Helen Jenkins, co-founder of the newest stand up paddleboarding school on the Mon and Brec Canal delivers their very first session to Zoe and her husband. Sharing the business start-up considerations for Blorenge SUP while still working full-time, Helen also offers the importance of a paddleboard session with an instructor and what students can expect to learn under her tuition. Concentration and mindfulness are key to not falling in!
Helen is keen to encourage everyone to try stand up paddleboarding and talks with enthusiasm about what it means to her personally and how she first found herself ‘having a go’, when surfing didn’t cut it for her. She believes it’s an activity that helps to keep you young and will take every opportunity to throw her board onto the canal and go for a blast!
Zoe Langley-Wathen 00:22
Well hello there lovely people, welcome back to the HeadRightOut Podcast. My name is Zoe Langley-Wathen and we’re here with episode four today – I can’t believe we’re on to the fourth episode already. It’s just this is such a whirlwind and it’s so exciting. What’s even more exciting today is that we are going to be talking to Helen Jenkins. Now this was a recording that was done, quite a few months ago now. June, if I remember right. This is a slightly different recording because it’s shorter and there are some different sound qualities to it, partly because we’re cruising on the boat. Partly because we have boats going by, and because we have people out on the towpath. This is a face-to-face recording, not done over Zoom or over the phone, so please excuse the recording. It’s still a great episode with Helen.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 01:09
So Helen is a paddleboard instructor. She and Damon, her husband have just recently launched their new paddleboard school in Monmouthshire. It’s near Abergavenny and it is the only paddleboard school on the Mon and Brec Canal. So I’m not going to say anything else we’re just gonna launch straight into the conversation.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 01:35
So if you can hear background noise it’s because we are cruising the boat down to Gilwern. We are going down to meet Helen and Damon who are the founders of Blorenge SUP, and this is very exciting for both us and them because this week is their launch week, for their new stand up paddleboard school. This week, it was also Mike’s birthday, so I have got him a paddleboard lesson for his birthday and we happen to be their first customers. So this is a very exciting time around.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 02:15
Hello Heron! The heron has just sprung out from underneath the bushes. That was amazing. He was about a metre away from me. Such graceful creatures. Right, we’re cruising the boat down and we’re just about to go under Bridge 101, so we’re not too far away. We’ve got to get to Bridge 104. I’m looking forward to having a chat to Helen after we’ve had our session. I think we’re going to be doing a little bit of mini celebrations for Blorenge SUP, and for us as well. Because this will be my first interview for HeadRightOut… and it sounds like my kettle’s boiling. Wouldn’t you know it?
Zoe Langley-Wathen 03:10
Okay, well hello everybody and welcome. Today is the 21st… no, it’s not, it’s not even the 21st. It is the 19th I’m ahead of myself. It’s the 19th of June 2021, and today is an exciting day, because I have certainly headed out of my comfort zone today. I have been for a paddleboarding lesson with my husband. It was a birthday present, and I bought him the birthday present, because a friend of mine that I have made whilst I’ve been living up here on the canal has just set up her own paddleboarding business and it’s Blorenge SUP, founded by the wonderful Helen and Damon Jenkins. Hello Helen!
Helen Jenkins 03:53
Zoe Langley-Wathen 03:54
How are you, Helen? How are you feeling?
Helen Jenkins 03:56
I’m good, thank you, yeah.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 03:57
I’m feeling very bubbly after that fizz. My knees are wobbling for different reasons. I’m really really grateful to you for just taking the time to come and talk to us like this, because you’ve been working hard. You’ve spent some time working with Mike and I, on the canal. I hope we haven’t been too difficult, but yes we’ve we’ve been up and down paddleboarding on the Mon and Brec Canal, and it’s been absolutely amazing. And we even broke open a bottle of fizz. I say we, YOU broke open a bottle of fizz to celebrate, because this is not just OUR first time, or Mike’s first time, (it’s my third), but tell me this is quite an historical moment for you, isn’t it?
Helen Jenkins 04:43
It is today was our very first ever Blorenge SUP paddleboard session, and I was so pleased when I saw that Zoe had booked it for her and Mike. It absolutely made my day. So it has been… I was absolutely thrilled to do it and the first time nerves evaporated. But as soon as I saw you guys, because I just thought this is gonna be such a lovely start to this, you know this whole job. This whole thing.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 05:11
Of course it’s a journey isn’t it? It’s an adventure. And I have to say I was I mean I was excited anyway when you told me that you were starting this business, Blorenge SUP. And so is it Blorenge SUP, not Blorenge S. U. P. is that what you just said?
