Dittons Paddle Boarding Club are now offering free introduction sessions to diversify the sport, following an investment in first aid and water rescue training which has been made possible by funding from Active Thames.
Away from the gentle hum of motorboats and dishes clattering from the nearby pub, is a young couple on paddle boards gliding through a secluded part of Thames Ditton. I watch as she dips her paddle into the river and gracefully pulls forward. After a small wobble, her partner follows her. There’s a pause as they go under the island suspension footbridge and then, they look at each other with wide eyes and a big grin. The image could quite easily be a painting: the sky – pink with the setting sun, the water majestically calm and the bank lined with dark green trees.
This is a scene typical of Dittons Paddle Boarding, a community club based in Thames Ditton, Surrey. The club had their first paddle in April 2017 on the banks of Ditton Beach, and now have training bases in Maidenhead, Guildford, Weybridge and more. They have been affiliated with British Canoeing since 2018.
Funding from Active Thames has helped train volunteers in first aid and water rescue. The new initiative by Port of London Authority aims to increase inclusivity and diversity in watersports, so that more residents can enjoy the vast benefits of the River Thames. A grant of £1500 has been invested in coaching development, meaning the club can increase the number of free community sessions on offer.
Founder Brett Scillitoe always aimed to run free community paddle boarding sessions to improve inclusivity within the sport, ever since he launched five years ago. Now, with the help of funding from Active Thames the club have been able to invest in training, which has been vital during the cost of living crisis. All of the club’s coaches are International Surfing Association (ISA) trained and they currently have ten coaches with three undergoing training. First aid and water rescue is provided by Surf Live Saving GB Club.
“The idea is that the sessions are for those who can really benefit,” Brett says. “For those who perhaps for cultural reasons, have never accessed the water, or those that can’t afford the equipment as the boards are quite expensive. We also wanted to reach out to those groups of people who are beginning to explore the waterways and we want to be able to educate them and keep them safe.”
For Brett, the free introduction to paddle boarding sessions is all about building an inclusive, safety-conscious community. “It’s about teaching [young people] at the right age. Young people have to know how to look after themselves and their friends.”
The free community sessions will involve learning how to control the board and how to stand up. Participants will come away from the session with an understanding of the kit, the rules, the waterways and how they work, as well as the undercurrents and the dangers of wild water.
Promoting the benefits of paddle boarding to wellbeing, as well as increasing safety awareness is incredibly important to Brett who also founded the charity AquaPaddle in 2021. The charity, which administers the community sessions, was founded in order to help communities who would benefit being out on the water for physical and mental health reasons.
Brett wants everyone that attends to have a target to train for which is why the club regularly do 5k for Paddlers – a social paddle for those who want to improve their fitness and wellbeing. It is open to all paddlers, including kayakers and canoeists.
“It’s really important that they have a target to aim for which is why we do the Riverbank to 5k; it provides a target and a goal for participants, especially young people. They can think: ‘well if I keep this up then maybe I can have a go at the 5k next time.’ It gives them something to focus on and provides them with responsibility.”
The grant has removed the barrier of finding people to train and it has created a strong sense of community within the local area. As Brett says: “It’s all about building a community of like-minded safety-conscious paddlers.”
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Active Thames is a partnership programme in place to support the development of watersports on the tidal Thames and inland waterways in London, Kent and Essex.
With over 15,000 football pitches worth of blue space, the tidal Thames is a fantastic place to get active. There is also an extensive network of inland waterways, which provide even more space for people to enjoy, and perfect locations to gain the skills and confidence needed to take on the tidal river.