Organising Women’s Sea kayak Festival – another side of paddling

This year is a busy year as we are again organizing the Women’s Sea kayak Festival in Devon. Did I ever think that I would be organizing a sea kayak festival? No, not really.

This summer it will be eight years since I started kayaking. I didn’t like it much at first. The sea was too unpredictable for me to be comfortable, the waves were more enemies than friends. Everyone was always faster, sitting in the boat hurt my knees, I used to be cold during lunchtimes in my wet suit and so on. I went to a few symposiums but it was hard to enjoy the paddling when everyone mostly wanted to push themselves, while I just hoped to survive. So why did I persevere? Thanks to my husband really, and his grand ideas I have become a sea kayaker. I ended up having a little bit of a fast track journey to become a kayaker, one who now doesn’t mind the environments, elements, and considers most waves to be friends.

And yes, I became a leader and coach, but organizing an event, that is a different league completely. Don’t you need to have a centre for a venue, kayaks to hire, and lots of skills to coach and oversee and organize; cars, minibuses, trailers would also be handy (even crucial!) as is having friends who can coach?

Yet, again the reality turned out different from my fears. I signed up to go to the Women’s Sea kayak Festival in Bute as a paddler but ended up coaching there the same year. It was a women’s only event, and it was so much fun. I went again the next year only to find out that the organizers wanted a break and decided not to run one the following year.

P3154670This was the moment when everyone thought: what a shame, while three of us thought: well, let’s give it a go. And so, in a year we learnt how to organize a paddling festival without having a centre and kayaks for hire, without a minibus, and some of us even without driving or a car, without being super coaches, or having connections or extensive network of kayaking friends. We literally made it on green meadow and I like to think that it was a successful event.

If not, we would not be doing it again. At the Women’s Sea kayak Festival female coaches are coaching female paddlers. It has a Man Crèche for redundant paddling partners, but yes, it is women only event.

What is special about our event is that it celebrates women coaches and their high level of skills and brilliant coaching, by no means is our festival meant for beginners or intromediate paddlers only.

It has a great atmosphere and supportive environment, where paddlers understand each other, especially when it comes to different needs and challenges that a female paddler sometimes faces. I hope that our women only event gives people opportunities to share stories, learn from each other and develop confidence, mostly on how to use wit and skill over strength.

What I like most is, that at the end of each day we all socialize together, when we sit down for dinner there isn’t a coaches’ only table, because everyone has something inspirational to tell and we all learn from each other.

I am looking forward to that this year again!

http://womensseakayakfestivaldevon.co.uk

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Women’s Seakayaking Festival Devon

Esther, Julie and I were sitting having dinner in a restaurant post Bute symposium 2014 excited from all the great time we had during the weekend and then slightly disappointed, that it wouldn’t be happening this year. I don’t know who’s idea it was, but already travelling down the M6 we started to make plans.

What followed were many Skype conversations, Julie and Paul live in Devon, Esther and I in different places in London. The roles soon established themselves, Julie and Paul were to take care about the site bit, Esther dealt with the admin, and I was in charge of the coaching.

old harry 7We decided to invite the best women coaches we could find in the country to come and coach the women paddlers. Our aim was to provide supportive environment within the women only environment, and for people of different paddling skills being able to paddle together, enjoy each other company, have fun without feeling that they may be holding someone back. However segregation was not our aim, and so for those participants, who wanted to come with their partner, as they may need someone for company on long drive, we created the man creche.

old harry 1There were many exciting moments during the whole process. The first paddler booked, the confirmation on the marquee and food, the box of printed t-shirts, the booking being full. And then it all started. We checked in the first arrived person, the first coach.

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The condition and weather held for us and even if Monday was more on the wet and windy side, everyone had wonderful paddling days, lots of laughter, lost of new skills. We had talks, and shared food. And yes, sometimes it took four to five women to put a boat on a roof rack, but still it was all done in very good company.

 

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And yes, when I think back about it, and read the good feedback and the constructive one, I feel good. Of course there’s room for improvement, but I am very proud of Esther, Julie and myself for pulling this off. We had enormous support from Paul, who has done millions of jobs, and Michal who cooked many delicious dinners for the Skype evenings, and Toby for t-shirts and many others.

