Articles - Getting Started in Sea Kayaking with Plas y Brenin

Attending a sea kayaking course is a great way of getting started
Attending a sea kayaking course is a great way of getting started
Canoe & Kayak UK Editorial - Posted on 24 Nov 2010
One of the most common questions that we get asked on the forum at CK.Co.UK is ‘how do I get started in sea kayaking?’ Our advice is always the same ‘book yourself on to a course.’ Canoe clubs are great, but not all clubs cater for sea kayakers and a course is a fantastic way of dipping a paddle in to the world of sea kayaking in a safe and supportive environment. We always believe that you should practice what you preach, so we thought it was about time that we got ourselves booked on to a course, so we could experience it for ourselves. There are a host of excellent coaches and centres out there offering courses, but after doing a bit of research on the net we decided that the ‘Discover Sea Kayaking’ course run by Plas y Brenin was just the ideal course for what we were looking for.

Setting the Right CourseBeginner sea kayakers on a Getting Started Course at Plas y Brenin
The Discover Sea Kayaking weekend course is aimed at paddlers who want to get to grips with the basics of sea kayaking. Based at Plas y Brenin, in the mountains of Snowdonia, the paddling takes place around the nearby coasts of, sea kayaking hot spots, Anglesey and the Lleyn Peninsula. The idea of the course is to give you a basic knowledge of coastal waters and the kayak handling techniques specific to the sea, whilst dealing with planning a coastal journey, tides, weather forecasting and sea safety.

The aim of this two-day course is to give you an enjoyable and fun taste of what sea kayaking is about. It also aims to give participants a solid grounding in the basic skills and knowledge required, so they can begin to plan and undertake day-trips on the sea themselves.

The thing that really drew us to this course was the fact that it was all about getting out there on the sea and paddling, so you do need some paddling experience and be able to paddle a general purpose kayak in a straight line and be able to turn.

Gear We Go
After arriving on the Friday night it was up bright and early for a hearty breakfast. PyB is famous for its grub and it didn’t disappoint and after we’d filled up on a great Beginner sea kayaker getting to grips with basic strokescooked breakfast and cereal we collected our tasty packed lunches for the day. There was a good selection of filled rolls, fruit and cakes on offer (the chocolate brownie was the PyB staff top tip of the day). Once lunch was selected it was of in to the large lecture room for a welcome and briefing. All the info that we needed to know was explained and then we were introduced to the Course Directors for the weekend. Level 5 Coach Dave Torrington, assisted by PyB Centre Assistant Andy Butler, was running our particular course. We headed to a classroom for introductions and an outline of what to expect from Dave. There were six of us taking part in total. Nicky and her two daughters Josie and Gen, Sue, Faye and yours truly. We all explained what we were individually hoping to gain from the course and our previous experience. It was great to find that everyone’s goals and level of experience were very similar.
Next we looked at some maps and charts and talked briefly about the skills needed for basic navigation. The day is spread over three sessions. The morning session, which is usually about an hour, then the days paddling trip, then once back at the centre and fortified by tea and cake in the dining room groups reconvene for another hour of classroom work before diner.

Once we’d finished with the maps it was off to the boat racks to select our boats. Plas y Brenin is superbly equipped with a fleet of P&H and Venture plastic sea kayaks, so there was plenty of choice for size and models. For the majority of the group this would be their first time in a sea kayak so they opted for Venture Easkys and Easky LV kayaks, as these have fairly wide hulls and offer great initial stability. Faye has her own Easky and has done a little bit of sea paddling, so opted for a P&H Capella and I chose a P&H Scorpio, as it’s a model I know and like. Once the boats were sorted and loaded on to the trailer we headed off to the stores to get kitted out with all the rest of the kit that we’d need. Cags, wetsuits, spray-decks, buoyancy aids and helmets, we were loaded up. Flares, pumps and some really nice Werner sea kayak paddles and we were ready to load up and head off for the day’s selected destination.

