Mention the National Student Rodeo to any paddler who has experienced one and you will quickly get an idea of what a crazy and brilliant event it is. The combination of freestyle kayaking, hundreds of students, two nights of partying and a theme (this year’s being ‘Christmas’) seems to be unbeatable in making for an awesome weekend.

This was to be my first NSR and after hearing all the stories from past events, my excitement had been steadily building for weeks. There were four of us from Cambridge University canoe club; two joining the rescue team and two of us competing. After arriving at Nottingham on Friday evening, pitching the tent, sticking, rescuing, re-sticking and re-rescuing the car from the mud, we went out to meet up with the other paddlers hailing from all across the UK. From Aberdeen to Falmouth, teams consisting of up to 40 paddlers had travelled to compete for their respective universities.

The Friday night party organised by River Legacy over in the marquee certainly didn’t disappoint and the last song came all too quickly. It was time to grab some sleep in preparation for Saturday’s early start. The first event of the day was the extreme slalom which called for a mix of new- and old-school moves in inlet gate and twin waves, with a couple of added tasks on the way down. A big loop in inlet gate and a pop-out in twin waves resulted in me qualifying for the expert ladies category, the heats for which were not until the afternoon. The rest of the morning was spent watching the safety teams dancing/live-baiting/ generally loving all of the ensuing carnage!

Next up were the duo races. Seeing as Anthony (fellow competitor from Cambridge) and I had never paddled the duo together before, let alone on white-water, our main aim was simply to make it to the finish line… preferably upright, although the pair ahead of us proved this wasn’t essential. Despite our lack of duo boofing skills (and therefore me being plunged deep into the foam pile of every hole) the charge down the course was great fun and we finished third in our heat.

The freestyle heats in the afternoon again involved all manner of moves with some particularly spectacular duo and old-school rides in looping pool. The results were soon released and I had made it to finals! With there still being no sign of the forecasted snow, everyone headed back to the campsite before the meal and Christmas-themed party. This was equally as great as the previous night with the added bonus of baubles, tinsel, snowmen and many a Santa Claus.

Sunday was just awesome. There was music, dancing (featuring some great YMCA routines from the safety teams), Rodeo rabbit wipe-outs and a series of brilliant finals! While I initially pulled some of the usual freestyle moves in the ladies final, it wasn’t long before paddles were being twirled and launched mid-move which led to me winning the expert ladies category! The duo and old-school finals followed, at which point the snow also arrived. It may have added to the festive theme but I was certainly thankful for my drysuit!

Overall it was a brilliant weekend, easily exceeding any expectations I had had regarding the level of craziness. At how many other events can you look up from surfing a hole to the sight of a full nativity scene dancing down the bank…in March?
Thanks to all of the event organisers, the safety teams for relentlessly throwing themselves in the river all weekend (and managing to enjoy it) and Squarerock for the support and lovely warm kit.

By Jen McGaley