Sonja Jones, a Multiple Sclerosis sufferer and Board Member for Canoe Wales, sets off today on a mission to circumnavigate the three islands of Malta as part of a team of four. With winds reaching 30 knots right now, and waves currently several feet high, this isn’t just a quiet paddle in the warm waters of the Mediterranean.
If there’s a sport that captures this year’s zeitgeist, it’s standup paddle boarding (SUP). Everyone has been keen to get in on the act, with Orlando Bloom paddleboarding naked, Bill Bailey appearing in the Guardian discussing his love of SUP on the Thames, and even Countryfile and Waitrose magazine featuring SUP. And there are a number of reasons why SUP is the fastest growing watersport in the UK and the world right now:
- It’s accessible. Anyone; young, old, able, less abled are able to get on a board and paddle.
- All you need is water. Unlike most other board sports, you can SUP 24/7. Admittedly some conditions are better than others; sun drenched waters and light winds are particularly appealing. But SUP is independent of waves or wind. Although there are speciality boards for racing, or for expeditions, or for surfing, or for riding river rapids, a single all-purpose board can do all of this reasonably well. And you can SUP anywhere; river, lake, sea or canal. So there will always be somewhere to SUP within a few miles.
So to demonstrate just how accessible SUP is, four watersports enthusiasts have just set off on an epic expedition to circumnavigate the three islands of Malta. One of the four, Sonja Jones, has Multiple Sclerosis, and is using the expedition as a way of retraining her body in her daily battles with her condition.
The other expedition partners are Chris Brain, Georgina Maxwell and Matt Haydock, all of whom are outdoor activities and watersports instructors with many years of experience of training others to respect and enjoy the water environment safely. The other experience they share, or rather lack of experience, is that none of them have ever been on a SUP expedition.
McConksUK, one of the expeditions sponsors, will be sharing regular updates of the team’s progress on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram using #MalteseSUPProject. Follow @McConksUK to make sure you get updates in your timeline.
Andy McConkey, Director of McConks said:
“Paddling the Mediterranean in November isn’t as easy as people might imagine, and is possibly more difficult than the team themselves realise. A full circumnavigation would be a challenge for experienced SUP riders. If this team can achieve it, it really demonstrates how accessible SUP Fingers crossed for a safe trip!”
Notes to Editor
Georgina Maxwell, is an experienced waterperson and outdoors instructor. She has been found on grade 4 and 5 whitewater all over Europe. But these days she prefers to concentrate on developing others in the moving water environment and the mountains, whether that be schoolage children or the military.
George is using a bespoke McConks inflatable paddleboard designed for the expedition. You can r
You can read more about George’s training and to get live updates on progress on her blog https://georginamaxwell.wordpress.com/
Sonja Jones is a Board Member responsible for inclusiveness and safeguarding at Canoe Wales, the national governing body for paddle sport in Wales. Canoe Wales:
- Represent the interests of our club and individual members
- Advocate on behalf of the interests of the sport in Wales
- Provide coaching and development programmes from local to international level
- Stage national and international competitions.
Sonia took up kayaking, as you will see in this documentary, as a fun and exciting way to rehabilitate and work her way to freedom and strength.
From this seed of rehabilitation, has grown a life long passion for adventure kayaking and promoting the sport itself far and wide. In order to help spread the message of how awesomely inclusive and varied the sport is she’s now the Safeguarding and Inclusion Director for Canoe Wales, as well as a regular feature writer for The Paddler International Magazine.
Sonia believes paddle sport to be one of the most social, adventurous, exciting, inclusive, accessible, and exhilarating sports in this world and I intend to spend my life working towards inspiring others to get on the water, no matter their perceived abilities or backgrounds. https://paddlehigh5.wordpress.com/
Chris Brain has worked in the outdoors for over 10 years coaching and guiding and delivering professional development courses. Chris specialises in paddlesport and is able to deliver a range of personal skills, leadership, safety and rescue courses. As a provider of the Rescue and Emergency Care (REC) range of first aid courses, Chris seamlessly integrates his knowledge and experience of the outdoors into these courses, giving his clients fun, engaging and useful training. Chris also has a vast experience in working with young people with challenging behaviour and is highly skilled in the area of youth development. With over 500 days spent away with clients on residential experiences Chris has a huge amount of knowledge and experience in this field. http://www.chrisbraincoaching.com/
Matt Haydock has been lucky enough to not only paddle in some amazing places; but also develop and inspire others through the amazing experiences paddlesports can provide. Having spent the last few years working with schools which share a strong ethos for outdoor learning, he now works as a freelance instructor based in Aviemore, getting out on the water as much as possible, be that with friends or coaching others. http://www.glenmorelodge.org.uk/about-us/instructors/79/matt-haydock/
The team would like to thank the following sponsors:
Red Paddle Co www.redpaddleco.com/uk
VE paddles http://vepaddles.com/
Immersion research https://www.immersionresearch.eu/
Glenmore Lodge www.glenmorelodge.org.uk
Go kayaking North West http://www.go-kayaking.com/
Andy McConkey on 07595 646603 or Andy@mcconks.com for further information
So, McConks has been a registered company for over 12 months, and we’ve been actively trading since May 2016. We thought now would be a good time to look back at what, if anything, we’ve achieved.
