National School Canoe Championships 2023

For the second year in a row, the MRC has directly partnered with the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race Organisation to put on the National School Canoe Championships on Sunday 19th November. Run from Hawley Lake in Farnborough, the National School Canoe Championships was created with the main objective to encourage grassroots paddling, and better preparation and development of school teams in paddlesport.

In 2023, five schools submitted entries with paddlers representing Norwich School, Heathside School, Lord Wandsworth College, Kimbolton School and Bryanston School. To take part, all schools have to show an active commitment to supporting paddlesport with their students. If you are interested in getting involved in 2024 and need advice on how to get paddlesport established within your school, contact the MRC Junior Development Lead here.

The morning involved a series of “500m” and “200m” sprint races for both the Senior/Experienced and Novice categories. The Novice category was mostly made up of crews who had only been in a boat for a matter of months. In the Senior/Experienced 500m final, Jared Hughes and Tate Morrison (Lord Wandsworth College) took the win in a close fought battle with Ted Umbers and Xander Finn (Lord Wandsworth College) and Sophie Dunlop and Henry Moult (Heathside School). In the Novice 500m final, Alex Williams and Joel Watt (Lord Wandsworth College) finished in the fastest time by over two seconds.

The 200m event takes the format of a knockout, where crews are eliminated in groups until the last remaining five boats go head to head in the final. In the Senior/Experienced race, it was Jack Ockenden and Jasper Godfrey (Bryanston School) who showed an exceptional final sprint, securing the win by over two seconds and therefore securing the overall Senior Sprint Trophy by a matter of milliseconds ahead of Jared Hughes and Tate Morrison (Lord Wandsworth College). In the Novice category, Alex Williams and Joel Watt (Lord Wandsworth College) took the win again and securing the overall novice sprint trophy too.

After some lunch, crews then competed in the marathon event. The senior/experienced category competed over five laps of the lake with four portages, whereas the novice category competed over four laps with three portages. Due the increasing headwind, the decision was made to reverse the course to a clock-wise direction. In contrast to the previous year, the senior race started with a large group of six boats off the start line, with crews battling it out for the best positions in the lead group. Out of the first portage, it broke down into four with Jack Ockenden and Jasper Godfrey (Bryanston School) battling their way back into the group. The portage seemed to be the area where opportunity arose with many errors causing breakaways and comebacks. The final portage was the decider with Jack and Jasper managing to open up a gap over Samuel Bull and Finn Taylor (Heathside School) and allowing them to take the overall win. Sophie Dunlop and Henry Moult (Heathside School) were third over the line and enabling them to take the mixed win. Maddison Mckernan and Imogen Field (Heathside School) took the ladies win.

Speaking after the overall marathon and sprint win, Jack and Jasper said, “We were really pleased with our success in the marathon and sprint events at the National Schools Canoe Championships. It was an incredible experience to race in the company of so many crews of such great quality. The racing was incredibly close in both sprint events, and in the marathon. We would like to thank the committee for their hard work, and we look forward to racing over Easter Weekend in the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race.”

In the Novice category, another dominant performance from Alex Williams and Joel Watt (Lord Wandsworth College) saw them earn another trophy, with an impressive gap of nine minutes over the rest of the field. Emma Croucher and Tom Sumpton (Kimbolton School) took the novice mixed win and Grace Gadsby and Sofia Kulynych (Lord Wandsworth College) took the novice ladies win.

Overall, Lord Wandsworth College took the win in the Senior Team Trophy as well as the Novice Team Trophy.

Reflecting on the schools win, Richard Lovell, Lord Wandsworth College team leader, said, “Instead of hanging up the canoeing kit at the end of DW, LWC have been training hard both on and off the water, and the results speak for themselves. What is equally impressive is the effect this has had on the students who only got in a boat in September. We have never had so many younger people out on the water. The team of 10 boats who entered the Nationals has come from a squad of 40 students. With 12 of last year’s DW team returning, having them as role models has helped raise the standard. The challenge now is to convert them into club paddlers when they leave the school next summer.”

“The National Schools is a great opportunity for students to meet up and compete rather than just time trial in the events leading up to Easter. It’s also a great showcase to the parents, showing there is more to canoeing than just DW. It would be fantastic to see more crews attend next year.”

Another year of tight racing was a personal highlight for the MRC and enabled some of the school racers to receive a direct invite to attend the recent JDS training day. We are certainly looking to grow the schools racing scene and would be keen to speak to any schools wishing to start a schools programme.

Next years National School Canoe Championships will take place at Hawley Lake on Sunday 17th November 2024.