WW conversations 7: Louise Royle

Emma Love spoke to Louise Royle, who was the first woman to qualify as a British Canoeing white water SUP coach

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!

Louise Royle
Photos: Ian Royle, David Mattingley & Gerb Southwood

Louise Royle was the first woman to qualify as a British Canoeing white water SUP coach. Already a very accomplished WW kayaker and now in her sixties, Louise is an absolute tour de force in the WW SUP community. She is a constant on the SUP X podium, an ambassador for Tambo SUP and a highly qualified coach who mentors many current and aspiring British Canoeing WW SUP coaches. 

How did you discover paddling?  
I was a qualified scuba diving instructor when I was still at school, I then ran the parachute club at university. I moved to Oxfordshire for work and was getting bored when a friend at work recommended joining Kingfisher Canoe Club. I went along for a kayak session and really enjoyed myself. At the end of the session, we had a go at capsizing and, much to the surprise of the coaches, I came up grinning and asked if I could do it again! That was in 1983 when I was only 24 years old. I am still a member, I have been on the committee nearly every year, and I’m currently a trustee and senior coach.

What sparked your interest in paddleboarding?
In 2016, my friend Jen suggested that, rather than being classroom-based, we should get Phil Hadley to come and do the British Canoeing SUP Discipline Specific Module for our coaching update. It was so much fun that we immediately went and bought our first paddleboards! I was approaching retirement, and I felt that SUP was perfect for my core and could help me continue with WW kayaking.

But within two weeks, I was taking it to my local weir to play on the white water wave trains. My immediate thought was, “Wait a minute, Louise, this is a lot of fun. You’re not too old to enjoy this, and you don’t have to think about paddling purely flat water yet!” A few months later, I met Barry Hughes (Nottingham White Water SUP) – he let me have a go on his board on the upper part of the Tryweryn and gave me my first lesson!
Would you now say your white water water craft of choice is a SUP?
Yes! SUP has given me the ‘challenge’ to continue to push myself in the white water environment. It gives me the challenge of working with the water plus the challenge of a new craft, so I can have all the ‘fun’ without having to push myself above grade four. Continuous grade four kayaking is too much for me now.

Which rivers have you paddled?
In my 50s I kayaked the Zambezi and the Grand Canyon. When I was 60, I paddled the Sun Kosi in Nepal with Darren Clarkson; this was a raft supported trip where I could SUP as much as possible, including the grade three-plus and four-minus sections where it was pool drop. When it was continuously above grade three, I kayaked. I have also WWSUP’ed in Slovenia, Austria and Costa Rica with Davide Sartoni. Although I enjoy park and play, my main aim is white water SUP exploration! I love getting out into the wild and paddling natural rivers, enjoying the challenge, the adventure, the places it takes me and the people I meet.

Which of the WW SUP communities do you regularly paddle with?
It is fantastic how much the WW SUP community in the UK has grown over the last few years. I paddle locally with Kingfisher Canoe Club, Nottingham WW SUP, White Water SUP UK, South Wales White Water SUP, as well as with Davide Sartoni (USA) and with Honza Rott and the Tambo family from Prague when I can.

What are your recommendations for women who may be wondering whether to go down the coaching route?
To be a good coach, I think you need to be passionate about the sport. There is no point in trying to coach something unless you absolutely love it. You have also got to enjoy learning. If you enjoy learning, then you will pass that on to the people you are coaching. Be confident enough in your abilities. One of the things that I know people struggle with is thinking that they are not a good enough paddler. There’s no need to strive for perfection – aim at being effective, not perfect because nobody’s perfect and everybody is different.

Work on your skills so that you can paddle consistently, effectively and comfortably in the environment in which you wish to coach. Paddle with other coaches, observe and help with coaching other people. Everybody has their own style, their things that work.

Develop various soft skills which you probably already have but don’t realise the importance of, e.g. interpersonal skills, connecting with people, treating people as individuals. Work out their specific needs and goals; how you can use your knowledge of not just the technical side, but the tactical and everything else to help them progress.

Remember, there’s no such thing as a perfect coach; it’s a journey. The best coaches are the coaches who are forever changing, updating, adapting, and evolving.

And in terms of personal progression – what would you recommend?
I’m a great advocate of paddling ‘up, down and sideways’! In other words, paddle with as many different people as you can rather than with the same people all the time. You can learn a lot from more experienced paddlers, but you can become too dependent on them if you’re not careful.

Paddle with people who are not as experienced as yourself, and you’ll find that you’re probably better than you thought you were. Paddle with peers to consolidate your skills and learn how to lead a group. Combing all of these things together will help you to progress and have FUN.

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