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Paddler Development

This is hopefully to give you a better understanding of what we do, what your child does and could do in the future, and to fill in any gaps or clarify any questions you want answered.

We are a racing canoe club and historically a very successful one, we’ve produced more World champions than the rest of the country put together, however that doesn’t mean we are a factory or that this is the expectation for everyone.

Goal one is for all our paddlers to be the best they can be and be happy doing it

Come and try sessions or Shout courses:


Usually the come and try sessions are a month, long twice a week. The shout course is usually one week: In both cases your child is instructed on what to do by qualified and experienced coaches and taken out onto the water in appropriate boats with safety equipment and in correct coach to paddler ratios.  Our paddlers normally start in their early teens or just before and spend the first few months of their first summer having fun out on the water, we will teach them how to paddle, steer and be safe on the water (and in it!).  All of our coaches are British Canoeing qualified and most started at the club in exactly the same way.  Your child is going to fall in the water and not always on purpose!  The water is safe and clean but being able to swim is still a safety requirement, we provide suitable boats, paddles and PFDs (buoyancy aids) and no specialist equipment is needed (a change of clothes and a towel is always a good idea, light clothing is best and if cold can be layered up but no heavy hoodies or jeans/heavy jogging bottoms).

When your child is ready and confident enough, we then move them out of beginner boats into the progression boats and start adding training and little efforts into our sessions, followed by our club race on Wednesdays.  This isn’t easy (so be careful when you say “around the island, that’s nice dear”) as for some people this is the longest amount of continuous work they have ever done, it’s usually rewarded with a win or losing your handicap points (the club operates a slowest first fastest last system) which is rewarding as your child can see a weekly improvement, as is going “up” into the next boat which means progressing to a faster design which is inherently more unstable increasing the risk of a swim.

Depending on the rate of progress (and that depends on age, size, physical maturity etc.) your child may get “promoted” to the next group, sometimes the whole group becomes the “next group” as they all speed up, or another group of beginners join the club.

The first winter: 

We train all year round; at the beginner level we do two one-hour sessions in the week and a one to one & half hour session on a Saturday morning.  In winter the two weekday sessions are indoors and consist of basic fitness exercises and canoe specific exercises, there is an element of competition here but no pressure or judgment.  We often tally scores or pair groups up to match strengths and weaknesses to help everyone progress.  You’ll be surprised at what your child can achieve especially when they see another one doing what they thought was impossible!

Water sessions: Winter on the river can be beautiful; the river can flow or freeze (not so often in these warm times!) and it’s a great time to learn water skills for life and build some will power. As a parent you might look at the conditions and be concerned but we well only ever take the paddlers out if it’s safe to do so and often outside the club is the worse part of the river anyway!

There is no need for expensive specialist clothing or equipment, light thermals (like skiing) and a water proof top can be very cheaply bought from places like Decathlon but flipflops/sliders are a must as you don’t want to walk to the river bare footed!

Skills learnt: To paddle the boat! To steer, race, understand the river and the best place to be, to balance, to work hard and push yourself, to be responsible for yourself and your kit (although we are there as a backup!) and use independent thought and self-motivation.

Middle group:

  When you get fast enough, you’ll move into the next group up, you may be in a racing boat by then (called a K1) or still in an intermediate boat and the routine is the same, two sessions mid-week and one on Saturday but there is also a 10k race on Sunday.  As your child progresses there are regional races in our local south east area, and we build them up to take part in these. A lot of our beginners’ experience this in October of their first year as we hold our own regional “Marathon” race and they take part in the fun race or the race which is appropriate for their level.  Usually this is around the Island or possibly a 4mile race if they are a bit stronger and faster.

The training gets harder and often this is when we see the “bug” bite and the desire to get better and better takes hold.  As a parent you’ll have to be aware of this and be mindful that your child may want lifts to races around the South East and in the summer possibly to Sprint regattas in Nottingham.  Often your child’s first milestone is our Easter ½ marathon held from Guildford to Weybridge, it’s truly amazing to see your child complete a ½ marathon and it’s a good excuse to eat Easter eggs afterwards!

