Written by Julie Perren - #ShePaddles Ambassador 2020/21
Spring time always brings with it a sense of planning and adventure, doesn’t it? Early in the year is the ideal time for checking out the dates of paddling events, sea kayaking trips and holidays (fingers crossed!). Looking forward to long summer days exploring new coastlines in challenging waters, and meeting up with other kayakers too hopefully.
For me, last year highlighted just how much I have missed that social opportunity. I didn’t realise how much I’d missed it though, until I attended the Women’s Essential Weekend in Anglesey last August. It was one of the few events able to run last year, even though it was postponed and of course had to be Covid compliant. Whilst I enjoy events for all genders, it was a particular joy to exchange views with my fellow coaches, encourage women paddlers and experience them develop over the three days of the event. The event left me feeling reflective. Why do we have a women’s sea kayaking event? Why women only? And how does this make a difference?
The numbers of women paddling and being assessed for British Canoeing awards is gradually rising, but statistics still indicate that help is needed to support this minority group to progress in paddle sports. Great initiatives such as the #ShePaddles campaign, Slalom Inspires and the Women’s Paddling Community Facebook group are invaluable in addition to face to face gatherings. Women’s paddling events give a secure and supported environment offering us a chance to develop and stretch our skills. My experience is that women are more likely to share their lack of confidence and fears openly knowing they are in a supportive group. There is also a genuine interest to celebrate the successes of others and to help each other through challenging situations. First timers to these women-only events are more likely to venture into a mainstream community event after a nurturing experience has given them the confidence to get out there and give it a try. Another notable benefit of a gender specific event is the platform that they give for women coaches to work with each other, share notes and to inspire others as role models to progress in the future.
One of the most striking differences are the conversations that can be heard on and off the water and the chance to have open exchanges about female specific issues and paddling. ‘Which base layers work best?’ ‘How does having periods or the menopause affect your paddling?’ ‘What kit works best for my body shape and size?’ ‘How can I load a kayak (without a helpful partner who usually does it)?’ ‘How can I tie a boat to a trolley?’ and the question I always hear ‘How do you wee whilst wearing a drysuit and from a kayak!?’
This supportive and encouraging environment is the ideal place to air these topics, learn from others and develop independence and confidence. This is also space for coaches to share thoughts and experiences, although time during events is often limited!
Whilst I regularly paddle with both men and women there is something subtly different about paddling with women. It's collaborative, cooperative and confidence instilling but doesn't ignore challenge or competitiveness if that's what you're looking for. It's all those good things but at the same time, it's not a soft option!– Attendee at the Women’s Sea Kayaking Festival
On a personal note, my first experience of a Women only paddle event was the Scottish Women’s Sea Kayaking Festival (SWSKF) in Bute in 2014, which I attended almost by chance. I really wasn’t convinced about the idea of a female only event until I experienced it first-hand and was totally won over by the atmosphere that I found. On hearing that the SWSKF was taking a break, I immediately offered to help set up a similar event with two paddle buddies on home territory in Devon. We risked making the event bigger: 65 participants with women coaches from across the country and Europe, catering and a big marquee in our camping dedicated field near Salcombe. It was with some trepidation that we ran the first Women’s Sea Kayaking Festival, Devon in 2015 but we needn’t have worried as it was met with such enthusiastic and positive feedback that we did it again in 2017, 2019 and now have dates set for hopefully, a smaller event in August this year, 2021. The range of activities on offer were aimed at a paddling level of around 2* upwards and included skill sessions from ‘fun in the wet stuff’ and leadership, to day trips exploring the Devon coastline. At the last festival we added a Surf Ski taster session with women coaches from the GB ocean racing U23 squad, which went down well!
Another inspiring event is the Women’s Essential Weekend first held in 2019, three days of paddling based in the challenging and exciting tidal waters around Anglesey. This event is hosted by Kayak Essentials in the same style as their popular Essential weekends, and is aimed at paddlers looking to stretch themselves in the tideraces and fast flows that surround the island. The sessions on offer gave the chance to use those conditions and progress skills in small groups. Last year there was a choice of five coached sessions a day, from coasteering for sea kayakers to moving water skills and forward paddling. Some groups headed off for a Swellies adventure in the Menai Strait whilst others enjoyed tiderace skills in moderate water, or got straight onto some fast-moving tidal flows. Back in the evenings at the base at Anglesey Outdoors the clement weather gave the opportunity for people to sit outside, well distanced, and share their day’s experiences.
There are plenty of fantastic sea kayaking events out there, all with different aims, activities and opportunities and I would encourage anyone to go somewhere different and experience the atmosphere of a community of sea paddlers enjoying their sport. If you’ve not tried a gender specific event then maybe this is the year to give it a go. There are several on the calendar that will hopefully run within Covid restrictions, and I look forward to seeing you on the water there!
One final note...Whilst the events are female based, I’d also like to give the guys a mention as so many of them are extremely supportive of events like these. Although these gatherings could still happen they would be harder to run without the men’s support and cooperation.
Women’s events to look out for this year:
Women’s Essential Weekend, Anglesey 4th - 6th June
Women’s Sea Kayak Festival, Devon 14th -16th August