Tony Arrowsmith's Web Site



This is a Web version of an article, written in 1979, of the history of Stratford On Avon Kayakists (SOAK) by Tony Arrowsmith

It was published in the Stratford Herald Focus magazine                                            

    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 Hughff 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 activities.

      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 canoeing.

      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 Jury and sessions will re-commence on Thursday. 13th September.


Weir used

      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 lronbridge 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 below Ludlow.

      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 slalomist's 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 Stratford-upon-Avon 840178}.