The Club's paddling activities are always popular, but sometimes people find it difficult to decide whether a trip is right for them. So in 2006 we devised a grading system to use in BADnews to help. The system uses the colours of the rainbow to indicate the relative ease or difficulty of an activity.
Very easy, generally less than 1 hour non-technical paddling, suitable for beginners and open to all. For example: introductory (BCU One Star or PaddlePower Passport) training, pool casual sessions, canal Wednesday evenings. The criteria for these paddles is that they should be open to absolutely everyone whatever their ability, disability, previous experience or lack of experience.
Easy, simple paddles not involving any technical difficulty but which may be longer. For example: improvers (BCU Two Star or PaddlePower Discover) training, polo sessions at the pool, most Tuesday evening coastal paddles, Sunday paddling sessions at the Basingstoke Canal, simple day trips, summer Wye trip. These are paddles that should be appropriate for reasonably fit paddlers with limited previous experience.
Most paddlers should be able to move from blue paddles to green paddles within a few months, either after completing an introductory course or after informal coaching and guidance at 6 to 8 very easy sessions.
Moderate, paddles requiring technical mastery of basic strokes. For example Three Star training, grade 2 white water (e.g. Tamar, Lower Dart, Nene Whitewater Centre), simple sea paddles such as Poole Harbour, moderate surf (less than 3 foot) in summer. The criteria for paddles is that they should be appropriate for reasonably fit paddlers with a fair amount of previous experience on flat water.
The timing of the move from green to orange paddles will vary from person to person depending on their fitness and on how often they paddle. In general there will be two pre-requisites: formal or informal training to introduce the paddler to a full range of forwards, backwards, sideways, turning and support strokes; a variety of easy paddling experience, not just the Basingstoke Canal but also simple moving water at Newbury or the summer Wye trip or the evening coastal paddles and a few longer (half day or full day) paddles. Orange paddles should be possible within a year of starting for anyone paddling frequently.
Difficult, paddles requiring a proficient performance of a full range of strokes in that environment. For example most winter white water (e.g. Dart Loop, Usk, Barle), easier alpine white water, most coastal sea kayak trips in fair weather, winter surfing. These are trips which are unlikely to be suitable as an introduction to a particular environment.
The key pre-requisite for red paddles is experience in a similar environment. If you feel comfortable on orange white water then it may be time to think about either red white water or orange paddles in other environments such as the sea or surf. Tests for comfort might include rarely capsizing accidentally, or the ability to paddle where you please rather than where the water takes you, or the ability to rescue others if they capsize and swim.
Three Star training should provide a route to progress through orange paddles to red paddles. Now that there are separate Three Star awards for white water, sea, surf and so on, the Club will be running the Three Star on a modular basis with core modules for safety and flat water skills, a white water module in the winter and a sea module in the summer.
Advanced, paddles requiring a high degree of competence in that environment and significant previous experience. For example the top section of the Tryweryn, the Upper Dart, alpine grade 4, coastal trips with significant no landing zones and potential exposure to the weather such as Isle of Wight circumnavigation.
If you do not know whether you are ready for black paddles, then you are not ready. You should feel completely comfortable with red paddles in the particular environment and want to more on. At this level if you are looking for coaching to help you move on it may be informal within the Club or by attending commercial courses such as the white water safety and rescue or Five star training.