By Caroline Berry.
‘On August 14 2022, thirteen women met on the banks of the river Laune in Killorglin, as part of a “come and try it” event hosted by Kerry Canoe Club. This event was in celebration of “Her Outdoors” week, a Sport Ireland initiative aimed at promoting women in outdoor activity.. The ten novices who signed up were all from varying backgrounds and ages. We were joined by five Kerry natives, and five women who had recently moved to Ireland from Ukraine. The session was led by three female coaches and club members, including myself. The idea of this event was to have a session for women, by women. Proceeds raised were also donated to ADAPT-Kerry’s women’s refuge, based in Tralee.
Our club’s participation in this kind of event was inspired and aided through my own involvement in Canoeing Ireland’s “Bridge the Gap” programme, with the support of my mentor. Through this initiative, I have tried to take on the role of an ambassador for paddle sports, with a view to supporting greater gender diversity and creating opportunities for women. I particularly wanted to branch out into more community-based approaches. Our club has been very fortunate in receiving funding and equipment that has allowed our club to grow, and so I thought it would be good to “give-back”, passing some of our good fortune by donating to a local charity.
The session itself was incredibly good fun, and most surprisingly, the factors that I initially feared could be barriers actually made our time on the water all the more memorable and rewarding. I knew from the outset that I wanted the group to be diverse, and anticipated some form of language barrier. The “barrier” itself was minimal, and it was amazing seeing so much cooperation in action, as participants with more experience with the English language were stepping in to translate and pass on instructions to those less experienced. An ice-breaker of “Splish, splash, splosh” also worked very effectively and got everyone laughing. Laughter is of course a great universal language.
We then travelled along the banks of the Laune, working on some skills and exploring some tributaries. A game of polo and some racing also prompted a competitive edge! After two hours of paddling, playing, and exploring, our time was up. We returned to our club house. As an instructor I generally try to hold out and get off the water last in the event of last-minute capsizes. From my kayak, I had the pleasure of seeing the group work together so organically, rafting up, helping each other exit the boats and stand safely on shore. This was particularly striking to me as I had not intended on it or instructed this level of collaboration- I didn’t need to!
Our group then disbanded, and I feel our session was definitely a success. I would however make some changes if our club was to repeat such an event, and I would like to pass on my thoughts to other clubs too. I think it was a really good session, and it was very rewarding to promote women in kayaking and to create opportunities for displaced Ukrainian citizens. It was also fantastic to create a point of commonality for these women around kayaking. However, for true integration to happen, we would need to offer more long-term courses (such as level 2 skills courses) and ensure people are presented with the opportunity of joining the club, with a more sustainable and long-term goal of integration in mind. There are also a number of other underserved and underrepresented communities that are deserving of outreach. Canoe clubs and paddle sports have huge potential in terms of inclusivity, adaptability, and volunteerism.
In closing, I want to pass on my thanks to the ten participants who came out with such enthusiasm and humour, and to Úna and Emer for your invaluable support and contributions.’