On April 7 myself and Tom Clift, Partnership Manager, were fortunate enough to visit the Lea Valley White Water Centre in Broxbourne, which of course will host the Canoe Slalom and Sprint events at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Today, April 22, marks the day that the centre is open to the public where anyone, willing to pay the admission fee, is able to raft down the same runs that the Olympic athletes will in 2012.
Our visit was purposely to test this experience and to provide feedback for the centre ahead of today’s public launch.
Duration of the session lasted a decent 2 and a half hours which included a safety briefing followed by an introduction to paddle terminology. Fortunately we had chosen the warmest day of the year so far and the weather was beautiful which added to the day.
After an initial paddle on flat water and a test to see if we could swim in fast flowing water, we were on our way to our first run on the Olympic Canoe course.
The whole construction has been man made specifically for London 2012 and will remain a centre of excellence well after the Games. It uses the very latest technology to regulate the flow of the water so it can be put up to Olympic standard or scaled down (a bit) for novices like myself.
Having never been white water rafting before, I was pretty excited about the day and the enthusiasm of the rest of our seven strong crew was also evident to our guide. The guides responsibility was to control the raft and to instruct us on whether to paddle forwards or backwards.
Halfway down the first run, the guide recognised that the team was up for a bit of a challenge and the difficulty of the run was sharply increased. This meant riding certain obstacles for longer or leaning the raft over to one side. However, the guides will adapt the session based on the collective skill / ambition level of the group.
However, the level of skill from the crew did not match the challenge that we were put in and on the very first run, four of us were tipped out of the boat, myself included. It is a little disorientating at first but part of the experience in the end.
During your training you are told to get into a position where you lie on your back and float down feet first so that you can see what is coming towards you. Unfortunately I wasn't able to 'assume the position' quick enough and banged my foot on a boulder on the floor. The lesson here is don't stand up and keep your feet off of the floor!!
We then carried on with 4 more runs each testing us further and further. We had one more capsize which lost three members on that occasion but it was only the pride that was dented of the two who had fallen out for the second time!
The thought that the public are able to participate at an Olympic venue with no prior knowledge of the sport and in the build up to the Games is a great thing in my opinion. The set up at Broxbourne is fantastic. The staff are friendly, the sessions are the right length and challenge, the food is tasty and the guides are knowledgeable and engaging.
In what was essentially a field July 2009, it is amazing to see the development and visionary which has created such a great venue.
From a novice perspective, I found the experience really great and something that I would really recommend doing with friends. The price tag of £49 may put some people off, but I think that you do get value for money for the time on the water.
Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership, 2012 Games