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As soon as the leaves start to change and the clocks go back, it looms on the horizon like a blot on your prosperity, its shadow lengthening as its clammy embrace sucks you ever nearer. The year is rushes towards its end and January will be even worse! It’s like the impending visit of your least favourite relative. It’s dark! There’s ice! And those of us without vans are expected to get changed in sub-zero pub car parks. I am talking, of course, of winter.

Anyone can be persuaded to get out and on the water in the middle of summer! When all your paddling buddies want to go out, the sun is shining and the water feels great to cool off in; it’s easy. It’s fun. But winter? It’s cold, the sky is grey, the water temperature will be in single digits. The water will give you brain freeze, steam will rise from your friends’ heads after their first rolls and your hands will be numb to the point where all they can do is keep gripping that paddle. The only thing keeping you on the water is that the very prospect of getting changed in a damp and wet carpark is truly horrifying to you.

But you know what? No one ever said kayaking was easy or demanded little commitment. And as the climber Mark Twight once said “it doesn’t have to be fun to be fun.”

How do you keep that motivation up? How do you persuade your buddies to come out and play? How do you decide to put the seven layers of gear on and voluntarily get cold and wet?! Only the truly dedicated get out and kayak when it’s below freezing!

New gear

That leaky old dry cag probably doesn’t cut it anymore, that new short-sleeved cagdeck you bought three months ago isn’t going to keep you warm for long and the wetsuit with the holes in it won’t last much longer.

If that’s you then it may be time to dust off the wallet off and treat yourself to some new gear. Manufacturers are continually improving the quality of equipment so read some reviews, ask your friends about the gear they use and visit the local canoe shop to find something that’s going to suit you and your budget.

You’ll be surprised at how getting a new piece of gear (or even a new boat) will make you want to try it out and go paddling.

Layer up and dress for the conditions

It cannot be understated how important dressing for the conditions is. Getting a drycag or drysuit worthy of the name is a priority but it is what you wear underneath it that will keep you warm.

I am guilty of wearing the least amount of gear I think I can get away with, then bitching and moaning about the cold to my friends throughout the day. I think it might be time to wear that skull cap, pull out the pogies and put on the extra thermal or three.

Try it out and experiment with it to find what works for you. You can always cool yourself down on the river.

While on the subject, it is worth remember a bunkhouse or the back of your car really isn’t going to dry those thermals overnight, perhaps it’s time to invest in a second pair. I did so long ago and it has made a world of difference. You can get back on the next day, be dry and warm and not have the wet wetsuit dread.

It’s better with friends

Kayaking is simply better with your friends, you may have amazing trips to exotic destinations but ultimately they are a shared experience and the quality of the trip depends on the company you keep. You can have terrible weather, awful water levels but still have an amazing time. Don’t let any of that stop you having fun. But how do you persuade them to come out kayaking when it’s abysmal weather outside?

Well, with luck, you’ve already persuaded them to embark on some retail therapy with you and you’ve all gone on a shopping trip and they are just as excited to try out their new gear as you are.

However, if your friends are not easy to persuade kind that willingly embark on outdoor adventures in the depths of winter with you then you need to be the driving force behind the paddling adventures.

Keep offering them reasons to come paddling, remind them of the fun you all have together, offer to do the types of paddling they enjoy or go somewhere new. Ultimately you need to be the motivator. Be the eager beaver in the group, it’ll catch on.
Failing that; follow the advice below; from bribery with the promise of a pub trip to getting them to compete in an event alongside you.

Have a solid roll

No single event will cool you down quicker and make you feel more miserable than a prolonged swim, or worse yet… multiple swims.

If you didn’t learn in summer, or if you still doubt your ability to roll, then winter is the perfect time to get down to the local club’s pool sessions.

Consider shorter sessions and keep moving

A three-hour marathon or six hours of freestyle might work wonderfully in the sun, but for obvious reasons, it is time to consider some shorter sessions at this time of year.

If you struggle to motivate yourself to get out for the usual amount of time, tell yourself and your mates that you’ll be doing shorter sessions. You can always stay on for longer if you feel like it and you won’t feel disappointed if you got off early.

Keep moving. Do you really need the 45-minute lunch break at the side of the river when the snow is on the ground? People will need breaks but try taking short breaks more often rather than a single prolonged break where everybody half freezes to death.


The idea of camping or staying in a freezing cold bunk house with cold showers and an ineffective drying room on the club’s annual trip to the same river for the third year in a row isn’t appealing? Then perhaps it’s time to expand your horizons. Consider changing the location, find a new and exciting river and consider upgrading the accommodation.

You’ll be surprised at the amount of people who are suddenly up for kayaking trip when you find an Air BnB with a hot tub.

Go to an event or book on a course.

Every year when Britain is seemingly at its coldest, the Hurley Classic takes place. The week before the 2017 event the water levels looked great and the weather was glorious. Then a blizzard hit on the morning of the event, bringing with it snow and sub-zero temperatures.

If it was just a regular weekend then Hurley Weir would have been close to empty and while I’m sure the numbers dropped off because of the weather, people came because an event was taking place and thoroughly enjoyed it!

Having an event to look forward to motivates you to go out and train in the weeks before hand, no matter the result it still gets you out on the water. It is also an easy thing to persuade your friends to come too, nobody wants to miss out on a good event and all it has to offer.

For all of the reasons why you’d go to an event consider booking yourself onto a course. Nothing gets you motivated quite like learning something new and here in the UK a lot of the courses can only really be done at this time of year due to the kayak season and water levels.

Treat yourself

Bring along some treats, grab a flask of mocha and bring some chocolate along on the trip for you and your friends to enjoy. They’ll be glad you did.

Save the usual car park chat for somewhere warm and cosy, head to the village pub with a roaring fire, the best Indian restaurant in town, the hot tub in the accommodation you so thoughtfully booked or just fish and chips in the car with the heating on full blast.

Remember why you do it

Lastly remember why it is that you do this sport. Think of all of the fun you will have, how good it feels to nail that drop, pull a big move or just how much you love surfing on a wave.

Despite the cold, damp uncomfortable feeling you may have just remember that no matter what it still brings the smile to your face like nothing else does.