Kayaking: BCU Star 1 course

I kayaked a couple of times as a teenager, which I remember pretty fondly, especially one sea kayak trip on Angelsea. Unbelievably this was a school trip and I had no previous experience, obviously something that would never take place now.

26 years after my last kayak trip, the idea has sprung up again, this time inspired by microadventures such as this one by Alastair Humphreys or full on 1000 mile expeditions like this one by Dave Cornthwaite. One step at a time though, best to get a bit of training first.


I looked around at several commercial watersport centres in London. They looked ace but were all generally pretty pricey. What looked like a much better fit for me was a kayaking club, in particular the beginners course at Tower Hamlets Canoe Club.

So every tuesday for the last few weeks i’ve been going down to Shadwell Basin (part of the old London Docks) training for my British Canoe Union Star 1 certificate.

I found myself being really nervous when I turned up on the first night, partly because I wasn’t sure what to expect, but also because I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. Obviously I was fine – the people at the club were very friendly and the others on my course were a lovely bunch and really supportive of each other.


It goes without saying that I had forgotten anything I may have known about kayaking and as a complete rookie struggled with the most basic of maneuvers – going in a straight line. To be fair, everyone struggled with this, especially at the start.

We ended the first session with an exercise that I was slightly dreading – the emergency exit from the boat. This involved tipping the kayak upside down, tapping the bottom and then slipping out. I can’t say that I was cool enough to tap the bottom, I was over and straight out. This october was generally pretty mild and while it WAS cold, it was far from bitter and I’m counting myself lucky.

I’d survived the first session and was pretty pleased with myself and the course. Bring on the rest!

Over the next few weeks I felt I was making some good progress. I could go in a straight(ish) line both forward and backwards and maneuver around mostly in the direction that I wanted. We even enjoyed lively games of tag and water polo.

On the final night we were assessed by a senior club member and put through our paces. Nothing too strict, but enough to make me want to impress. Afterwards we had a discussion on safety and other areas of kayaking and then we got our certificates. I am now officially a BCU star 1 kayaker!

What next?

Well, I’ve made a decent start but I think I’m not quite there for going off on my own yet. The obvious next move is to join the club (a bargain at £100 a year). I can do the star 2 course as fast as I want to (there is no set timetable) and then join in expeditions, probably next year.

Feels good, can’t wait to do more.

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