UK Long Distance Ski Paddling

A Brief History

It’s only really in the last 8 or 10 years that long distance ocean ski racing (as we know it today) has been happening in the UK. Before then, ski paddling was very much Surf Life Saving orientated. The majority of paddling was sprint style racing round three turning buoys and lasted approximately 3 minutes. During the 80’s and early 90’s long distance racing was organised by the Surf Life Saving Clubs, but this seemed to die out by the mid ‘90’s. A contributory factor to this may have been the skis being used. They were the 18kg ‘Spec Ski’ used for Surf Life Saving and quite different to the modern ‘Spec Ski’, let alone the light weight ocean skis of today.

In 2007 I decided to set up the Long Distance Ski Series and contacted a few paddling friends who I thought would be interested.  The series consisted of five races:

The Tarka Ski Challenge
Hayle Kayak Race
Portreath Ski Race
Goldcoast Ski Race
Cardiff Bay Ski Race.

In the early days, circuit racing in the Estuary at Braunton Burrows.

Spec skis and ocean skis mixing it up!

Some familiar and not so familiar faces 🙂

These events were all circuit type courses, using ‘spec skis’. Since then we have seen two considerable changes: The use of long distance ocean skis and the inclusion of ‘downwind’ type courses. This Ski Series soon became known as the ‘GB Ocean Ski Series’ and it’s participation has been growing ever since.   Thanks to a voluntary panel of 6 paddlers, the series was able to develop with a certain amount of consistency and structure that we know today.  Each year one member of the panel would get to chose a motorway cafe of their choice so we could cover the following items:

Organising events
Setting race criteria  (including International Selection for ICF World Championships)
Media management (GB Ocean Ski Paddling and
Developing the rule book
Acting as a referee panel if needed.

…………….as considerable responsibility I can assure you!

The British Series was run under the banner of Surf Life Saving GB and up until 2015 the British Ocean Ski Series consisted of five events:

The Icon Classic
Oceansports Paddlefest
Branscombe Chyne Ski Race
Weighmouth to Lulworth Cove
Looe Ski Race.

The categories were:

Open men and ladies
Open double
Masters men over 40.

You may be wondering why there weren’t more categories.  Due to the relatively low participation it was decided not to dilute the categories too much. This situation is now changing with many events having multiple age groups.  With regards younger categories, the voluntary panel thought it best to leave Surf Life Saving GB to develop this age group as they already have a coaching system in place.

Over the past few years, our ski paddling community has grown considerably. If you follow the GB Ocean Ski Paddling FB page (+ many others), you’ll see a lot of activity in Scotland, Ireland and Wales with no shortage of events to enter.  Due to this increased participation, the GB Ski Series as we know it, finished in 2016.  The GB Series event organisers, decided that it wasn’t a true reflection of a GB event anymore.   The South West of England is no longer the hub of ski paddling and with this in mind, a true GB event should be created.

Our sport is growing and the start line is getting busy!

This may be a good point to address ‘who’ makes such decisions and who ‘they’ are.  I’ll try and keep this short and simple.  Basically there isn’t a GB Ocean Ski committee or formal group.  There we are, simple :-).   In fact, there isn’t really a governing body either!  All the races are organised by individuals or clubs who have an interest in our sport.  With regards a governing body, each organiser chooses how they accredit and insure their event.  Some events are independently accredited and others are accredited through Surf Life Saving GB or British Canoeing.   The GB series was a result of event organisers plus other volunteers, working together and just ‘making it happen’.

As simple as the structure is, it does however create confusion with events such as the ICF World Championships.  As the ICF is the world governing body of Ocean Ski Racing, you will need to be a member of British Canoeing if you would like to compete (assuming you are a credible representative).  In the past, the ‘unofficial’ voluntary group put forward the team to be selected and British Canoeing would enter them.  Although, many of GB’s top ski paddlers have come through the ranks of Surf Life Saving, Surf Life Saving GB is not recognised by the ICF and this isn’t like to change in the near future.  Without going into to much detail, British Canoeing doesn’t have much to do with ocean ski racing, hence there are some issues that need ironing out.  With this in mind, official lines of communication between our paddling community, Surf Life Saving GB and British Canoeing need creating.  If you have any ideas, just share them on the FB pages and you’re sure to get a response / create a conversation!

So, back to creating a true GB event.  This will happen on the 23rd and 24th September 2017, hosted by Branksome Chine SLSC.  Singles on the Saturday and doubles on the Sunday, covering a wide range of mens and ladies categories.  Thanks to Ian Robinson, Philip Nye and Branksome Chine SLSC for taking this on.  We’re really hoping that this event will bring everyone together and become a key date in the paddling calendar.  A great opportunity to promote our sport with high participation numbers and support from industry.  If anyone feels they have a suitable venue and would like to host the 2018 championships just make yourself know on the FB pages – that great unofficial means of communication 🙂

So there you have it. A potted history of our sport, from my point of view anyway.  The journey has been great fun so far and I’m looking forward to seeing how our sport develops in the future.

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On 5th June 2015

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