One of the kayakers featured in our Extreme Photo of the Week gallery contacted us last week with this video from a kayaking rescue during a run of a river in the U.K. Barny Young just happened to have his GoPro camera on and documented what happened after a friend got pinned under the water.
We see a lot of images of spectacular kayaking moments that go right—perfect drops over waterfalls, skillful navigation of enormous rapids, complex rope rigging to enter steep canyons. But we rarely see what happens when something goes wrong. Luckily this story has a happy ending.
“I think the biggest thing is learning to try and be cool and calm under pressure,” says Young, an expert paddler who shares some safety tips and gear advice below. “For this reason it’s important to have practised the necessary skills beforehand so you can react quickly.”
Adventure: Where were you?
Barny Young: We were kayaking at the river Lynn, just out of Lynmouth in Devon, United Kingdom.
A: What was your goal on this day?
BY: Go out and experience a new river while having fun.
A: You are a serious kayaker who takes on serious rapids. How difficult was this day’s paddling?
BY: Not super hard in comparison to some of the whitewater I’ve been lucky enough to paddle around the world. Although in the U.K., it is considered one of the harder rivers in the country. On a worldwide scale, I’d call it Class 4+.
A: Who is the kayaker and what happened to pin him under the water like that?
BY: The kayaker’s name is Mark Hardingham, and he got pushed offline in the lead into the main drop. This caused him to be pushed down the river’s right current, where he became vertically pinned with the force of the water holding his head under.
A: The water must have a lot of force when you are under it like this.
BY: Yes, it’s definitely always a precarious position to be in. In this case, we were lucky the channel was relatively small. But, as you can see, it still took three of us pulling pretty hard to get him up and out of his boat.
A: He gives a thumb’s up at one point. Is that because he can breathe?
BY: Yeah, luckily in this situation, because he is so upright the brim of his helmet causes the water to bead of giving him a small air pocket.
A: Does this kind of thing happen often? It’s scary to see.
BY: Not to often, thank goodness, although I did hear of a girl getting caught in exactly the same spot only two days prior. In my experience from 12 years of kayaking, however, this is only the third time I can recall seeing someone get pinned similar to this.
A: Was it by accident that the GoPro camera was on?
BY: No, it was my first time down the run so figured it would be cool to get a bit of footage to look back over. Never anticipated anything going down like it did, however.
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A: Was the rescued kayaker and team pretty shaken up after this?
BY: Luckily, we all had our heads pretty well screwed on. We were just happy to get Mark out so quickly and know he was safe.
After the run the rest of the boys actually decided to go back for a second run, but after enjoying the sun of California and British Columbia so much this season, I opted to drive shuttle and enjoy a warm cup of tea in the nearby cafe.
A: Have you been in a similar situation before? Pinned in the water?
BY: Although I’ve never been vertically pinned like Mark, I’ve definitely experienced a couple of dicey situations. My scariest moment occurred on a first descent in Papua New Guinea where I was forced to swim before getting pushed under a rock. Luckily I was able to get myself to the side. My boat however kept going and disappeared underground about 100-meters downstream. After waiting for four hours in the hope that it would resurface, we offered the local villagers nearby 100 kina (40 USD) in the odd chance it would turn. The next day we got a call to say the boat had been recovered. When we collected, it we found out that the local villagers had attached a rope to one of their waists and swam under attaching another rope to the end of the kayak and pulling it out. Despite being considered crazy by many people, there is no way I would of considered swimming under that rock even with all of my kayaking safety gear attached.
A: How do kayakers learn how to perform rescues like this?
BY: I think the biggest thing is learning to try and be cool and calm under pressure. The only way to do this is through practice. Spending a lot of time kayaking on the West Coast of New Zealand has put me in a range of different rescue scenarios which all help. Due to the nature of kayaking often when things do go wrong you don’t have a lot of time. For this reason, it’s important to have practiced the necessary skills beforehand so you can react quickly. Carrying the correct safety gear is also important. My favorite piece of safety kit is a 15-foot sling which you see me clip to Mark’s life jacket collar. I keep this in my buoyancy aid at all times. It has many uses and is often a lot quicker than getting out your throw bag. If it’s 15-feet-long, it is also a perfect length to utilize as a climbing harness if necessary.