Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Rafting with Georgi of Georgia

The Georgia project had been on the burner for a while.The sport of  Rafting is growing in Georgia. Georgia also recently hosted a European cup event.  USaid had kindly sponsored and paid for a group of 13 Self taught Georgian raft guides to attend a 9 day IRF certification workshop combined with a Rescue 3 Europe Whitewater rescue technician course.

The Aim of the course was to work with the company owners & senior guides to help them gain IRF certification. Our main aim was to also introduce some safety standards that all of the guides and companies could adopt and start to implement once the workshop was over.

We had been planning the course since March. Myself & Gaspar were now in Georgia and ready for action. I had previously run a rescue course in Georgia so I already knew what to expect.
Both myself & Gaspar had decided to strip things right back to the basics and run the 3 day WRT rescue course before we even attempted to start to formally assess for IRF guide & trip leader awards.

As I say on every workshop that I run it is very rare that a guide presents him or her self for an assessment and has all of the skills needed to pass straight away . The WRT would give us the chance to tune up the guides rescue skills.

The workshop was to be based on 3 different rivers providing us with the opportunity to work & observe on a variety of different rafting environments. We settled into our first camp on the banks of the Rioni river and got to work. After a quick personal equipment check we headed to the river to look at swimming and some conditional rescues.

During day 1 we looked at the basic principles of river  rescue. We also did lots of swimming and practiced throw bagging lots &lots. We studied different types of throws with a variety of different belay techniques. In order to move on through the WRT syllabus we also need to create a team work ethic which was an important  factor too.

We ended day 1 with 2 land based sessions looking at personal & team equipment we then followed this session with a introductory session on knot tying.
A good friend of mine once told me that Georgia was famous for its hospitality & good food he was so correct. out hosts sat us down to a feast with plenty of local wine it was a great way to end day 1.

Days 2&3 Were spent on the Rioni working through the rest of the WRT syllabus. We practiced line crossing techniques and even managed to run some night operations. The Georgian guides were not only learning lots but they were having fun learning. One of the key messages that came out of the learnings from days 2&3 were that a good plan plan needs to have good clear  communication at all times

later on day 3  we started to look at river running skills & tactics. for this we used the CLAP model to increase our river safety. For those who are not familiar here is a quick introduction.

  • Communication. 
  • Line of Sight. 
  • Avoidance. 
  • Positioning.   
As we did not all have a common language on the course we looked at the power of the silent safety demonstration and how the guide & the customers dont need a common language in order to communicate. I gave a demonstration using my own version of the silent safety demonstration before we tackled the class 3 Murkali gorge on the Rioni.

     Day 4 greeted us with an amazing thunder storm and lots of rain. Myself & Gaspar had a hard time convincing the students that once the storm had stopped that rafting in the rain was perfectly acceptable and practiced all over the world. We spent the morning running the lower section of the Rioni river before we headed to our new camp a 4 hour drive away on the Mtkvari river in the town of Borjomi.

The Mtkvari was the host river for an IRF European cup race in 2017. The Mtkvari does not have the volume of the rionin but we still found plenty to do. During our 2 days  on the Mtkvari we manged to check off the following aspects of the IRF Guide assessments

  • Swim test 
  • Flip drill test  
  • Ropework test 
  • Throwbag test   

By the end of day 6 both myself & Gaspar agreed that some of the students were in the position to be assessed for trip leader awards. After a brief introduction to the assessment criteria we started to set some simple trip leader scenarios. The first 3 scenarios all went quite smooth. We wanted to see how the students operated under stress and they coped really well. 

Day 7 saw usmove camp to the popular Agaravi river we decided to start driving at 5am this would ten give us a full day on the river. We all ran a famil trip which let myself & Gaspar see the river for the first time. The river was set in a stunning valley surrounded by forest & Mountains.

After another amazing Georgian lunch we headed back to the river to look at tethered raft rescues as the Agarvi was the perfect place to practice. 

Day 8 was going to be a long day of trip leader scenarios with 5 scenarios in total to work through. The group were now in full swing even though they were tired. Gaspar had brought one of his rescue dummies for us to use we called her Nikita. Nikita quickly became a well liked new addition to the group. 

Day 8 came to a close after a long day on the river all of the students were tired but happy we decided that the last day of the workshop would be used for paperwork & Debriefs. 
The workshop was a success to the point where we are already planing another workshop in Georgia for Mid September. 

A big thank you to Natia & the team at USaid for sponsoring the event. Congratulations to all involved.
See you on the water 

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Time to stop putting the word crazy in-front of the word Russian !

Notes from a IRF GTE workshop in Russia 

One thing I have observed over the years is that all great white water stories normally start with the sentence. "This crazy Russian paddler " Or "Crazy Russian inner-tube rafts. I sat back and giggled to myself as my short flight from Helsinki touched down at St Petersburg Pulkovo airport in Russia . I was about to find out first hand if this was true or not.

