We decided to mix up a Tuesday night by taking some of our improvers over to Stratford Weir to meet some moving water. The level on the EA gauge at Lucy's Mill was 0.53m, which is low, and almost perfect conditions for this session.
First up was a session on manual handling, as it's a good 5 minutes walk with boats from the Greenway car park to the river!
Having left the club at 7:15, we got on the water at about 8pm. Apparently Tuesday is also SOAK's night, and initially the weir was heaving. We started with some breaking in and out of the jet on surfer's right, and had to do a fair amount of paddler dodging. We did this from both sides, and in a figure of eight. We also did a little ferry gliding. As if by magic, all the SOAK paddlers disappeared at about 8:45 and we had the place to ourselves.
At this point we still hadn't had a swimmer, and Neil thought we could have a go at surfing. After pointing out the further increased chances of falling in, we initially very tentatively asked our paddlers to approach the weir far surfer's left head on, feel the wave, and paddle back out again. They all found this easy, and without being prompted, more than 1 put in a stern rudder and happily surfed away. We took it in turns 1 at a time until we felt confident people were ok, then we had 2 on the wave at a time. The more confident paddlers were starting to move sideways on the wave intentionally, so we set the challenge of surfing the whole weir from left to right. Amazingly, by the end of the session almost all had done it, and those who missed had come very close. We also only had a single swimmer. Most disappointing!
0.53m on the EA gauge seems to be an ideal level for this session. The jet for breaking in and out is perhaps a bit weak and narrow, but it was enough to generate a good wobble when a paddler didn't put a proper edge on without actually capsizing them. We left it up to them to choose how far up the jet they went to break in, closer to the weir being faster, and soon most were choosing to break in quite near the top. The other advantage is that at this level surfing is an option for first-timers. The stopper would hold a boat in a side surf, but almost any paddle stroke away from the weir would pull it out. Dropping a top edge when in a side surf caused a large wobble which pushed the paddler out, but we only had 1 capsize this way. While breaking in and out is the more important skill, surfing seemed to be the most fun.
The only thing I would change about the session is better coordination with SOAK. The first 45 minutes was challenging with such a large number of paddlers.
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