This spring I had the opportunity to attend the Open Canoe Association Symposium (Canoefest 2017) in the UK from May 26th to June 4th. The OCA was proposing a new Style paddling program to British Canoeing (BC) and I was asked to consult on the program development and provide style canoeing instruction for a number of BC coaches.
The first weekend was spent at Racquety Farm at Hay-on-Wye, near the border of Wales in southern England. There was lots of paddling, clinics, and demonstrations on the river Wye. The Hay literary festival was on at the same time, and there was a little time to explore the town – with a castle and narrow streets. In a town of 2000, there were 35 book stores, as many restaurants, and a number of outdoor stores.
Although I provided both style and more traditional clinics I also had the chance to participate in clinics and learn about new skills and activities. Every day there were several outings including sailing – I discovered that at least half the canoes had been outfitted for sails – including footings, cleats, and opportunities for mounting lee boards and rudders. The British are nuts about sailing their canoes, almost more than paddling it seems. The other piece of equipment that I saw in abundance were poles – yes those long skinny things for punting around your canoe. There was an abundance of new and heritage canoes at the symposium. Over the two weeks, I got to paddle in more different kinds of canoes than probably the rest of my life – the oldest being over 100 years, the newest (Esquif Pocket Canyon in T-Formex) hot out of the transport container.
The week between the weekends was spent at Baele Park on the Thames, near Reading. The time was spent in Style Paddling workshops with nine BC coaches. Sebastian Stetter and Jörg Wagner provided Freestyle clinics and I provided more classic ‘Canadian’ Style clinics.
I have been corresponding with Sebastian for almost five years and it was really great to meet in person. He runs Lake Constance Canoes and builds a [FreeStyle] canoe out of flax cloth called the Felicity. The name means "happiness", derived from the Latin word felicitas meaning "luck, good fortune". The canoe is just beautiful to look at, and I have wondered about what it would be like to paddle for years. I wanted to bring one home, but it wouldn’t have worked as a carry-on.
Jörg is a classic guitar teacher (music professor) and he played every day “just to keep limber.” His strumming (I hate to call it that) provided a beautiful background for many of our evening discussions. He imports canoes into Germany and had brought a wide variety of American Trader boats to try. He also brought his boat – a beautifully painted Cedar and Canvas.
The second weekend was associated with the Beale Park Boat and Outdoor Show where the nine BC coaches provided style paddling clinics to practice new skills and training. There were many more types of canoes at the show for demonstrations.
The highlight of the trip included meeting many new people and making new friends.
I will admit now, months later, that I had always wondered what it would be like to paddle a coracle. There were a number available at the boat show and it was a thrill for me to get out and putter about and a little round boat.
Beautiful weather, wonderful people.