STRATFORD-ON-AVON KAYAKISTS. Known as S.O.A.K., was formed in June
1976, by a group of teachers and youth leaders to introduce the sport
of canoeing to the youth of the Stratford area. Many of the group are
still with the club: John Gravestock is treasurer (as he has always
been) and his brother Dave also serves on the committee. Now the club
is running well, Bob Davies has recently given up the secretary's job
to become vice-chairman but is active in club activities. Brian
Richardson regularly examines members for club and B.C.U. standards.
Colin Hughf is the chairman and Jon Targett has taken over the job of
club secretary, recently vacated by Bob.
The club's name, S.O.A.K., was thought up by a, (then) local
dentist and active club member, Bob Evans. With all the members
regularly "soaked" to the skin in the pool, as were the more
adventurous members on trips, a slight change to the Town's name and
the initials in the club's full name produced S.O.A.K. The name is
now known all over the country as a result of members' competitive
As the sessions in the King Edward VI School pool became more
popular, the decision was taken in February 1977, to move to the new
Bridgefoot swimming pool. With a donation of £130 from the Swimming
Pool Users' Association for materials to build canoes and to purchase
paddles the first night produced 120 youngsters eager to try
S.O.A.K. has expanded from a small group meeting regularly in
King Edward VI School pool to a regular weekly attendance of 60 plus.
The club now has approximately 130 members on the books of which 75%
are at school. The more experienced members instruct the less
experienced in basic strokes and Eskimo Rolling, using small bat
canoes. The pool sessions run from 7.00 to 8.30 p.m. on a Thursday
evening all the year round - under the watchful eye of club pool
manager Brian Tomkinson - with a short break at Christmas and during
the school summer holidays. The last pool session before the holiday
was on 19th July and sessions will re-commence on Thursday. 13th
Whilst the pool sessions form a base for members to meet, many
activities on the river and sea take place. The weir area at
Stratford, is used regularly by members. The novices, who can borrow
the club’s four general purpose slalom canoes free of charge, are
given basic instruction on the flat water and advance through
‘shooting’ the slope weir to ferry gliding across the stopper at the
bottom of it. The more advanced canoeists use the rough water for
practice, particularly in their low-level competition slalom canoes,
and from time to time slalom gates are erected across the area below
the step weir for practice. Trips for novices are run by the more
experienced members and a range are organised, from a quiet morning
trip from Stratford to Luddington to a day trip out to paddle on the
rapids at Ironbridge and Symonds Yat.
The winter provides the more exciting time for the experienced
paddlers. With the rivers rising from winter rain, many of the white
water rivers in the Welsh hills become deep enough to paddle and
trips are organised on the Upper Wye and the River Teme above and
Throughout the winter of 1977/78 trips were arranged every
weekend between six and 28 members participating. One young member,
Adrian Beach, went on every trip. With the very bad weather last
winter there were not so many trips organised and members look
forward to a more active programme in the coming months.
During the summer months, weekend or week long camping trips to
good surfing beaches are organised and members enjoy surfing in
canoes, an exciting and perilous activity. The need to be able to do
the Eskimo roll is well demonstrated by the more adventurous as they
do 'pop outs' and 'loops' in their canoes.
In the field of competition S.O.A.K. members are becoming more
active and successful as time goes on. Currently only one club
member, Finbar Healey, is active in canoe surfing competition and he
is currently working his way through the qualifying heats with a view
to qualifying for the U.K. championships.
Members of the Club have also competed in the 'fun race'
organised by Fladbury Canoe Club in conjunction with their marathon
event and this year they won the team prize.
It is in the National British Canoe Union slalom competitions
that members have had their greatest successes. They started
competing seriously in June last year at novice level. The
competitions are graded from novice through Division 4 to Division
1, and Premier Division. The top 10% of paddlers at each event are
promoted to the next division. Two paddlers, Ian Dalton and Dave
Peters, have reached Division 3 and a group of 13 members have gained
promotion to Division 4. Of these, Nick Arrowsmith, Paul Brain, Pete
Bromwich and Steve Ray, are consistently getting results close to
promotion and on their current form look as if they will be promoted
to Division 3 at the end of the season, if not before. The club has
one member, Mike Woods, who has joined the club from Shepperton
Slalom Canoe Club, competing in Division 2. In the C.2's class
(closed Canadian doubles) the young pair, Chris Arrowsmith and
Paul Brain, have gained promotion to Division 3 – in Canadians there
is no Division 4.
It was within the B.C.U. National slalom competitions that
S.O.A.K. ran the novice slalom at the Stratford weir over the weekend
of 5/6th May this year. Egged on by Tony Arrowsmith, club members
rallied round to run their most ambitious event yet. With the
permission of the Amenities Committee of Stratford-on-Avon District
Council, the Severn-Trent Water Authority, the Upper Avon Navigation
Trust and the residents of Lucy's Mill members organised a whole
weekend of competition for 200 canoeists from all over the country.
Members took ten hours on the Friday to build a course of 19
hanging gates below the two weirs. With a large number of competitors
camping on the Lower Recreation Ground, one of the most popular
places over the weekend was the refreshment tent run by group of
'mums', led by Mrs Dalton, serving hot drinks and hot snacks. Each
competitor has two runs down the course. Each run is timed and ten
seconds are added for each gate pole that is hit whilst 50 seconds
are added for missing a gate or going through one in the wrong
direction. The canoeist with the shortest time wins.
The weekend was split up with practice on Saturday morning. On
the Saturday afternoon came the team runs - three canoeists form a
team and paddle the course together – and the Canadians, single and
double. On the Sunday, both ladies and men (nine years upwards) had
their individual runs. The weekend finished with the prize giving.
This year the club was lucky to have John Liddell, of Everest and K.2
fame, to present the prizes.
On the social side, entertainments officer Ben Bennett
organised trips for competitors to participate in other sports such
as horse riding and ten-pin bowling along with discos and a
successful draw at the slalom.
What of the future for S.O.A.K.? The 'club badly needs a
permanent base on the river from which to operate and committee
members, under the leadership of Bob Davies, are currently
investigating finance and possible locations for a club-house on the
riverside in or near Stratford.
On the competition side, the B.C.U. slalom will become an
annual event and it is hoped to move the club slalom (for members
only) from Luddington to the Stratford Weir area and add on a Sunday
slalom competition for clubs in the West Midlands. The slalomists are
also looking for a site on the river or a lake where they can hang
permanent gates for practice.
Of course the club looks forward to new members joining
when the Thursday Pool sessions re-start on 13th September.
For information on the club contact club secretary Jon
Targett on Studley 7180 or Competition Secretary Tony Arrowsmith on