PEOPLE OF COLOUR PADDLE
Normalising the participation of people of colour in paddlesport
A guest post by POC Paddle founder Adya Misra
Hello, I’m Adya Misra, a British Canoeing paddlesports coach. While this is not my day job, paddling has become so much more than a hobby. I volunteer at Liverpool Canoe Club, where I am the lead for all stand up paddleboarding activity and spend most of my time coaching kayaking, canoeing and of course paddleboarding. I spend quite a lot of time on my board, but I’m a sea-kayaker at heart and love going on long expeditions in my boat.
I was a British Canoeing #ShePaddles club champion in 2020-2021 and I am passionate about getting more women involved in paddlesports. My experience during this time helped me realise that our efforts to increase diversity need to be multifaceted and intersectional, as we are more than just one thing. The ShePaddles initiative focusses so much on girls and women, but the wider community doesn’t consider racial or ethnic diversity, neurodiversity, disabilities or diversity in body size. I spent all of 2021 thinking about whether it is enough that I am a paddlesports coach, or is it also important that others who look like me get to that place too? Reflecting on being the change I’d like to see, I felt that being truly inclusive means I cannot stop once I reach my goals.
What is People of Colour Paddle?
People of Colour Paddle is a nationwide community initiative to increase participation of people of colour in paddlesports within the UK with the view of connecting often urbanised communities back to nature. I often use the word “normalise” participation instead of “inspire” on social media because I don’t want people to be like me, I want them to have a much better experience and a range of opportunities that I didn’t have. I would like to see a future where it is normal for women of colour to participate in paddlesports and are encouraged by their families, their wider community.
My coaching philosophy revolves around empowerment and confidence building; these principles firmly underpin this project.
Through this work, I hope to be able to get new people trying paddling, falling in love with it like I did and helping them progress to leadership roles within paddlesports. When I qualified as a paddleboarding coach I said to my assessor, “I’d like to build a mentoring program for historically marginalised communities”. In order to get there, we need to build our communities within paddlesport and reach those who have never thought about trying paddleboarding, kayaking, canoeing.
Why is this needed?
At current count, there are very few people of colour who retain prominent leadership/coaching roles within the paddlesports community. This lack of representation from Asian, South Asian, Afro-Carribean diaspora in turn reduces likelihood of people from these backgrounds attempting to try paddlesports because they don’t see faces that look like them represented. As an example, it’s hard to find people of colour represented on Instagram pages that belong to paddling brands or paddlesport organisations. I don’t know how many look at these pages and maybe think, paddlesport is just for white folks.
We also have issues within our communities that may hinder us. Lack of generational wealth or not as much free time means that our parents didn’t always have the opportunity to introduce us to outdoor activities. There are also huge barriers in our communities when it comes to learning how to swim. So many women of colour tell me they taught themselves how to swim in their 30s or 40s or even later. There is such a big focus on being financially stable and staying academically focussed to get good jobs, paddlesports doesn’t feature in conversation. Going back to what I said earlier, no one that looks like us does any paddlesports, so why should we?
Practically, this means that people of colour remain disconnected from our blue spaces, and have reduced opportunities to become involved in larger conversations around environmental issues that affect paddlers. Climate change affects all of us, yet many of us are not part of the conversation or action. I believe we need to bring more folks from our historically marginalised communities in these important conversations, so we can bring about change in a more meaningful way. Apart from these serious issues, people of colour remain completely bereft of the joy of being on the water- whether it is after a day’s work, or on the weekend with the family or trying to make it to Team GB.
Through this project I am trying to reach the people of colour in the UK who wouldn’t consider paddlesports as a leisure activity, maybe never even heard of it. I am hoping lots of people will try it and enjoy paddling, and maybe able to make it part of their life. Confidence building, partnership and sustainability form the founding principles of this project as I hope to create long lasting change for our communities. If you are willing to support us in person or on social media, please email me at email@example.com or connect with us on social media (@peopleofcolourpaddle on Instagram and @pocpaddle on Twitter).
Look out for POC Paddles coming up in 2022 at Paddleboarding London!
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