Swim Fan: Laura Griffin Talks Girls In Kayaks

Avid kayaker Laura Griffin, 27, from Dublin, tells us just why it's better, down where it's wetter, er, on top of the sea.

Kayaker Laura Griffin.

“After I did my Leaving Cert, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. Someone suggested the outdoor adventure management course in Coláiste Dhúlaigh in Coolock. That’s when I started kayaking.

“The course is very much geared to you being an instructor, and you get to improve your own skills – I was paddling all over Europe, and last summer I went to the Zambeze in Zambia in Africa – that was really, really cool.

“Most people think it rains a lot in Ireland, but it doesn’t really rain enough for us! You want the rivers to be up quite high. So I love when it rains. When it floods, all the rivers in Wicklow and Kerry come up and we can go paddling lots.

“I do lots of different types of kayaking. At the moment, I’m trying to get on the Irish freestyle team – trials are towards the end of March. Freestyle kayaking is where you do tricks – you can make your boat do flips and spins. I’m training for that at the moment. There’s also an Irish whitewater league, where there are races all around Ireland on different rivers, and there’s a league. At the moment, I’m winning the league – it finishes in November, so there are a few more races to go.

I started an initiative to try to get more women in kayaking.

“There are way more men than women in kayaking; I started up an initiative about four years ago to try to get more women in kayaking in Ireland. So I ran women-only kayaking days, and I got some of the top coaches in different disciplines to come and coach. We’ve done canoe polo, freestyle racing. Hannah Craig – she was in the Olympics for Ireland and got to the final in London – came and did a slalom session with us and is doing another with us in March.

“The top paddlers would be people who’ve been training since they’re about 10. In Ireland, the Hendricks brothers – twins – have been kayaking since they were 10 and they’re 17 now. They’re the next up and coming guys.

“There’s a lot of upper body strength required and, the thing is, you kayak forward, so you develop certain muscles, and other muscles don’t develop at all. I do a lot of backwards paddling because I don’t like going to the gym. But the Olympic athletes would do as much in the gym as they would in the water. And it’s important not to forget your legs – they just sit there. I would do a lot of mountain running and biking, to keep my legs fit.

“I’ve had a few bad swims – that’s what we call when you capsize and come out of your boat. If you capsize, most of the time you can roll up again, but sometimes your boat is stuck… I had a bad swim a good few years ago, I’d maybe been kayaking three years and my boat got stuck upside down, under the water, and I was stuck under my boat.

I felt like every time I got in the river, I was going to die.

“For a long time after that I dropped back a lot in my skill level. I felt like every time I got in the river, I was going to die. Then I went kayaking all over Europe, on the European tour, Italy, Slovenia, France, all the way up to Norway… and I kind of got over the fear. But then I had another bad swim, in Norway, quite long in a big rapid, and I knew there was another big rapid coming up… I got out just before it. After that, I thought, I’m never going to kayak again.

“At that time, every time I got on the river, I was terrified – but it’s my hobby, I want to enjoy it. So I stepped it back a bit, started kayaking on rivers I liked, that were easier, and developed my skill levels up higher to where they’d ever been.

“We often ask, why do you kayak? And it changes from day to day – but the people would be one thing, and then, I love the adrenaline rush, when you get to a big rapid.

“You’re out in nature, you see parts of the world and parts of Ireland that nobody will see, unless you’re in the river. It’s brought me to places all around the country – all around the world – I never would have seen otherwise.”

Pic credit: Naomi Gaffey.

Make-up: Nicola Cuddy.

Hair: Helen Kenny.

Shot on location in DCU Sports Centre.