When we opened in June, we were definitely the new kid on the block. Noses were looked down, snooty comments were made by established brands and shops. “Another company importing cheap crap from China” was heard more than once. Even when SUP experts reviewed our kit favourably (shout out to Tez Plavanieks and Stand Up Paddle Board Mag UK here), there were squeals that SUPM was not standing up for ‘the industry”. There’s a huge amount of snobbery in watersports hardware, and because neither Jenny nor I were known professional performance paddlers, we were written off.
Hopefully those days are behind us. We’ve had some amazing reviews from expert SUPpers, beginners and everything in between. Observations that keep being repeated by experts and beginners alike are:
- Board shape. We keep getting great reviews which comment on the stability and true tracking of our boards when stood midboard, but really welcome the additional responsiveness that the pintail shape bring when you step back. Rider after rider report that step back/pivot turns are easier than on a big brand equivalent like for like size board
- Fins: It is a recurrent theme in reviews of our kit that real fins really set us apart in our price range, and really improve tracking and surf sup ride.
- The carbon fibre paddles are really very, very good. Just enough flex, just enough power, just enough drive, subtle dihedral, comfortable paddle without needing foam or padding to make the ride comfortable
- Quality: Manufacturing quality is the same as the best of the best, but comes with a much affordable price tag.
We always intended 2016 to be a slow year with organic growth. We wanted to make sure that our supply chain could cope with demand, and that we could achieve the very highest quality consistently. We’ve made no secret of the fact that our kit is made in China (although we’re hoping at some point to be able to manufacture at least some of our products in the UK), and getting supply chains set up over such a distance is time consuming and challenging. And we had a few false starts, due to last minute changes in design and supply chain ability, and we have struggled at times to meet demand.
If we had got all our ducks in line earlier in the year, we could probably have sold more boards and got more people on the water on quality, affordable kit. However, our customers have been so engaging and interested, and have asked lots of questions that take time to answer well; Where can I go paddleboarding? What should I wear when SUPing? Can I paddle on any river? What kit should I wear? Can I just paddle on any lake? (answers to these questions plus all of the other every day questions we get asked coming up in our next blog). It’s been a privilege answering these questions, and helping some slightly nervous beginners get on the water for the first time. After all, getting people who otherwise wouldn’t get on the water is what McConks is all about. Judging by the great feedback and reviews we’ve had from customers about our quick responses to queries, and our non-judgmental responses, two very important thoughts come to mind.
The first is that we need to make sure that our team is big enough to always answer those queries as well as just ship the products. We won’t be dismissive or judgmental when answering your questions. We never want you to be scared to ask a question. If you have a question, rest assured there is someone else who wants to ask the same question, but is too worried to; there’s no such thing as a silly question, just silly answers.
Oh, and to this purpose, we’ve just overhauled our website to make it easier to use.
The second thought is about inclusiveness. We hear time and time and time again that the riders and reps for the big brands are only interested in you if you’re young, pretty or rich. I don’t know how much this is intended, but the perception is real. One of our customers recently travelled from Scotland to the Lake District to meet some SUP heros and some Brand Reps.
“After meeting with (big brand team rider, name removed to protect their identity)” he reported “and having met countless (big brand inflatable SUP) reps in the past, you’re only ever a name on a list, and they don’t have that personal connection to the customer. They’re only your mate for the 5 minutes before you buy a board. I travelled all the way from Scotland to the Lake District yesterday for Sup, Run, Bike, and no-one even offered me a trial of their kit. They’re not interested because I’m old, on the heavy side, and not a pretty young thing, and because I work with a charity with not much money. McConks is punching its weight with the big guys. You keep it real and continue to value your customers”
McConks aim is to get riders on to the water. Big, small, pretty, ugly, good, bad, indifferent. We don’t care. We don’t take strength from how cool or pretty or handsome our riders are, and therefore we’re not going to be damaged by someone with Downs Syndrome on our boards, or hapless beginners. And in fact, nothing makes us happier than seeing people of different abilities or different background using our kit. Two great charities for disadvantaged people, The Princes Trust, and Beyond Boundaries East Lothian are currently trialling some of our demo kit. The managers and technical advisors have bought their own personal kit from us, and we’re now thrashing out a deal for the charities as a whole. And because we’re small, and don’t spend fortunes on marketing or on team riders, and because our passion is to get people on the water, we are surprisingly affordable.
So, has the first year been successful? We think so. Customer feedback has been great. Expert feedback has been great (shout out to Tez Plavanieks and Stand Up Paddle Mag UK, and to the team at our demo centre at Cotswold Water Park Hire). We’ve delivered to happy customers all over Europe; including Finland, Spain, France, Sweden, Ireland, Switzerland, Norway and Jersey. And we’ve shipped to the USA. We’ve also donated some ex demo stock to some great charities, and we’re still going to make a small profit in our first year. After we have deducted taxes and stuff, and the cost of new stock for next year, we will give 100% of the profit to our charity for 2016 Surfers Against Sewage. Because we’re still growing and expanding our range, most of our income is ploughed straight back into more kit and more prototypes. But we will make sure that SAS has a cheque for at least £200 by the end of 2016.
And what about 2017? Keep your ears to the ground. I hear rumours of a McConks dedicated Surf SUP and a McConks White Water SUP in 2017, once we have got our new Go Explore board out there.