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Women's Sea Kayak Festival - A Review

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As part of her role Go Canoeing Development Manager, Jenny Spencer, is looking into women specific events and festival/skill based events to help people (both male and female) develop their skills. She recently attended the Women Sea Kayak Festival to learn more about the running of these events.

'What’s this event all about? Do we need women specific events? Is this event for me? What can I expect?'

Here, Jenny, with the help of quotes from other ladies who attended, tells us of the experience.

Pre-Weekend Nerves

I had received some really positive and reassuring emails from the organisers so felt comfortable about going to the event. However, on the drive down to Devon, I found my mind wandering and insecurities about attending the event setting in. Do I have the right kit? Am I going to make a fool out of myself? My roll really isn’t that good, should I have told someone about this? What happens if the weather is bad and the sea is really rough; will I get sea sick?

Despite being involved in the world of canoeing from a very young age, working for British Canoeing for over six years and having tried out various aspects of paddling, I have done very little sea kayaking. Growing up in Hereford and then moving to Nottingham placed me in two cities that are amongst the furthest from the sea. My parents used to do a lot of sea kayaking trips when I was younger and I saw the joy they got from it. This gave me a desire to try sea kayaking but I hadn’t quite made the leap.

I have done a lot of kayaking on flat water and became one of the best paddlers in the world as a Junior; competing for Great Britain on the Sprint and Marathon teams for over 10 years. So my forward and general paddling skills were very good, but my specific paddling skills on, moving water and the sea, aren’t so refined.  Despite this, there was an excitement around stepping out of my comfort zone and heading to an event, on my own, where I knew no one.

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I trawled through photos of previous years, just to check the ladies who attended weren’t all under thirty and size 10 Amazonians. Once I was satisfied I wouldn’t be a complete laughing stock I applied for a place.

– Christie Ash

Arriving On Site

The drive down was long, due to Friday traffic, which meant arriving at the campsite a lot later than I’d hoped. As I drove onto the site the light was starting to fade but the festival was well signposted, with fun, quirky arrows showing the way in. Registration was set up nicely, with a marquee decorated in bunting. Over the weekend this became a hub for the event; from briefings, to early morning yoga classes, evening meals, inspirational talks and socialising.  

The event had a welcoming and fun vibe. Groups of women had already set up camp and it was great to see so many boats. As I stepped out of my car Julie, one of the event organisers, welcomed me with a friendly smile and an offer of a drink. She was lovely and instantly made me feel relaxed and excited about what the weekend had in store. I learnt  there was a mix of ladies attending, all at various levels; some were with friends whereas others, like me, had come independently.

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This is the second time I have attended the Women’s Sea Kayak festival. The festival offers an upbeat environment, with like minded women at all stages of development, from all over the UK; all ages, mixed ethnicity but sharing one passion.

– Judith Dutton

I was given lots of information about the schedule for the weekend and the workshops I’d signed up for. It was good to see a great mix of workshops all being run by experienced female coaches. The variety of workshops on offer allowed everyone to choose something for their interests and ability.

The event was for women only however, there were a limited number of places for men to come along. It was recognised that sometimes, with people travelling so far, women wanted to come with their partners, husbands or boyfriends to share the drive. During the day the men headed off on their own paddling trips.

Feeling reassured that I was in for a great weekend and a little silly about my fears on the drive down, I set off to put up my tent and get a good night’s sleep.

Getting On The Water

The next morning I was amazed to hear that people were arriving on site well into the night. People had travelled from far and wide, including a couple from overseas. Despite some people’s lack of sleep everyone was excited about the weekend getting underway. There was a real buzz at the morning briefing, with 60 of us in attendance. I learnt that many ladies had attended the event previously and loved it so much they had returned. Some had also attended a similar event which was run in Scotland. Those that had been before were keen to share their positive experiences and reassured us anxious newbies.

After the briefing we split into our workshop groups for introductions and details on our day. The introductions were really important as we learnt there were quite a few of us feeling apprehensive about our ability and skill level. By sharing this people began to relax, as we were ‘all in the same boat’. This was backed up by encouraging words from the coaches, who promised a fun and enjoyable day out on the water.

Each group was heading off to paddle from a different location, depending on the activity they had planned. The campsite was located centrally allowing access to a range of different coastline environments; from rough water to surfing, or more sheltered estuaries and bays. I had decided on a short paddle and we were heading to the Dartmouth estuary.

