U19 Notts Raft Racing Team

Our journey

How the team developed

Our team is a group within the Notts Raft Racing team at Holme Pierrepont Canoe Club, with most of us having come from different paddling backgrounds within the club. To begin with, the junior team only consisted of two paddlers, who would train with the adults on a Wednesday. A real youth team began forming in early 2022 when a rafting introduction day brought together enough under 18’s to create a dedicated junior night on Fridays. Despite rafting not being for everyone, three of us from the first round of tasters stayed on to today. The team grew in early 2023 when two more skilled paddlers joined us bringing our numbers up to seven. By introducing paddlers from different sections of the Canoe Club, we created a team with a diverse and deep skill set ranging from freestylers to paddleboarders to those who had never paddled consistently before. Together we all learned the nuances and technicalities of raft racing and I believe learning as a team allowed us to understand each other’s ideas and skills better. Our first competition was the 2022 British Open at Holme Pierrepont, followed by selections in early 2023. Some of us were lucky enough to head out to Romania for the Dracula Euro Cup in April, an amazing competition on a beautiful natural river which came with its own new challenges. This competition experience taught us some vital lessons which would benefit us at Euros.

How we train

We aim to train together at least once a week at Holme Pierrepont, usually on a Friday night, however some of our team do attend club sessions on a Wednesday night with the adults. A typical training session would consist of a warmup and set of drills on the flatwater before heading down to practise a series of gates or drills set by our coaches. One of the key driving forces behind our team is the excellent coaching we receive. Joel, our junior coach, is an ex-rafter with heaps of whitewater knowledge and coaching skill. We also have the Matt’s, who are both experienced rafting coaches with a background in slalom and raft guiding. Finally, we also have Beth who, alongside coaching and paddling with her own team, helps massively in organising the logistics of running a raft racing team.

Experiences at Euros

Recently we had the amazing opportunity to head out to the Czech Republic for the 2023 European Rafting Championships. This incredible experience taught us all lots of key lessons. We arrived two days before the competition started, to begin training on the unfamiliar course. We had to learn quickly and adapt to the differences of the fast and narrow Ceske Vrbne course, as well as gel and adjust to each other, having not paddled as a complete team for months. Before we knew it, registration was complete, and the competition was underway.

First up we had the sprint, in which we delivered on our planned line and laid down a very fast time, leaving us the fastest British R6 and less than a second behind our Czech competitors for a bronze medal. Up next was the Head-to-head, in which we were unlucky to get caught up on 2 separate buoys, but we fought hard and ended up just behind our opponents for another bronze. The next day was the slalom, a tough and technical course on unfamiliar territory, from which we took lots of valuable lessons and gained another bronze medal. Finally, we had the downriver, a 9 km endurance race down largely flat water, with a few exciting weirs to run, and many casual Czech families out enjoying the sunshine to avoid. After 35 minutes of hard work we crossed the line, only 11 seconds behind the strong Czech team.

Across the week we had developed a real unity within the team and we are all excited to compete in future competitions. Key to our success was also the incredible support on the bank; many of our families had joined us and along with the families of the other British teams, the GB support was by far the loudest and certainly helped push us to do our best.

We are so grateful for all the support of our sponsors, Dryrobe, Branston and councillors from Nottingham city council, as well as the generous donations and support of family and friends to our fundraising efforts. Competing at a European level isn’t cheap, and the generosity of these people allowed us a truly once in a lifetime opportunity.

Plans for the future

It is an exciting time for the team as we prepare for selections at Lee Valley this December. Potential new teammates tried out our amazing sport at taster days a few weeks ago, so hopefully our team will continue to grow. We have also recently competed in the Eurocup at Holme Pierrepont, which was incredibly successful with an outstanding result of 2nd in the Open mens category, ahead of six strong, international teams. These successes have instilled a strong desire for success within the team and hopefully this can drive the team to new heights and further achievements. We are eternally grateful for all the support we have received and can’t wait to continue to grow alongside this brilliant sport.

Will Jones