Most people who have paddled the Avon Descent have been influenced one way
or another by legendary competitor Terry Bolland.
For Terry, the event is as much an opportunity for adventure as it is an
In fact, he has created a number of his own personal versions of the event.
Not satisfied with a mere descent, he once paddled up the river to Northam
and then did the race.
In true ironman style, Terry also ran all the way to Northam and paddled
back in a C1. But his most impressive ‘alternative Avon’ was to start where
the river rises. It took him three days to walk and paddle to Northam then
entered the race.
Terry has so far paddled 25 Avon Descents. His first was 1978 and in 1979 he
paired with Steve Pilton to take second place. The following year he was
More importantly Terry has trained hundreds of paddlers in flat and
whitewater so they developed the skills to enjoy the experience and get down
Among Terry’s fondest memories was a particular low water year when he
decided to portage and the folks behind followed thinking the great Terry
Bolland would know where he was going. “I couldn’t help but smile when I led
them all into a dead end and started running along the bank with my light
kayak,” he recalled.
Terry has only pulled out of one Avon Descent. That was 2010 when the water
was particularly low. His doubles partner Alaine still laughs about the
moment Terry, pulling the kayak through shallow water, dropped into a deep
hole up to his neck.
Remarkably, he has only capsized once too and that was in the first half of
the valley on a rapid called Razorback, one of many sections mapped and
named by Terry in the early days of the event. “I climbed back in as quickly
as I could and hoped nobody had spotted me.”
But on the serious side, Terry considers it important that paddlers have
some white water skills training and they get to know the ‘valley rapid
section’ ahead of their first time in the race if water levels permit. The
more skilled you are, the easier and safer it is.
Terry’s advice to all paddlers is they should do the Avon Descent at least
once, racing or paddling it more socially, it’s a great event. He rates it
one of the best in the world. “But be careful, if you are a serious paddler
don’t over train and if you are a novice and just having a go, 2-3 training
sessions a week will be enough to get you to the finish. Treat the
experience as a challenge and just enjoy it,” he said.
Many Avon Descenters owe their interest, skills and success in the race to
Terry Bolland. Let’s hope he continues to get as much out of it as they do.