Paddling on the Basingstoke canal last weekend I was asked whether I was a whitewater paddler. “Yes”, I replied, “an enthusiastic one”. But as I spoke I realised that what the questioner was really asking was “what’s a whitewater paddler like you doing touring on a flat piece of water like this?”.
That made me think. Taking a canoe or kayak into challenging environments, finding the clean line down a rapid, negotiating drops and sharing the buzz of reaching the bottom upright is an absolute thrill. But then so too is getting into a racing boat and seeing how far or how fast you can make that boat move, particularly when the experience is shared in a crew boat or compared against others.
Being on the canal was a very different experience again: it was about enjoying that quiet moment, savouring the sun on the back of our necks, gazing down into the clear water to see the canal bed, the aquatic plants growing from it and the fish swimming in and out of them.
For me this is one of the principal joys of canoeing. It really is a sport for all seasons and for all moods. The moment we put somebody into a boat and put a paddle in their hands we are inviting them to open this treasure chest of wonderful experiences. And for many of us, once opened we want to keep dipping back into it for more.