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New team member Beth Morgan took the 9R to Sickline last month. Here are a few words on her experience:

A couple of years ago, whilst sitting on top of a bus in Nepal, myself and Beth Hume were discussing our future paddling aims. I decided that one of mine would be to enter Sickline. Still an incredibly nervous paddler, terrified when paddling grade 4 and above, the idea of even paddling the Sickline course, let alone racing on it, seemed like something which would be very far in the future if it ever did happen.

Earlier this year when I decided that I was going to go to Sickline, I never thought that this would be the year I would achieve this goal…. I was just going to fly out for the weekend, try to borrow some kit to do a bit of paddling, watch some awesome kayakers race and go to the (infamous) party. However, after realising I had enough leave to take the week off, getting a space in a car with Lee and Rory and a demo of the new Pyranha 9R to take, along with some friendly peer pressure, I found myself entered and leaving in the middle of moving to London and revising for exams (results just in and I got a merit – kayaking apparently is the best substitute for revision!)

After the long drive out we went to look at the course. It is definitely steep! I spent a while looking at the run and watching people’s lines. It is a series of boofs stacked together, none of which you really want to miss. The hole above the start to the qualification course was my main concern, it looked sticky and there was an undercut river left and a siphon river right below it. During the week I watched a few people getting beatings in there which didn’t exactly settle my nerves!

Feeling nervous at the start of the qualification run

Starting slowly seemed like the sensible option, especially after the drive and in a new boat, so I got on below Champions killer and did a few runs of the end of the qualification course before working my way up to Champion’s killer. Champion’s Killer, despite its intimidating name, is friendlier than it looks but tricky to get right. I spent a few days lapping the drop and realised that to boof the 9R you need speed, whereas I had been slowing myself down to get the right approach angle.

Although getting myself more confident on Champion’s Killer (which was most important for me as I wasn’t really expecting to qualify), I still needed to paddle the main course. The universe was slightly against me with this (or I’m just making excuses for being scared!) – once I had recovered from the drive, got used to the boat and was feeling good for the main course I got sick (apparently you’re not meant to drink the river water) and then whilst still feeling weak from this it rained, the river rose 10cms and the rooster tail which made the hole above the quali-start look just about do-able had gone. Not ideal when I was still feeling weak.

Getting ready for the late boof off the lip of Champion’s Killer

The day before the competition arrived and I still hadn’t paddled the main course. Today had to be the day. After a quick warm up on Champion’s Killer and another walk down the course to suss my lines, I couldn’t put it off any longer. This was definitely the most nervous I’d been in a little while (probably since doing the Rauma in July) and I decided that I didn’t fancy the seal launch. After getting through the entrance boof I had a little breather in the flat pool while I psyched myself up and remembered my lines. After peeling out of the eddy everything went quickly and before I knew it I was at the bottom of Champion’s Killer absolutely buzzing.

After a bit of a rest I went back up for double the fun and to try out the seal launch (which resulted in a bit of a girly scream). I was feeling pretty happy and ready for the race! The next day was race day and the girls were up first. I had a great time on my first run, ending up 7th with a sub-1.40 time. Unfortunately, my lack of racing experience means that if I do well in my first run I put pressure on myself to do the same on the next one, which I don’t really know how to deal with! So I messed up run 2, spinning out on Champion’s Killer then getting pushed into the undercut on the exit. But all in all I ended up 9th out of 15 awesome female kayakers – a result that I am over the moon with!

The start of the qualification run

So I guess now I need to think about what my paddling goals for the future are going to be – apart from doing some race training so that I can hopefully qualify and race on the main course at some point! If anyone has any ideas for other goals please let me know!

Thanks to Pyranha Kayaks for the loan of the 9R and Immersion Research for keeping me dry!