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An interview with… Pete Astles at the peak of his powers

Pete Astles has been paddling since 1979 and, during those early stages, had a promising career competing at the national junior level. However, fate intervened in 1990, when glandular fever stopped all training for six months. During that time in Nottingham, when I was first introduced to him in the ‘No Limits’ shop by the then editor of Canoe Focus, Kevin Danforth, Pete spotted a gap in the paddlesport clothing market for paddlers. Kit that not only did the job at the top level of the sport technically but something that also looked fashionable to wear. With borrowed money from his dad and a sewing machine, Pete started Peak UK. Over a quarter of a century later, we are with Peak UK supplying not only Team GB with their Olympic kit but the majority of the other international canoeing teams too. Over to Pete…

Pete Lastweek
When did you first start paddling? Who provided the motivation, and who with?

I started in 1979 where I grew up in the Lake District. Colin Mortlock, a very good sea kayaker and head of Charlotte Mason College in Ambleside, started an adventure association for local kids. I tried kayaking and have never looked back. Thanks, Colin! I’m keen to start a similar thing in the Derwent Valley for local kids.

What were those early days in Nottingham like as one of the first young slalomers at HP?

As soon as the slalom course was built, I went to live in Nottingham. It was great to get on international class whitewater every day and train with the likes of Richard Fox and Gareth Marriott.

When and why did you start Peak UK, and what was your big break that got Peak UK on the road to where it is now?

In 1990 in Nottingham, to pay the bills so that I could train, I worked in the local paddling shop called No Limits on Trent Boulevard. I became sick with glandular fever and could not train for six months. I became bored and soon started playing with gear ideas along with some friends who could sew. We made up a prototype jacket and PFD, and all my mates, who were top-level slalom athletes, wanted to wear the gear. I borrowed some cash from my father, purchased some fabric, foam and a sewing machine and began making PEAK gear myself in my friends back room!

Peak UK was instrumental in the explosion of freestyle in the UK, was that planned and what were those early days of playboating like?

In 1997 we opened up the Peak Shop at HPP. We couldn’t get any UK WW boat accounts as Desperate Measures down the road had them all. So I started to look for boats to sell.

It would be an understatement to say you’ve crossed paths with Corran Addison a few times. We’ve come to know Corran well; how did you start your business relationship with him?

Leading on from the previous question… I stumbled across Riot Kayaks from Montreal. Corran sent me a video of his new boat, the Hammer. Watching them spinning and sliding down waves sideways blew us away. Within a week, I was picking up the first UK batch of Riot Hammers from Manchester airport. We were instantly hooked, and the evolution of playboating began. Every few months, we had new toys to test on the whitewater course at HPP. The boats sold like hotcakes. We also imported Necky, another cutting edge brand from the other side of Canada. Great times. I’m still in contact with Corran. Paddling is a great way to make life-long friends.

How did working with Team GB come about and, subsequently, most of the other Olympic canoeing teams?

For the London Olympics in 2012, we developed our full-colour custom printed gear. We witnessed our friends and Team GB members Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott take the gold medal. For 2016 we wanted to do something really special. Athletes nagged us for thinner, more streamlined PFDs. So in secret, with Team GB we developed the Racer ST, a three in one garment that puts half the PFDs foam in your spray deck, reducing the foam thickness from 50-20mm on the upper torso, giving a considerable performance advantage. Joe Clarke went on to win gold at Rio in the Racer ST. For Tokyo, we supply the majority of slalom athletes from 20 teams and hope to return with several gold medals, fingers crossed.

What do you see as the primary key to Peak UK’s success within the paddlesport industry?...

To read the full interview click here. British Canoeing On the Water and On the Bank members can purchase print copies of the Paddler magazine including Canoe Focus at a generous 20% discount, as well as automatically receiving a digital version of the Paddler straight to their inbox. Click here to find out more.

Interview: Peter Tranter

Photos: Pete Astles, Paul Ramsdale and Peak UK