IT'S THE WEEKEND: Kayaking - the family-friendly exercise
THERE are few other outdoor activities as physically challenging but also as family-friendly as canoeing or kayaking.
Like so many other outdoor activities, both of these paddle sports require the weather to be nice, or at the very least dry, for people to make the most out of them.
In 2012, there were more than 1.2 million recorded participants for canoeing in the UK, which was undoubtedly aided by what is often referred to as “Olympic fever”.
UK participation in water sports in general in 2012 was up by 11 per cent on the previous year, and this could largely be put down to the effects of the London Olympics.
Canoe Wales has 1,800 individual members and has more than 2,000 affiliated club and centre members – making it the most popular water sport among youngsters in Wales.
Canoe Wales is the country’s National Governing Body of paddle sport, which is a part of the UK's umbrella governing body, the British Canoe Union.
Over the past few years, the BCU have been bringing in a new coaching system which they hope to improve the experience of paddlers coming in to the sport by increasing the standard of coaching across the sport.
But do not let the word “sport”, or its competitive nature put you off picking up that paddle.
People of all ages can enjoy the tranquillity that comes with canoeing or kayaking – it does not always have to be in a competitive environment.
Helen Probert decided to take her two young daughters to canoe because she feels it can be a very peaceful experience.
She said: “We make sure that the daughters know of the dangers that come with it, but I do feel it is a great family day out.
“You can make a whole day of it, but in the past, we’ve also taken three or four days out and taken a picnic with us to make a right good job of things.
“It’s nice to be able to get out of the house now and again and really appreciate the outdoors with the family.
“To see your daughters enjoying themselves without having to depend on the television, or play any video games, literally is a breath of fresh air.”
One of Wales’ most popular centres is situated in Monmouth near the River Wye.
What used to be called Symonds Canoe Hire is now named Monmouth Canoe Activity Centre following a recommendation from the Tourist Board many years ago.
It is the longest-running centre on the whole of the River Wye and attracts experienced kayakers or canoeists and young families alike.
Sue Symonds began the venture alongside her husband, Graham, nearly 40 years ago.
She said: “Graham and I have been hiring canoes out since 1977. Graham started with Wydean Canoe Club and thought it would be a good idea to hire canoes. He is the water baby if you like.
“It’s a summer activity and very much weather and river dependent. It’s a seasonal business,” she added.
“When we started, we never had enough here to keep us in full-time employment throughout the year. My husband had another full-time job up until two years ago.”
Graham has since started Monmouth Canoe Club and it is going from strength to strength.
Local boy Tom Scrivens, who became involved with the centre after joining the canoe club, has been working at the centre for the past five summers and sees it as a very productive way of spending his summer.
The 20-year-old said: “It’s great because you get to work outside, and it’s the ideal job for me because I’m a kayaker.
“Other people get to work here all year round, which is great. There’s a good atmosphere around the place.”
David Wilson, 22, was kayaking on the River Wye for only the second time but has years of experience already.
He said: “I have been kayaking for about ten years. I was bored one summer and decided that I wanted to do something different, so I got myself down to get some kayaking lessons.
“It’s not something all my friends do but it is certainly different, and a great way of spending time in the open air. It’s also something to do alongside my brother and other family members who come down for the day.
“It’s great to be outside, and always good to be with a larger group because everyone feels a bit safer.”
Although canoeing or kayaking can be seen as a family activity, and a nice day out, it also has its dangers.
Jane Symonds, Sue’s daughter, is a qualified instructor after following in her parents’ footsteps.
She said of the associated dangers with the sports: “We often take hen dos and stag dos out on the river in groups, but obviously they have to be supervised.
“It’s good fun as long as they realise the dangers that goes with it. Some people don’t realise that we’re here to look after them and to make sure everyone is safe.
“But it’s a nice office though isn’t it? This year has been a pleasure, and that’s mostly down to the good weather we’ve had.”
And it really does appeal to people of all ages.
Brian Frost is a 67-year-old level two coach and qualified driver of the 16-seaters, which are needed to carry the equipment down to the riverside.
He has been enjoying his work in the outdoors since he retired and believes nothing is better than working in the great open air on the River Wye. He said: “This job keeps me young.”
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