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.
Following the launch of the British Canoeing Stand Up Paddle Board White Water Coach Award in 2019, Emma Love interviewed four incredible women who were the first to qualify and four who are currently on route to qualifying. Since conducting these interviews in February 2020, many more women have started their own coaching journeys. A wonderful testament to the inclusivity of the incredible sport that is White Water SUP!
Photos: John Roberts
Joyce Johnston has been white water stand up paddle boarding since 2017, when she was introduced to the sport in the depths of a Scottish winter. Currently developing her coaching practice, Joyce’s enthusiasm for SUP is as infectious as her passion for The Moray SUP Club community she paddles with.
Tell me about your paddling background.
I don’t have a background in paddling; I’m not a kayaker or a canoeist. SUP is the only paddling I have ever done. I used to almost apologise for this, but now I am at a point of saying, actually, what I am doing is as legitimate as any kayaker coming into this discipline.
How did you get into WW SUP?
In 2017, Jim Gibson put up a post on Facebook asking if people were interested in stand up paddleboarding. For those of you who don’t know, Jim ran Aquaplay (now retired), is a well-known paddler in Scotland, and he lives just down the road from me! As I say, I had no paddling experience, but I had previously done some enthusiastic but not terribly skilled surfing on a foamy board. So, when I saw Jim’s post, I thought, well, that’s going to be worth a go!
A few weeks later (in January), we met at Tamdhu on the River Spey. I looked at the water, and my immediate thought was, “Oh my goodness, I’ll go in this river. I’ll be pushed down to Craigellachie before they know it!” That is not what actually happened, (well there was a bit of washing), and the feeling was great, just great!
Do you have rivers local to you?
It takes me seven minutes to walk down to the river. To drive up to Tamdhu, it takes 12 minutes or so. The river Spey is also very close. This last year I have been driving up to Aberlour, paddling down to Craigellachie, which is about two miles in total, locking up my board and then walking back to get my van. The question would be, why would you not go out on the river with it being so accessible? I am so very lucky to have all this close by.
What made you decide to continue with paddleboarding post this WW SUP initiation in the depths of a Scottish winter?
It is something to do with the time of my life I am at – I am 55 years old. It’s not some kind of midlife crisis, but there’s something about my having a demanding full-time job and knowing how to do it, whereas, with SUP, I am an absolute beginner. Paddleboarding is, for me, an opportunity to try something new that I have no experience in and is about being able to allow myself to learn – that complete immersion is where the thrill is for me.
Is the community you paddle with important to you?
Fundamentally, yes! Community is as important as the new knowledge and skills that I have learned. As I say, I knew Jim before (we used to work for the same council), but without SUP, our paths would never have crossed again. Because of paddleboarding, I now have a whole community of people around me and they are all really dear to me now.
Tell me about the club you paddle with.
The Moray SUP Club was the first paddleboard club to be affiliated with the Scottish Canoe Association. The essence is if there is water, we will paddle it! You just have to make sure you have the kit you need for the different environments. We have lovely sandy beaches at Lossiemouth on the Moray Firth. We have the sea, the estuary, slow-moving rivers, white water, the lochs and the white water course at Grantully.
I understand SCA were very keen to talk to the club about the membership?
We did a kind of ‘wee’ podcast with SCA because they were particularly interested in our membership’s growth rate and gender profile. To put it into context, we became an official affiliated club two weeks before the lockdown in March of last year, but, even so, our membership continued to grow. Our profile of membership is fundamentally different to existing clubs because we have more women than men.
And why do you think you have a higher ratio of women to men?
I think this is because of the sense of ‘community’ – paddle boarding is an activity that has not already been ‘claimed’, and I wonder if that’s something that has encouraged women to find a space. It is not one of those sports where you have to nudge blokes out of the way; it is just a space that is already there that women can come into.
We know through research that if women see other women (who look like them) having a go at a sport, they feel more encouraged to have a go.
Do you think that your being on the water and on social media has helped other women to think about white water SUP as a sport for them?
Yes! This is something that is quite important to me with my paddling. I am a feminist, and a social worker and equality is very important to me. It is nice to be able to inspire other women to do positive things. For example, one woman, Jacqui, comes to mind who I surf with now as well. She had seen a post that Jim had put up of me going through the Washing Machine on the River A’an, and she said, “I want to be able to do that; I want to be just like Joyce!” I thought, how lovely, I have inspired another woman – it was such a nice feeling!
So yes, if women look at me and see that my hair is grey and they also see that I can really shift my board and this inspires them, that is a lovely gift to give to women.