Benvenuto nella River Family!
By Mark Hirst, IRF GTE Secretary
The 29th of March was a memorable day for me. I was downhearted and depressed about the fact that I could not run any IRF workshops due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But I was healthy, and that’s all that really matters during this current period of time.
By 15:00 this had all changed. During the time inbetween, I had been contacted by three individual parties from three different countries requesting that I run workshops. The only problem was that they all wanted the workshop on the same dates! I tried my best to find IRF instructors to cover all of the requests, but the travel restrictions were not in our favour.
I eventually ended up confirming a course in Southern Italy. So on the 22nd April, I landed in Rome, Italy after having had passed multiple Coronavirus tests.
My base for the seven day training course was on Italy’s Lao River, and our hosts for the week was Lao Rafting. We had been blessed with a few days of liquid sunshine (rain) before the training course, so the river was at a good level. The Lao River Canyon is a UNESCO world heritage site and runs through the Pollino National Park, the largest national park in Italy. The canyon is one of the deepest in Europe.
This training course came about because a group of 18 Italian raft guides wanted to improve their existing river rafting skills base. They had approached IRF instructors because they wanted the course to be high quality, and based upon what the rest of the world was doing in river safety. The focus of the training was to share global best practices for rafting safety. Therefore, during the week we would spend time studying specific aspects that would improve on their knowledge and skills in this area. Due to the Covid-19 restrictions in place at that time in that region of Italy, we were able to run a training course but not a formal IRF assessment workshop.
- Pre departure safety demonstrations
- Raft guiding & river running skills
- Personal whitewater swimming skills
- Throwbag skills
- Ropework skills
- Flip management
What was quite bizarre, was that despite the fact that these local guides had invited us to hold the workshop for the purpose of improving rafting safety, a complaint against the workshop was filed. The complaint was made by a displeased party (whom I shall leave unnamed) who for apparently biased reasons objects to any IRF activity in Italy and was determined to stop it by any means. This complaint resulted in the workshop being closely monitored by the government and local officials.
As the week progressed the complaints intensified, and at one point 20 police officers arrived at our camp after we were wrongfully accused of engaging in illegal activity. Of course when the police investigated the complaint, we were easily able to demonstrate that the training was perfectly legitimate and operating within the law. This was not surprising, as our hosts had been very careful in ensuring the workshop kept within all Italian laws, whether they were Covid related or training related. So the police were soon satisfied and left us to get back to the course and help these eager Italian raft guides improve safety on their rivers!
The seven days passed very quickly and enjoyably. I was really impressed at how the students applied themselves. One of the students, Roberto, was of great help as he was acting as the interpreter, a thankless task to be sure!
We spent a solid afternoon off the water practising the technique for the throwbag challenge the next day. The practice paid off as all the students nailed the fun test on their first or second attempt. I was secretly very impressed as most of the students had only ever worked on Class 2 whitewater and did not have much experience in using throwbags.
On the final day of the training course we decided to run the upper gorge section of the Lao River. I have kayaked and rafted in a few canyons in my time but the Lao Canyon was vey impressive. This also gave the more experienced guides an opportunity to show their Class 3 skills off and was a great way for the newer guides to test themselves in a more demanding environment.
By the end of the week we were all tired, happy and content; and more importantly, had greaty improved on our skills and knowledge in rafting safety. New friends had been made and we all got to spend some time on the river doing what we love most!
#strongertogether #thisisrafting #RaftersAreAwesome #AreYouReady #weareirf