Helen Jenkins 05:23
Yes, either or. It stands for stand up paddleboards.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 05:27
Yes, yeah. Okay, so yeah, I was really excited when you said you were starting Blorenge SUP, and I had in the back of my head that I wanted to get a lesson booked in for Mike for his birthday, which happened to be last week. So when you messaged me to say it’s happening, we’ve had the go-ahead from the Canal and River Trust, it was like, ‘wow, this is this is definitely going to work!’ And then I spotted, just purely by coincidence, because I’d liked Blorenge SUP on Facebook, I spotted the post that came up to say ‘we’re taking bookings’. I was in there like a rocketI! It was pure instinct. And just yeah, it just kicked in, and I booked. I didn’t know we were the first. I’m just delighted that we were. It worked out really well. So, Helen… I mean, where did this all start?
Helen Jenkins 06:17
Well, Damon actually introduced me to the sport. He’s taken up surfing and sort of in early middle age really, and I never really got on with surfing. I think I was probably too late to the party there. But then when we started moving on, he said come and try stand up paddleboarding. I absolutely loved that. That was totally my game. I’ve always loved the water, in an y case. That sort of swimming in and I like the hand plane. I don’t know if anybody’s aware of that. But definitely paddleboarding, you can go as fast as you want, or if you just want to get on the water and give yourself a chance to relax at the end of the day. That’s what I really like, is just getting my board out after work, chucking it on the canal and just being in the moment.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 07:09
I know it feels like a real buzzword at the moment, but it’s such mindfulness, isn’t it? Just being able to go out there and paddle, and like you say go at your own speed and take in the sights, and I might not be at that place just yet. But I did experience it today I had a few wobbles and I had a few shakes and I know you spotted my knees shakes, particularly when I was getting up from my kneeling position up to my standing position.
Helen Jenkins 07:36
Zoe Langley-Wathen 07:36
I haven’t done that for a couple of years. I have been paddleboarding twice before but once was seven years ago, in Poole Harbour, and the other one was in Shropshire with my good friend Arry. And, you know, I had the same shakes then, but I think it’s going to take me a while to get back into that. But I definitely, definitely felt that almost feeling of meditation. And you’d asked me one question, (and I have to apologise for this right now), but I know I realise now what you’re doing, but you asked me one question. I think it’s something about HeadRightOut, and that was it…. I was blah-de-blah-de-blah-de-blah. And I suddenly went from the knee wobbles went and I just clicked into this autopilot, and was just appreciating where I was. And it took my mind off of being scared. So that was really clever, thank you! So I’m gonna stop blah-de-blah-de-blah, now. So how long did it take for you to set up?
Helen Jenkins 08:35
I think it’s probably taken about at least eighteen months to get to this point where we’re actually able to offer the first session. We’ve talked about it and so we started doing the training to become instructors with the Water Skills Academy. So we had to do the Water Safety Course. We’ve done the Foundation Instructors Course. And in between that we’ve had to do the three-day First Aid and really start getting all the paperwork together, and get the permissions of the Canal and River Trust in order to operate. We live in a beautiful area. So everything that we want to do is really about complementing the area. We don’t want to cause harm. We want to just share it with other people who might have an interest in paddleboarding but be too nervous to outlay all the money to buy one, and they’ve not really had the confidence to take it on the canal, or have a bad experience and then it just gathers dust.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 09:32
Yeah and I guess if somebody has already bought a paddleboard and is maybe in that situation, this is a good opportunity for them to come out and improve that experience and get used you know build that confidence and get used to being on their board. You know I’m now thinking well I’ve just spent two hours out on the canal with you and I’m thinking when am I going to get to do it again! So you know it might be that we end up having to buy a paddleboard and we’ll find a place or tuck it either in the van or on the boat somewhere.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 10:01
So I have to apologise for any sound that happens whilst we’re chatting. We’ve just had a boat go by, and that’s the wonderful nature of living on the canal, you’ve always got water traffic that’s going up and down. So, Helen, you’ve said about some of the things that you had to do in order to set the business up with the training and certification. And I know you were really nervous in the last few weeks about whether you’re going to get permission, potentially, from the Canal and River Trust, to set up your business and operate from here. But what other things did you find that actually stood in your way? And these could be things that are physical barriers, like you know, red tape, or it potentially could be mental barriers, you know, that you’ve put up yourself? If you’re anything like me, you know, I put those up all the time.
