Interviews: Emma Love
Emma Love is a British Canoeing stand up paddleboard white water coach, and an Ambassador for both British Canoeing #ShePaddles and California Watersport Collective.
On August 1st 2019, British Canoeing launched the Stand Up Paddleboard White Water Coach Award. In 2020, five women gained this award, and four more are now on route to qualifying. In a series of interviews, Emma Love grabbed some Zoom time with these extraordinary women to chat about their individual journeys and why the incredible paddlesport that is white water SUP is attracting so many women.
Photos: Beth Kirby & Zac Allin
Based in the East Midlands, Charlotte Louise is currently working towards qualifying as a British Canoeing WW SUP Coach. Here we chat about her first experience trying out WW SUP, working towards her qualification and her ever-growing passion for the need to create a bathing status for all our rivers and lakes.
Do you have a specific memory of falling in love with paddling?
I clearly remember this as one of my best days ever! My uncle is a kayaker, and he was determined I would become one too. When I was around 13 or 14 years of age, he decided to take me to a kid’s club in Thamesmead, London. I remember, we pretty much just played games all day, including canoe polo, running across the bows of the boat, capsizing, jumping in, and I thought, “this is amazing” – I just loved it! From then on, I continued going every weekend for the rest of my teenage years, mainly because I loved the social side – I made so many friends there. It was this initial experience that ignited my love for paddle sports.
Alongside SUP, do you paddle any other craft?
I am qualified to teach kayak and open canoe, so when I am working for other outdoor companies, generally, this is what I will be teaching as taster sessions. I don’t paddle these types of boats as much as I used to because I like playing on stand up paddleboards, plus I have my own business, SUP With Charlotte, which keeps me busy.
How did you discover WW SUP?
I initially saw it first on social media quite a few years ago; I think it was someone paddling somewhere in America, and I remember thinking it was ridiculous, it looked fun, but it looked crazy! I think all the videos I saw were from the USA, and I didn’t know if it was a thing in the UK. It wasn’t until I worked at Holme Pierrepont Country Park that I came across the peer paddling group, Nottingham Whitewater SUP. I watched them playing on the WW course, and I thought it looked so much fun, so I messaged them asking if I could have a go.
Can you describe that first experience paddling a SUP on white water?
Because I kayaked, I thought some of those skills would cross over but, it was nothing like I imagined it would be! The Nottingham crew made it look really easy, plus they were having so much fun, so I thought it couldn’t be that hard. I expected to stand up straight away on my board, but I found it was the complete opposite! I spent more time swimming, but I remember that the few seconds I was standing felt amazing. Barry Hughes (who alongside Beth Kirby had supported me that evening) sent me through the washing machine, and somehow, I don’t know how, I made it through! That first experience was enjoyable, and it made me realise just how addictive WW SUP is.
What is the driver that keeps you wanting to SUP on white water?
For me, it is the experience as a whole. There is the social aspect; getting on the water with a group of friends and having a laugh. I like being outside in nature and exploring places I wouldn’t usually see on foot. I also love it because it is good for your mental and physical health!
How has the experience of working towards your WW SUP orientation been over the past year?
I think it has been a positive time getting out on the water with friends to practise my skills within a peer-led group environment. This is helping me to prepare for the British Canoeing White Water SUP Orientation and the assessment. I find instructing and coaching a really interesting circular process. Even when I am the lead, I am learning how to coach, which, in turn, informs how I lead.
You mentioned you have a mentor?
Yes, and I would recommend having one if you are interested in coaching. My formal mentor has recently qualified as a British Canoeing WW SUP Coach, which means I can ask questions and talk through ideas if I am not too sure or not confident in what to expect about the process. I also have informal support from peer groups, Matlock Whitewater SUP and Nottingham Whitewater SUP, from friends I paddle with and even my manager for the organisation I work for in Derbyshire.
Let’s talk about the environment for which I know you have a passion, focusing on the poor quality of our waters in the UK. Where has this developed from?
Right from the beginning as a paddler, it is ingrained in us to look after the environment. For example, if we see rubbish on the water, we pick it up and take it with us. We are taught about cross-contamination and why we should always wash our boats and boards before transferring between different rivers and lakes. Very sadly, I, like so many other paddlers, have witnessed plastic pollution first hand, and, even more recently, I experienced several severe bouts of illness due to the poor water quality of my local rivers. I now have to avoid certain places I love to paddle because I am so scared of getting ill again. With so many of us accessing our waterways for numerous leisure activities, I don’t think it is ok that our health should be put at risk. I firmly believe that all rivers and lakes should be safe to use and awarded bathing water status. It should be a human right that we can safely go in and on our water, so for this reason; I feel I have to do something about it.
I know you have been proactive in contacting local newspapers and key agencies about the poor water quality. What has been the response?
I have contacted many agencies and companies, both national and local, who are associated with the river and have an interest in it being safe. I’ve signed petitions, contacted MP’s and my local council – the latter two I never got a response from! I found that I kept being passed from one organisation to another. My impression is that no one knows who has responsibility for the water quality and, to my mind, they should all come together to solve this. I genuinely feel that the people who have the power to do something are not responding or showing any concern. There just seems to be this wall, and while I know I will continue to raise awareness of this issue, I am now unsure what to do next other than going out and standing on the street with a sign! Perhaps it is a case of getting as many paddlers out on the water, at the same time, to wave banners and protest so we can get all these organisations to pay attention!
Matlock Whitewater SUP: https://www.facebook.com/groups/630053687910129