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We hopped rocks, exploring the otherwise unapproachable space between the land and the sea, nodding a passing ‘Good day’ to the creatures that dwell there. Took respite on secluded beaches, leaving nothing behind but taking away beach combed plastics.

– Christie Ash

It was a windy day and this location ensured a sheltered first experience within the estuary. From here we could then venture out around the coast and get a taste of being on the sea. It was a great location and fantastic to see such a beautiful estuary and town from the water. Once on the water people relaxed and started to soak up the fresh air and sights.

For lunch we found a private, secluded beach and learnt some map reading skills. The wind was starting to pick up so the sea was getting a little lumpy. Before we set off again we got some tips on how to effectively paddle in these conditions. It’s fair to say the wind challenged us all a little physically but it was only for a short stretch and everyone was well supported and coped brilliantly. During the afternoon we were treated to a trip into a cave and a spot of rock hopping along the coast line. We saw a huge amount of wildlife, castles and beautiful scenery. I chatted to many of the other women about their experiences and what they had done. Everybody was keen to learn and develop their skills and felt the event was a great way to do this.

A New Found Love

I fell instantly in love with sea kayaking. I enjoy being adventurous, pushing myself physically and seeing new places from different perspective. This one experience had delivered all three of these aspects. The festival was three days long and every day provided a different experience; from learning new skills to seeing new places and being physically tested.

I came away with a real bounce in my step, feeling inspired on so many levels. On a personal level, I had progressed my skills alongside meeting some lovely people, who I hope to remain in touch with. Your age and skill level seemed irrelevant; everyone was there to enjoy the weekend and learn from each other. The biggest inspiration for me was the atmosphere. The passion and enthusiasm, from both organisers and participants, was contagious, in a welcoming and supportive environment.

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The organisation of the event is excellent and catering, from home made cakes to evening meals, is much appreciated after a day on the water.

– Judith Dutton

During the evenings we were treated to fantastic meals in the marquee, with everyone busily chatting away, sharing their day’s adventures. One evening Natalie, one of the event organisers, gave a slide show on her recent experience paddling around Iceland. On the Sunday we were invited to share photos of what ‘floats your boat’. Everyone had a story to share and I was inspired by the incredible adventures and the places people had explored.

Everyone I spoke to was thoroughly embracing the weekend and seemed to get a huge amount out of it.

Conclusions From The Event

What an amazing weekend! It was all about collaboration, everyone: coaches, paddlers and the honorary men, working together seamlessly to create an atmosphere of learning and fun!

Many women at the event regularly paddle in mixed gender groups/clubs and have attended a variety of events that are open to both men and women. However both organisers and participants said they felt that the atmosphere and vibe of this event had a different feel due to be it being women only. It was a special weekend that people enjoyed and were likely to attend again in future years.

A number of women voiced that often they had been put off paddling on club/group mixed gender trips particularly in whitewater environments as they wanted to choose their own pace and level of difficulty as their skills developed. At times on a mixed trips they felt they had to push boundaries further than they were comfortable doing.  

Common feedback showed that the ladies took a huge amount from the weekend, including developing new friendships with people they could plan future adventures with. The female only environment allowed them to feel more relaxed, voice there insecurities without feeling judged and learn from others in a non competitive environment.

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There was a good selection of workshops, the coaches were totally inspiring; knowledgeable, highly skilled, approachable and keen to challenge us. Looking around at these accomplished female coaches gave me the confidence to re -calibrate my expectations of what I could achieve.

– Christie Ash

I have grown up with some incredibly good coaches, both male and female. On a personal level, I enjoy paddling with both sexes and have gained a lot from mixed environments. But, I came away from the event seeing that there is a real value in the unique environment that can be created within women specific events. I would encourage anyone who has considered attending this, or any other sea kayak festival or symposiums, to make the leap and go. Next year the Women's Sea Kayak Symposium is taking place in Bute, Scotland on 17th-19th August.

British Canoeing are keen to find out how they can support, advance and promote more skill development events. If you run events that help people develop their skills which you’d like British Canoeing to promote, we’d love to hear from you.

Also, if you have experience of running women specific events and would like to share your learning please get in touch.

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