Outdoor Education vs. Freestyle Kayaking

Our very own Outdoor Education Manager, Gavin Barker, is also on the GB Freestyle Kayaking Team. We take a closer look at how the two go hand in hand.

Meet Gav. He’s our Outdoor Education Manager; co-ordinating projects with local young people who are currently struggling within the education system. He’s also on the GB Freestyle Kayaking Team and will be competing in the European Championships this August.

Outdoor Education Programmes develop life skills, self worth and work ethic amongst 11- 25 year olds. A typical programme runs for 9 weeks, with the young people taking part in sessions on a weekly basis. Most of them have little experience of outdoor pursuits and part of being an outdoor instructor is convincing kids to ‘give it a go’. Gav explains “the hardest thing is starting. You’ve got to be brave enough to take the first step.” And he relates to this well. He had his first kayaking experience at just 12 years old in his hometown of Bury, Manchester. “A friend who was a bit older than me asked me if I wanted to go [kayaking]… I saw what looked like a waterfall and yes, I was scared. But I just went for it.” That was 20 years ago and he really has never looked back. Its first hand experiences like this that make him the perfect instructor for young people on the Outdoor Education Programmes. We spoke about the need to go out of your comfort zone and that something he’s learnt during his time at YMCA is that everybody’s is different. “A good instructor knows when to push a kid, and when to stop….it can make or break the experience for them.”

Gav is used to breaking out of his own comfort zone. To the kayaking novice it might just seem to be a summer sport. It’s not. Training happens all year round and during the winter months it can be almost unbearable “You hear people stop and shout ‘argh!’ because they’re just so cold”. He calls it “Ice-Cream Head”.

The GB Kayaking team spend a lot of time camping whilst at competitions or at training events. This is partly because there isn’t really the money to spend on hotels but also because this means they will be closer to water. Closer to the water means more time in the water and more time in the water means a better chance of winning the European Championships this August.

Being dedicated and committed to your chosen sport can sometimes be a struggle but Gav proves that if you love something enough it just becomes a way of life. He hopes that many of the young people he works with will continue to pursue outdoor activities after completing the programme and tells me that Nottingham is actually a brilliant place to get started. Holme Pierrepont is the The National Watersports Centre, where Gav does all of his training (when he’s not battling rapids in Uganda or New Zealand) but they cater for all ages and levels from kayaking to rafting and sailing. Gav believes that “there’s something everybody is good at. You just have to find it.” It is this passion and belief that helps him to encourage and inspire so many young people on the Outdoor Education Programmes at the YMCA. I think it’s a hypothesy we should all embrace; get out of your comfort zone and you may surprise yourself. Perhaps there is a secret outdoor sports enthusiast in you waiting to break out.

If you want to show your support for Gav or tell us about any unusual sports you think everyone should know about you can contact us via email, twitter or facebook.

You can find out more about what our Outdoor Education Team do at the YMCA here.