Helen Jenkins 10:52
Actually the paperwork is just a process that you go through and it’s just about being patient and making sure that you do exactly what’s asked that they’re there for a reason. I think the biggest hurdle for me has been making sure that we can, we’re managing our time because we both work full time. So I think my models in the past few weeks have actually be more about having to put time aside in order to dedicate to completing the paperwork. And that certainly ramped up in the past couple of weeks and now we’ve got the sessions and we’re in the lovely position of actually being able to say when we can operate the sessions and that’s the fun bit actually it’s lovely to meet people. Whenever we go out on the water, you always see something and the wildlife around here is absolutely divine. You always see something different every time you go out and it’s a really lovely calm setting. You don’t get waves it’s very calm. It’s quite shallow. It’s warm, so it’s a really nice, fairly safe place to operate. For beginners to try it’s really nice.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 11:58
Yeah, there’s no tides are there. I think that the most you’ll get is a slight wash from a boat, when a boat goes by – but that’s not a wave exactly!
Helen Jenkins 12:06
No, that’s right. It’s a great beginners place.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 12:09
Yeah ripples, we saw a few ripples from the wind as it started to increase today but it wasn’t anything that we needed to be concerned about today, although I’m sure there probably are times where you do need to be mindful of that.
Helen Jenkins 12:22
Yes, there are certain weather conditions where you don’t want to be operating on the water and certainly high winds is one of them, so definitely. There’s some really good apps that you can download such as ‘Windy’ and if the wind conditions are too high then you simply don’t go on. It’s got to be a fun enjoyable experience. Don’t put yourself at risk.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 12:43
Yes, that’s that’s really good advice. So how would you encourage those then Helen, that really feel that fear because you know HeadRightOut, it’s all about stepping outside of your comfort zone and doing something that’s a new experience and this for me was a relatively new experience but not completely new but I still I still felt that fear today and I still had those moments where I’ve wobbled and thought ‘gosh really?!’ and I still dreamt about it last night which is always a sign that it is on my mind. So what advice would you give to encourage people to face their fears and go ahead and try stuff for the first time?
Helen Jenkins 13:26
Definitely make sure you go with an instructor. Go with a SUP school. We are able to provide all of the equipment that is required for your first time in the water. It’s about wearing comfortable clothes that you do feel happy to wear and actually just being a little bit brave, that is really key. You’ve got instructors with you who know the area and will tailor the session to your ability and skills so that you enjoy it. Wherever you get to in that session, it needs to be something that you think, I’d like to try that again. I think if you come off the water feeling like ‘I achieved something’, then then you’re ready for the next step.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 14:11
Yes and I DEFINITELY felt like I’ve achieved something today. What are your age ranges that you deal with? I say deal with, I mean ‘offer’. Offer sounds much nicer doesn’t it?
Helen Jenkins 14:24
Over 12 at the moment and if they’re underage, if it’s a group under eighteen, we need to have them with a parent on the water as well. A parent or guardian will need to be on the water as well with them.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 14:35
And what about an upper age limit?
Helen Jenkins 14:36
We haven’t really, because it’s down to how you are. You can be really fit and well at 95 you know and feel that you really like to try it and and absolutely, why not? If you are physically fit, and physically well there’s no reason why you shouldn’t give it a whirl.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 14:53
Brilliant. And yeah, I mean I have to say, Mike obviously he’s sixty-nine, he was sixty-nine a couple of days ago. He does have a few hip problems. And he had a little bit sciatica today as well. And he managed pretty well I thought, all things considered. He hadn’t told me he had sciatica issues. But yeah, and he, you know, he hopped off for a while and took a few moments to let his body get used to being off the board. And then he got back on again a bit later. So yes, it worked well.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 15:29
Right. So well, this is this has been a very, very exciting day, then all in all. You’re hoping that Blorenge SUP is going to take off. It’s been exciting in that you have built up quite a lot of bookings between last week and August. And I’m just I’m interested to know where you see this in, say, three or four years time?
Well, you know, what we’ve been absolutely blown away, really, with the number of bookings that we’ve had, I think we launched on Thursday, we put the announcement out and we put the first bookings on, I just couldn’t believe the the number of inquiries that came through within twenty-four hours. And literally three days after making that announcement, we are fully booked through June, July, and now into August. It’s been absolutely incredible. There really is a pent-up interest. And just people are really keen to do stuff that’s local, and we are lucky enough to have this on our doorstep. In three or four years time, I would love to see this become something that that we can scale up, that we can devote more time to. Damon and I both work full time at the moment. So it’s just weekends, and perhaps one night in the week that we’re going to be able to do through the summer months between May and perhaps probably really the middle of October in all honesty, and then probably a bit quieter through the winter months. So yes, if it can be something we can do into retirement and beyond. That would be absolutely phenomenal. Making your hobby your job. You know, it’s an absolute dream, isn’t it?
