Get Active: From novice to Neptune in park lake paddle

Classes are held at the Mayesbrook Park lake every Saturday at 11am. (Pic by Sasha Balla Photography

Classes are held at the Mayesbrook Park lake every Saturday at 11am. (Pic by Sasha Balla Photography) - Credit: Archant

The mighty Murphy name passed down to me courtesy of my father’s rich, Irish heritage, has its roots in the Gaelic for “sea-warrior” – so I felt confident tackling a paddle in a park lake.

Coach Alex teaches the Post's reporter the gentle art of turning (Pic by Sasha Balla Photography)

Coach Alex teaches the Post's reporter the gentle art of turning (Pic by Sasha Balla Photography) - Credit: Archant

But when I arrived at Barking and Dagenham Canoe Club for an introductory session, a sudden fear of falling in weakened my warrior’s resolve while proficient paddlers laughed loudly about the last time they had capsized or been hospitalised by a water-bound illness called Weils.

Seeing the growing greyness of my face, coach Alex Tucker tried to reassure me.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “If you do fall in: we will save you.”

All this achieved was to emphasize that I might need saving, and I tried to smother my growing anxiety with tea and bread pudding.

My oneness with water was given a further knock shortly before boarding the canoe.

A more accomplished canoeist interrupted my approach with the question: “Hold on, pal. How bothered are you about those trainers staying white?”

Most Read

As I looked lovingly down at the Stan Smith Adidas Originals I bought precisely because of their glaring whiteness, I realised how inappropriately dressed I was.

This really hurt as I’d thought my enthusiasm for vintage tracksuit tops and trainers constituted considerable progress in my engagement with sports.

I promptly swapped my foolish footwear for some “wet shoes” – a kind of waterproof super sock, which protected my feet but failed to stop me flopping into the canoe like a narcoleptic seal.

Seeing my struggle, Alex thought it wise to “build my confidence” – by making me to stand up at the front of a canoe.

While this simple task terrified me, 14-year-old Kim Hollman was winning a “time trial”, in which he lapped the lake three times then ran the circumference carrying a kayak on his shoulder, only to repeat it several times.

Meanwhile I mastered the basics of not drowning, paddling backwards and turning.

“You’re really good at this,” Alex said.

The momentous nature of this compliment cannot be overstated – it has taken me 25 years to be praised in connection with sport.

I’d like to think it was down to my nautical nature, but really it was Alex’s friendly instruction.

This class is held every Saturday from 11am to 1pm at Mayesbrook Park for £5 and I can give it the impassioned endorsement of a practically certified sea warrior.

More details at barkingcanoeclub.co.uk/sessions/