The Falls of Lora

How exactly did I find myself kayaking on the Falls of Lora?  In past times, the concept of paddling there was consigned in my mind to those mad, daredevil individuals whose skills surpassed my own by a quantum factor. It had about as much relevance to me as embarking upon a hillwalking trip up Everest, or an afternoon cycle up l’Alpe d’Huez.

Well, it started with Facebook. Entirely in keeping with Mr Zuckerberg’s stated goal of having us share our  every fantastical whim thought on social media, I entered a status update which linked to this particular video:

with the wistful comment of, “This makes me want to be a better kayaker…”. The power of Facebook is such that, before I could say, “… in my next life”, I was already signed up for a one-day training course on the Falls. Actually, it had a lot more to do with having a friend who never fails to encourage and motivate others towards becoming that very thing, a better kayaker (thanks, Julia!).

Connel Bridge - Falls starting to flow

Connel Bridge - Falls starting to flow

In the days leading up to our trip, it was interesting to observe how my mind flew into full “OMG!” mode, torturing itself with videos of other, better kayakers on the Falls (and they were capsizing!) and general panic. It was hard to discern which set of Falls I was actually headed for and might as well have been Niagara.  By half way through the week, however, a certain calm emerged. One might call it resignation, but I prefer to think of it as perspective. I realised that that video where the waves looked ginormously scary involved a deck-mounted camera (objects in the camera may appear bigger), and that the swimming part was quite short-lived. There had been a fair number taken at spring tides, when we would be going at 4 days after springs. It also seemed that there had been no fatalities in any of the footage. I reminded myself that we were going with a coach with a pristine reputation to uphold (so allowing folks to drown would be quite bad for business). I even went as far as reading my last blog post. Along the way, I developed some mantras to take along with me:

  • “Just do it.”  I think this has a certain ring to it. It was inspired by the advice from John from Northern Ireland who warned that hesitation was the worst enemy on the Falls.
  • “If it doesn’t work it doesn’t matter”. This applies specifically to rolling and again was also passed on by John, a recent Falls survivor, to whom I am grateful.
  • “I can and I will”. This came from my yoga teacher who used it to learn snowboarding.
Approaching the Falls

Ain't no stopping ...

So, there we were, meeting up with Tony Hammock of Sea Freedom Kayak and his very able assistant, Carol, at the Connel bridge last Friday morning. We donned helmets (as protection from each other’s kayaks and paddles during rescues) and made our way to the water.

To be honest, the specific details get a bit blurry after this. The Falls of Lora is a veritable Disneyland for tidal flow practice and all I know is that I entered a world of  fast-moving, turbulent water of a kind I hadn’t previously experienced. I learned about its principal characteristics: eddy lines, whirlpools, flows, standing waves, holes, boils, hubble bubble, toil and trouble.  We practised breaking in and out, high crosses and s-turns as well as (crucially) plain old tight, sweeping turns. We also learned such genteel disciplines as “mooning at the menace”, or “farting at the force” (I will never again forget which way to edge in tidal flow).

A particularly vivid recollection, however, was of punching through various foaming eddy lines.  With a battle cry of  “Hoka hey!” (although I may have got that wrong), Tony led us over the top and into the fray. As I watched his kayak scooshing off on a crazy edge, I remember thinking how simple the situation was (you could say it was a little moment of Zen). There really was no alternative but to deal with what lay in front of you at that moment, to PLF (paddle like fury), edge, sweep and see what happened. And so I was off, perfectly aware that I could well be gunned down in a hail of seawater, but – astonishingly – I managed to stay upright through each of our forays into the froth. I can’t ascribe a specific reason for this, other than perhaps the kayaking gods were too confused by my newfound assertive attitude to get up to their usual mischief. I also give credit to my wonderful Isel kayak, of course. I would be telling a lie if I were to say I didn’t capsize all day. Embarrassingly, whilst faffing about trying to get my camera out of my pocket, I managed to capsize in a tranquil eddy (a real Mrs Doyle moment, please don’t ask …). Suffice to say, you can never let your guard down in tidal waters.

All 3 of us got a lot out of our day and I can certainly recommend a visit to the Falls as a great way to improve your kayaking skills. I can also recommend that you go with Tony. I greatly appreciated his enthusiasm and his ability to bring out the best in someone who is not at all used to that environment, whilst encouraging an assertive response and respect for it.

Upon finding myself low-bracing as I was drifting off to sleep on Friday night, I realised just how fully engaging the experience had been. I also realised how very silly my fears had been. But it amounted to more than a day’s training in kayaking skills for me. I discovered that, to be 100% present in the moment with unhesitating, positive intent increases the likelihood of positive results. Who knew? (Aside from a couple of thousand years worth of buddhas, yogis, gurus, and Oprah).  Too often we talk ourselves out of things that we are actually capable of. We are our own worst enemies! And now, with that in mind, I’m off to find some menaces to moon at.

Thanks to everyone who encouraged me to go for it!

PS – Photos of our trip are limited due to the dynamic nature of the environment. At one point I had a GoPro camera attached to my kayak’s stern. I am hoping to gain access to the resultant video and, if I do, I will post it here.

4 Comments

  1. Pete T says:

    Hi Pam,
    Now thats spooky, been reading your blog for ages and even bought a Nordkapp LV because of your enthusiasm (now sold as I couldnt keep it upright :-). We, wife Carole and me, were at Tony’s and Olga’s B&B on Friday night and earwiged your critique after your session on the falls. Hope you didn’t mind.

    We did some skills practice with Tony on Saturday and it was our turn on the falls on Sunday. I think the flow had died significantly compared to when you were on the water. Nonetheless our experience was pretty much as you describe it here (as far as I can remember). Great fun and can’t wait to do some more.

    Happy Paddling

    Pete n Carole T

  2. Lesley says:

    Sound fantastic! Can’t wait to go myself.

  3. pamf says:

    Hi Pete & Carole – That is spooky! I do remember you listening in – good to know we didn’t put you off and that you had a good time. Gosh, it’s worrying to learn that anyone is making kayak purchase decisions based on my ramblings! I loved the Nordy, and fully intended to keep it as a kayak to camp out of, but I realised that I was getting so used to my smaller Isel that the Nordkapp was getting neglected, which wasn’t right. Hope you’re getting on better with whatever kayak you have now. Happy paddling to both of you too!

  4. pamf says:

    It was a good experience, Lesley. I’m sure you’d enjoy it.

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