Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Sjoa River Festival

Sjoa was magic. As I sat in the car on the long way home from Sjoa, I felt happy and energised. I hadn't felt so happy or relaxed on the way over, so I concluded that there must be something in the water in Sjoa that refreshes the spirit. Or perhaps it something to do with the relaxed camping (and in the shade this time), great people and awesome paddling.

This year, the Sjoa trip was to be more than a standard paddling holiday. It was a journey of the heart and mind. Only a week or so before going to Norway, I had learnt of the news of the tragic death of a Sam, a fellow kiwi and all round great guy I knew from home. The news of the death of such a talented kayaker as Sam had come to me as a huge shock. I started to question whether the risks we take when we paddle are really worth it.

It turns out Sjoa is a good place to find the answer to such a question as that. This year we were in for a special treat as the weather was warm and sunny - something not normally associated with paddling in Norway. The meant the water levels were a little low, especially on the play run, but as I found out, around Sjoa there is always some gem to paddle if you look hard enough.

If anything it was the first few days of playing with my mates, which helped me remember what it is I really love about paddling. The Sjoa River was exceptionally beautiful. The water was super-clean and clear and it was an amazing feeling to float over the huge pressure waves and stare straight down to the river bottom. It also felt really good to realise how much more confident I felt now, than a year previous when I had first paddled in Sjoa. (Although last time the the water was much higher and the trees swimming and I got a terrible black eye within minutes of hitting the water and well that's another story...)

However perhaps what I loved most was leading some of my less experience friends down the river for their first time. To see them challenge themselves and succeed past perhaps even their own expectations, now that felt really special. It seemed as though we were all having a good time, and we were all paddling well.

Eventually, after several days of chilling out I was itching to try something a little harder. Unfortunately I didn't have a creek boat with me. Luckily, everything suddenly came together. I found my new boat and went off with some friends to paddle the Lågan river... Then, when I got to the put in I realised I had forgotten my dry top. But even that wasn't a problem, as my friend had a spare one....sometimes it feels like the world is smiling on you!

The Lågan River, was such good fun. At that flow it is a low volume creek with lots of boat scoutable rapids punctuated by a few big drops. It's the sort of paddling I really love and that day we had so much fun. Small team, beautiful river, great paddling and good waterfall drops for a nice picture or two. Splendid!

The next day, me and my new kayak followed "Team Sweden" to the Bovra. Sun + glacial river = lots of water + lots of fun! More than twenty paddlers and and a good spanking in the first hole made the day a lot more exciting than it should have been. The spanking, which included an underwater spin of the paddle, did the trick though. I was really focused for the rest of the river and I paddled really well. Afterwards, for dessert, we finished the day with a surf at "shock wave".

On my last trip in Sjoa I had the chance to paddle with some new friends I had met at the festival. Several Norwegians from the Oslo club guided me down Ridderspranget. This is another fun run on the Sjoa, with lots of different types of rapids and on a sunny day there's always a lot of turists at the put in to watch you begin. At the end of the run I ended up in the wrong eddy, and had to complete a "must make" ferry glide. It was a heart stopping moment, but I believed I could make it, and I did.

With the Sjoa River Festival going on the whole time, there was of course lots of cool people around the camp to chat with. We also got the chance to watch the pros race in the boater cross. It's always inspiring to watch good paddlers at work, and it is a chance to learn some things to try for next time. On the last night there was of course a big party and just enough darkness to get out the fire pois. The dancing really started well after midnight as the sun started to come up again.

So it was a sleepy Clare in the car on the long, long drive home with much time to ponder the question, "So why, paddle?". Of course everyone must answer this question for themselves, but for me it’s this renewed lust for life and for experiencing life to the full that I get when I paddle that makes it all worth while. It makes up for all the boat carrying, the suffering from the cold, and also for the risks we take on the water.

Paddling and climbing and mountain biking have taught me so many lessons including to value my dreams and not to stress about the small things. I believe 100% that I am a better and happier person for it than I was before I brought my first pair of tramping boots, nearly 9 years ago. What's more for the last year, I have met many people from many walks of life, and many different countries. And it is outdoorsy people that always seem the most motivated, outgoing, cheerful, friendly and encouraging of the people I have met. For me that is enough.

Thanks to everyone I paddled and talked and played with in Sjoa. I hope to see you next year! And big thanks to Pelle for the photos.

Remember, play hard, play safe and smile as you do it!

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