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Active Thames

Sit-on-top kayaks rejuvenate beginners pool at Chelmsford Canoe Club

"It’s about knocking down barriers to accessibility"

Chelmsford Canoe Club

Chelmsford Canoe Club are seeing an influx in kayak beginners thanks to an investment in easy-to-use kayaks, funded by Active Thames.

By Emma Blackmore

Having celebrated their 75th platinum anniversary in 2021, Chelmsford Canoe Club are ramping up their beginners intake by providing sessions with new sit-on-top kayaks. The easy to use and beginner-friendly kayaks aims to instil confidence within new members and tackle the club’s lengthy waiting list.

The new boats have been purchased through a grant of £4,671 by Active Thames. The initiative led by Port of London Authority aims to encourage groups that are less likely to engage in physical activity on the river and promote the benefits of watersports to mental and physical health.

“The club competitively perform in marathon canoe racing and sprint racing,” Steve Moule, coaching officer at Chelmsford explains. “We’ve had a successful year through the top end and now we’re building up our beginner level. Last summer, some participants felt closed in and restricted with the old boats so by removing that fear and just getting people used to being underwater, when necessary, without that fear of being trapped at all has been very useful.”

The local community’s response has been “fantastic,” says Steve. The new single sit-on-top boats are simple and are easy to access. “Everyone’s been comfortable getting on top of the boats,” Steve adds. He has been at the club both as a member and a volunteer coach for 29 years.

“In particular, it’s really helped with confidence to one group called Mums of Paddle – a lot of members have kids who paddled in the past but they’ve gone off to university or the like, and now the mums meet up every Thursday. It’s a really positive and inclusive session and it’s really helped build confidence.”

Benefiting from the open flat space of the River Chelmer, the club attracts adults and children from the age of ten. The club offers multiple sessions a week for beginners and intermediate, all the way up to those competing for Team GB. “We attract families first of all through the kids and then the adults find their way into it as well,” Steve explains.

“It’s about knocking down barriers to accessibility and the new boats have removed the barrier for beginners. It’s been really good seeing the coaches work with new beginners to get people out on the water quickly. There’s less set up on the boat and less fears to conquer. It’s all about getting them a boat that fits them and just getting them out on the water because once you’ve got them out on the water and enjoying that, taking the next step to sit inside a kayak isn’t such a big step.”

With over 300 members, the club has a pathway in place to support everyone from the very beginner all the way up to competitive players. As Steve explains: “If a participant wants to commit, we have the facilities to take them where they want to be. At the moment, we have five kayakers who are hoping to qualify for 2024, some of whom have been with the club since they were very young.”

"It’s about knocking down barriers to accessibility and the new boats have removed the barrier for beginners."
Steve Moule, coaching officer, Chelmsford Canoe Club

Covid-19 greatly impacted the number of beginners and new members at the club. “It’s been hard on everyone. We had to shut our doors and we weren’t able to recruit new coaches,” says Steve.

The club have six volunteer coaches with an even split of males and females. They are currently investing in coach development by training up coaches through the Level 3 British Canoeing Race Coach Award.

While the club specialises in competitive marathon canoe racing and sprint racing, they also compete in slalom and wildwater racing. Although most of all, Steve believes the area of the club in Kings Head Meadow allows beginners the opportunity to enjoy the peacefulness of flatwater kayaking.

“We’re really lucky on the River Chelmer because we’ve not got any water restrictions. We are the main uses of the waterway besides an occasional fisherman. There are no massive flows or tides to worry about, it’s often very peaceful. We only ever need to watch out for the swans when they get too frantic!”

Reflecting on 2022, Steve reveals that his favourite moment at the Club has been witnessing the beginners and the returning members being rewarded for the effort they’ve been putting in. “Witnessing the team and the men and women being selected and receiving the results they deserve has been so incredibly rewarding,” he says, “as well as observing the beginners overcoming their fears.”

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