ShePaddles Trips

ShePaddles at Plas y Brenin 2024 – sunshine, smiles and inquisitive seals!

I was thrilled to be invited to Plas y Brenin‘s third ShePaddles event which ran on the 10th-12th May this year. This event first ran in 2022 after the lovely Katie Simmons came up with the idea. It was hugely successful and has been a highlight on my calendar ever since. The last two years had been beautiful sunny weekends full of fun and laughter and the 2024 event proved to be just as good. As I drove over to North Wales on the Friday evening, the Welsh mountains of Snowdonia were basked in sunshine and it was still beautifully warm. I arrived at Plas y Brenin (PyB) to an enthusiastic welcome and a delicious dinner from their restaurant. It promised to be another wonderful weekend.


Following a quiet Friday evening and a good night’s sleep, I woke early on the Saturday morning. I went for a quick walk from the site and even at 6.30am, the sun was shining brightly and the day was full of promise. If you’ve never been to PyB – it is the most incredible site. Set in the heart of Snowdonia, adventure is quite literally on the door step! I arrived back from my walk just in time for breakfast and had a lovely meal catching up with some old friends who were also attending the event.

It was a glorious morning!

The morning started with a welcome talk from Grace Alsancak-Hay who had organised the weekend. I had met Grace previously at PyB – a dedicated outdoors enthusiastic who is keen to share her passion and skills with others. Grace had also given a brief introduction on the Friday night and gotten participants to get involved in a fun icebreaker activity. The Saturday introduction was more formal and there was a real sense of excitement in the room amongst the women. No one was more excited than a wonderful young lady I met by the name of Pip. Her enthusiasm throughout the weekend was contagious and she was a constant ray of sunshine.

Grace starting the weekend with an opening talk. Photo: Phil Hay

As Grace finished her opening speech, Pip gave an excited cheer which got the rest of us cheering right with her. We had a group photo outside and then went off to meet our instructors for the morning.

ShePaddles 2024 participants. Photo: Phil Hay

I had signed up for a morning workshop on forward paddling with the legend that is Pete Catterall. We had a quick chat as a group before we started to discuss why everyone was there and what they were looking for from the session. Excluding Pete, it was just myself and two other women who had signed on for the session. We had a range of experiences and when it was my turn to share – I said that I was a white water kayaker who wanted to improve their forward paddling as I knew that would in turn improve my white water paddling. Pete started the session by sharing a story of a well known flat water paddler who was considered the best in the world for what she did but she would still have coaching sessions to work on specific aspects of her technique. The reason being that there was always room to improve! As soon as Pete was discussing growth mindsets and small gains, I knew this was going to be a worthwhile session.

It’s harder than you think! Photo: Phil Hay

We started off in the gym having a go on the ergos. I had not been on an ergo before and found the experience interesting. An ergo is a piece of gym equipment which you can ‘kayak’ on and is a useful tool to assess technique. It was good to be able to see Pete really break down a forward paddling stroke as well as having a go ourselves and trying to identify exactly what we were each doing in our strokes. We did get a bemused look from the photographer Phil who stumbled upon us and must have wondered why we had chosen to go to the gym in such glorious weather! Our session in the gym was not long however and we soon moved out onto the main lake.

The wonderful Pete coaching our group on the lake. Photo: Phil Hay

Temperatures in the mid 20s and bright sunshine – it was such a perfect summer’s day for kayaking. I have had some coaching on forward paddling before but I don’t think I have ever made as much progress in one short session as I did with Pete. I had been told before to ‘keep your hand level with your eye line’ as I took my stroke but this would often result in me taking big sweep strokes. Pete really helped me to grasp the twist from your core and something just seemed to click.

Excellent coach Pete! Photo: Phil Hays

In one morning’s session, I felt I had made visible progress on my forward paddling. Naturally I was elated at this and couldn’t thank Pete enough. What really helped I think was taking the element of white water out of it. Quite often when I am trying to work on forward paddling, I am doing so on white water and therefore having to think about paddling on white water. Being able to solely focus on technique only and not the environment around me made a big difference. It was great to have pointers to take away from this session to keep working on too.

And paddle forwards! Photo: Phil Hay

All 3 of us were very happy with our morning session and we were in good spirits as we paddled back over for lunch. I joined a group outside for lunch and had a lovely conversation. The women I joined had mainly been involved in the rolling clinic in the morning and were overjoyed at the progress they felt they had made. It really struck me the difference that an experienced coach can make. Someone reflected that when people had tried to help her with her roll before, they had often been kind and well meaning but not necessarily effective. The session she had had in the pool that morning had been just right for her and she had left feeling that her roll had both improved in the time of her session as well as knowing what to carry on working on. When I shared this feedback back to the coach who’d led the session later on, he was very pleased to hear it. It is lovely to see such passionate and talented coaches being able to share their love of their sport with others. PyB has many such coaches!

