whitewater fun, friendship and awareness

I never could have imagined that the Soča would become a special place for me. This beautiful river with its amazing colour is a great place for paddlers and all kinds of skill levels. Some sections are easy, some are challenging and some are insane or even forbidden.
Earlier, I bought myself an Alpackaraft (Huh???) and there couldn’t be a better place to start paddling it there, but if your inexperienced, you might want some help taking the first steps.
That’s why I registered last minute for the European Packrafting meet-up (The what???).

It is an event that has two main purposes. The first is to create awareness about rivers and to support Balkan River Defence and Save The Blue Hart Of Europe. Second, it is about improving skills and sharing experiences. Or is it the other way around, doesn’t matter, it’s about fun and consciousness.

The skill-improvement part was easy. As a complete rookie improvement is the only possible direction, it can’t get worse.
I started with some whitewater class I sections and after a few days I was able to paddle a class II+ to III without swimming. My paddling skills still need a lot of improvement and catching Eddy’s (Huh again?) isn’t always easy or elegant. I hope to find a few more places where I can improve my skills before I go back home.
Safety is also a very important issue while paddling. It’s not a matter if you swim; it’s a matter of when you swim, so you better are prepared for the inevitable. (The most important, life saving thing to remember, keep your feet up!!!)
That’s why I took an extra 2-day course on whitewater rescue with Seon from Packraft Europe and Miha. In the mornings we learned all about hydraulics, hazards, rope systems, rescue equipment and operations, communication in and out the water, safety gear and incident management. The afternoons we spent in the cold 7°C water exercising swimming techniques, river crossings, throwing ropes and performing different kinds of rescues.

So when the shit hits the fan (Seon’s words, not mine) I’m prepared. And one other thing to remember: ‘slow is smooth and smooth is fast’ (again Seon’s words, again not mine).

The evenings during the meet-up were all about creating awareness about rivers and stirring up the need for future packraft expeditions, stories were shared by the fire, questions asked and pictures proudly shown. We met a lot of nice people who did some really cool stuff all over the world.
The two really red cherries on top of all those juicy stories were the presentations on Greenland and the Grand Canyon. Damn, after travelling for nine months you can only come to the conclusion that there is so much more. Life is to short and my wallet to small. Or is it about making choices. Again, another subject to philosophize about.

The Mini Flow Film Festival got us thinking. Do we have unspoilt rivers left? Nope, nor one.
Please, ask yourself next question: “Have you ever paddled or been on a river you can drink from?”
I have and I would like to do so in the future and I hope the same for my children and theirs.
As I said, it got us thinking, but it got worse. The people from Balkan River Defence came to talk about their organisation and it was very inspiring. The best way to describe them is that they are a passionate, rock-and-roll pack of activists who paddle for the last free flowing rivers of Europe and fight against the building of 2700 planned dams in the Balkan area, corruption and other river related mishaps.

Because it is so important and because it made a huge impression on us, I wrote a special article dedicated to rivers.

And while daddy is goofing around in his inflatable toy…

A special thanks to those who made our trip even more special;

Thank you so much Michaela and Seon for putting this meet-up together. As a complete newbee in the packrafting community I felt most welcome and I learned tons of stuff.
check it out at: www.packrafteurope.com

Thanks to all the other rafters who shared their stories and knowledge and thank you much more for paddling together. It was fun.

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copy by Jan Bergs
pictures by Katrien de Troch, Studio Gloria

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