All at Sea
Dave has been leading groups and paddling the waters around Anglesey for more years than he’d care to admit to, but his knowledge and passion for its coastline was inspiring. He’d chosen Moelfre as our launch point and the sheltered bay there made the perfect venue for the group to learn and practice the sea kayak handling skills that would be used later in the day. As I scuttled over the rocks shooting pictures Dave and Andy explained and demonstrated a range of strokes Sea kayak coach briefing sea kayak beginners on a Plas y Brenin Sea Kayak Courseand skills beginning with efficient forward paddling. Once that was comfortably mastered they moved on to turning the boat using off side edging and sweep strokes before finally moving on to brace strokes. The whole group threw themselves in to it and the progression was rapid and impressive. At one point, while practicing low braces Faye got caught out by the slightly tippier nature of the Capella and took a dip. In no time at all Andy had her back in her kayak and had pumped all the water out ready for her to carry on. Before we came on the course capsizing had been one of Faye’s big fears about sea kayaking, but this experience, dealt with by Andy and Dave with calm and confidence dispelled those fears in a flash and boosted her personal confidence. She even explained later that she was glad that it had happened because of this.
Once everybody was happy we headed off for a trip along the coast towards Red Wharf Bay. We paddled away taking in the lovely surroundings and enjoying the freedom of being out on the sea. Dave and Andy were constantly on hand with useful tips and hints on the best way to control the boats and how to use the conditions to our advantage. They explained that a sea kayak would always turn in to wind, which is known as weather cocking, but by using the offside edging that we’d learned we could off set this. They also explained how, and when to use our skegs properly. beginner sea kayaker practicing her skills in Moelfre Bay

The next challenge was some very gentle rock hopping and it was amazing how everyone was putting the strokes that they’d learned only that morning in to practice already. Eventually we reached a large sandy beach and Dave declared that it was time to break out those delicious packed lunches. We pulled the sea kayaks up on to the beach and headed over to sit in the sun on some nearby rock. As we munched on our lunch (they were right about the brownie!) we chatted away happily. Dave was a mine of local knowledge about the coastline and its myriad of bird and wildlife.

As we launched once again, Dave explained how launching backwards helped prevent our boats skeg from getting jammed with small stones. The journey back to Moelfre was going to be in to a headwind and a small amount of swell that was running, but as paddled out farther and farther it was exciting and fun to feel our sea kayaks cutting through the dips and troughs and to see how far away we now were from the shore. It was hard work but the sheer joy of the thing seemed to be making everyone forget about the ache in their arms. Before we knew it we were once again pulling up on the shingle at Moelfre and all that was left was to carry the boats up to the waiting trailer. Funny, even though the tide had come in while we’d be out that beach still felt twice as long as we teamed up to lug the boats up to the road!

Back at the centre it was off to the drying rooms to hang up our kit before tea and cake in the dining room… Bliss! Suitably refreshed we then headed back to the classroom for an illuminating session on weather and working out tide times and tidal flows. This is a complex subject and could easily come across as daunting, but Dave explained it in an easy to digest style and before we knew it we were sussing out tidal ports and working out high and low tides with confidence. Navigation is too big a subject to really master in a course like this, but I was impressed by how much we had learned in a single day and certainly felt like we’d gone a long way towards being able to safely plan and execute a day paddle on the sea. Once we’d finished all that was left was to head back to the dining room for diner and then repair to the bar for a glass, or two, of PyB’s very own Bootliquor Ale.

