To celebrate International Women’s Day 2024 we wanted to shine a light on two inspiring young women. Beate spoke to Sirin and Vita about their journey into paddlesports. It is a traditionally male dominated sport but we are proud that Leaside has been able to play a role in supporting these incredible women to enjoy being on the water, gain skills and confidence and develop to become paddlesports instructors.

Sirin’s journey into Paddlesports as a young woman

My name is Sirin, a 23-year-old Design Engineering graduate working in the automotive industry. I was born in Romania and in 2015, my family had a summer road trip through Europe. We then decided to stay in London, discover new opportunities and for me to study. After about 6 months, I started school and wanted to join a local sports club, Leaside was the closest as well as the most appealing.
In Romania, we lived by the sea. I always liked being on or in the water but it was at Leaside I discovered my passion for kayaking and paddle sports! I became a member and showed up every Saturday to the youth club sessions for coaching. Even though I fell in the canal on my first day I kept coming – I loved it!

Leaside means a lot to me. Moving to a new country and barely speaking the language was not easy. Leaside was a very friendly community, which helped me develop not only in the sport but socially and mentally. Leaside helped me have the courage to express myself and not feel judged and offered a safe place to socialise, meet new people, and have fun!
Sometimes on my journey as a woman training in paddlesports, I found other people’s power on the water intimidating. But being in a supportive environment really helped me to step out of my comfort zone and move forward!

I always loved working with people so I offered to volunteer with Leaside which helped me gain the right skills and experience to complete a paddle sports instructor course. It lead to the best summer job ever! I completed lots of courses including stand up paddleboarding (SUP), mountain biking and First Aid. Being given responsibilities from age 16 was so important for my personal skills development. Leaside has had an influence on me to become a more sustainable person and has inspired my A level and Dissertation projects which were both linked to my passion for kayaking.

I would say, I could have never ended up where I am now if I didn’t have Leaside. I have a full-time job now that I love and travelling the world. I still remember when applying for my job, I linked so many interview questions to my experiences as a kayaking instructor or volunteer, and they loved how transferrable the skills were.

The best thing about Leaside is its feel of community and care for others and the environment. I made many good friends at Leaside and felt really supported by the members, volunteers and staff. I always felt inspired by their passion and love for the sport!

I have had to overcome challenges. As a young migrant woman growing up I was made to feel like what I wanted to be was never for me. A woman in paddle sports. A woman in engineering. A woman in the automotive industry. But I made it a reality and I love it.

I hope I can inspire others because nothing should stop anyone from achieving what they want to do! I can never forget that one of the biggest achievements is Completing Devizes to Westminster 2019 with Anna!

Vita’s route to becoming a Paddlesport coach

My name is Vita, and about three years ago I joined Leaside and it has had a big impact on my life.

I was going through depression during the coronavirus pandemic and as the restrictions started to lift, my neighbour and I started cycling along river Lea. One day my friend’s bike broke down next to Leaside so we went in to ask for help. Norman kindly helped us and gave us information about a traineeship that Leaside was running. I didn’t have work or college so I jumped at the opportunity and became a kickstarter trainee at Leaside.

Before Leaside I had not done any watersports, it was a completely new environment for me. The team at Leaside and other kayaking clubs were crucial in helping me overcome initial fears building up my skills and water confidence. Despite being new to it, my passion for nature, cycling and working with kids drew me into the world of paddlesports. Being on the water surrounded by nature helped me get away from the loud noises and built-up busy city.

I first came to London as a child, in 2011, as the employment crisis hit Eastern Europe when, like most people, my mother lost her job. Since me and my brother had no other family, my mum brought us to the UK where she had a better chance to find work and provide for us.

To me Leaside means a place of peace. A place that helped me greatly in many aspects of my life. The people at Leaside are amazing, you meet so many people who make me feel good and included like part of a family. I learnt to paddle and achieved my instructors qualification. I have become more responsible, completing training that has helped me improve and learn so many transferable skills.

One challenge I have had to overcome as a young woman getting into paddlesports is that a lot of people confuse me for one of the young people we work with, not an instructor! Sometimes being seen as a woman of the same age can make working with teenagers tricky! In paddlesports it is always important to keep a balance between having fun and being safe.

Overall being a woman in Paddlesport feels great, the majority of my colleagues are male but they are very supportive and understanding. But it is really great to run an all girls group, I can see the young women really enjoy having a woman in the lead. It feels great.

I had some real allies at Leaside who were incredibly important on my journey into paddlesports. Terry was the first person who helped me and showed great understanding when I was not doing well. Ian at the same time, was patient and understanding while I was in training. Sam enabled me to have fun, unique experiences learning paddle sports encouraging and supporting me to try out things I was scared of, which greatly helped me tackle my fears.

Importantly I met number 1 women role models Beth Ettinger and Beate! They continuously encouraged and mentored me to move forward to the next step in paddlesports and I am now on the route to becoming a paddlesports coach. Jackie, Leaside’s environmental advocate, helped open my eyes to the importance of the environment and always greeting me with a smile!

I’ve had many ups and downs over the past few years and the support received at Leaside helped me to open up and talk when things got tough. Leaside gave me a safe space and the people there helped motivate me to feel better and continue with paddlesports.

My achievements that I am so proud of include going paddling in Wales and in Scotland on white water (see picture!). I have become an instructor and now almost ready for my coaching assessment, and I am able to train young people. I’m finishing college and about to start university to study sports!