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The Canoe Wales campaign getting women on the water

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This has been the summer of women on the water throughout Wales, thanks to the success of the #ShePaddles campaign.

It reached its high tide mark back in May, when 75 women – the vast majority of whom had never met each other – took part in a paddlesport festival at the Plas y Brenin National Outdoor Centre, in Snowdonia.

“Plas y Brenin had never had 75 people on the water at once before, never mind 75 women,” says Lydia Wilford, development officer at Canoe Wales.

“The feedback we received was really interesting. As many as 80 per cent of the women there didn’t know anyone when they arrived.”

So what makes 75 women of varying ages want to spent a springtime weekend splashing around on a lake?

It might be the beauty of the Llynnau Lakes and surroundings, or the desire to feel fit, active and adventurous, or the curiosity to learn a new sport.

Or it might be all those things – plus the absence of male egos!

#ShePaddles was a programme devised by British Canoeing in 2020, interrupted by the pandemic, but taken up by Canoe Wales and rolled out across the country with huge success in 2021 and 2022.

Designed to get more females into paddlesports – canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding – and to develop them as enthusiasts, officials and coaches, the campaign has struck a chord with girls and women of all ages.

As well as festivals, there have been tours to various locations with #ShePaddles ambassadors, “champion” clubs and a vibrant Facebook group with over 2,500 members.

“What was really interesting about the festival in May was to see that so many women were happy to turn up on their own because they knew it would be all women,” says Lydia.

“It can be a disincentive, if you think turning up to try paddleboarding or kayaking will mean you’ll be in a group with 18-year-old lads.

“We are finding these women are loving coming into the sport in a women-only environment. Once they have got their confidence in the sport, then they are more than happy to mix.

“We’ve also had some amazing Asian ladies, who would simply be unable to take part in sessions with men.

“So, it can be a starting point for a variety of reasons – but there’s no doubt how positive women are to a females-only introduction to the sport.”

Two smiling women wearing hijabs canoeing on a river.
The #ShePaddles programme allows women of faith, who can't participate in mixed gender sports, to engage with canoeing.
We are finding these women are loving coming into the sport in a women-only environment. Once they have got their confidence in the sport, then they are more than happy to mix.
Lydia Wilford, Development Officer at Canoe Wales

The outcomes in terms of numbers have also been impressive.

There are 4,652 registered members of Canoe Wales throughout the country and when #ShePaddles began the proportion of female members was only 29.6 per cent.

That is despite statistics that show the take up of paddlesport in schools and colleges is relatively gender equal. 

This summer the female proportion has risen to 36 per cent on the back of an estimated doubling in female participants from 800 to 1,600.

The ambition is to continue to lift that percentage figure until it reaches the 50 per cent mark, while also moving regular paddlers into individual membership of Canoe Wales – which brings benefits regarding licenses and insurance - as well as towards membership of Wales’ 49 registered clubs.

“We will always have a certain amount of social paddlers who just want to go out with their mates,” adds Lydia, a regular canoeist in mid-Wales. 

“Kit is now accessible and cheap, so that people can get a paddle board or kayak and just go out with their friends.

“But part of this programme is to get the females in as members, for the advantages of membership, and then, hopefully, to take them on to joining clubs.”

So, it’s hoped that dipping a toe into paddling will be only the start.

Of the piloted “champion” clubs, Llangollen Canoe Club is leading the way with regular weekly events under the #ShePaddles banner.

Nor is the initiative just aimed at beginners. There have been courses and events planned aimed at those already in the sport who are looking to improve.

Lydia adds: “We held a white water kayaking progression weekend, which was brilliant. A lot of those women were already members of clubs, but they felt it was so nice to come away from the male egos and learn in a different way.”

A similar sea-kayaking event is being held on September 24 in Anglesey, while there are more progression events scheduled for next year, including a flatwater festival.

“It’s a flexible and adaptable programme,” says Lydia.

“We listen to what the women want and react to that.”


To hear about forthcoming events, join the #ShePaddles Cymru Facebook Group. To find out more about #ShePaddles Cymru, get in touch with Canoe Wales development officer, Lydia Wilford. [javascript protected email address]

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