Some time around last Christmas, I decided that my kayaking technique could really use some improvement. So I booked a one-week course with Outdoordirekt.

I had had a good experience with them before, on a one-week trip of guided runs in northern Greece. The kayakers I met there had done most or all of their training with that company, and they were good at what they did! I had also heard very good things from others. So I booked a course with them in mid-May.

Usually with kayaking courses, the booking really only includes the training on the water. Everything else – camping, food, social stuff – you arrange for yourself. This arrangement keeps the courses reasonably cheap, and prevents the organizer’s insurance costs from spiralling out of control. Nevertheless, there was a real espresso machine in the camp. An unexpected luxury!

Outdoordirekt is an operation run by a couple, Nadia and Christian, who basically live out of a van, and spend the year offering kayaking courses in different places around Europe. They have a set of coaches, all of whom are experienced paddlers. They also have a clear curriculum that’s pretty well thought out.

The different skill levels in their courses build on one another. Their goal isn’t to help participants run ever harder creeks. Instead, they focus on improving your technique.

Which is exactly what we did. We had pretty perfect water levels: The week started out with ca. 50 cubic meters per second (Trnovo gauge), slowly going down to 40 cubic meters in the following days. On the Soca, that means great runs on all sections, including the ones that aren’t feasible at lower levels, such as the Upper Soca or the Koritnica.

Befitting my station, I had booked an intermediate course. We spent five to six hours a day on the water, in a group of four participants plus one coach. The focus was very much on getting the basics right: Entering and exiting eddies, traversing currents, and so forth.

Marco, our coach, filmed us quite often. The next morning, he’d show us selected videos of our performance, pointing out the finest details. While there wasn’t a lot of adrenaline, it was really useful. Never before in my ca. 7 years in kayaking had I experienced that level of attention to detail. We spent entire days on sections that I’d normally run in 45 minutes or so: practicing the same line from one eddy to another, over and over again, for an hour. It was almost like meditation, only more exhausting!

The course really helped me improve my technique. I was somewhat disappointed that we didn’t run the Trnovo section on the last day, as I had expected – the rest of the group didn’t want to. But other than that, I got what I came for, in spades.