Club History

Bristol Canoe Club was formed in the spring of 1962 to promote canoeing in the Bristol area and met at a barn with a loft in Keynsham. As this barn deteriorated, a new site was found in Saltford owed by Avery’s wine merchants. In December 1962, the first club newsletter was published giving reports about river trips, the latest calendar and asking members to design a club emblem.

Pool sessions began in the same month to practice rolling, trying out different types of kayaks and to socialise afterwards. Day and weekend trips soon became popular with attending slaloms. Social events have always been important and enjoyed. 

Since June 1978, the club has met in the spring and summer at the Baltic Wharf Leisure Centre Cumberland Road Bristol. The Centre was officially opened on 8 July 1978 by the Lord Mayor of Bristol. Club members built a storage rack for club boats inside the Dutch Barn and had a locker for club equipment. Changing rooms and showers were fitted in 1984. More storage space for boats and equipment with 24-hour access became available in another section of the barn in 1992.

Club session at Bristol South Pool

Pool sessions started at the Mayor’s Paddock Baths in Hotwells, heated by hot springs but was demolished many years ago. The Club then ran sessions at the City of Bristol Technical College Ashley Down. To meet demand for more canoeing space and to store kayaks, Bristol South Pool on Dean Lane in Bedminster has been our primary base since April 1973. A storage rack was built at the pool by members in 1986. After canoeing, members have always met in a local pub for drinks and a chat. 

During the 1970 & 80’s members-built their own kayaks using GRP moulds for general purpose, canoe polo or slalom use.  Quentin Nichols built a slalom mould which enabled many younger members to build a competitive boat cheaply. Many club members also began making hand carved wooden paddles which today have been replaced by much stronger carbon kevlar constructions.

Dining in Briançon in the French Alps

New members continue to join the club through the beginners’ courses which have been running since 1985 in the summer months. The Web Page has been operating since 1998, taking over from the club magazine as the main way the club communicates with members and to gain more interest in the club.  The club has also joined the digital age in using Facebook, WhatsApp and contactless payments.

Phil Longrigg Trophy

Phil was a proficient marathon, polo and slalom paddler who tragically died in a motorcycle cycle accident age 21 in 1988. His parents and members, Angela and Russ set up a trophy in his name.  The trophy is given to a member who has given outstanding effort to the club during the previous year.

Canoeing Disciplines

The Club encourages all forms of canoeing and below is a brief history of those disciplines and their respective competitive success.

Whitewater paddling

Starting with paddling regional rivers, day, weekend and holiday trips have taken place in the Lake District, Yorkshire, North Wales, Scotland and abroad.

Conor in Scotland

Since the early 1980’s Whitewater weekends staying in bunkhouses proved popular and a club tradition of spending a winter weekend on the River Dart continues to this day.

A visit to the world slalom championships in France in 1969 and paddling on local rivers afterwards began the tradition of foreign trips. Club members attended a very enjoyable white-water festival at Sort in the Spanish Pyrenees in 1993. A small group then paddled in the Briançon area of the French Alps beginning a favoured destination for the club’s continental trips. Other countries paddled include Austria, Costa Rica, Italy, Morocco, Nepal, Norway and Turkey. 

Quent and Mark at the end of their 2 week Grand Canyon Expedition

In 1999 Quent Nichols and Mark Gillett were the first members to paddle the Grand Canyon section of the River Colorado USA, including the biggest section called Lava Falls. Quent and Mark successfully paddled the most difficult route down the right-hand side. Mark and Kath Aplin, Conor O’Neill and Lisa Gunton, Tim Johnson and Ben Whittle made successful descents of the same section in 2001.  More recently, another legendary trip took place to the Northwest of the USA where the rivers included a six-day trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon.

During the Covid pandemic very little canoeing took place but a large contingent of club paddlers will be travelling to Briançon in June 2022 to recommence our many successful river trips in the Haute de Alps Region.

