Disability is no limit when it comes to SUP with SUP Active Yorkshire

SUP Active Yorkshire proves SUP Active Yorkshire proves that disability is no limit when it comes to SUP. In this article, Danny Godridge, owner of SUP Active Yorkshire, tells TotalSUP how SUP breaks down barriers and provides freedom for all paddlers regardless of ability.

Hello Danny, first of all could you tell where exactly SUP Active Yorkshire is based ?

SUP Active works mainly from a great location beside Ellerton Lake, Yorkshire but we can also arrange bespoke sessions on The River Ouse, Ripon Canal, Semerwater to name a few local places. The sessions are for anyone, beginners or experienced young or old.

How did you begin working with adaptive paddlers?

The inclusive and adaptive paddling began while working as a part of a charity which helps veterans who have a disability whether physical or mental due to service. I also run SUP Active Yorkshire, which offers SUP coaching and helps people to get out on the water. Being a waterman myself, I saw the benefits that SUP can bring and decided to combine the two, offering SUP, kayak and canoe to those who may have barriers caused by illness, physical or mental health. Being able to paddlesport doesn’t just offer these individuals a ‘sport’ or an experience, but it brings them the ability to get out and socialise with others and helps remove the barriers which they may otherwise experience in their daily lives.

When coaching I like to use the term SEL: Safety, Enjoyment and Learning – if someone is feeling safe and comfortable that is more often than not the environment you have put them into, it could also be some equipment you have found to help them, it could be they feel safe that you have the knowledge and the appropriate people to help out on the session, they will enjoy the experience as there is less anxiety, which means that they then have a comfortable learning environment. Combining these three things gives paddlers the best experience that they can have and makes them want to come back and enjoy the sport further.

You use RED Paddle Co board, why is RED your board of choice?

We have always used RED Paddle Co boards as they are well made, but there are a good range of other quality boards on the market including some that are starting to look at bespoke adaptive SUP boards so will be really interested to use these as well. It is hugely important when anyone uses a board that it is robust and reliable. I have seen other boards fail and working with adaptive paddlers, or any paddler the board must be robust – I have never had any issues with these boards and any questions I have had have been answered quickly by the Red team.

With the adaptive paddling community, the tandem, XL and L boards are brilliant due to the size and accessibility of them, they are also big enough to fit a bean bag, beach wheelchair or other seating equipment which may be needed. The ease of access on getting an adaptive paddler onto these boards and building confidence with the stability means that our paddlers can experience the water safely and easily.

What has the feedback been from veterans, presumably they haven’t paddle boarded before?

One of the guys who began paddling last year had been in accident and has limited mobility from his injury. The things that helped him was gaining confidence in and on the water, so we started by taking him out in a canoe. He is an example of someone who had limited access to assessable water sports and was worried about going onto the water. This was overcome by getting him in a canoe, building his confidence, getting him used to being out on the water and also in the water. We then moved onto getting him on a paddleboard but needed a seating system as he couldn’t stand very well. We used an outdoor beanbag after doing some research, this meant that he was sitting upright in a comfort and high enough for him to be able to paddle. One of the issues for adaptive paddling is that a lot of the bespoke equipment can be expensive and therefore places another barrier for those wanting to paddle, individuals and clubs don’t always have access to this or the funds to be able to provide adaptive equipment. Being able to use something simple and accessible, such as a beanbag or a stable outdoor chair for example, means that those adaptive paddlers can access SUP and it isn’t to expensive, it’s all about thinking outside the box. Everyone you come across is different, they will have different adaptive support needs, or a different challenge and anxieties so you need to find away to make it work for them. At the higher end of disability, it’s essential to seek professional advice and support from specialist providers to ensure that the paddler has a safe and enjoyable experience.

Do you find that the veteran community has more determination on a SUP?

Working with Veteran’s you realise that some may have lost their confidence since leaving the forces, this might have been through illness, injury physical or mental health. So, it’s great to see the camaraderie and peer support veterans have when they get involved with activities, they shows a real family like support for each other from there background in the forces. If we can help enable these activities to happen and eventually move forward with building confidence for paddlers to be able to paddle and get enjoyment from their local SUP community. Becoming better Enablers is all about putting on events and setting them up so that they are inclusive – everyone can join in regardless of ability. What is important is speaking to people and finding out what their needs are for that day and saying ok, how can we make this happen?

What are your plans for the future?

I’d like to offer winter paddling and keep the community on the water all year around! So setting up some pool sessions as well; let’s be honest not everyone one likes paddling in cold weather particularly if you have anxiety about falling in! It’s nice to reduce that fear in a warmer and safer environment and build confidence for the more open waterways. I am looking to provide better experiences for our paddlers whether that is with buying suitable equipment, offering boards with a chair on or outriggers to add stability or a simple supportive group to join. It’s just taking small steps to make the sport as accessible for adaptive paddlers as it can be. As well as this, training coaches with is key, having experienced individuals with the relevant training will grow the offering of inclusive adaptive paddling meaning that more paddlers can experience the freedom and independence that SUP offers. I am hoping to help try to run collaborative events – potentially getting motivational paddling ambassadors who can showcase the world of inclusive paddling.

What advice would you give an adaptive athlete wanting to get involved with paddling?

You can go on the British Canoeing website and find some great clubs, centres, private providers and coaches that offer Paddle ability or even Para Canoe talent pathways. Look at your local clubs, centres or private providers and find out what they can offer. Speak with them and they should be asking you what would you like to do? And finding a way to make it happen. There are some really great things happening from the huge popularity of water sports in the last couple of years with inclusive paddle groups across the UK welcoming new members.

There are also some paddability awareness courses delivered for coaches and peer paddlers online and face to face. Also see how you this can be sets up in your club, centre too, the more clubs that offer this, the more the better. The British Canoeing Paddleabilty initiative is currently undergoing a review and update, and further details of the programme and how to get involved will hopefully be released in due course.

How do you feel when a paddler with all of these barriers gets out on a SUP and it just clicks?

It’s fantastic, I am a massive champion of Vitamin Green! Being outside, socialising and learning something new. When you see someone doing something that they thought was maybe out of reach and they now enjoy, you can’t give that a price – it just makes my day. One in five people in the UK have an impairment of some sort, that’s a massive amount of people that are potentially missing out on SUP, it’s therefore so important that we find ways to enable inclusive paddling accessible to everyone safely.

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About the Author

Jenny Williams

Jenny’s passion for water sports started over a decade ago paddling Outrigger Canoe. Since then she’s gone on to start her own business coaching SUP and OC on the mighty Thames in London as well as proudly being the UK distributor for Woo Outrigger.