Canoeing development making a mark

1 November 2013

South African canoeing development programmes have produced some outstanding successes since 1994, with initiatives like the RMB Change A Life Academy at Nagle Dam outside Pietermaritzburg producing champion paddlers from formerly disadvantaged backgrounds.

Now, the Development Academy at Natal Canoe Club (NCC) in Pietermaritzburg is introducing the sport to young children and making huge inroads.

With support from the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Sport and Recreation, the programme, which began in April, has so far hosted 1 100 children, and the response has been very encouraging.

Sam Phungula heads up the project. He, in turn, answers to Thuthu Manyathi, who oversees the entire development programme. This includes the NCC Development Race, a Dusi Canoe Marathon seeding event, which was recently held for a second time.

‘They are loving it’

At a recent open day, Phungula spoke about the programme’s successes. “It’s pretty exciting. There are a lot of children who have been taking part and they are loving it,” he said.

One of the most notable successes has been the number of girls the project has attracted. “They are the type of people that really want to do this, but they are the ones that are facing the biggest challenges. Since they’re coming from the townships, which are far from here, their parents are concerned about the distances,” Phungula said. The NCC, however, looks after transport for the children.

“Most of the girls say they really enjoy the sport a lot, which is good. They’re telling me that in two years’ time there will be many girls participating in the Dusi Canoe Marathon. I am very happy about that,” commented NCC Development Academy member Candy Mavundla, who completed the Dusi Canoe Marathon in a K1 boat for a first time earlier this year.

‘I really enjoy that responsibility’

“There are many people who are moved to do the sport,” she continued. “Sometimes they even come to my house and say ‘Candy, we also want to come and join your sport’, so I tell them what they need to do. I really enjoy that responsibility.”

Participants in the project are taught water safety and how to paddle in guppy boats without paddles before they progress to boats with paddles.

A rotational policy splits groups of 40 into two, with one out on the water and the other on land where paddling is discussed and general fitness taken care of. After the sessions the children feast on muffins prepared by Sam Phungula and are provided with transport home.

“This programme has given the Development Team such a sense of responsibility and ownership. They are 100 percent responsible for it. It’s very gratifying to see,” said NCC general manager Brett Austen Smith.

“I enjoy this a lot, a lot, a lot,” smiled Candy Mavundla. “It has been teaching me about leadership, especially with the coaching, because next year at university I will be doing sports management.”

‘Something different about them now’

Sam Phungula agreed. “The leadership skills in every one of us have grown a lot. We can talk to people now, we can handle people, even big numbers.

“It is very rewarding. Even for the young guys, who are still at school, but are involved in the project, there is something different about them now.”

The NCC Development Team has not restricted its involvement with communities to paddling alone. They also took on a community project to assist at an old age home in Imbali. “It has been something different for most of us who have never done something like that,” Phungula said. “We plan to do a community project every year.

Reflecting on the visit to the old age home, he added: “We saw something different, something we are not used to seeing, like sick people. It taught us a lot.”

Community leaders

Watching the children enjoying themselves on the water, Austen Smith pointed out a young boy, not yet 10 years of age. “This chap has been here a few times. He is one of our regulars and you can see how comfortable he is now. He is one of the self-imposed community leaders now. He helps the other guys and tells them what to do. We’ve got a couple of leaders coming out of the communities,” he said.

The next step for the NCC development programme will be to unearth some talented paddlers who can go far in the sport. With a club that won four of the six world titles South Africa claimed at the ICF Marathon World Championships in Denmark in September, talented and committed youngsters will find a way to shine.