My Mission this week was to observe and assist in the running of the first IRF workshop In Russia for over 15 years.

For the past few seasons I have been mentoring Russian kayaker Anton Sveshnikov along the pathway to become Russia,s first IRF Instructor. The first time I met Anton was a few years back on the Zanskar river in India where I was running a workshop at the time. One of the first things that struck me about Anton at the time was he was Russian and not crazy. Since then myself and Anton have crossed paths many times and I have learned that not all Russian rafters & kayakers are crazy.

Anton provisionally passed his IRF Instructor assessment in India last year. In keeping with the new IRF guidelines Anton needed to deliver a workshop under the supervision of an assessor. Fast forward a few months and we had a group of 8 raft guides from all over Russia ready to go. Some of the guides had flown for over 5000km to join us whilst others had between 10-20 hour car journe

The workshop was been hosted by Kivineimi rafting. Sergi, Egor & Kostantin  made us more than welcome in there awesome riverside  camp.

The Kivineimi rapids are situated 115 Km North of St Petersburg. The 300m long section acts as the drainage between 2 lakes & creates a short but intense big volume 800 cumec class 3 run with easy logistics.

The rapid ends in a lake which created some very interesting (raft eating) whirlpools to keep us on our toes.( Imagine 800 cumecs hitting stationary water ).

Antons job was originally run the safety kayak section of the workshop. in Order to avoid any language barriers  I was more than happy to let Anto lead the way with the entire workshop.

Day 1 kicked off with Introductions & personal kit inspections. I could see the students had many questions that needed answering. My Job was to let the students warm to me so that they felt easy asking what they thought were stupid questions (which they were not!).  Most if not all of the students were attending a structured course for the first time and having somebody observing them and giving them feedback on their Performance was welcomed.

Before we headed to the water we decided to take a look at the pre trip safety demonstrations we split into 2 groups 4 guides with me & 4 guides with Anton.
A quick debate on how a foreigner who does not speak or understand Russian was going to asses their Russian safety talks soon followed.
Through Anton I explained that a good safety talk needs no language barriers  Actions speak louder than words.
The Guides took a second to think about it as a result we got some amazing safety demonstrations opposed to traditional boring long winded, useless safety talks.

After a few warm up runs and a breif lesson in the understanding of Russian raft commands for my benefit we were starting to see some impressive raft guiding skills. As the Rapid was only 300 meters long the guides have to make the most of every ferry glide & eddy available to them. The rapid even had an eddy fed play hole which was great to observe surfing skills & crew management.


Day 1 was completed with a personal swimming skills assessment. I was happy to give demonstrations as Anton coached the students through the key points.
The Students had a real motivation to make the final eddy on the swim test. Any student who missed the final eddy was heading towards the dreaded whirlpools if the downstream back failed. 

The evening of day 1 ended with a foundation knots and anchors section in preparation for the  rope work test on day 3.

Day 2 
During the 2nd or 3rd run on the 2nd morning. I realized that these guys were not crazy they simply did not have the same access to training that most western companies have. These guys had really good on the water skills but some of there background knowledge & risk assessment skills   needed topping up. The fact that they had taken the time to join the workshop showed the fact that there is a real thirst for knowledge & education in Russia. The guide team were really starting to bond together. 

Most Russians start there whitewater life as the crew in  cat-raft. During the workshop I got to observe a father daughter team in training as we paddled on the rapids. I strongly recommend giving it a go if you get the chance. Paddling a cat-raft is a good way to develop your water reading skills. 

The Afternoon of day 2 was spent looking at throwbag skills including the IRF throwbag test. The rapid gave us a perfect test site. The swimmers were moving in really fast water which meant that not only did the throw have to be accurate but the belay needed to be spot on. The guides showed us some excellent throwbag skills & Technique. 

One of the key messages that was now becoming a mantra was practice, practice, practice. the guides were taking the course seriously. Knots were constantly been practiced well into the night.

Day 3 
Day 3 or wobbly Wednesday as I like to call it stated with a mechanical advantage ropework test. After the first 2 days some of the guides were looking a little tired and wobbly on there feet. 
Myself & Anton had antcipated this and planned to stay on the land this morning. 

Anton had  assured me that all Russian me understand mechanical advantage as it was drilled into them at school. He was not wrong the Standard IRF test was passed with ease.

The remainder of the Morning was dedicated to the art of safety kayaking. We spent time running the the role of the safety kayaker on a commercial trip. We then gave the kayakers a multitude of tasks that involved controlling a guideless raft form there kayak & dealing with multiple types of swimmers. Each of the kayak students agreed that climbing from there kayak to the raft in the middle of a rapid was a challenging but fun exercise. The guides also masted giving the kayak safety talk in silence which was impressive to watch.

