With British water sports making the medal headlines at the Tokyo Olympics, people living in Somerset can go “messing about on the river” in the beautiful surroundings of the River Parrett in Langport.
Whether it is open canoeing, kayaking or the increasingly popular paddle boarding you want to try your hand at, then you can now get some expert tuition from a professional coach.
And now more and more people are finding that spending a few hours on the water not only boosts their fitness but is also good for their mental health.
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Geoff Oliver is a professional coach and member of the British Canoeing Association and started his own water-sports business three years ago taking groups of people out onto the river.
But when the coronavirus pandemic struck, numbers of people attending his sessions had to be drastically reduced and he found that many people preferred the individual one to one tuition he offered.
I accompanied Geoff on a trip out onto the River Parrett in an open canoe after being invited by one of his students, Tara Gibson, who says she has benefited enormously from both a physical and mental health viewpoint.
A busy, working mother-of-two from Yeovil, she decided to take the plunge and contacted Geoff who has now helped her to achieve solo canoeing, rescue training and the confidence of taking part in a sport that she never thought she could do.
Mrs Gibson said: “Originally I decided to test myself by learning a new skill as my job is working within quite a stressful environment,
“However it has actually become something quite wider than that in terms of helping improve my mental health,” she said.
“I find that it is a few hours of complete calm when I am out on the water and is a time where I have to think of nothing else.
“I find the whole process of canoeing very mindful as you have to think about the strokes as well as staying afloat, and it helps you to put other thoughts to the back of your mind.”
She said that it gives her some time for herself away from the everyday stresses of work and family life.
“It has given me a few hours to myself, just for me, and to focus on something new and enjoyable,” she said.
“When I leave the river at the end of the session I find that I am remarkably calm, and Geoff is a very chilled and experienced teacher who makes me feel safe.”
Set up in 2018, You Can Canoe was set up by Geoff to help improve people’s open-canoe paddling by offering bespoke tuition and helping them develop through venturing out on trips, tours and expeditions.
He said: “I am a British Canoeing Association coach and when I started the business pre-Covid I was taking out around six people at a time.
“However following the pandemic I thought about offering tuition based on one to one or much smaller groups and it has really taken off.
“It really seemed to work well and the people coming along are getting more intense tuition and have learned their skills much quicker as a result.”
Mr Oliver said that he loves being out on the water, adding that there is so much more to canoeing than just paddling a boat.
“Being out on the river you kind of get to be on first name terms with every duck and also see some beautiful wildlife including herons and kingfishers, especially in the spring and autumn,” he said.
“Some people come to me because they want to learn a new skill and want to progress to a much higher level, which I can help them with.
“However others just feel like trying it out and are more interested in pursuing water-sports purely for leisure purposes and to get out and explore somewhere new, which in turn is beneficial for their physical and mental health.
“I also have people coming to me who have previously done canoeing but have perhaps had a break or lost their confidence and want to get back onto the water.
“We offer taster sessions where you can have a go on a canoe, kayak and paddle board to see which you like best, or you can specialise in one particular discipline.”
More experienced students are taken onto the River Dart where they can take part in white water canoeing and learn the spills and thrills of canoeing in unfamiliar terrain.
He also takes part in organised social gatherings where like-minded canoeists take a trip out onto the river purely for pleasure.
After being out the water with Geoff for nearly two hours on a perfectly still, beautiful summer evening, I can confirm that it was a relaxing way to wind down a busy day and one I can highly recommend.
If you are interested in finding out more about canoeing, kayaking or paddleboarding then Geoff can be contacted via his website which is www.youcancanoe.com