Keeping Afloat | Living North

Keeping Afloat


Team playing Canoe Polo
Kayak Northumbria was set up seven years ago when Secretary Leanne Defty and friends took over a small club close to closure. She tells us all about Canoe Polo – a competitive contact sport played in kayaks

Kayak Northumbria is a friendly 18+ canoe club which caters for both beginners and experienced kayakers. It started out with just 10 members, and even fewer kayaks. Upon discovering the group and wanting to continue her childhood enjoyment of the sport, Leanne Defty worked hard with friends to form a committee and do all the things necessary to get the club up and running, including securing enough kit. Now a fully affiliated senior British Canoeing Club, Kayak Northumbria is a society at Northumbria Students’ Union – but you don’t have to be a student to join. 

It was the Newcastle University Canoe Club that originally came to an agreement with Exhibition Park to kayak on the lake. ‘We kind of piggy-backed that,’ explains Leanne, ‘but we work really well together now – there’s no rivalry.’ To mark their 50th anniversary in March, Newcastle University’s Canoe Club invited Kayak Northumbria to submit a team for a friendly tournament, which was well-attended despite freezing temperatures. 

In late 2016, Kayak Northumbria received a Sport England grant for the development of a canoe polo team – an exciting, high-adrenaline sport. ‘We didn’t need to employ any specialist coaches because we already had really skilled players in our club,’ Leanne explains, ‘so the full £10,000 went towards equipment including special, lightweight boats, buoyancy aids, spraydecks and paddles.’ 

Going back to the basics, in a game of canoe polo two teams of five players play against each other with a ball, aiming to score goals in the opposition’s net, suspended above the water. ‘Players tackle each other’s boats, so it can look quite brutal,’ says Leanne. ‘It’s a very tactical sport and when it’s played at a high level it’s really fast.’ To get a feel for it, Leanne encourages people to come and watch one of the training sessions at Exhibition Park. 

In summer, the club meets up on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at around 6pm, with the odd weekend session too. ‘The swans on the lake come and have a look to see what’s going on,’ Leanne says, ‘but they soon realise we don’t have any food and leave us alone.’ 

The club competes as often as they can against other North East teams, as well as further afield. ‘There’s a regional league in York, so we go there eight times a year, and we enter national tournaments as well,’ Leanne explains. 

For Leanne, the best thing about the sport is being outside in nice weather and having fun while keeping fit. ‘The great thing is that everyone who you ask will say their favourite aspect is something different,’ she says. ‘Some people love the competitive side of it, while others like the socialising.’ 

To get involved, you do need to be able to manoeuvre a kayak, but the club can teach you that – lots of enthusiasm and being a good team player are key to start with. ‘As you improve and your knowledge of the sport increases, you’ll develop skills as you go,’ says Leanne. 

In the long term, Kayak Northumbria would love to have their own clubhouse, as they currently don’t have anywhere to store their equipment properly or meet before sessions. ‘It’d be great to have somewhere we can call our base,’ says Leanne. ‘That’s top of our priority list in the coming years.’ 

Published in: June 2018

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