Thursday, 22 November 2012

Really good book

This new book by Eugene Buchanan, Jason Smith and James Weir would probably make a good Christmas present. In the interest of being completely transparent I'm going to declare from the outset that two of the authors are close friends of mine and all are influential throughout the paddling industry, and that I fervently hope they're nice about my book (the Haynes Kayaking Manual) when it comes out next year. There... now I'm going to tell you about theirs:

This book is captivating right from the front cover, and continues not to disappoint throughout. One of the problems I know only too well as a paddling author is how to cover all aspects of such a diverse pastime without creating vast swathes of material that half your audience just aren't interested in. The secret, of course, is to be engaging and inspirational. Everyone appreciates a beautiful photograph or an elegant turn of phrase, even if the content isn't their current obsession. This book nails it.

The book is subtitled "100 Extraordinary Paddling Experiences", and each takes the form of a stunning full page photo facing a page of text, which also supplies some small inset maps and tips on how to check out the location. It's designed for people who actually want to do this stuff, and it's all killer, no filler. With a double page for each adventure plus indexes, the book rounds out at 207 pages.

Knowing the background of the authors, I expected this work to bias heavily towards whitewater paddling, but the range and balance is impressive. From the canals of Venice to the lagoons of Fiji and from icebergs to waterfalls, the book is a travel cornucopia, and every turn of the page puts a smile on my face. It's got its fair share of whitewater, as of everything else, but it's all expertly presented to be inspirational and interesting to anyone, paddler or not.

I'm always loath to claim something is a "must have" or should "be on every paddler's coffee table", but in this case I must say I defy anyone not to enjoy every single page, and to want to show it to friends and family. There are a lot of good paddling books out there, but this one is unique in what it's set out to do and has exemplarily delivered. I know I'll continue to pick it up again and again. I highly recommend it.

You can buy it here (Amazon)

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Haynes Manual

One of the 1001 incarnations, 2009
"The 1001 versions of Mattos' other general paddling book has been consistently the best selling UK paddlesport book of the past decade, if the Amazon rankings are any guide."
Mark Rainsley, creator of

What Mark has been kind enough to observe is probably true. If anything has sold better, it is probably the BCU Canoeing Handbook, which is kind of a "must buy" for any BCU member and certainly anyone involved in coaching. And to be fair, it is a far more comprehensive manual than any of mine, going into greater depth about more types of canoeing and kayaking. Horses for courses...

The forthcoming Haynes Manual of Kayaking is designed to achieve something else. My "Practical Guide(s) to This and That" have sold really well, and I hope they've been useful if only as a paperweight or to level the kitchen table, but the real tipping point (pointless paddling pun)(awful attempt at alliteration) was the book Kayak Surfing, which was a labour of love that I never expected to sell a lot of units. There just aren't that many kayak surfers.

I'd become disillusioned with the dry, informative, supposedly authoritative style that I had been asked for in the past, and begged the publishers to let me write it informally, as if I was talking about it face to face, and to present the photographs more randomly as if in a magazine, so that each page could be laid out as best suited the material. And luckily, people loved it. Debra Searle MBE described it as "The best instructional book about any sport, ever. All books should be written this way." Other people said nice things, too. 

So when Haynes approached me about writing for them, I had to ask: "Can I do it like this? People like it better, I promise!" And (possibly in a moment of weakness) they said yes. I was so unsure that they really meant it that I sent the editor home with a copy of Kayak Surfing, telling him to read some passages and confirm he was OK with it. And even once he'd done so, I still sent him sample chapters as I wrote them, asking if he was happy with the style. Until he said: "Look, it's great. Let me know when you're done" (Subtext: stop bothering me!)

So, here we go. A Haynes Manual of Kayaking written in a completely informal style, packed with my usual deranged and opinionated ranting, but luckily also with anecdotes and spectacular photos from kayaking icons such as Eric Jackson, Freya Hoffmeister, Helen Wilson and Rafael Ortiz. With a following sea, it may be funny, too. The copy editor said he loved it, anyway. Especially the part about the gibbon...