Interviews: Emma Love
Emma Love is a British Canoeing stand up paddleboard white water coach.
Emma in slalom action. Photographer: Graham Woollven
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: Paul Klym, Jim Gibson and Jason Woodhouse
I was thrilled to interview Jess, one of five women to have qualified in 2020 as a British Canoeing Stand Up Paddleboard White Water Coach. Based in Fort William on the west coast of Scotland, Jess had just returned from three weeks sailing on the tall ship, Tenacious. We grabbed an hour to chat about her journey, the openness of our sport and the projects she is currently involved in.
Tell me about your very first experience of paddling
It was probably when I was about 11 years old, at Loch Park with the Keith Swimming Club. They were doing sessions during the summer, and I just really enjoyed messing around in the kayaks. The group I was with were supportive, and I enjoyed being around them – it was a fun environment to develop my skills.
I know you paddle lots of different types of craft, what are you typically paddling at the moment?
It’s quite a range, for work, I paddle open canoes, so river and flat water, plus I do a bit of sea kayaking. For fun, I like white water kayaking and then, of course, white water SUP.
Describe for me your very first white water SUP experience?
I was at university at the time, and I had come back to stay with my parents for Christmas. Jim Gibson had got really into paddling SUP, and he asked my brother and me if we would fancy going for a paddle on the river A’nn. I thought yeah why not let’s give this a go! I felt confident having paddled this particular river in my kayak, but when we arrived, and I saw Jim in all his body armour, I thought oh gosh, what have I got myself into? When I got on the water, I thought this is ridiculous! Lots of falling off but also, really fun. It made what I consider an easy river challenging again, which was nice.
What’s motivated you to continue playing on white water using a SUP?
I suppose for me; it started off being about community because I paddled with friends. Later on, it additionally became about making the rivers challenging again and pushing myself.
I find WW SUP interesting because it punishes you if you get things wrong, but this means you learn quickly and I like the fact that you have to get it technically right whereas with kayaking I find you can get away with a lot more. You definitely need to be able to read the water, every ripple and wave – the board doesn’t allow you to muddle through.
Huge congratulations on becoming a British Canoeing SUP white water coach. 2020 has been an incredible year with so many women qualifying and more on route to becoming qualified. Why do you think we are seeing such a significant uptake?
I think we are seeing a lot of women qualifying because WW SUP is new and exciting! More women are taking up the sport, and so there are more developing and moving through. Also, because our sport is completely new, we don’t have a stereotype attached to it as of yet.
I think that is a really interesting perspective, do you think other paddlesports come with a stereotype attached?
Yes, just because they have been set up a lot longer For example, with white water kayaking, the image that comes to mind is typically a guy dropping big waterfalls; canoeing is maybe a big guy with a beard. I suppose even flatwater paddleboarding has a bit of a stereotype – a person in a bikini. WW SUP has not got a stereotype yet; it feels open.
What words of encouragement would you give to women who may be interested in becoming a coach but may feel unsure whether to take the next steps?
I’d say give it a go! Our community is supportive, and I found the actual assessment itself was the least stressful I’ve done, it just felt nice. The sessions you complete running up to your assessment and the ideas you work through because of doing these, make you feel ready – it gives you lots of experience which is good. I also recommend having a mentor or another paddler to chat with. For me, I valued Paul Klym, who was on the same pathway; it was cool sharing ideas with him and adventures out on the river. I also continued to have support from Jim Gibson (my mentor) plus Phil Hadley, Alex Tonge and Anthony Ing who delivered the two-day WW SUP discipline-specific training, which was helpful.
2020 has had some real high points for you. Alongside gaining your coaching qualification and setting up your own business, Dipper Paddle Boarding, you are currently a British Canoeing #ShePaddles ambassador and part of the Scottish Canoeing Association ‘Female Equality Group’
As an ambassador, I have found it pleasant connecting and getting to know people. I am excited to be involved in the new female equality group here in Scotland. It is very similar to #ShePaddles. Our main aim is to support women who are wanting to gain higher coaching qualifications, something we currently see a deficit of in Scotland. We also want to support and increase the number of women entering paddlesports at grassroots.
I know you have just come back from three weeks volunteering on a tall ship, have you also managed to have local adventures?
Last year, I was planning to head off abroad, but instead, I have been exploring little bits of water locally. In the summer I did a mini-expedition along Loch Treig from Corour to Tulloch Station, and more recently, I paddled the length of the Burn of Boyne right outside my parent’s house. It is usually a very small rocky burn, but the levels had come up, so I thought, why not! It was a lot of fun, and I even saw a Kingfisher which I never thought I would see on this river. I have enjoyed exploring new places in Scotland and my local area; there are many more trips I still want to do!