When you think about whitewater rafting, you might assume that you have to travel to some far flung National Park to have a go. We thought the same until we heard about some of the man made whitewater centres that are dotted across the UK. Cardiff International Whitewater Centre is our ‘local’ centre and is situated in Cardiff Bay, and we took a trip over there to find out what rafting is all about!
We had six in our raft to fill so we decided to fill it with people who had helped out with the UK Active Outdoors website over the last year as a ‘thank-you’, and we also offered up one spot for our March 2011 competition winner
We arrived at the centre around midday and after the signing all of the usual forms we got kitted up in wetsuits, lifejackets and helmets. We were met at the rendezvous point by our instructor who walked us round the corner to come face to face with our vessel. He then talked us through the basics before we hit the water. I had previously met our instructor and seen him in action so had a feeling that we would be tipping the raft over and getting a dunking at some point!
We tentatively climbed into the raft and slid ourselves into our positions. We had a quick spin around the flat water section to practice some of the commands that would be thrown at us as we hurtled down the real course, although this gave us mixed results, remembering left from right suddenly became a bit of an issue for some of our crew!
To get up to the top of the rapids we paddled our way across to the huge raft escalator and rode this to the top of the course. I actually felt nervous about what might happen on the way down, and looking about I wasn’t the only one. I think we were all hoping not to be the first to be thrown out of the raft. I switched the go pro camera on and we were off!
Almost immediately we were sent in to rapids with water spraying up from all angles, and as we passed the smiling faces of the onlookers at the centre, we had our first close call as we hit the side which I didn’t see coming and almost flew out. The instructor took it easy on the first couple of rapids as we were finding our feet and stroke, but was soon testing our nerve. He had great control over the raft but that meant he could position the raft to go down sideways and even backwards as we headed down through the drops and turns, which from the side may have looked more innocent, but it felt anything but for us! Water crashed over the raft and after a successful run, our instructor decided it was time we got a proper dunking. We were paddling hard, back into the large rapids at the bottom of the course and we were given the command ‘all right’. So like a group of lemmings, we all leaned to the right, and over we went, tipping most of us into the cold, rushing waters to take our first swim. My wife, who was next to me, unfortunately had my ugly mug coming at her, ducking her in to the water too! I found this funny as we found ourselves both bobbing about in the flat waters, but would soon be paid back as she fell in my direction taking us both over the next time around.
After a good number of runs around the course we had all had a soaking and all been in the water at some point, not only were we getting better at our strokes and directions but we were all left wanting more! We were surprised with how quickly we could build up our confidence , and how hard we could jam our feet into the side of the boat when that dreaded big drop came into view. You couldn’t relax for a moment, as even when you had made it safely down one rapid, you were hurtling towards the next, or a wall, or a strategically placed obstacle to the side of the next section, and all of these could throw you out just as easily if you’re not concentrating. I know, I almost went!
I don’t know if the purpose built centre will ever replace the feeling of being in the wilds of our national parks in a raft, but the benefits of a man-made centre are that their rapids aren’t affected by low water levels or any other natural causes affecting the quality of the white water. They can pump the rapids up or down at the flick of a button. If you are a beginner, you might also be more tempted to try rafting in a place like this due to the more controlled environment. You aren’t overtly aware of it when you are hurtling down the course, but there are people on hand to help if you do take a dip in the middle of the course! If you fancy having a go at rafting with people who know what they are doing and who can provide you with a truly great and fun experience then get down to your White water centre! It’s great fun!
A huge thanks to all the guys for a great afternoon at the centre.