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: Dan Thorne
Chatting with Jenna Sanders was really interesting. Not only is Jenna a paddler, a British Canoeing Lisa Boore is a professional outdoor practitioner. Based in the Brecon Beacons, 2020 was a busy year for Lisa, including becoming a British Canoeing WW SUP Coach and setting up her own business, Outdoor Coaching and Guiding. Lisa is a founding member of South Wales Whitewater SUP, one of the most exciting peer paddling groups to have developed last year.
Can you tell me about the very first time you had a go at paddling?
First and foremost, I am a canoeist, that’s where I have the majority of my leadership and coaching It was when I was ten years old. We went on a week-long school trip to a residential centre in Somerset called Mill on the Brue. We had the opportunity to go to lots of different activities, including open canoe, and I recall we had a female instructor called Kate, who I found really inspiring. On reflection, it was because of her that I studied outdoor education at university and then went on to work in the outdoor industry as a practitioner.
I always think of you paddling white water on your SUP, but I recently spotted some photographs of you in an open canoe.
I was about 20 years old and on holiday in France with my parents. We visited the bottom of the Verdon Other than paddling SUP (sea, open and white water), I spend most of my time in an open canoe, either on the white water or on multi-day expeditions both here in the UK and worldwide. I love the experience of being self-sufficient in the wilderness. It is an environment I always find so inspiring.
Can you describe your very first experience of playing on a SUP, and then what led you to think about taking a board on the white water?
I remember first seeing SUP on the paddling scene around 2013. My first paddling experience was hiring a board on the coast; I had previously tried regular surfing, and, frustratingly, I found I could not get the board to match the speed of the wave. But with SUP, I discovered that by combining my open canoe skills with my ability to read the wave, I suddenly had success! Sadly, I live over an hour away from the sea, making regular SUP surf trips challenging to do. I can easily access a lovely section of the river Usk; it is only a five-minute walk from where I live, and because I have this water so close, it just made sense for me to join up both my white water and surf SUP skills. I just mixed them all to see what would happen!
I love the journey you describe; how being restricted geographically plus the mixing of inquisitiveness with your skillset takes you naturally to think about the possibilities of playing on white water. Can you describe your very first time paddling a river on a board?
It was 2015, and a friend of ours, Alex Tonge, brought over a couple of boards; I was on mine and my partner, Dan Thorne, joined us. There were the three of us paddling SUPs together on the Glasbury to Hay (River Wye) at what was our canoe club reunion, and we thought it was amazing! I had always thought paddling on this particular bit of river was quite boring just because I teach on this section every week – it is easy for me to visualise the water, and I know what to expect. Getting on a SUP board has given me an absolute love of this section of the river.
What drives you to keep ‘playing’?
What drives me to keep getting on a board is that it is just so great to be learning! Whereas with a canoe, I know I can scrape across rocks and get away with it. I can’t do this on a board as I will land on my face, which hurts! White water SUP is a skill that I still have to master, and that is exciting.
2020 was an incredible year with five women (including yourself) qualifying as WW SUP coaches – why do you think this has happened, and do you think this is unique to our discipline?
I believe women are happy to explore different disciplines and how they come to WW SUP breaks down into two different routes; firstly, there are those (like me) who are white water paddlers, who think ‘that looks cool’ and want to learn something new. Secondly, some women have no prior paddling experience, and initially, they learn flatwater SUP skills but then think what is next?
If you want to learn, the natural progression with SUP would be either racing, the sea or white water. I think we are seeing women coming through within the WW SUP community because we are such a friendly group of people, and it is a supportive and encouraging environment to learn in. I don’t think the increase in women coaches is limited to WW SUP, and I can now see women leading the way in other white water paddling disciplines.
To me, it feels such a special time to be part of the WW SUP community. Do you share this sentiment?
Yes, I like the sense of community; our sport is open, not at all egotistic, and we are all still learning. It’s where I feel we were with paddlesports 20 years ago. I wonder whether this lack of ego is because we don’t have a competition element to our sport, so there is no jealousy. It will be interesting to see if SUP X takes off and whether our community will change as it becomes competitive. Let’s chat in 10 years and see where it is at!
You are one of the founding members of South Wales Whitewater SUP. How did this group come about?
I didn’t want to own or be responsible for a club, and I knew people in the area who paddled, including outdoor instructor friends who were also keen to start a group. I had been following ‘Nottingham Whitewater SUP’ on Facebook for quite a while, and I liked how that peer-led group was set up. So, we decided to use this model, and in June of last year, we created our own Facebook page, ‘South Wales Whitewater SUP’.
We currently have 159 members, which is a nice size. It works because any of our members can put up a post asking who wants to meet for a social paddle, and then they organise themselves. I think, on average, around ten paddlers meet at these socials. We have had some great trips down the river Usk and, last summer – when the Usk and Upper Wye were closed for fishing only- we met regularly at Symonds Yat. It is a lovely little park and play spot. We are very happy for anybody to join us as long as they have some white water experience and deem themselves safe on the water.
What are your words of advice to anyone keen to try WW SUP?
I don’t think ‘just go for it is the right attitude, but, sadly, you see it a lot on social media like YouTube, Facebook etc.; these platforms are not always the best source of guidance. First and foremost, the question you have to ask yourself is, what experience do these paddlers have, and what qualifications do they hold? Every river you paddle has to be respected. Yes, it is a great playground, but you need to have both the ability to do dynamic risk assessments and make good decisions; these abilities only come with experience. My advice is, go paddle with someone who knows what they are doing and you can trust. Failing that, get some professional coaching.
South Wales Whitewater SUP: https://www.facebook.com/groups/280555873061365