WW conversations 6: Julie Vigor

Emma Love spoke to Julie Vigor, who only started paddling four years ago…

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.

Julie Vigor
Photos: Phil Hadley and Martin Harrall

The last 12 months for Julie Vigor have been full of successes, including representing British Canoeing as a #ShePaddles Ambassador, qualifying as a Sheltered Water Coach, launching her own business Phoenix Paddlesport and completing her WW SUP Coach Orientation. What is even more impressive, she only started paddling four years ago!  

Tell me about the very first time you had a go at paddling.  
My very first experience of paddling was about 25 years ago. I was working in IT sales, and one of my clients invited me to paddle at Symonds Yat. We spent an afternoon going down the rapids in kayaks, and I think I swam every single time! I didn’t paddle again until four years ago when my sons joined the Air Cadets. They had both decided to have a go at kayaking; I was invited to join them. I can only sum up the first couple of months as paddling around and around in circles, but then I was introduced to a fantastic coach. Suddenly we found ourselves being taught in a range of craft, including kayaks, open canoes and slalom boats – it was such a great way to get lots of paddling experience. I even entered a slalom C1 competition and much to my surprise, I won!

What is it about white water SUP that has got you so excited, and what drives you to keep playing?
My first ever attempt was last year at Cullum Lock with WW SUP coach Louise Royle. Louise was kind enough to meet and help me with understanding how to paddle a board on white water. I fell off, swam lots and immediately fell in love with the sport! I now own my own white water specific board, a Tambo Core (10.5 Lady), which I adore experimenting on. You will often find me playing with pivot turns, breaking in and out etc. and trying to do all of this as fast as possible! What drives me to keep having a go? I enjoy the challenge of white water, and I love paddling SUPs. The combination of putting a board on white water makes that challenge even more significant. I love it!

It has been a challenging year for so many of us in the UK, and I know you had lots of plans, including becoming qualified as a white water SUP coach. How did the year turn out for you in the end?
I found it tough not to get on the water, especially as I had by then decided I would like to become a SUP Coach. Lockdown made me focus on completing some of the British Canoeing online courses, including Safeguarding, Paddleability and Coaching the Mind. I also began learning yoga because I would love to teach this on SUPs eventually. When lockdown lifted, I was lucky enough to get out on the water and complete my Core Coach qualification. This, in turn, opened the door to completing some of the coaching orientations and getting ready for exciting assessments, and I am now a qualified Sheltered Water SUP Coach! So yes, what started as a challenging year, on reflection, turned into a positive and a very busy year! .

I have heard you describe your SUP journey as several stages, including qualifying to coach sheltered, open and white water. Can you tell me more about this?
I guess to put it into context; my life has changed drastically in the past three years. I left my relationship, moved into my own home, stabilised myself financially, found an entirely new set of friends (through paddling), and I am now seriously thinking about living on a canal boat! But the most exciting aspect of all this change is that I can now follow my passion – being on the water! Before SUP, I loved paddling, but it was very much a hobby. Now it is much more! The pandemic has made me realise how important it is to follow dreams. My dream is to share my passion, and my goal is to teach SUP, whether on a river, a lake, via wellness sessions, SUP yoga, or white water. I love it all! So yes, qualifying to coach on sheltered, open and white water is very much part of my plan to be able to offer SUP in all its variety!

Outside of your desire to coach SUP, do you have any white water rivers you would like to paddle in 2021 and beyond?
I recently joined lots of European SUP groups on Facebook, and it has made me aware of the lovely rivers over there. My dream is to buy a campervan, go to Spain, to Northern Italy and head over to Slovenia to paddle on the Soca. I want to meet different people and do different things – I don’t want to be tied down anymore. So many new adventures and opportunities are presenting themselves, and I am loving life!

And do you have a favourite river in the UK you like to take your board on?
Symonds Yat on the River Wye is a great favourite of mine. From a novice’s point of view, it is fantastic because it is a relatively short bit of rapid, and you know you will come out of it at the bottom. It is a great park and play, easy to access, in a beautiful part of the world, plus there’s an excellent pub for when you get off the water! And, if you want to carry on paddling (downstream) from the rapid, you can easily follow the river to Monmouth and Redbrook. It is such a gorgeous stretch of water to experience.

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