Interview: Cardiff University Kayaking Club

Franklin Neathercoat is the President of Cardiff University’s kayaking club. He took time out of his schedule to chat to James Lloyd about everything from canoe polo to playing dangercan on socials.

As a kayaking club, what do you do?

We focus on three main areas throughout the year; the highlights are the trips we run, getting out on the local rivers, travelling all over the UK, visiting the best locations available and trying to give everyone of different abilities the chance to paddle. In Cardiff there’s not much available so we have to work with what we’ve got; twice a week we run pool sessions – it’s a nice, safe environment to teach the harder skills; stuff like rolling, and things that are associated with getting wet. For the competition side we compete in canoe polo. A lot of other universities play it as well so that’s a good way to put a competitive element into the sport. For those who aren’t so keen on paddling white water it gives them something else to focus on.

How does the canoe polo work?

Canoe polo is where you have teams of five and a pitch about the size of half a football field. At each end there is a 1m by 1.5m goalmouth that are 2m off the surface of the water and the aim of the game is to get the ball into the opposition’s goal. There isn’t really a lot to it – it’s stupidly violent, it’s very quick and there are rolling subs due to the constant sprinting back and forth.

What’s your role as president?

Basically it’s my role to make sure the club runs. We have a committee so I delegate and do stuff myself like making sure trips are booked, planned and make sure everything runs according to plan. We have had some tricky situations this year as our secretary got kicked out of uni so we had to find people to step up and fill in for that. At the moment there’s a group of four of us doing the work which is quite a high workload. We are trying to cater for 110 members and whilst for most clubs transport is pretty straightforward, for us we have a huge safety element and the logistics of getting people and kit around is a nightmare. On top of that we run a few large events – we run trips to the Alps, week long trips around the UK. Those are the most stressful timesas well as the canoe polo tournament we run every summer – it’s the second largest one in the country after BUCS, involving about thirty teams from around the country, so we have to be on our best behaviour and appearance. I’m in the middle of planning that at the moment.

Have you always been involved in Kayaking? Has that been your main sport?

When I joined I had done shooting and kayaking and I started kayaking when I was 13. I did it on-and-off every summer until I had some work experience when I was 15, where I spent so much time on the water and my skills improved massively and as a reward for our help the manager gave us an instructor course for free – I did that and it became my main sport. When I came to uni I had been paddling for a good three or four years, so that’s why I joined the kayaking club. I paddled first year, loved it, and we had a short number of people running for committee this year so I decided to step in and give it a go.

Do you compete at Varsity?

Yes we do compete at varsity, but at the moment we’re in a difficult situation as we changed pools this year and as a result have nowhere to train. We spent most of September trying to find somewhere we could train and eventually found somewhere. However they don’t have suitable goals hanging 2m in the air, so at the moment we have just about sorted that out. However because we’re hurling balls around, lights get damaged so the next challenge is getting a pool fixed up to a good standard – we need to fit light cages before we can train. We don’t really have a plan for Swansea, and we’ll have to see what their facilities are like. Last year they fielded their A team and we had our B team out, which was full of freshers and we walked all over them, so this year we’ll put the A team out.

Have you had anyone play professionally or to a high standard?

We have several members who play for the Cardiff Canoe Polo team. Nobody I know competes at national or international level, but we do have some older members and I know one chap who did represent Great Britain at Kayak Freestyle – at the moment they are considering making that an Olympic sport. Right now they have a World Championship for it which, after slalom is the most competitive type of white-water competition. Other than that we have a couple of members who slalom who participate in Cardiff and Wales, slightly on a smaller scale. In order to get to the highest level you have to spend three or four hours a day on the water, even in the middle of winter. You have to be up for training and for us guys at uni it’s impossible to get the transport or find the time to do it.

How can the sport become more accessible? Is that possible?

At the moment, as a complete beginner it is incredibly accessible; we build up our trips in difficulty throughout the year and even half-way through the year we could have complete beginners at the pool and we’ll train them up to a level where they can join in with everyone else. At a national level though it is really down to your ability and independence – unless cars with roof racks could be given out for everyone for training there isn’t a lot they can do. The main thing with kayaking is practice and experience

Do you have socials?

We do have socials. They’re organised by our social secs – we tend to hold them every other week and so far we have had some positive comments from freshers saying that the main reason they are still staying with the club is because the socials have been good. We try and theme them all with the usual ABC socials, toga socials – we’re having one this weekend called the charity social where you have to buy a ten pound outfit from the charity shop so that should be fun.

Do you have any characters in your team?

We had our North Wales trip last semester which predictably got a little alcoholic. I think we had a total tally of 21 chunders which was pretty crazy. There are a couple of mentionable names – Dom Ford threw up three times, we played ‘dangercan’ – we had Anthony Baker who managed to throw up on the minibus and somehow it went all over his face. We also have Rhiannon Tapp – she also managed to throw up three times, and we have some decent freshers who have good potential.

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