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LGBT History Month: Paddling with Pride

By Julie and Nicky on 28th February, 2023

Julie and Nicky are qualified paddle instructors and co-founders of Paddling in…

We’ve been celebrating LGBT History Month and before February draws to a close, we caught up with Julie and Nicky, qualified water sports instructors and co-founders of Paddling with Pride, who offer people from the LGBT community in the National Park (and further afield) a safe and social space to meet up, get out on the water, learn new skills and generally, have a lot of fun!

Image of Paddling with Pride event
Paddling with Pride in the Cairngorms National Park

Julie, Nicky – can you tell us a bit about how Paddling with Pride started?

It all started with a one-off event that the Scottish Canoe Association hosted, and we both thought that having a regular SUP group for the LGBT community in the National Park would be something that there would be demand for. We were then involved with an LGBT event at Moray SUP Club which we both really enjoyed and from there, plans for Paddling with Pride in the Cairngorms started to form.

Having clubs and social gatherings that are LGBT friendly is good, but we felt that, especially in rural locations, that an LGBT community-specific offering was really needed – a place for people to feel safe, welcome and be themselves.

Paddling with Pride held its first session in November 2022 at Loch Morlich and since then, we’ve held free, monthly meets ups. Each month the attendance has grown, and we are planning more sessions in the summer once the nights start to get lighter.

Julie and greyhound Tylo
Julie and greyhound Tylo

Who comes along to the Paddling with Pride meet ups?

From the start, it was important to us that there were as few barriers as possible for people to take part. Thanks to the grant funding we’ve received, some of which came from the Cairngorms Youth Local Action Group fund via the Cairngorms Trust, we have been able to continue to make the sessions free to attend. Generally, anyone over 16 is very welcome to come along. We’ve had people from all over Scotland come to our Paddling with Pride sessions and we are now seeing more people from the National Park coming along and we’d like to take this opportunity to reach out to more of the Park’s LGBT community and invite them to come along.

Julie and Nicky of Paddling with Pride
Julie and Nicky of Paddling with Pride

And what are your plans for the future of Paddling with Pride?

We very much want to keep Paddling with Pride as relaxed, safe, social occasions for people to meet up and feel like they can be themselves and have fun out on the water. We want to invest in more equipment so that Paddling with Pride can continue to be free and have the kit on hand for those who don’t have their own stand-up paddle board.

In addition, as our group grows and people develop more skills, we are looking into whether we can offer more group session based on skill level and some of these can be held at more challenging locations in the National Park – most are on Loch Morlich at the moment.  That said, it is important that we continue to offer beginner ability sessions too.

Paddling with Pride in the Cairngorms National Park
Paddling with Pride in the Cairngorms National Park

Here’s some of the feedback received so far from Cairngorms pride paddlers on their experiences shared with the Cairngorms

“I’m so glad that something like this exists, it makes such a big difference, especially considering that the Highlands is quite a remote area, and it is not always easy to find LGTB people with common hobbies and interests”. 


“The thought of having a monthly meet-up to do water sports with people from the community has such a big positive effect on my mental health. The point of being outdoors is also crucial in terms of getting out and enjoying nature. All I can say is that this is a fantastic initiative that is already doing wonders for my mood and feeling of community. Thank you so much!”

Paddling with Pride in the Cairngorms National Park
Paddling with Pride in the Cairngorms National Park

Find out more about the Paddling with Pride meet ups and how you can get involved here. Follow Paddling with Pride on Instagram at @cairngormspridepaddlers

To access LGBT community services and support, visit LGBT Health and Wellbeing. LGBT Youth Scotland is Scotland’s national charity for LGBTI young people, working with 13–25 year olds across the country and delivering the LGBT Charter programme to schools, organisations and businesses.


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