At the start of May, I was lucky enough to get to attend the first-ever She Paddles festival at Plas y Brenin in North Wales. It was one of the most enjoyable paddling events I have ever attended and certainly one I will be attending in the future. The weekend was incredibly well organised and the range of activities on offer was fantastic. 74 women attended as participants and the excitement and positivity throughout the weekend was infectious. I wanted to share my experience of the weekend in a bit more detail.
What is a #ShePaddles festival?
In order to understand the festival, it is important to understand what She Paddles is all about! Essentially it is an initiative aimed at addressing the gender gap that exists in participation in paddle sports. This is not just aimed at increasing entry-level participation but supporting women to progress at every level in paddle sports. I was a She Paddles ambassador for British canoeing in 2020-2021 and you can read about my experience here. There are so many positive ripples that have stemmed from the She Paddles initiative and this festival is an example of one of those ripples.
I have always been a big advocate for increasing women’s participation in paddle sports and I was thrilled to hear of a She Paddles festival taking place at Plas y Brenin in order to do just that! It was only when I was talking to Katie Simmons at the event, who is one of this year’s She Paddles ambassadors, that I realised this weekend had been her idea. She had planted the seed of a She Paddles festival and then the good folks over at Plas y Brenin and Canoe Wales got on it with putting such a successful weekend together.
Essentially this was a weekend aimed at introducing women to a variety of paddle sports and allowing women to have fun in a safe and relaxed environment. The weekend consisted of 2 days of paddling and a party on Saturday evening. The first day consisted of tailored workshops and activities on-site and the second day was a variety of paddling adventure days out. See the awesome video below of the weekend by Plas y Brenin!
Day 1 – Workshops
Saturday morning was a buzz of excitement as women arrived for the weekend and the networking began! The day started with a welcome talk from Plas y Brenin and Canoe Wales. The talk was short and sweet but to see a room of nearly 100 women and feel the excited energy in that room was pretty special.
The day was split into two workshops, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. There had been a wide range of workshops to choose from and women had signed up before the event. Each workshop was being run by specialised instructors and was limited in numbers to ensure personalised coaching could be provided for each woman.
In the morning I joined the ‘introduction to stand up paddle boarding’ with a fantastic coach called Emily. The group had a ‘meet and greet’ prior to getting on the water where introductions could be made and we could have a chat about what we wanted from the session. As a kayaker, I had wanted to try a session in a paddling discipline I wasn’t confident in. I had bought a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) about a month previously but only taken it on white water and was in desperate need of some basic skills coaching. I was pleasantly surprised over the weekend to find many women had done the same thing. They had seized the opportunity to try something new and chosen workshops outside of their normal choice of craft.
We got geared up and collected the SUPs. The nice thing about the weekend was that Plas y Brenin provided all equipment. Most of the women in my session did not own a SUP, so it really great that this was a barrier that could be immediately removed. After a quick safety introduction, we got on the lake.
We paddled up the lake and wow oh wow – what a view! It was a gloriously sunny day and paddling up the lake towards the mountains of Snowdonia was mesmerising. We worked through some different skills set out by Emily and I was amazed I managed the whole session without falling off my board. Just as we are coming back in though, Emily suggests we try step back turns. This is a skill that is very applicable to white water and so I threw myself (literally) into mastering it. 10 minutes and 10 swims later, our session ended and I had achieved my step back turn!
After a lovely lunch break of food and chatting to other women, I joined the freestyle kayaking workshop with Lowri. This session was focused on flat water freestyle and was so much fun. The two women who joined me were a great laugh and we literally spent a couple of hours falling on our faces and laughing. Lowri is a brilliant freestyle paddler and coach and having such personalised coaching from her is always a pleasure!
The afternoon session ended but the fun did not. I attended a couple of great talks from Pete Astle (founder of Peak), a lady from the RNLI and a talk on freestyle from Lowri. Whilst these were going on, there was also an opportunity for SUP yoga and to attend a rolling clinic in the pool.
After all this excitement, dinner was very appreciated as was an opportunity for some gin tasting and a live band for some dancing!
Day 2 – The big day out
Sunday was all about the big day out! Women had the chance to choose a trip to attend and these included white water kayaking, SUP adventures, sea kayaking, canoeing and more. Having not done much sea kayaking before I opted for this one! We had a great day out at Anglesey being led by Eila and Dave.
Wow wow wow. If you ever get the chance to sea kayak around Anglesey – take it!! It was my first time and I was in absolute awe of how beautiful it was. The environment was incredibly scenic and the vibes from the women in my group were great. It was a proper day trip out and I cannot believe how much amazing wildlife we saw. Definite highlights though had to be seeing a seal and the hundreds of moon jellyfish! My friend Jess even showed me how to hold one and it has to be one of the cooler experiences I’ve ever had. We even managed a circumnavigation and stopped for ice cream!
We got back to Plas y Brenin exhausted but ecstatic. After a quick closing talk, everybody said their goodbyes and left for home. What a weekend!
As I said in my introduction, this was one of the nicest and most enjoyable paddling events I have ever attended. It was such a well organised weekend. Everything was so calm and I am honestly so impressed at how smoothly everything went. The range of sessions was great and it was lovely to see so much excitement and positivity all weekend from everyone involved.
A big THANK YOU to everyone who was involved in pulling such a fantastic weekend off including all of the staff at Plas y Brenin, the external coaches who came to deliver sessions, the team at Canoe Wales and all of the sponsors who came along to support the event. A big thank you in particular to Pyranha kayaks for inviting me along!
Don’t forget that you can paddle with Plas y Brenin all year round and not just the festival – just visit their website for more details!