“If you wish to attend the launch event at Longridge Outdoor Activity Centre on Monday from 2.30pm, you have officially got an invite now as I spoke to [Longridge Director] Amanda Foister yesterday. You can get in a dragon boat and test the waters for yourself!”
THIS was the email I received from Wycombe District Council’s Sports Development Team Leader James Cavalier. Having met up with him earlier in the week to discuss some of Bucks’ Olympic events, I admitted to being keen to try out the various sports on offer at our Olympic-standard sites. This would be my first opportunity.
The launch event being held at the centre, which is currently being used as a training facility for team GB’s kayaking and women’s rowing teams ahead of this summer’s Games, was held to unveil their new dragon boat.
Now that’s twice I’ve mentioned the sport of dragon boating, and yet I expect each time you’ve asked what dragon boating is. Indeed, I’d never heard of it before.
Anything with the word ‘dragon’ in its title sounds threatening, but a quick visit to google later advised me that dragon boating is in fact a ‘team-paddling sport’, which seemed rather more appropriate for Marlow’s quiet and picturesque surroundings on the Thames. Panic over.
With the Olympics drawing ever closer, we have been trying to encourage local Olympic reading material in our Bucks Free Press sports pages. So, as I left the office on that sunny Monday afternoon, much to the envy of our Sports Editor whose diary is rather fuller than my own, I still wasn’t totally certain what I may encounter at the launch but I was excited to get involved.
Upon my arrival, I wandered through the centre to catch a glimpse of the new boat and mini bus by the river’s edge. It’s fully equipped with everything you need for a residential activity centre, from accommodation and offices, to a canteen and washing facilities. It was noticeable too that the children on the high ropes and in the water were enjoying themselves, and so it’s motto of ‘inspiring young people’ through indoor and outdoor activities impressively seems to bear fruit. I’m a huge believer that this works from my own experiences of working as a camp counsellor in the USA last summer. The memories started flooding back.
Soon enough, my attention turned towards the arrival of various guests from local and national organisations. Individuals who have supported Longridge also entered the fray and a brief photo session ensued as I came to terms with who was actually present. We had Countess Elizabeth Howe, after whom the new boat was named in honour of her support for Longridge, the Mayor of the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead Asghar Majeed, and representatives from Sport England, Wycombe District Council and the Buckinghamshire Community Foundation. After the exchange of various pleasantries, the lifejackets were handed out.
And then it was time to jump in the boat and “test the waters for ourselves”.
As I took my seat ahead of Mr Majeed and the former chairman of Wycombe District Council, it was clear that we wouldn’t be breaking any records, despite the GB dragon boat team’s efforts from the seats at the back of the boat. Unfortunately for them, only four were present and the boat seats 20, while the majority on board were wearing suits. With the right organisation and the right people this boat could move fast. But not with us lot on board.
As we tried in vain to keep up to the rhythm being belted out by our instructor, most of my concentration was spent on not splashing anyone for fear of a dry cleaning bill coming my way. Having said that, you can imagine how much fun a group of schoolchildren would have on the vessel. When you add chanting into the equation, the shared enthusiasm of a team of rowers can make for a great afternoon down by the river.
On the few occasions I’ve attempted to row in the past, it’s been more of a “Sunday stroll” exercise. In stark contrast, you hear stories of former Olympians rowing the Atlantic and the dedication it takes to succeed at their level, so I may not be the best-placed person to answer any queries.
Having said that, you realise that to reach their level you must start somewhere, and for local Bucks residents Longridge is the perfect venue. Its fleet, personnel and range of classes make it hard to beat nationally, let alone locally.
Anyway, a short trip around their small island later and we were back on dry land to enjoy the trays of tea, cakes and sandwiches as I spoke to a few of the guests. Countess Howe spoke of her passion for supporting children’s charities, while Amanda Foister, the Director of Longridge, was full of praise for her support, as well as her army of staff and volunteers who contribute to the centre’s day-to-day running. To my surprise, reformed prisoners volunteer there to promote its image as an opportunity-providing, confidence boosting arena for the public. The work they do is highly valued by Foister, who has employed one on a full-time basis.
It’s great that a place can be so welcoming nowadays, and its attitude is one that I’ve rarely seen replicated anywhere else. It’s an environment where the best in the world train, yet the less fortunate in society can character-build. With 80,000 people already passing through their doors every year, Longridge is a place on the rise. Get inspired for this summer’s Games with a quick trip to see Amanda and company; I guarantee you’ll have a great time!