Common concerns:

“All this training, is it going to impact on schoolwork?

There is loads of evidence that physical exercise is good for concentration and gaining a balance or a safe stress release, this is especially true at GCSE’s & A levels and you don’t have to stop training to revise.

“All this training is it going to impact on their bodies?”                   

Canoeing is a relatively low impact sport; all new paddlers can’t yet work hard enough to hurt themselves on the water and they generally get fitter and stronger (both physically and mentally).  They may well eat more though!

“Does it cost a lot?”

Canoeing is a relatively low-cost sport; there is a plentiful supply of cheap second-hand boats & paddles within the club (and you can’t buy yourself an advantage either).  The club fees are really low for the volume of times you can use the club (flat fees for everyone and as you get better and use the club more often the fees still stay the same).  Race entries are usually under £10 per race although regattas can be more expensive.

“What if my child doesn’t want to race?”

As long as they are enjoying themselves training that’s fine, some like to race later and some just want to be with their friends, happy paddlers make the club!

Top Group:

This is when you get to 20 handicap and lower on the club system.  This means you can train six times a week (or more but this is still your choice not an expectation) and you are probably racing quite competitively most weekends and looking at getting your own boat & paddles.

The top group is actually a few groups which come together on certain nights, Tuesday, Wednesdays and Saturday mornings and train in similar ability groups on the other days.  Due to the handicap system you can have younger paddlers mixed with older men and women and former international athletes that no longer compete etc. this is the accelerated learning curve and improvement rate.  It can be quite a jump from being top of the middle group to bottom of the top group, so we try to phase the change allowing paddlers to swap between groups allowing their confidence to grow.

Fast group: This is usually the under 10 handicap group but can also be under 5 depending on who is training at the club, this is for top Juniors, International standard Women and elite Men.

Junior GB Team:

If this is where you and your child want to get to, we can certainly help you both to get there; however, there are no guarantees in life and it takes a lot of time and commitment from both the athlete and the family (definitely something to consider if you have children doing different sports).  We’ve had a consistent stream of juniors racing for Great Britain both in Marathon and Sprint and we would encourage not specialising in one discipline until they become a senior after they become 18 years old.

International racing: Both disciplines of sprint & marathon have junior teams which they (the British squad systems) develop over time with training camps and development trips to ever increasingly stiff competitions.  There is a cost involved but they are sometimes subsidised and there are local grants around which we as a club are quite successful in gaining.

What would you need to know as a parent of a top performing junior?

We, like you, want the best for your child and sometimes that might be at odds with what the Junior system offers.  We may encourage some paddlers to take part in a training camp and others not to, it’s not favouritism but looking out for each individual’s needs, and the best bang for buck not only financially but time wise too.

It is going to take up time (a bit more money) and a lot of dedication if they want to compete at the elite end of any sport.  Also, like everything at this point in life, communication between coach and parents (like teachers and parents) is key.  They (the athlete, and now an independent teenager) may not communicate as well as they used to!!  We have dedicated coaches who have led Olympic GB teams with a wealth of experience who can be there to support your child twice a day, every day.  We have good contacts with equipment manufacturers and the GB system.  But we need your input too. It’s easier to be successful with an involved parent (rather than a pushy one).

Elmbridge Canoe Club:

  Is run by volunteers, there are no paid coaches so everyone there helping does so out of the love for the sport and wanting to give something back to the club, that doesn’t mean they are not of a professional standard.  Most of the coaches started as beginners at the club and most have raced at a very high level both nationally or internationally in both Sprint or Marathon and a look at the Olympic roster and who coaches may surprise you.  The costs are kept low to allow everybody access to our sport and you can’t buy performance, it is a meritocracy.

Most of the helpers (and the club can’t run without them) are parents of current paddlers or former paddlers that have taken up canoeing themselves and have a wealth of experience to share.