Canoe Polo

A visit to Bradford-on-Avon in 1969 began the club’s involvement in polo using no paddles. Having players who could roll was a big advantage.  Interest grew leading to the Club’s first tournament in 1972 in Cheltenham and then on to 1973, 1974 and 1975 when Bristol had teams in the finals of the National Championships at Crystal Palace. 

Polo at the Cumberland Basin

The Club started participating in competitive Canoe Polo from 1983 by entering a regional league in 1983 before joining the national leagues. In recent years, the Bristol Penguins progressed from National League Division 4 to 2 and represented the club in two international tournaments in Belgium winning one league. The Bristol Pitbulls Team has composed of many players over the years and were promoted several times into division 3 of the National League.  Our third development team is called the Bristol Polar Bears and played in division 4.  Bristol also had teams in the Southwest League played at Millfield School in Street. 

A polo facility was installed in Bristol Docks in 2002 at Cumberland Basin underneath the swing bridge. It is a collaboration with Avon Canoe Club and the Universities to encourage further training and local tournaments while avoiding the increasing cost of playing polo in swimming pools. 

Marathon Racing

Interest in racing on flatwater began in 1980 when the club organised its first race on the River Avon starting in Bath or Hanham to finish at Baltic Wharf. It became an official race a few years later as part of a series of regional races based at Hanham. 

First Bristol Marathon in 1980

In 1986, 7 new racing kayaks and a canoe were brought to stimulate interest in marathon racing as a new discipline open to members. Members and new members improved in regional races resulting in completing in the finals in 1989 for the best club teams. The club was part of a group of regional clubs who organised the finals in Exeter in 1992.  Members have competed in other types of marathon races, distances and abroad. 

Major Marathon results are:

1990 Bernie Jones won the ladies category in the Devizes to Westminster race in 20.42.41

1991 Ron Stinchcombe and his nephew Kevin Williamson won the veteran/junior category in the same race over 4 days in 18.21.24.

2002 Steve Bennett and canoeing partner finished the Ardèche Descent race in France in 20th place in 1.49.00.

2003 Steve and Richard finished 12th out of 300 in the Ardèche Descent race

2004 Steve Bennett and Nick Daniels Reading Canoe Club finished the same race in 1.47.00.

2005 Steve Bennett and Tristan Turner won the Division 3/4 race at the National Championships in a sprint finish gaining the club’s first medals at this prestigious event. 

2006 Steve Bennett and Tristan Turner finished second in a sprint finish in the Division 3/4 race for senior doubles event at the National Championships. 

2006 Iain Hissett and James Purchase Pangbourne Canoe Club finished 4th in the senior doubles event at the Devizes to Westminster race. 

2007 Tristan Turner and Piran Shelley Richmond Canoe Club won the seniors doubles kayak event in the same race in 17.13.27.

2016 Tristan Turner and Peter Maycock won the seniors doubles event in the same race in 17.10.25 and were supported by Bristol Canoe Club members.

Slalom

Club members setting up the Llandysul Slalom in 1983

Early interest in slalom competition led to the club organising its first slalom in 1963 at Limpley Stoke on the River Avon upstream of Bath.  In May 1969, the club began organising slaloms at Llandysul on the River Teifi in West Wales, assisted by Bristol University Canoe Club. These slaloms in May for Division 3 paddlers and in October for Division 2 paddlers ran until 1996 when Llandysul Paddlers took over. Organising slalom expanded in October 1980 to include Holne Park on the River Dart for Division 4 and Novice paddlers. It stopped in 1993 when entries dwindled. 

Avis Noot – Guinness Record Holder

During the 1970’s a group of young slalomists joined the club coached by Shaun Greaves who was a competent kayak and canoe paddler. The best paddlers from this young group were Martin Slade who paddled in the Premier Division in men’s kayak class and Kay Longrigg who paddled in Division 1 in ladies kayak class. Steve Cooper competed in the Premier division for single canoes. Andy Cocking partnered with him in the Premier division for double canoes and represented England in the Europa Cup in the mid 1980’s. Martyn Green paddled in the Premier division for single kayaks in the 1990’s. Janet Adcock and Becky Smith paddled in the ladies Division 1 division the same decade.  Arguably, our most famous slalom paddler is Avis Noot who is listed in the Guinness Book of records as being the oldest competing paddler the UK.

