Since last summer we've become involved with kayaking, involving all of us as a family. During this time it's been fascinating to learn a little about kayaking and great gradually getting to know some of the other members. The kayaking takes place on the Grand Union canal, here in Bedfordshire. I can tell you, I've become impressed with the club, the facilities, the coaching and have taken the opportunity to catch up with Julian Brown, the Club Chairman. Here's how are conversation went:
I'm confused Julian! The club is called the Leighton Buzzard Canoe Club and yet we're in Linslade and I see kayaks all around me - what's going on?
Within the club, what's your role Julian?
I have been Chairman a couple of times now, this time for three years now and I also enjoy being a coach. I'm not a big public speaker and prefer to encourage people, rather than telling them what to do.
Can you take me through the club's beginnings ?
It began in 1976 at a time when no one was using the canal for anything, there were hardly any narrow boats when we started. It was a terrible waste and yet there were quite a few people with canoes in the town, so we got together one day and went paddling with each other. That's how the club started.
So you're a founder member?
Yes and I'm the only founding member left in the club. I have paddled since I was about eight years old using a home made canoe and we paddled on different sections of the canal around here, not competitively, just having some fun.
Different types of kayaking and canoeing?
We concentrate on the sprint and marathon racing here and these are flat water disciplines. This is because they're most suited to the canal we have here. Other types include slalom canoeing, white water racing, canoe sailing, open canoeing, dragon boat racing and surfing.
Tell me about the club itself
We have about 100 active paddling members and around a further 20 non-paddling members. Having around 100 members is pretty good for a club like ours in the area.
but now we have our own club room and shared changing facilities in the new school pavilion and our new boat store building. We're on a school site (Cedars Upper School) and they like us being around.
We have an equal mixture of men and women and different age ranges. The youngest joining the introductory courses we run is about 8 years right up to some members who are over 70 years. The coaches are evenly split between men and women which is good and helpfully brings a nice balance within the club.
So it's an attractive past time for people from all walks of life?
Yes it is. We have all abilities and sometimes people find that if they're not so good at other sports, often people find they'll do well here. Some people with various disabilities do very well in kayaking.
Once some disabled people get into a canoe and find they can paddle, it can be helpful to them in other areas of their life too. Disabled people are not disadvantaged because of the racing system in the UK because it's ability based, not age based. In national competitions everyone normally starts off in the lowest Division (that's Division 9) and when you become too good or fast for that Division, you're promoted up into the next Division. The majority of people spend time in successive Divisions unless they're exceptionally good in which case they may jump some Divisions.
This means people don't become discouraged as they're competing against people with a similar ability, so you're not always going to be at the back.
Tell me a few things about why kayaking is so great
Firstly you get a great sense of freedom. It's down to your own skill and technique about where you go on the water.
As there's so many different type of boat, there's many different types of skill to develop. Kayaking well is quite a skill and there's an art to balancing, especially when you're going flat-out.
It can also be really exhilarating, especially on white water or in fast moving water. You can get a real buzz from it.
I enjoy teaching and encouraging people. I spend most of my time with young people and novices and find it rewarding.
In terms of overall fitness, I've noticed there's more to it than waving your arms around. Tell me more, is it a healthy sport?
Yes it's a very healthy sport. You use all of your body in kayaking, right from your feet, legs and trunk with all the big muscles in your back and shoulders working. Your arms and hands control the paddle in the water, this brings a real dynamic force on the paddle.
Once the paddle goes into the water and you pull on it, it's not really the paddle which is moving its you moving past the paddle and this is especially so with the modern wing blade types. You stab them in the water and they only move 4 or 5cm in a whole stroke as you haul yourself past. This uses your upper body rotation and strength to get a long stroke. Kayaking uses the whole body and that's why we train the whole body.
So how do you train the whole body here in the club?
With general fitness we do different circuit training sessions for different people but it all starts with aerobic gym training and we do different circuit training, according to age. We also do some fun things especially with the younger members. We find that once someone has mastered the technique of paddling, other than fitness and strength there's not much else that happens to make you go faster in the water and that's why training is important.
Although some members go paddling in the dark, not everyone does this. We also have a running sessions either around the field here or around the town in the winter which all members are invited to attend when it's too dark for them to go on the water. This is similar to what the local running clubs do. In addition to the running and circuit training, we also do weight sessions for adults and older juniors members. This builds cardio vascular fitness and strength.
Is being over weight a disadvantage?
Generally the most successful competition kayakers are tall and slim. Weight, however, does make a little difference but not as much as other sports such as running where you have to carry the weight, although the boat will sit lower in the water and so there's a little more drag. Kayaking is potentially a good way of shifting weight.
Awkward question now. What's the most embarrassing thing that's happened to you?
Falling into the water! The most embarrassing times are when you don't intend to fall in and you do, especially when I was taking a "Come and Try" session with some scouts. We had all got onto the water and they were all setting off well with everything under control. Suddenly I lost concentration and fell in! This was embarrassing with the coaches and other people I know being around and seeing it - but this is all part of it.
What are you most proud of with the club?
When we started it was just with juniors and naturally takes a while for people to grow up through the club. Some members have gone on well, for example one girl went to the Los Angeles Olympics paddling a K4 from our club and that was a proud moment.
We have had juniors in the national squad almost since the beginning of the club - this is the selection process for international events such as the World Championships under British Canoeing (this is the governing body for the sport). We've nearly always had people in the junior squad and also in the senior squad as well, which is quite difficult to get into as there's a lot around who are very good canoeists.
I notice you have lots of members involved in doing things around the club...
Yes, it's always been a family based club. Quite often children join and then later on their parents realise they could be doing it as well. We have a lot of adults here who have followed their children and some don't start until after their children have grown up and moved away.
We involve all members of families in activities, it's not just all about canoeing as there's a social side as well which helps. People work together doing things in the club.
Tell me about the coaches
The coaches are properly qualified. The coaching system has changed over the years so that a coach in another sport can do a "conversion" course to become a Kayaking coach quite easily if they have the coaching skills already.
Although we're new to the world of kayaking as a family, we can certainly see the benefits of being in such a great club! One last thing, one or two people have suggested it can be an addictive pastime......
Many thanks to Amy Tingay for supplying the excellent photographs for this post. Should you wish to see more of Amy's work, here's her website: Photography by Amy
If you would like to know more
Please visit the LBCC website: Leighton Buzzard Canoe Club