Behind the group

We had a natter with Oli to find out how to start what is now the largest Facebook group to be affiliated with British Canoeing, what it entails and what the future holds. And, to find out a little about the man himself. Over to you Oli…

East of England Paddlesport’s Oli Jordan

Interview: Peter Tranter
Pics: EoEPS, Oli Jordan, James Crisp/Crisp Photography

Oli started the East of England Paddlesports (EOEPS) group in 2017 and now has three other admin help run the group. Andy Large, Jessica Ashley and Matt Payne. Over to you Oli…

Before we start, Oli – just let our readers know a little about yourself, background, family, etc.
Hi everyone, I started working in the outdoors from the age of 18; long story short, I travelled, lived away for around 12 years teaching outdoor education, moved back to the UK and decided to leave the outdoor industry. In 2015, I started working as a patient transport driver for the NHS in East London, with plans to become a paramedic; this lasted about a year before I found myself back freelancing in the outdoors again. Throw in a bit of Royal Mail, working as a postie for a bit, then chancing my luck full-time with East of England Paddlesports! 

Where/how did you discover SUP? 
Whilst living in New Zealand, I had a few lessons; it was relatively new back then; I struggled a bit with my balance, (until the instructor took out a camera, apparently when posing for a picture I found my balance!) I didn’t think I’d be back on a board anytime soon so I enjoyed the water! Fast forward a few years, living in the United Arab Emirates, a centre we often worked at had a few boards, so we took them out at every opportunity – Sunrises before climbing sessions and evenings before campfires etc. 

Talk us through how the group started.
I often joke, “I started the group to find friends, and now I have over 11k of them.” However, there is some truth behind that. I moved back to my family home when I left working in the outdoors and didn’t know that many people here since my childhood friends had mostly moved away or settled down. So, yeah, I wanted to find some new people to paddle with. It was also a small chance for me to keep my coaching qualifications up and eventually, after purchase of some second-hand boards, keep instructing. 

Talk a little about your role within EOEPS and what it entails.
I started the group in 2017, and all the trips, socials, etc., were my creation. I figured if I wanted to do something or thought something would be fun, surely others would too. In the early stages, I managed the group alone, checking posts, answering questions etc. I now share the platform with several other admins, who help manage the day-to-day running of the group; we also share ideas and create new trips and socials, charity events etc. together, which has freed up my time away from Facebook, meaning I can coach, organize other trips and create a range of branded merchandise (all available on 😉 )

Can you explain how it’s been building a UK SUP group?
We often say the members make the group, which is true. Without the genuine word of mouth and invites to friends and family, we probably wouldn’t have such a big, friendly and successful group. There have been times, which aren’t always enjoyable, when people try to cause upset amongst the group, but for every negative person or comment, there seem to be about a hundred positives to take over. We seem to be growing daily and achieving pretty amazing things, which tells us we must be doing something right! 

The following three questions are answered by Andy Large, who joined me as admin in the early days when we had less than 1000 members. The group is as much his as it is mine!

Are you the only FB group affiliated with British Canoeing (BC), and how did that happen?
BC has told us that we are the first Facebook group and the single largest group to be affiliated – though a few smaller groups have come forward and said they are the first online group etc., so we aren’t sure. However, we are definitely the biggest! Other similar platforms have now started discussing our affiliation with BC and how it can work for themselves. We had been talking to BC for some time about how we operate and how we could work together and were asked to speak at their AGM about the success of East of England Paddlesports. While we were there, we started to discuss affiliation in a little more detail and soon realized the process had to be very different for us; for example, we are not a club that takes membership fees, nor do we have a treasurer or chair or hold AGMs. So we took the documents and their process, adapted them to our operating model and worked it through over a few Zoom meetings!

SUPM came into contact with you because of your SUP activities. Are you at some point looking to expand activities into sea kayaking, canoeing, etc.?
We have never been just about SUP, though our group could probably be split 60% SUP, 35% kayak and 5% canoe! We are a Paddlesports group and encourage all forms of safe, responsible grassroots paddling in kayak, canoe and SUP. All our events are for multi-craft, as long as they have a paddle. We have occasionally created kayak-only events due to the conditions, distances, etc. 

Which has been your most successful event run through the group, and why?
We organize various activities, from small short paddles to camping trips to adventures overseas. Our biggest single-trip event was a paddle around Osea Island in Heybridge Basin in Essex. We worked with Stone Sailing Club and the Essex Police Marine Unit, and the event was attended by almost 100 paddlers, SUP and kayak – big thanks to James Crisp/Crisp Photography for the amazing drone shot! We find that our easy-going and safe, responsible style makes people feel comfortable joining. Mix this in with different and new locations, friendly word-of-mouth comments and good weather, and we’re winning!

Questions answered by Oli once again!

