Kayaking Wallace

PUT IN: November 2016 ~ Why Wales? with Aaron Kendall. by Mike Toughill 

It’s officially full-blown Autumn here at DBP HQ in Wisconsin, and as I once again found myself looking for a cover photo for the month, I wanted something that would be festive and colorful. If you know me, you know I love a Fall color run for many reasons – the crisp air, the smell of decaying leaves, the lack of summer crowds on my favorite rivers… I’m in love with boating in November.

This paddle selfie from DBP Admin Aaron Kendall of the UK fits the bill for what I wanted to express. You can practically feel the chill of the river, the colors are full blown, and the action is sweet to boot. He also shared some photos from his boating missions in Wales, where our cover photo was shot. I asked Aaron to tell us a bit about Wales and what the paddling scene there is like.


“What is it about this small section of Wales in the UK that make it different, that makes Snowdonia such a draw for so many new and expert paddlers from around the world? After all, its 2000km only has a paddleable river around every 20km…

Let’s start with the main most important point… the rivers, what it’s all really about. What paddling do we have to offer? What makes Snowdonia so amazing is its huge range of rivers we. We have some of the hardest Class 5 around, along with some of the most beautiful cruisey Class 2/3 rivers for tomorrow’s expert paddlers to master their skills on, and everything in-between. Out of Snowdonia’s regularly run 80 rivers, one river – in North Wales -stands out: The endangered Afon (River) Conwy.

On its upper stretches you have some classic Grade 3, which is simply pleasurable to paddle for the Class 2 paddler pushing themselves. For a confident Class 5 paddler, after a chilled warm up with some class 4 moves, you get your teeth in to get ready for the day’s stout hunting. Pushing further down the valley, the river steps up; in the middle sections you have some big move Grade 4/5 to enjoy before entering what is known as the jewel in the crown of the Afon Conwy – The Fairy Glen Gorge.
Fairy Glen is 2km of Class 4+/5 paddling orgasm. It’s big move after big move, to be perfected on one of the many runs by the local teams and paddlers from afar who come to kayak this simply unique and visually stunning, impressive stretch of river. This is just one example of so many rivers offered here in Snowdonia.

Don’t like driving far? This is the place for you. With a river averaging every 12.43 miles it’s all here. Within a five minute drive of the Outdoor Mecca of Snowdonia, Betws Y Coed, there are three of the best “all you can offer” rivers, there for your taking: Lledr, Llugwy and the above mentioned Conwy. Within a thirty minute drive there is another plethora of rivers raging from enjoyable Class 2+ to quality Class 4 to pushy Class 5+. It’s all here in such a small area.

Talk about action packed! Think it might sound a little busy for you? If you don’t fancy a classic, there are endless lesser paddled rivers that have some amazing gems to offer. Look hard enough and you will find what you need…

A little something for everyone? Yes we do. Technical Boulder Gardens, We have it. Low Volume Slab Slides, We have it.

Narrow Committing Gorges, To Right we do. Bouncy Big Volume, Catch the Rain right…

We like to think we have it all. Here in Wales, UK due to the distinct lack of snow packs all our rivers are rain fed. This brings something very special to what we have here. One day you might be on The Aberglaslyn Gorge enjoying some big munchy high volume holes, 24 hours later you’re in the sunshine enjoying a few scary Lledr laps, and finishing the day with laps on a park and hook flare move under a chip shop in town… Does paddling get better than this? I have never heard of anywhere that has such a wide range to offer in such a small place.

The Cherry on the Top… It’s The Paddlers. We all know that it’s the people that keeps things going. Here in Snowdonia it’s no different. The majority of the guys nailing the good stuff here are local. Some might call us a close knit community. Don’t get me wrong, this has its pros and cons. Small communities are amazing for getting word and help around; whether this is a good or bad name for people, it seems bad names come easy and stay longer, rather than good names for good paddlers.

So how do you do well in a small community? Let the paddling do the talking. Paddle well. Push yourself. Be nice. I’ve witnessed this community karma so many times, whether its people returning lost kit to its wet owner, getting word around for a new hazard on a river, or getting fellow paddlers to the river. Be it new friends or old, the #OneLoveOneRiver philosophy and sheer love for that sweet whitewater goodness prevails, everyone chips together, and we get to the river. (I know this more than anyone as a non-driver. Shout out for all the lifts.)
This amazing community spirit has been shown in its rawest form recently in the ongoing process to Save the River Conwy. Sharing petitions on social media, making family and friends aware by word of mouth, or just all round spreading that one river love, it’s there. Most powerfully, it shows when we’re drawn together to mourn members of the community who’ve paddled their last river.

Due to the nature of the landscape, we don’t have the ”huge” that Mexico, Norway and America have. But what we have is good. Really good! We have rivers with next to no travel time, of every type you could ever dream of. Above all, we have family and community of the best rawest form. That’s the family that’s brought together by the river.”

Aaron Kendall, UK DBP Admin.

Family, community, good vibes and great rivers… November is a time for giving thanks, and these are things common to all of us, things we are thankful for no matter where you call home. This is the perfect season to reflect and reconnect with your roots.
Speaking of thanks, November marks two years since I first kicked off DBP MAGAZINE ONLINE as an offshoot from our popular Facebook page, as an outlet for the deeper side of Dirtbaggin’. Two years and over 200,000 reads from fans around the world later, I’m as thankful as a Dirt Bag can be for the opportunity to share our community’s stories and heritage with our global audience. Thank you for helping bring this dream to life!

We have a stout month of articles ahead for you. Executive Editor Tom Clare and I will be delivering some great stories from the Fall festival circuit, like Clinton Begley’s coverage of Feather Fest in California, a collaboration by various staff writers on Gauley Fest, and Chris Macdonald and the UK DBP Admins’ Adidas Sickline report. Michael Potter takes us with to GAF, and I report on what it takes to compete, and win, in this year’s Animal Race on the Upper Gauley with the members of Team DBP. And much much more! Thanks for reading, and keep on livin’ the #OneLoveOneRiver Philosophy!
“Chicago” Mike Toughill



Our Vision:

We exist to share stories of paddlers of all disciplines from all over the world; to interview icons and play makers in the paddling community and whitewater industry; to preserve the stories of our collective history; to raise awareness of and to protect our rivers and resources; to promote whitewater festivals and events; to report on competitions and competitors in the race community; to give a home to the artistic side of paddling in poetry, artwork, music, comics, and humor; to be inclusive not exclusive, to preach unity and support, safety and camaraderie; to break down the barriers that separate society; to have a global outlook with a local feel; and to celebrate the Dirtbag Lifestyle and #OneLoveOneRiver Philosophy!

All Forward Thinking.
That’s what it’s all about! Flow Together, Grow Together… Expanding our sport’s horizons is something we are actively doing… Reminding each other that our community is the same no matter where the River is, the color of skin or language spoken. On The River it’s all one language, the language of Flow.

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By Chicago Mike

Editor-in-Chief "Chicago" Mike Toughill is co-founder of Dirt Bag Paddlers and former Peshtigo River Manager at Kosir's Rapid Rafts in Wisconsin. He's been Wallacing since 2003.

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