Island Stylebeginner sea kayakers sea kayaking near Treardur Bay, Anglesey
The weather on Saturday had been OK on Anglesey but Sunday morning arrived with a sunny smile on its face. After another big breakfast we once again headed in to the classroom this time to talk about resources such as ordinance survey maps, almanacs, the shipping forecast and admiralty charts.
The destination for today’s trip was the section of coast from Trearddur Bay along towards Porth Dafach. With the boats already loaded from the previous day we were soon on the road. Anglesey is a popular holiday destination and the bright sun was helping to make bring out the crowds and make the roads busier than usual. Parking was a little tricky but we unloaded the kayaks and then Dave found a good space in a nearby car park. We were soon changed and launching on to the crystal clear water. Gen was a little too keen and a brief lapse in concentration saw her take an early bath. It was all good fun though and she was soon back in her kayak and smiling and the group were soon heading around the rocky shoreline and exploring the many small bays. As we went Dave and Andy introduced some more strokes and kills to learn on. They also upped the ante a little in terms of rock hopping and we were all soon enjoying negotiating some great gaps and channels. There were a few wobbles as the swell made timing tricky but new skills and confidence were paying off and nobody fell in.
We paddled on, alongside some impressive cliffs and the odd sea cave or two. It is a truly wonderful coastline. The sky was blue and clear and visibility was so good we could clearly see the Lleyn Peninsular away across the water. Dave pointed out groups of Choughs on the nearby cliffs and as we landed on a small sandy beach for lunch we were all feeling on top of the world. As we lounged on the rocks, munching on cheese and pickle rolls and soaking up the sunshine Faye produced a muffin with a birthday candle in it. I should probably explain that it just happened to be my birthday and as the gang all sang me the usual ‘birthday’ song (they didn’t even use the ‘Monkey’ verse) I was touched.

Celebrations, and lunch, over it was back into the sea kayaks ready to work our way back. Dave set us some really good rock hopping challenges on the way and everyone rose to the challenge to successfully negotiate them. A little bit of rescue practice and that was it our trip was over and it was time to head back for our final classroom session for a debrief. Talking to everyone afterwards they all said that the course had exceeded their expectations and more importantly that they were keen to continue sea kayaking.
In conclusion the experience was a wholly positive one and I was really impressed with how much knowledge and skills everyone was able to glean from a single weekend and the next time I get asked that familiar question I’ll know that the advice to book on to a course is right on the money.

A Beginner’s Tale
Faye Smith on a sea kayaking course at Plas y Brenin
From a beginner’s perspective reality hit as I hopped out of the Play y Brenin mini-bus, the sea looked calm but seemed vast, I have to admit that I felt a little bit scared. Although I felt nervous I was determined not to show it, but I felt that the worst thing that I could do as the ‘other half’ of an experienced paddler was to put on a front and try and be something that I was not. And after getting to know the others on the course at our morning briefing, Nicky, Josie, Gen and Sue, I felt that our levels and expectations were very similar, which was reassuring. However I still felt that I had a lot to prove to myself, as although there was no pressure from our fantastic coaches and the group, I did have, well not exactly a fear, I think an uncertainty would probably be the best description. All my paddling up to know had been on inland waters and in those scenarios you can usually see the shore.

My last time out in a boat was on Wastwater, England’s deepest Lake and although that was wild and rugged this seemed a very different kettle of fish. The fact that as you looked out from the beach that we were going to launch from all you could see was a distant horizon line made it feel a lot more daunting, but also inexplicably inviting. I felt ready for the challenge ahead and although I had an irrational apprehension of the ocean, I was also fired up on overcoming that fear and, strangely, I also felt drawn to the sea. I knew that I was in safe hands and that by the time our journey was complete and I once again landed on this beach I would have achieved that, gained new confidence and started to learn the skills that will ultimately underpin and enhance all my future adventures on the sea. That feeling became a reality and even though I managed to capsize whist doing low brace practice, the fact that Andy was able to rescue and put me back in to my boat so easily really proved to me that if you are prepared and know what to do a swim is not the end of the world.
As the weekend progressed my confidence grew and grew and the day spent rock hopping along the coast from Trearrdur Bay was unforgettable. I’d recommend to anybody who wants to start out on a journey in to the fantastic world of kayaking on the sea to book on to a course like this one. Brilliant!

A Discover Sea Kayaking Course is full board and costs £199. For more details and course dates visit Beginner sea kayaers enjoy a lunch break in Red Wharf Bay, Anglesey

Further Reading:
Welsh Sea Kayaking by Jim Krawiecki & Andy Biggs
Sea Kayak Navigation by Franco Ferrero
Sea Kayak Handling – Doug Cooper
Sea Kayaking – Gordon Brown
CK.Co.UK Book & DVD Shop

Follow these links for more great sea kayaking features, sea kayak tests, sea kayak course providers and downloadable sea kayak trips

To see more Discover Sea Kayak images check out Here

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