Zoe Langley-Wathen 17:05
Oh, yes, it would be fabulous. And I have to say I’ve got to just roll back there to something that you said – you work full time? Wow. I mean that that is incredible! When you think about what you have to do at work, and then the enormity of setting up a business like this. It’s taken you eighteen months of hard graft I’m sure, to set this up and launch on Thursday. I mean that really does deserve a big medal and a big, big up to you and Damon and to Blorenge SUP, because you’re still working full time, you’re still operating this but still working full time. So I yes, I really do hope that this levers itself into something that you can scale up and start filtering out your full time job and weaving into something that is more SUP-orientated. You also said being able to continue into retirement if you wanted to. And I think that’s wonderful to be considering something that is suited to you in your older years. And that just speaks volumes about SUP, about supping, doesn’t it? That it’s something for all ages,
Helen Jenkins 18:17
It is and I think it’s not just keeping your body going. It’s about keeping your mind going as well. And this is a really social activity to do. And you go out in the canal and you’ll always meet people walking along the towpath. Everybody’s happy to stop and talk to you. There’s lots of people with an interest in it. You can go out and peer paddle. You can go and join other groups. There’s a real online community around this and a real drive by lots of organizations to get people participating in it. So it is it’s huge at the moment and I do see it’s something that keeps you young keeps you young
Zoe Langley-Wathen 18:53
I love that. And would you say safety-wise, is it okay to go out on your own?
Helen Jenkins 18:59
I think it would be you really do need to go out with an instructor in the first instance. You absolutely need to make safety your first priority, you need to make sure you’ve got the right kit, that you understand the weather conditions, that somebody knows where you’re going and when you’re going to come back. If you’re doing it in different water environments, they all come with very different concerns and risks. So if you’re out on the sea, there’s a whole new range of issues that you need to take into consideration. I would definitely say to go out with a school or an instructor until you are really comfortable and really aware of what you need to put in place.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 19:33
I would echo that. I think having gone out with you today, I definitely feel more confident than I did earlier and I know that I am going to need perhaps some more instruction before I then feel comfortable with going out on my own. But yes, it was definitely an enjoyable experience.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 19:50
So what drives you, Helen, I mean this is a bizarre question perhaps, but you’ve got so much going on in your life, potentially with work, and with family, and home, you know, what drives you? And what keeps you going to do this?
Oh, well, it’s lovely. At the end of the day, there’s nothing better than getting the board chucking it on the canal and going for a blast. You know, it’s a really good way of taking your focus away from whatever’s happened during the day, and just having a look and taking in what’s around you, just having a chat with people. You can instantly feel yourself relax, and you’ve got to be in the moment, otherwise, you’re going to fall in. So you do need to concentrate. And actually that’s really refreshing. You get back, and you’ve taken a breath, you’ve absorbed some of the green, you’ve seen the heron, or you’ve seen the kingfisher, or have you watched the fish jumping out, and it just transports you. So you know, it’s not another thing to tick off my list at the end of the day. It’s just absolutely something that uplifts me. It’s pure pleasure, really,
Zoe Langley-Wathen 20:50
And what better driving force to have than that? Pure passion and pure pleasure. I mean, you speak from a place of passion, I can hear it. And the fact that you enjoy it is pure pleasure for you. You just share that and you offload that to us. And we feel that, you know, when we’re learning with you, it’s so fabulous.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 21:07
So Helen, where can people find you if they’re interested in finding out more about what you do, perhaps booking with you, and finding out where you operate from.
Helen Jenkins 21:16
So if you put Blorenge SUP into Google, we will come up, and it will take you straight to our website. You can have a little look at us. It’s a booking online system, which is available. Our phone numbers are on there, or you can email us if you’ve got any questions or queries. We operate from Gilwern from the launch site at Gilwern. There’s a car park there, there’s a picnic area there. Very accessible. And it’s on a really nice stretch of the Mon and Brec Canal
Zoe Langley-Wathen 21:43
Oh Mon and Brec is just… I know we’re both probably really biased, because you pretty much live on it, and we do live on it! And it is just beautiful. It You know, it runs around the contours of the hills and the mini mountains and the views are just spectacular, aren’t they? So yes, what better place to learn to SUP than here. Wonderful. Well, Helen, thank you so much for your time. You’ve given us two hours of your time tutoring us. And now you’ve given us time just sharing more about Blorenge SUP. But I really do wish you well, and I’m pretty certain the listeners will wish you well in the success for your business. But thank you very much for coming and talking to us.
Helen Jenkins 22:26
Thank you very much for having me.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 22:27
Helen Jenkins 22:28
It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 22:35
Well, I hope you appreciated the nature of the raw sounds that were generated from that journey along the canal on the boat, and the sounds from the towpath too. It wasn’t the quietest of episodes, I realise that, but it is what it is. And even the noise of the other boats going by just add to the character and the liveliness of the episode!