Rolling clinic in the pool. Photo: Phil Hay

The conversation at lunch took an interesting direction as the topic of women specific gear came up. Pete from Peak Paddlesports was here as one of the companies supporting the event and had taken the opportunity to get some feedback on some women’s specific gear that he has been recently developing. He had women’s specific buoyancy aids, cags and dry trousers from size 10 to 20. The participants for the event had been asked (if they wanted to) to try on the gear and share their thoughts. It was great to see that Pete / Peak were really focused on developing women’s specific gear and I was intrigued to see the work that has gone on to develop their current prototypes. If you want to share feedback to help in Peak’s development of their women’s specific gear, I have included the link here.

A stunning backdrop! Photo: Phil Hay

Most of the women I was chatting to had gotten involved and a healthy discussion around gear for women was being had. Having been part of the testing and feedback group for the Palm Tika Women’s PFD a couple of years ago, I know just how passionate the people behind the scenes at these companies are about developing gear that works for women. I know that there is always room for improvement but I personally think that women’s gear in paddlesports has come on leaps and bounds in the last decade. I have many women’s specific items of gear which I adore and am grateful to the companies who are invested in making them.

Enjoying paddling in the sunshine! Photo: Phil Hay

After lunch everyone got into their groups for the afternoon’s sessions. I opted to not join one specific group in the afternoon but instead had a paddle around to see what each of the groups were getting up to. I had a very enjoyable afternoon out on the water chatting to individuals and getting to see some fantastic coached sessions taking place. It was so warm I even opted for a quick swim in the lake which was hugely enjoyable.

My lovely friend Katie coaching SUP to her group. Photo: Phil Hay

Once the afternoon sessions were over, there was an opportunity to eat cake and have a chat with everyone which is a really good idea for an activity! If you haven’t tried PyB’s tiffin – you are missing out! We then ventured back outside for the throwbag olympics challenge. Ollie Sandeman, who is the head of paddlesports at PyB, had designed what had turned out to be quite a challenging course! We had good fun as a group cheering each other on as we completed the series of throwbag obstacles that Ollie had set out.

Throwbag olympics! Photo: Phil Hay

A delicious dinner then followed before we all settled back down to listen to Grace give a talk about her kayaking challenge down the Mississippi river from source to sea which I very much enjoyed! This was followed by a very lively Ceilidh which was the source of much entertainment and laughter!

Ceilidh time! Photo: Phil Hay


Another early morning walk to start the day before myself and Pez (from P&H sea kayaks) got to work putting down the gazebo and packing away the demo boats. I had been talked into joining Pez for some sea kayaking today and along with his daughter Jess and colleague Mollie we drove over to the Great Orme to meet the intermediate sea kayaking group. It wasn’t as sunny as Saturday but it was certainly another lovely day to be out on the water. I helped the group with boat unloading and getting people set up in their kayaks and then we launched!

Ready to launch! Photo: Del

I am an experienced white water kayaker but I am limited in my experience in sea kayaking. The conditions were perfect for newer paddlers however and so I could focus on the experience of paddling around the Great Orme. Prior to starting the paddle, I had hopes of experiencing some wildlife and maybe even seeing a seal. My expectations were so totally blown out of the water. We saw SO MANY birds along the coast and I was struck by the variety of species we saw. The highlight had to of course be seeing a Peregrine Falcon!

The P&H duo! Mollie and Pez. Photo: Del

Then, just as we were about to come around a bend, I saw a seal! It was in the distance and so quite small but I was elated. We came around the bend and the seal disappeared but I was so pleased to have seen it. Little did I know what I was about to paddle into. Suddenly we were in the middle of a large group of seals who were very interested in us! We floated as a group for a while and I sat in a state of utter overwhelm as seals continually popped up around our kayaks. You would hear the sound of them breaking the surface and breathing behind you and turn round to find a seal right next to your boat. We sat for quite a while and the highlight for me was when a curious youngster popped up and lay it’s head on the back of my boat for a while. See the video below to get jealous!

Eventually we paddled off but the seals continued to follow us until we went around the headland. Jess, who is an experienced sea kayaker, was keeping me entertained by telling me lots of fun facts about seals and explaining their behaviour. I proudly told Pez, much to his delight, that I was now a fully converted sea kayaker! We stopped for a scenic lunch break before paddling along the coast up to the beach. I had lots of lovely chats during this paddle, including with the brilliant Kelly who was leading the group on this paddle.

Lunch with a view! Photo: Del

We got back to the beach, ran the shuttle and quickly loaded up / got changed. On the drive back to PyB the predicted thunderstorms for the afternoon hit us hard. The rain was torrential and although sorting boats out once back at PyB was a soggy affair, we were grateful to have completed our paddle without the interruption of the thunderstorms!

We were greeted to more delicious cake (the bakers at PyB are amazing) as everyone sat down for some closing words from Grace. Looking around the room at the sea of smiling faces – it was clear that everyone had had a great day out. There was an atmosphere of content positivity and it was a lovely end to the weekend. After saying goodbye and thank you to everyone, I set off for home. I was one happy Del! Weekends full of positive vibes, time on the water and incredible experiences are what I am all about! Thanks again for having me Plas y Brenin, it has been fabulous!

Happy in the sunshine! Photo by the lovely Jess Shreeve

A special thank you to Phil Hay for use of his photos in this article and to Grace for organising such a wonderful weekend!

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