Friday, August 27, 2010

A sideways glance at British kayaking news from 1967

In 1967 the British Canoe Union (BCU) magazine “Canoeing in Britain” published a Christmas competition with a prize of a copy of each of “Byde’s Books”. (In 1960 Alan Byde had become just the second person ever to be appointed Senior Canoeing Coach by the British Canoe Union (B.C.U.). I’d better explain that in Britain a “canoe” was, and sometimes still does refer to both canoe and kayak. More about Alan later…

Alan Byde at his home in New Zealand 2006

 In a country where people place bets on hounds chasing hares at up to 45 miles per hour... albeit electric hares... in 1967 a number of people wrote their dismay at a somewhat slower hare. The prominent sea kayaker Chris Hare, on returning from an expedition to Greenland where he had hunted from his kayak with Greenlanders, attempted to gain support for the introduction of seal hunting from kayaks in UK. (no.. not electric seals...)

Meanwhile Colin Mortlock, (who later led the expedition in Norway, 1975, for which the Nordkapp paddle and kayak were designed) described kayaking Welsh white-water rivers in flood. 

A 1967 advertisement for a sea kayak, the "Wessex Sea Rapier", demonstrated its on-land portability by showing it on the roof of a Morris 1,000 (1,000 cubic centimeters... and that's the engine not the cab)… a car that originally had little lighted orange pointers that swung out like arms from the supports between the side windows to indicate the direction of a turn! I'd like some on my kayak! In 1967, that fiberglass Sea Rapier cost just 36 pounds and 15 shillings… With today’s poor US dollar exchange value that’s about 74 dollars…

The 1967 magazine columns were full of quirky little revelations, such as “A Canadian is not really a sea going canoe”… and that by September 1967, two people had passed the "Advanced Canadian examination"… (You really have to look closely at these Canadians nowadays!)

Next… “The Senior coach is on a par with the Gold Medalist, and is a gentleman to be reckoned with” (Any women reading this?) This begs to be brought together with the declaration; “To all but a rhinoceros it must be obvious that the only place to learn to roll is the swimming baths – in this country anyway.” One can only imagine that the author had spotted the second appointed "BCU Senior (Rhino) Coach" on his back in his garden in Wolverhampton. This was apparently not an advanced Canadian exam!

In 1967, Hans Klepper died. He was the son of one of the original tailors who produced the first folding Kleppers in 1905 to speed up trips from the mountains. Hans was associated with the design of the Klepper Arius in which Dr Hans Lindemann crossed the Atlantic. Skipping through the manufacturing processes from folding kayaks to plastic, “the first thermoplastic kayak” was displayed at the annual boat show in 1967. And from kayaks to paddles, Dave Mitchell (who made "Mitchwood" paddles in UK and now owns Mitchell Paddles in USA) won silver medal for slalom kayak in the 1967 world championships. And in the realm of competition, the Atlantic beaches of Bude suffered the annual invasion of competitors for the week-long surf kayaking event.

In this context, back to Alan, from the start of this piece… Alan wrote a great (truly) book titled “Living Canoeing” which published in 1969 and according to Alan was started in 1967. It is a classic book, with content mostly valid today. I can see how later writers have likely been influenced by the style of line drawings that illustrate many of the technical aspects, and by the content of the Sea Kayaking sections of the book. Not Byde’s first, or last writing achievement, but possibly his finest. Returning to the photo of Byde upside down in a kayak on his lawn, you can see similar images (in fact rolling sequences) in my own “Kayaking; a beginner’s guide” and “Nigel Foster’s Sea Kayaking”... I've picked up a technique or two from him. But perhaps it was not his aversion to being called a rhino that drove Alan Byde to New Zealand. Maybe when he was sitting in his back yard underneath his kayak he was simply preparing himself for living "down under".


Anonymous said...

Ho yus. I am indebted to Nigel Dennis, Dave Winkworth, Paul Caffyn for sight of this blog, plus a host of people who guided, obstructed, enthused and reviled me and my works. This life isn't over yet but what there has been so far is something that happened while I was making plans. Please look up "Alan Byde" on Facebook and see the album "Jabberwocky" It could explain so much.

NigelWyn said...

I remember reading Alan Byde's "Beginners Guide to Canoeing" in the school library sometime in the 70s. It started me off on a lifetime of canoeing (with a few long gaps).

Nigel Thomas

Fat Paddler said...

I love the Wessex Canoes advertisement! Absolute classic! :)