All our coaches are British Canoeing qualified: DBS and first aid trained.  We have full safeguarding compliance and safeguarding officers and all our governance documents can be found on our website.

We as a club don’t give written reports on progress but do try to give regular group feedback via WhatsApp or Facebook and are happy to answer questions, we do run parents socials and have a go sessions in the warmer summer months both in canoes and on Stand Up paddle boards.  You are also most welcome to cycle along or hang around and watch sessions.

Session times:

Shout courses and come and try times differ and are advertised on our website

Summertime: Beginners group 5:30 – 6:45pm Monday & Wednesday but please make sure they are there 15minutes earlier to allow numbers, boats and coaches to be sorted, we can’t always accommodate someone who turns up after the session has already started.

Middle group 5:30 – 6:45pm Monday & Wednesday (& occasionally Fridays in the summer months) but please make sure they are there 15minutes earlier to allow for crew boats and groups to be sorted, we can’t always accommodate someone who turns up after the session has already started.

Top group 6:00 – 7:30pm Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday & occasionally Fridays in the summer months but please make sure they are there 15minutes earlier. There are also sessions in the morning either at 6:30-7:30am or 7-8am.

Saturdays: Are 9am for everyone so usually the times are slightly staggered depending on volumes of numbers, Beginners is 9-10:30 + 10/15minutes if the session started later.

Top group second session 12-1:30pm

Sundays: Usually our 10K race at 10am (commonly known as the ten at ten) – this runs throughout the year, the beginners actually only do one lap of 3K, then move to two laps of 6K and eventually move up to the 10k race.

Sundays are also race day and a large amount of the club might be away racing so always check with your coach if there is a race on that is suitable for you and that we have coaching cover for your level.

Winter training:  Is the same as above apart from the top group which often go out on the water at 4pm Mondays & Wednesdays.  They may also move timings as the clocks are about to change so October move to 5:30pm water sessions and 5pm in March.

Facilities:  Our main facility is our amazing location, we have a wonderful piece of river with everything you need to become the best in the world, we have flat calm straights, safe deep water, tight and twisty bits, shallow curves and plenty of variation in between to teach you everything you’ll ever need to know.

Club Facilities: Upstairs paddling room – a mirrored room with kayak ergo paddling machines which are mainly used for training in the winter and technique work, this room is also used for light circuit training for the beginners, swiss ball work for our more mature members (!) and occasionally the odd yoga class.  It’s also where we hold training courses and seminars.

Changing facilities and showers, Galley for tea/coffee and cake (if you’re quick) with WiFi.

Downstairs gym: used by middle & top groups for everything from circuits and fitness to Strength and Conditioning again mirrored for technique – all juniors must be accompanied by a suitable adult in here.


We have invested heavily in a new fleet of beginner and entry level boats as well as PFDs (buoyancy aids) and suitable paddles, and as a club member you get to use these at no extra cost.  When you get faster a club racing boat is allocated to you and you hire it for a year for a nominal fee. We have a range of boats for each stage of your development.  We have storage space for when you progress to your own boat and a large range of club crew boats with many doubles (K2 – kayak for two people) for a range of sizes and abilities from beginners to elite as well as K4 (four person boats) again from beginners to elite.

We also have very close contacts with the suppliers of all the equipment you could need so always ask your coach before you purchase something as we may be able to get you a discount or know of one already being sold, with everything from boat repairs to new boats, paddles to seats, to ergo machines through to V bars to carry the boats around on your cars.

So from the numbers on the Olympic roster to the names of people who have represented Great Britain at a major international to the numerous club championships we have won, we are one of the best racing clubs in the country, we’ve been supported by UK Sport and work with British Canoeing.

Many people started just like your child and have made either lifelong friendships (here and around the world) or careers either directly in the sport or from the contacts through the sport.

Come in, say hello and most importantly have a go.

Whether your child is passing through or making friends for life we want it to be the best experience it can be, and welcome feedback so stop us and have a chat and finally, welcome!