Surf, sea and flatwater paddling

The club has always organised day and weekend surfing and sea trips and flat-water paddling throughout the year. In 1971 the tradition of paddling on Boxing Day at Saltford began followed by food and drinks in a nearby pub. 

Andy Knight won the junior surf race and surf handling event at the National Championships in 1973. Simon Beeston won the open surf handling race at the same competition. Bristol won the team trophy for gaining most points in the next year. Andy Knight was National Junior surf race champion. Ten years later Andy became national surfing champion and went to successfully start a canoeing equipment manufacturer which is today called Palm Equipment International. 

People and personalities

Tony Cox: Tony was a skilful white-water paddler who organised and led club trips and was a proficient slalomist. He ran many club slaloms and designed courses. Tony led the club into operating slaloms at Llandysul and Holne Park. He introduced marathon racing by setting up the first race in 1980. Tony obtained Sports Council and Bristol City Council grants to help buy 7 new racing kayaks and a canoe in 1986.  He ran evening classes in the early years teaching rolling. Tony was part of the first continental trip in 1969 after watching the world championships in France. He was on the original committee as slalom representative and served as chairman, secretary, treasurer and committee member until 1988. The committee gave him honourable membership on 29 October 1991. Tony passed away in 2020.

Quentin Nichols: Quent was a skilled kayaker who encouraged club white-water trips in the UK and abroad. He played an important part in building kayaks in the 1970’s. Having access to editing equipment at work, was useful for Quent to take videos of early club trips. 

Avis Noott:  Avis is one of the longest serving members who is in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest lady completing in canoe slalom when she was 80. Avis is in the lady’s veteran division. 

Steve Bennett:  Steve has been the mainstay of marathon racing in the club. He organised the club’s marathon race at Hanham for many years. Steve has a long record of competing in division 3 of marathon racing and won a national title. He gained exceptional results in big descent races abroad with won two national titles.  He finished fourth twice in the Exe Descent Races with fellow member Rob Knott and Richard Lewis Bradfield-on -Avon CC and had many top 10 finishes.  In 1992 Steve and Rob completed the Sella Descent race in Spain in 86th place out of 2000.  Steve and other members obtained the recycled materials used to build the club store at the Baltic Wharf. 

Andy Knight and Bob Slee:  Andy was a masterful slalomist and surfer who in 1979 formed what is now called Palm Equipment Europe a major supplier of top-quality canoes and kayaks, clothing and equipment. His engineering background with clear thoughts about making better boats and equipment led him to make them himself. His club friend Bob Slee later joined him to head Palm.  They were competitive and tough marathon double paddlers who competed in the old Exe Descent races. Bob was a strong tackling canoe player representing the club for many years. 

Martyn Green: Martyn was our best white-water paddler in the 1990’s, mastering rapids in his slalom kayak before upgrading to a freestyle kayak. He designed slalom courses and was a skilful canoe polo player. 

Mark Gillett:  Mark joined the club in 1978 concentrating on white-water and slalom paddling for many years. Since 1999 Mark has run the canoe polo section overseeing three teams and organising training at Bristol South Pool and the Cumberland Basin pitch, as well as serving on the Committee. 

Conor O’Neill:  Conor became a member in 1990 quickly mastering white-water and slalom paddling. He has arranged club trips on home and foreign waters. Conor continues to be a long serving committee member having been chairman, secretary and treasurer. 

Lisa Gunton: Lisa joined the club in 1991 as a beginner rapidly progressing to white-water paddling, slaloms and playing canoe polo. Lisa has paddled on foreign trips and is an active coach who has run beginner courses and has been a committee member over the years.

Bristol Canoe Club in 2022

The Club continues to have a large membership of over 100 paddlers pursuing all major canoeing disciplines.  The Club is an active environment which allows adult members to participate in all major forms of canoeing in the centre of Bristol as well as having an active social side too.  Hopefully, the history will continue well into the future.

June 2022.