How do you see SUP development? Do you think even more growth, for instance?
I think with SUP, people are looking at upgrading equipment, mainly to be able to paddle further and for longer. We often discuss what might come next; if I knew that, I’m sure I’d be a wealthy man, though what I see happening is people will travel further to explore new areas. Groups like ours offer that familiarity for people visiting or relocating etc. 

And what about EOEPS’s general evolution – any ideas you can reveal?
We hope to keep growing; we can’t yet see any reason why our membership (Free membership, it’s a Facebook group!) won’t keep going up. We have lulls over winter, but each spring/summer, it picks up again. We are planning our more extensive trips for 2023 already, primarily due to demand; people want to know where we’re going and when earlier and earlier each year, so they can get the time booked off etc. There are some small personal goals I would like to reach with the group, but I’m keeping those close at the moment. We never expected to win the Active Essex Club of the Year award in 2021 nor become British Canoeing affiliated, so who knows where we might be next year!

Got any personal SUP goals for the next 12 months?
I enjoy taking the boards abroad, so more holidays sound good. 

What’s your personal SUP kit of choice, and why?
If this means brand, I highly rate the Quroc 13ft. This is my go-to board; it glides through the water easily and is lightweight and strong. For a single piece of kit, it would be my new (East of England Paddlesports) Red Kevlar SUP one-piece paddle. Every time I lend it out and hold other people’s paddles, I quickly remember the joy of my first paddle using a lighter paddle! The difference it can make is immense. 

I’m into SUP and going on holiday; where would you recommend?
Slovenia is beautiful. A few from the group went in March 2020. It was cold and snowy, and the lakes looked incredible. Lake Bled, paddling around Bled Castle with snowy scenes is a must! 

When you’re not SUPing, what else do you do to relax?
I love to travel and enjoy music, and live concerts of any genre, especially post covid lockdown; there’s something amazing about sharing an atmosphere. Elbow at Audley End was the latest; it was beautiful! (My team would probably want me to say, watching Bargain Hunt, I’ll own it, who doesn’t love profit;))

Who inspires you to SUP?
Everyone. That’s the most fantastic part of SUP; it’s so accessible by all. We have all ages and abilities in the group, and every time someone posts, seeing the pictures and reading the stories and comments from others is inspiring. 
Tell us one interesting, none SUP related fact that we might not know about you.

I like Bargain Hunt. Joking aside, travel has been a huge part of my life, and I think the country count so far is about 56 now! I’ve also broken about 18 bones; hopefully, the travel part continues!

Is there any issue that stops you from sleeping at night?
I often worry that I’m not doing enough with the platform I’ve created. We try and have ideas coming out soon to hopefully be better and engage more people with specific areas, environmental etc.  

Name just one thing we can do as paddlers to improve our environment.
Leave only footprints; being correctly licensed will also improve your local area; the money goes back into the sport and will provide clearings, bins, pontoons etc. 

What’s your most embarrassing moment?
I won the chance to paddle with Michaela Strachan years ago in Reading. Who do you reckon fell in? ☺

Any final thoughts on SUP?
Keep going, everyone – support one another. As our group says, ‘Be Kind, Be Careful and Stay Safe’.

Quickie questions

Who would it be if you could paddle with anyone in the world, dead or alive? 
Ken Dodd. What a hero he was. We’d be paddling and laughing constantly. (Bet you never thought you’d hear that answer!) 

Pick two celebrities to be your parents…
Will Smith pre-slap & Matt Hancock post-slap.

Which famous person would you like to see play you in a film? 
Ricky Gervais. 

An ideal night out for you is?
Drinks and meal with my girlfriend and friends, laughing about nothing and telling stories. 

What one luxury item would you take with you on a desert island?
Speaker and a music streaming service.

What would I find in your fridge?
Orangina bought back from our two-week French adventure!

What would you prepare for us if we came to your house for dinner?
Chili Nachos. 

What’s the most boring question you are often asked?
Is Andy your dad? Is Andy your partner?☺

Who are your SUP buddies?
Too many to list. Massive shoutout to all members of the group! 

If you could be a superhero for one day, what superpower would you choose?
Fly. I miss my buddies in New Zealand and Australia. Plus, the waters over there are clearer!

Any final shoutouts?
Massive shout out to my parents, when deciding whether or not to leave my full-time employment to run EOEPS full time or sell all my paddling kit/potentially leave to travel again, they built me an office in the garden! They’re super supportive and proud of what we have achieved and are constantly excited to see what comes next! 

The group wouldn’t have gotten to where it is without Andy Large, who joined forces with me in the early days; he’s been a rock for me, within the group’s growth and personally as a friend. And our newest additions to the team are Jessica Ashley and Matt Payne. Both have a real passion for what we do as a group and come with heaps of ideas and enthusiasm, we’re a close team, and it works because we get on as friends and enjoy each other’s company, on and off the water. And finally, a big hello to past admin members Nick Devenney and Hannah Johns, who massively helped the group grow since they stepped down but have remained close friends. 

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