The third gasp of breath almost ruined me.
22 years ago, me and four friends were kayaking a small river in West Wales. It was a local river that fishermen protected fiercely; we were technically not allowed to be on the river. But due to a very complicated law system we were not actually breaking any laws. (But that’s by the by). (As long as we did not touch the banks we were fine)
We were all experienced and had the right kit. The river was in flood and this made for some nice big white water, along a river that generally just tinkled down. There were a few spots where the river narrowed and dropped 20-30 feet in a very small space. We had successfully navigated these and had enjoyed playing in the rapids produced.
It was near the end of the trip we had been on the water for around four hours, and were tired. There was just a small drop in the level and a little bit of white water was there for us to play in. We started show boating doing dafter and dafter tricks. Needless to say we capsized many times, but as we could all roll up quite easily none of ever swam. I went in to play in this small rapid and was twirling my paddle around above my head while sitting there where the water turns over and over back on itself .
A slight movement of my hips and I went under as the edge of the boat caught the water rushing down. The paddle fell from my hand and I caught an under current. While still in my boat I was washed to the outside edge of the river, and unbeknown to anyone caught by a submerged branch. Knowing the others were there I banged on the bottom of my now upturned boat and slide my hands back and forth, signalling that I needed assistance. On friend came up and rammed my boat with his I grabbed the front and went to pull my self upright. I was caught by my buoyancy aid in the tree. A pulled harder and just got my mouth out and grabbed a gasp of air, second time up and managed to yell one word ‘Tree’.
My other two friends came up alongside me and pulled my up. I managed to grab at another breath before the spring in the tree pulled me back under. This time both my arms were free a levered my self onto the first friends boat, but the branch was pining me in my boat. I could not get out and the boat could not be righted. Grabbing the front of my boat one friend managed to lift it up and over the branch, I was then able to right it my paddle was retrieved and all was well.
I was under water for no longer than four minutes in total, The sound of the rapid is muted slightly as the water rushes past your ears, the banging of the plastic boats reverberated through my legs that are tight along the inside of you kayak. The one sound that I will always remember was the squeaking of the branches as the rubbed together holding me tighter. For a few fleeting moments even though I was surrounded by people concentrating completely on me I felt so alone. I was the only one under the water seeing blurred images above me of friends helping. For just a few short seconds complete detachment from others overwhelmed me.
Unlike other sporting injuries I carry no scars, or marks of any kind from this incident. I spent a good few years continuing kayaking, I went under many times, and have been trapped underwater, a few times since. But I have never felt the same fear as I did that time. It wasn’t my first time being trapped; it wasn’t even the longest time under water. I believe it was the squeaking of the tree branches that un–nerved me most. To this day I have full respect but no fear of the water. But that sound even now 22 years later even though I have never heard it since I can still hear it as clear as I could then.