CSNI Take France Leave
After almost a year of training on Shaw’s Bridge, nine members of the CSNI squad and a walking wallet were heading off to France to a purpose-built white water slalom course. As an added attraction Double Dutch delivered CANI”s sparkling new fleet of carbon kevlar competition boats just a couple of days before the off.
Months of fund raising and planning, followed by a last minute scramble to collect boats, all came together on Monday 20th July.
Easyjet were fine with the slalom boats – hardly a raised eyebrow as boats and paddlers took up most of the space in the check-in area at Belfast International Airport.. We arrived on schedule in Paris at Charles de Gaulle Terminal 2B. Or not 2B as it was 2B….Our baggage came out on the carousel as normal – but the boats wouldn’t fit and we had to hike across the airport to Terminal 2A where we were reunited with our kit and hooked up with Han and Hannah.
Two hours later we were outside our hotel in Auxerre. As its automatic check-in didn’t like the Wallet’s foreign credit card, we were were still outside half an hour later while we got the manager out of bed to come and let us in. But we got there in the end.
We reached our destination – Sault Brenaz – early on Tuesday afternoon and after flinging up tents, the nine members of the squad set off on their first foray onto the white water course. The site is on an island in the middle of the river Rhone, and the course is made by a barrage on one side to give a change in water level from one side of the island to the other and a sluice gate on the upper part to turn the water on and off each day.
There would be little rest for the nine slalom boaters over the next week. An early morning session under the critical gaze of Han or Hannah was followed each day by two more hours on the water in the late afternoon. The hottest part of the day was spent in the shade eating and drinking healthy stuff.( Not a single bar of chocolate seen all week, although one or two ice creams might have been glimpsed when it was judged Hannah was safely offside). The Wallet discovered to his astonishment it took two trips each day to the supermarket and the ability to haul a hundredweight of food back each time to keep everyone fed.
Han and Hannah concentrated their efforts on building the squad’s ability to read the water and make best use of the features to move about the course. The power of the flow was a step up for most – but after a few sessions, paddlers were surfing the stoppers with a confidence which belied their lack of experience on this kind of water.
The week wasn’t without incident. On day three Caoimhe got caught in a stopper and unfortunately dislocated her shoulder. Day four saw Caroline take a swim in turbulent water which resulted in a neck strain. Thankfully those were the only two injuries which needed a hospital trip. But by day five Paul was sporting an ice pack which gave him one impressive bicep, Beth was nursing a painful ankle and just about everyone could boast an impressive collection of scrapes and bruises.
Despite the aches and pains there was still plenty of enthusiasm for paddling by the end of the week. The coaches designated Saturday afternoon a rest period with no training. So what did they do? Went paddling again – this time in rafts.
Sunday was back to work with two more intensive training sessions and a last session on Monday morning was followed by a hot sweaty afternoon duck taping boats back into their packaging for the long trek North.
We had a few hours to spare on Tuesday before the flight home, so we paid a surprise visit to Eurodisney where we reckoned that Space Mountain feels a lot like being inside the triple stopper at Sault Brenaz – just darker.
Thumbs up to Easyjet and the baggage handlers as they sorted out the boats and delivered them back to us in Belfast with no hassle at all.
Thanks also to CANI and SportNI for continuing to support the squad.
A worthy footnote: There was a German slalom club training on the site as well and they were sporting one or two very tidy paddlers – but the CSNI squad beat them onto the water every morning. Now if that isn’t an impressive record……