was delivered. I have been waiting for this since October in Scotland, when I decided that my dry trousers just weren’t up to the job anymore. I came to this decision as I was wringing the water out of my thermal trousers, which were soaked through despite me not taking a swim or spent any considerable time in the water.

Also, having decided a while ago that my Superstar was a little on the small side for me, I took the opportunity to demo a 07 Jackson SuperFun from AS Watersports. After a wihle spent paddling this, and playing around with all the bits in the boat (sweet cheeks, happy feet etc), I took the decision that this was the boat for me! I am now the proud owner of the second-hand boat that I demoed.

My new SuperFun

Seeing as I was already most of the way to the River Dart, I took my new purchase for a paddle. A blast down the Loop was required. This was also an opportunity for me to further test my new drysuit.

All I can say is I am very happy with both purchases!!

Did someone say ‘Foggy’?

Having returned from our ski trip in the early hours of Sunday 23rd December, I then had to drive back to Somerset later on that day.

On the drive to Somerset we stopped off at Hurley for a quick paddle. To say it was foggy was a bit of an understatement!
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A view of Hurley lock cut shrouded in fog
Hurley lock cut shrouded in fog