We were now moving into the time where we could potentially start to identify potential trip leader candidates. As this was the first workshop in Russia for a long time most of the students were either company owners or very experienced guides. Out of the group we identified 6 potential class 3 or class 2 trip leaders. Most of the students explained to me that one of the major challenges for a Russian raft guide is to take control of a crowd of rowdy Russian rafters. All of the candidates has very strong leadership capabilities . The nature of the Kivineimi rapid meant that all of the trip leader scenarios were going to be dynamic scenarios normally based around a flip. We ran scenarios focusing on lost customers, panicked swimmers, multi raft flips etc. 

Day 4 
the final day was spent finishing off the trip leader scenarios which then moved into the Flip test. the lake proved to be the Ideal flip drill test. I lead the way with a demonstration then the guides followed with some impressive times in the sub 40 second range which is outstanding. 

One of the things that struck me was the amount of support and positive energy that was flowing around the group. 
By the time the Flip drills were over the group had bonded really well and you could see that some of them wanted to continue learning. Which is exactly what happend as the IRF workshop flowed straight into a 3 day Rescue 3 whitewater rescue technician course. 

To sum the course up we had a blast. new friends were made. Russia has some new guides and its first IRF instructor. many thanks to Anton & the team from Kivineimi rafting for an amazing week of Russian hospitality. 

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Time to dig deep ( An early season workshop in the snow)

IRF Instructor workshop Bosnia 2018

I had been following the weather in Bosnia for a week prior to the start of the workshop. The Forecast did not look good lots of snow was forecast . I pre warned the course students to prepare for cold weather.
 This was going  to be a busy 6 days. We had 17 students  from around the world descending on the Tara & Piva rivers to participate on a IRF workshop. The candidates had traveled from Austria,  Canada,Chile, Ecuador,Croatia, Argentina, Romania, Montenegro & Bosnia. The students were made up of Instructor candidates, through to trainees.
 As the numbers were so high I needed to employ another instructor in order to keep the quality of instruction & safety supervision at a high level. Having worked with Gaspar on many other workshops I knew he was the man for the Job. 

Having 7 instructor candidates meant that the standards were going to be high which was great for all involved. The Location of the workshop turned out to be an excellent choice. The Tara river was bank full with lots of rapids for the class 3 students to demonstrate there skills on. For the class 4 candidates we ventured onto the less run neighbor of the Tara river the Piva river. 

As many of us may know the rafting on the Tara river has its problems. Besides 2 proactive companies the safety standards among  the other 50 rafting companies  on the Tara are questionable. A lack of access to quality training  & equipment has left some of the operations looking like something from the dark ages. This workshop was going to be a chance for some of the local guides to be exposed to best practices from around the 
Step forward Mirko & Dimitrje To local company owners striving to raise the standards on the Tara to benefit everyone. Tara raft owned by Mirko & his family had kindly agreed to host the workshop that would be our base for the week. Having worked with Mirko before I knew they would take care of us and that they did. each day after we came off the river cold wet and tired we were greeted by a roaring fire and home cooking to die for courtesy of Anja and here kitchen team. Nothing was too much for them.

As we had 7 instructor candidates I decided to put the teaching into their hands. 3 weeks before the start of the workshop I had pre sent the instructor candidates a list of theoretical & Practical sessions that I wanted them to prepare and deliver during the workshop. This added great value for the other non instructor candidates during the evenings after dinner they could sit back and listen to the instructors give there mock talks before there final assessments at the end of the week. I could also get to see how much pre work the instructor candidates had put into there talks.

During days 1&2 all of the candidates had to pass the standard IRF guide assessment. on either class 3 or class 4 water depending on their experience. The assessment areas were:
  • Pre departure safety demonstration. 
  • Rafting maneuvers & crew management.
  •  Personal White water swimming skills.
  • Timed Throwbag test. 
  • Timed Flip drill test. 
  • Timed Ropework test.
  • Completion of the IRF written paper.

Once the guide assessments were successfully completed the students with more experience were invited to take a trip leader assessment. We had 7 TL candidates which meant we needed 2 days to get through all of the emergency scenario assessments. Myself and Gaspar took it in turns to set up and assess the scenarios. The scenarios were a mixture of static and dynamic emergency scenarios that could happen on any commercial trip. 
The scenarios are always a highlight of any workshop as this is where the guides learn lots from each other. Even I myself learnt on this workshop that the versatility of a pack raft as a rescue tool is a true asset on a trip.

Some of the guides had a taken a rescue 3 WRT class with me before the workshop. 9 days of been wet, cold, tired & hungry was starting to take its toll. On the final morning a motivational speech was needed to re-motivate the guides. The theme of the talk was "Dig Deep & keep going"
With support from each other the students soon turned those frowns upside down as the sun came out on the mighty Piva river.
The Final day of the workshop was the opportunity for the instructor candidates to present there assessment theory lessons. A wide spectrum of subjects were presented with some real thought and planing evident.

The IRF now have 5 new Provisional instructors. & 9 new guides. but most of all a gang of international rafters got together and shared there love and knowledge of rafting in an awesome environment. 
See you on the water