Zoe Langley-Wathen 22:57
Now I’ve got to say as nervous as I was on the paddleboard, Helen made me feel so comfortable. Each time I go back on a board, I still get the jelly legs at the moment, but it doesn’t seem to last quite as long and I can always hear Helen in the back of my head just coaxing me through, talking me through what I need to do and the power and the importance of having tuition like that. Just having a couple of hours with an instructor is not to be sniffed at. It was so so helpful.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 23:26
Now I can’t quite believe what Helen was talking to us about. But it’s taken them eighteen months to set Blorenge SUP up, that they are both working full time, as well as running this new business. That is absolute commitment and what a passion. What a passion project. They are just working to get this and make this a full and vibrant new business. And there’s such a need for people to get out there now and onto the water and learn paddleboarding. It’s such a good time for them. I love what Helen said, “it’s something that keeps you young”. Cor, I need that definitely! But also I loved the way she said that she just looks forward to the end of the day, the end of the day of working and there’s nothing better for her than getting the board and just chucking it on the canal and going for a blast. I just loved how she said that and just taking you away from whatever else has been happening for you during the day. Yeah, that really hit home for me. And that’s what being outside and that outdoor medicine is all about. It’s just having that opportunity to be mindful and to be in the moment and to be outside.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 24:39
Now I thanked Sarah Williams last week for inspiring me to start this podcast journey. And this week. I would really like to thank Lynsay Anne, Lynsay Anne Gould. She is the founder of Podcasting for Business and her new venture The Podcast Boutique, and she has given me so much support and technical advice, and has always been on hand to answer any silly questions that I might have had. Yes, I’m so grateful. So Lynsay Anne, thank you so much. This has been such a crazy whirlwind, and finally, I feel like I’m finding my feet.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 25:22
Although this podcast is aimed at midlife women, we welcome HeadRightOut Moments from anyone. So we’ve got a HeadRightOut Moment to share and celebrate today. So that can be teenagers. That could be younger people in their twenties and thirties. Men, I just want to let you know you’re not you’re not cancelled out it can be anyone. If you have stepped out of your comfort zone and done something that you really felt pushed you beyond the boundaries of what you would normally do. And then you felt like you’ve benefitted from it. Let me know, and you know, I could be reading your story out on here too. I love to share these moments because it just goes to show other people it proves to other people the power of stretching that comfort zone. So today, this is a HeadRightOut Moment from Glen Pilkington. I know Glen through the Yes Tribe. And he follows HeadRightOut on Instagram and on Facebook. And when I posted a picture of me paddleboarding a few weeks ago, and I asked if there was anybody else who had pushed themselves out of their comfort zone like I had that day because I’ve had a real case of wobbly legs, he came back at this is what he says:
Zoe Langley-Wathen 26:32
“After leaving hospital and recovering from COVID. I realized it would be some time before heading back to the mountains. So I picked up my camera again and started completing low level routes and sharing my photos”.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 26:49
That was just a short and sweet message. But he added this super lake shore photograph. It was a moody sky and mountains in the background, and this beautiful glassy lake. And Glen is standing there with his back to the camera looking wistfully I’m assuming at the mountains, probably wishing he could go up and adventure there. But what a beautiful photo and I know the power of being outside and regaining his need to be outside by taking his camera out there and sharing the photos with us, his followers. It’s kicked off his love for being outside again. And I’m sure that was you know, really hard to do after having COVID. I don’t think it was a mild COVID; I know he was hospitalized, so not a pleasant experience. So Glen, thank you very much. If you want to go and have a look at some of Glen’s photos, you can follow him on Instagram at gp._everydayadventurer. That’s gp._everydayadventurer. Glen Pilkington, thank you!
Zoe Langley-Wathen 27:59
So next week, we are going to be chatting with Cherry Hamrick. She is 74-years-old with the energy and enthusiasm of a 24-year-old and she has been walking every day for well over 500 days now since the first lockdown! And she’s oh, she’s a kayaker, she’s a dancer, she does the splits. She does THE most amazing splits. I mean, I have never been able to do the splits. But Cherry can. So yes, we will be chatting to Cherry next week.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 28:32
Don’t forget to hit ‘follow’ in your podcast app and share, share, share. Let’s help HeadRightOut grow to what it should be. Let’s get the message out there. I hope my conversation with Helen may have inspired you to head out of your comfort zone and into the outdoors. Keeping your head right and healthy.
HeadRightOut Hugs to you all. x