And I think that I am starting to look forward to the next one.   old harry 16

 

 

Eddystone Challenge

It was during the quiet months of the winter when Natalie noticed that the Eddystone Challenge was going to go ahead once again after a few years gap. For some reason she finds paddling out into the open sea exciting and tempting, and decided to sign us up. And of course, it had to be done as soon as the booking opened. So when we received an email saying, we were the first ones, we thought: great!. However in the same email we were surprised to read that unlike all the other crafts, single sea kayakers must have buddies. Which was fine by us, until we read that we had to paddle together.

Here, we had to admit to our selves,  that this idea made us feel quite uneasy. After years of paddling together, we couldn’t see how paddling together to a lighthouse would differ from our everyday paddling together, and where would the challenge be.

Of course, it didn’t take Natalie long to sort this out. While she ditched me completely and told me to sort my own buddy on the day, she asked Esther, her friend from a club, to join to form a  girls team. I’ve been considering options of how to paddle independently and not to be disqualified, especially after Paul from Seaborne offered to lend me a Pace 18.

Ready for Race

Ready for Race

Weeks and days prior the “Challenge” went as expected, they were filled with attempts to train (some more or less successful), and planing which cars and boats are going to be used, especially after Alastair decided to join us, too. Everything went well until Thursday early morning, when my tooth decided to wake me up. So, instead of focusing on upcoming paddling, I spent the time between swallowing painkillers and attempts to get dentist appointment. On Friday I was lucky, the painkillers in combination with the  antibiotics and a beer in the evening started to work.

On Saturday morning the Mount Batten pier was lively  with gigs, kayaks, ocean canoes, surf skis, rowing boats of all sorts and their crews running around, getting themselves and their crafts ready for the inspection. At the pre “challenge” briefing at 11am organisers spilled the beans and told everyone that due to incoming weather it wasn’t  safe to go ahead with course all the way to Eddystone.  It was changed to an  alternative course in more sheltered water. Which was fine, until they said that due to  sea kayaks not being as  seaworthy as all the other crafts, they would follow a shorter, more sheltered course inside the breakwater, while the other crafts would go outside of it. I have to admit to feeling slightly insulted for a moment and almost handing back my identification bracelet and walking  away.  The only thing which stopped me, was, that at the same moment they got a phone call to  scrap longer variation and put us all on the same course.

At first the idea of the new course wasn’t very exciting, around 13nm zigzag with a loop inside the breakwater. On the other hand it had its advantage as well, as nobody no longer insisted on buddy system, and so everybody could push as hard as they wanted. And seeing different boats managing the conditions was quite interesting, too.

The first leg of the race took us to the east end of the breakwater and to my surprise I was keeping up with all other singles despite still familiarising with the Pace 18. Unfortunately as soon as we turned directly into the wind, it became clear that there are lots of guys much stronger then me. My only strategy was not to loose too much and hope that others wouldn’t last. Then, as we turned corner around the yacht Arabesque, the  headwind turned into tail wind. Even with much of the swell coming from the right side, I could soon start to appreciate the kayak I was sitting in. Wind across swell started to create small peaks which could be run; here the paddling turned into being quite technical. This worked to my advantage and  as  we were turning into the wind for the second lap, I managed to gain back most of what I had lost previously.

Next leg into the wind was almost a repetition of the previous one. Now, there were three kayaks in front of me, two skies and Nick in Taran, and this time, they started to push even harder. As we were turning around Arabesque for second time, I was third, loosing several hundreds meters on Nick and almost unable to see the first ski. At this point the winner was almost clear. The only question I was asking myself was, how much had Nick left in his tank and would there be enough bumps to surf to catch him before the finishing line?

It was incredible to see how the gap narrowed every time I got a wave, in the same time it was starting to be increasingly harder to catch one. It felt almost absurd in last few hundred yards of the race, but Nick and I were paddling side by side. There were perfectly surfable waves passing under my hull, yet I couldn’t get on them! My arms were shaking, I couldn’t do any acceleration strokes.  I don’t know if in the end I managed to convince myself to slow down and paddle more with the sea, or if it was just pure boat performance but somehow, I got few waves and crossed the line. I came in second place. Job well done.

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Although I felt completely whipped out in the finish, it was strangely satisfying.

It was nice to see others as they crossed the line. It was great to see Natalie beating Alastair.  It was good to know that I gave it all in last the two and half hours.

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Maybe we should do this  more often.