The great outdoors of Castlebar


BRIDGE THE GAP SLALOM KAYAK AT LOUGH LANNAGHIrish Kayak Olympian Hannah Craig was on hand to launch the new slalom course at Lough Lannagh Castlebar and to lead the Women in Paddle Sports ‘Bridge The Gap’.

Mayo set to benefit from initiative to involve more women in paddle sports

Oisin McGovern

MAYO has the potential to become a center of excellence for water sports.
This view could not have been clarified by those who spoke to The Mayo News about the county’s ‘world-class’ watersports infrastructure at a recent event at GMIT Castlebar.
Earlier this month, members of Canoeing Ireland – the national body that promotes the sport – traveled west to hold a series of workshops and events in the Castlebar area.
These events included the launch of a new canoe slalom course at Lough Lannagh.
Irish Kayak Olympian Hannah Craig was on hand to give a master class to more than 30 canoeists as part of ‘Bridge The Gap’, an initiative to involve more women in paddling sports.
The 2012 Olympics finalist also lent her expertise to young paddlers for a junior kayak event at Lough Lannagh before giving a workshop at GMIT alongside professional canoeist Jenny Egan and World Cup medalist John Simmons .
Located in the heart of the Wild Atlantic Way and graced with some of the most beautiful rivers and lakes in the country, it’s no surprise that these passionate paddleboarders have chosen to come to Mayo to promote and develop their sport.
According to Hannah, who has represented Ireland at numerous kayak slalom world championships, Mayo is a county with “huge resources” and a diversity of different aquatic environments.
She sees GMIT’s outdoor education department and the Castlebar and Ballina Adventure Centers as invaluable assets in realizing the county’s potential for paddle sports.
The pandemic, she says, has “transformed” the awareness and popularity of outdoor experiences in her own region, and indeed across the country.
“People understand the resource that’s on their doorstep,” she told The Mayo News.
“I think for paddle sports there’s this huge opportunity to create a pathway for people, from those one-time or occasional experiences, that it’s something I can do every day of the year. if I want to, with the right equipment and the right training around it.

“Huge Opportunity”
Part of the appeal of paddle sports is that they contain 14 different disciplines.
These range from Craig’s chosen discipline, slalom kayaking, to other forms like sea kayaking and canoe sprinting.
Professional sprint canoeist Jenny Egan says Mayo has the resources and infrastructure to facilitate all of these disciplines for both elite and recreational paddlers.
“With the new Castlebar Sports Center there is a huge opportunity,” said the Canoe World Cup silver medalist and only athlete on Sport Ireland’s Women in Sport steering committee.
“You have so many natural resources, so many big rivers, lakes, seas, that you could do all different types of canoeing. You could do flat water, canoe sprint, canoe marathon, surf ski , sea kayaking, slalom, freestyle, so there is a huge opportunity there to continue to develop.

The KEY to realizing these lofty ambitions is to have enough qualified instructors in place.
According to Castlebar Adventure Hub coordinator Jarlath McHale, a person’s absence can often make the difference in whether or not a session or event happens.
“I see him regularly with particular clubs. If one person does not show up to handle it, the entire session is cancelled. There could be 20 people relying on that one person to show up,” he says.
While GMIT produces a steady stream of Outdoor Education graduates, Canoeing Ireland is aiming to recruit a full-time employee in the Mayo area to grow and develop the sport.
With the help of Mayo Sports Partnership and the various adventure centres, Jenny Egan says canoeing can become “very popular” in the county.
“Football is so big and can and there’s no reason canoeing shouldn’t become a hugely popular sport in Mayo, especially with the surrounding area, rivers, lakes. They just need to continue to have a good structure and coaches involved in the region to attract people to this sport.
Pauline Jordan, a lecturer at the GMIT Outdoor Education Centre, describes Jenny Egan and Hannah Craig as “fantastic role models” and says Ireland is producing more elite athletes.
“One thing you don’t miss in the west of Ireland is water,” she remarked.
“We are successful in other sports in Ireland so there is no reason for us to be more successful in water sports as our resources are world class.”


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