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Kayaking saved my life - Steve Backshall

Kayaking is a sport for all ages and abilities, it's fantastic exercise and great for mental well-being. But it can also change lives and open up opportunities like no other sport.

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TV presenter and naturalist Steve Backshall, who this year completed the Devizes to Westminster marathon race with wife Helen Glover and tackled the previously unpaddled Baliem River in Papua New Guinea, has been paddling since he joined the scouts as a youngster.

 A keen mountaineer, climber and adventurer, he broke his back in 2009 and was told by the medical team that there was a chance he wouldn’t be able to walk again. His outdoor life threatened, Steve was determined that he wouldn’t be beaten and when a friend encouraged him to get back into a boat, he found the benefits of kayaking life changing.

 “I had a near fatal rock climbing accident in 2009. I broke my back in two places and destroyed my left ankle. For a while it seemed that I wouldn’t be able to walk again properly - I certainly wouldn’t be able to run again,” explained Steve.

 “A friend of mine encouraged me into flat water kayaking as a way of exercising but to also give me that psychological vent that I needed.  Whenever I was down or frustrated I had always been used to going for a big yomp in the mountains and all of a sudden I didn’t have that outlet anymore, but I had kayaking. That enabled me to go to places where I could just vent and let rip.”

 The beauty of paddlesports such as kayaking is that they have something for everyone; you can push yourself as little or as much as you want and it can be competitive or recreational. Even the most leisurely paddle with give you a great aerobic workout and it’s a great low impact activity that can improve aerobic fitness, strength and flexibility.

 “Paddling was the thing that got me through more than anything else, the thing that stopped me having any real downs or lows,” said Steve.

 “Physically it had a big effect on me as well. The twisting motion in the kayak was really useful for the rehabilitation of my spine and the muscles around my spine. When my friend and I went out and did the DW together it showed me I was still able to go out and do hardcore things, no matter what surgeons had said to me.

 “Doing real, tough, full on endurance things was still a possibility and still accessible to me and from a psychological perspective that was the most valuable thing."

I can say hand on my heart that kayaking saved me.

– Steve Backshall

National Go Canoeing Week runs from the 27 May to the 4th June and is the perfect time to take to the water. Whether you are a seasoned paddler or completely new to the sport there is something for everyone with lots of events and adventures taking place nationwide. Jump in a boat for the very first time or test your skills with a new paddling challenge. Head to to find out more.