During lockdown it's been difficult to get out and about, but recently we've been able to go on a few excursions to test our watches in real-world environments.
In a beautiful and quiet corner of Wales we meet up with Dan Jones - an athlete and white water kayaker of only 18-years of age. 'Little Dan' suggested the River Dee near Llangollen as the perfect spot to test the Morar Sands - and we can immediately see why - the river winds its way from its source in the heart of Snowdonia, and as it passes through Llangollen there are some Grade 5 sections - which ultimately means, some very daunting drop-offs and a lot of white water.
However, we navigate our way to Dan's entry point which couldn't be more tranquil.
As Dan prepared to test the Morar Sands on these rolling rapids, we posed a few questions to him...
Why did you start kayaking? What or who attracted you to the sport?
Living in Warrington growing up around traditional sports was tedious for me, I loved adrenaline and the outdoors and exploring nature instead. I didn’t know anything about kayaking until my 13th birthday when I got a boat from my parents. As soon as I got it I was in love with the sport, so we drove up to our local canal to have some fun in it, best present anyone could ever ask for.
I started kayaking in the local swimming baths, they taught me the basic skills of kayaking - in the first 5-minutes of paddling I knew this sport was for me. I kept going every Thursday evening and every time I got better and better, really building my confidence. I did my first river with my kayak coach Stuart Minshall, it was a big step for me, paddling in a swimming pool was very different to a fast-flowing river in Yorkshire. I felt safe though as Stuart is very safety conscious and is an extremely experienced paddler.
When I progressed I started paddling with some professional kayakers such as Bren Orton, David Bain and Matt Cooke, they’re all extremely good paddlers and I’ve been on some awesome trips with these guys!
What has been your most memorable kayaking trip, and why?
In 2018, I set off on a kayaking expedition in the Himalayas in Nepal, I was only 16 and heading out with a couple friends was a scary experience for me. I went on the trip with Matt Cooke, Edward Caswell and Ben Leake and met up with Ram Bhandari and the rest of the Adventure Hub Nepal crew in Kathmandu.
We paddled for nearly 4-weeks in some very remote places with huge volume rivers and beautiful landscapes. There were some scary bits such as landslides next to camp and some gnarly swims but it was such a huge experience for me. My paddling skills and safety knowledge improved massively on the trip, it was a steep learning curve.
How much time do you dedicate to kayaking?
I paddle as much as possible, I’m out every weekend on my local rivers. I’m always training, trying to get better and having fun with my friends and pushing our boundaries while looking out for one another. I try to get up to Scotland a couple of times a year and I’m currently planning another trip further afield.
Why is kayaking important to you, and why do you like it?
I love the adrenaline and instantly smile as soon as I run something awesome - I also love the kayaking community, they’re so friendly and always help each other out. If you’re new to the sport everyone is patient and helpful and encouraging you to build your skills and confidence - there’s always a friendly face on the river.
Besides physical fitness, how does kayaking benefit you?
I’ve met some awesome people through kayaking and been to some incredibly beautiful places which I definitely wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. I’m also really enjoying working with some great businesses, developing their products and brands.
What's the main differences between white water kayaking compared to flat?
White water kayaking is hard, you have to learn to read the river and know your limits to identify what’s runnable and what is not. Having the correct equipment is also really important to make sure you are keeping yourself and others safe.
Flat water kayaking is more calm and soothing, having fun on the lakes and canals, makes a good day out with the family or pushing your fitness to the next level by going longer distances and exploring.
What extra techniques do you need for white water?
There are many skills and techniques such as having a good roll, where you can flip upside down, roll back up and still be in your boat, it stops you from having to swim and injure yourself or potentially lose equipment. Sometimes rolls don’t work and you have to swim, so doing a safety course helps you to sort out situations like that. Swims happen to everyone, it’s part of the learning. Good paddling technique helps save your energy, bad technique tires you out and could result in a dangerous situation.
Do you have any advice for those looking to get into kayaking?
When starting kayaking look for a local canoe and kayak club, they can help and get you into the sport and build you up as a kayaker. I used to go to Chester Riverside Canoe Club, they are super helpful and organise trips so youngsters and adults can explore in a safe environment, using the club’s equipment with qualified coaches.
It's a big investment so make sure this is the sport for you and then look for your own kit.
Huge thank you to Dan for not only answering our questions, but also for taking the Morar Sands through its paces. If you would like to ask Dan any further questions, or if you're interested in taking up kayaking, we hope you find the links below of interest:
Dan Jones' Instagram - www.instagram.com/daniel_jones_kayak
Dan Jones' Facebook - facebook.com/danjoneskayak
Chester Riverside Canoe Club - www.chesterriversidecanoeclub.co.uk
British Canoeing - www.britishcanoeing.org.uk
Save Our Rivers - saveourrivers.org
Go Kayaking - www.go-kayaking.com
NRS Europe - www.nrseurope.com
Pyranha - www.pyranha.com
Visit Wales - www.visitwales.com