‘You’re taking playboats to the Alps?!’

This was the most common response we received when telling fellow paddlers about our planned trip to the French Alps.
Our reply?
‘Sure, why not? It’ll be awesome!’
And it was…

After the lengthy drive across France, our convoy consisting of three cars carrying six Jackson Kayak Rockstars, two Jackson Kayak Zens, eight paddlers, five non-paddling family members, rescue kit, cameras and an incredible assortment of inflatables (I’ll come to those later) finally pulled into Les Iscles campsite, Eygliers. On one side, just over an embankment, was the Durance and on the other, a lake. Perfect.

Starting with the slalom course at L’Argentière-la-Bessée on day one, over the next week we freestyled our way through the brilliant, and freezing, whitewater for which the Alps is famous. Having been spoilt so far this Summer with the bath-like temperatures of the water at Lee Valley, the glacier-melt water of the Durance provided a bit of a shock at first and we were certainly thankful for the hot weather and fantastic Sandiline cag-decks!

Some days involved park-and-play where we all spent hour upon hour surfing, looping and Space Godzilla-ing as well as working on mcnasties/ pistol flips, phonics monkeys and donkey flips (with great success for Squarerock Team member, Hugh). The novelty of such a large group of freestylers, mostly in red Jackson Kayak Rockstars, certainly attracted the attention of not only clubs of creek boaters on the water, but also an almost constant audience on the bank too! Receiving applause from spectators for a particularly huge loop or entry move was always a highlight of the day. The fact that our freestyling-fleet really couldn’t be missed on the water also led to frequent questions from paddlers of a range of nationalities about playboating in the UK and on seeing some spectacular enders from those in Jackson Kayak Zens, some long-boaters were even tempted to join in the fun!

It was on one of these park-and-play days at the old slalom course of Saint-Clément that the inflatables were brought into action. Having been previously trialled on the lake, it was time to put them to the test on the whitewater. If our presence on the Durance wasn’t conspicuous before, it certainly was now; paddlers looping inside rubber rings, crocodiles being launched at unsuspecting members of the group mid-ride and the constant challenge of matching the moves being nailed by an inflatable minion all made for a crazy morning!

Other days involved river trips, for example the lower Durance from our campsite down to Embrun, where wave trains provided ample opportunities for wavewheels, macho moves and kickflips. This specific stretch also happens to be home to the notorious ’Rab Wave’, the subject of many a beat-down story as well as featuring in countless carnage videos. This was a wave we were looking forward to meeting…

It wasn’t long after arriving at the wave that we started to witness Rab claiming its victims; hot doggers, rafters, hydrospeeders and kayakers were indiscriminately separated from their vessels. Hoping not to experience the same fate, we hopped on for a surf. If it looked big from the outside, it was even larger within. A nice wave on surfers-left feeds into a steep, deep and bouncy hole on the right in which I certainly spent longer than I would have liked on numerous occasions. Queen of the Rab however has to go to Ottie who survived some seriously prolonged beatings in style and still went back for more. King of Rab on the other hand has to be shared between Hugh and Ben, the former for appearing to completely tame the wave, throwing some great blunts and the latter for an enormous air loop just before we continued down river.

It was on these trips that the Jackson Kayak Zens really came into their element. Big enough for carrying the rescue kit and split paddles yet manoeuvrable enough to join in with all the freestyle fun and dominate every Party Surf with ease. They also proved brilliant for chase-boating, although this mainly applied to catching stray inflatables as oppose to swimmers!

Overall it was a great first experience of alpine rivers and solid proof that taking playboats to the Alps makes for a fantastic trip! Thanks to Dan McGaley for all the organisation, Paul Foreman and Halcyon Mandelstam for carrying rescue kit in their Jackson Kayak Zens all week and Ottie Robinson-Shaw, Ben Pamplin and Hugh Mandelstam for all the fun on the water. Also huge thanks to the non-paddling support crew for transport, food and photos and as always, Aaron Dempsey and Squarerock for all the support and brilliant kit which made the trip even better.

Cannot wait to have an even bigger group on the trip next year…. Squarerock on Tour maybe?

By Jen McGaley