Passionate Power Paddlers

Two Okanagan women set to make waves on the international

paddling scene this summer in Australia.

Life changed for Leanne Stanley when the cute guy next to her in grade 11 chemistry class invited her to go paddling. “You’re big and strong. You should try it,” he said. So, at the age of 17, Leanne stepped into a 12-person canoe on Toronto’s Humber river for her first paddling adventure. “I felt in control of my life for the first time.”

Photo credit: Paul Kendall

Her early years had been spent following her older brother. “Family time focused on his hockey career.” Leanne also played hockey through high school and university years while completing a Bachelor of Science at Ontario’s University of Waterloo, but she quit hockey in 2016. Too many concussions, she says. “Paddling has helped me become who I am today. It gave me the confidence to do something on my own and succeed at it too.”

Now, 37 and one of only three coaches for the National Outrigger program, Leanne competes in and coaches five different types of paddling, spending about 80 per cent of her paddling time coaching, the remaining 20 per cent training and racing.

She is passionate about her day job as a Resource Teacher at Rutland and Ecole KLO Middle Schools, but somehow still fits in 12 hours a week, 12 months of the year, training on the water and 5 hours a week dry land training which includes weight training, cross country skiing, yoga and running.

“My favourite time to train is any time the winds are up,” she says.

“Great for racing on the ocean.”

Leanne started out in a marathon canoe in 1998, competing at the Provincial, National and US National levels. Then in 2005, while studying for her Bachelor of Education at Nipissing University, she joined a Toronto outrigger club, paddling an OC6, an outrigger canoe powered by a six-person team. Three years later, she competed with Team Canada at the World Championships. Also introduced to Dragon Boating during those years, she helped found a festival in her hometown of Parry Sound, Ontario. After she was recruited to the Premiere Women’s National team she competed in China, the Czech Republic, and the United States.

As if that isn’t enough to keep her busy, in the past five years she has added Stand Up Paddle racing to her schedule. And most recently surfski, a long narrow lightweight craft similar to a kayak with an open sit on top cockpit, completes her personal paddling pentathlon.

Leanne believes her greatest success to date is exposing Kelowna women to paddling at the World level and helping them to achieve their potential. “In 2008 there was a core group of paddlers here in Kelowna, now the Kelowna Paddle Centre has a membership of more than 300,” she says. “The paddling community is a great group of people, no matter where you go. We have fun sharing stories and constantly planning ways to make the sport better.”

Photo credit: Bob Anderson

“Probably my most special memory of paddling in the Okanagan is racing with my now husband, music, drama and English teacher, Rick Papineau. When I first started to train, I was paddling along the shore in Penticton and he was running.” Still it isn’t always easy. “The hardest part is carving out family time. Not much time for a social life or time with Rick.”

Preparing for competitions is a big time-consumer. Leanne’s next events include three solo outrigger races: Hawaii’s 32 mile Molokai Solo on May 4, Oregon’s Gorge Downwind Champs where she will again race solo in the Columbia River Gorge in July and finally the August World Championships in Australia where she will be the only solo outrigger paddler representing Canada.

In Australia Leanne will be joined by five other women, forming a team of six to race outrigger.

Kelowna born Kelsey Siddall is one of the five. Originally a jazz and ballet dancer, she dabbled in field hockey at school in Rutland, then was introduced to paddling when her parents persuaded her to try Dragon Boating in Vancouver’s False Creek. Her first paddling race was with nine other women in a Dragon Boat at the Harrison Dragon Boat Festival. “We smoked everything that season,” she says.

Kelsey Siddall

Three years ago, Kelsey entered her first outrigger race in a team of six women, again at Harrison. “We won the 10 km novice race.”

Such success isn’t easily obtainable. Kelsey, 36, a Kelowna Dental Assistant, makes room in her busy schedule as a wife (her husband Jeremy Siddall is also on the National Team) to train 12 hours a week, including paddle time and indoor training at the gym.

“I admit I prefer outdoor training in summer when the water is warm. For me, early evening is best, Okanagan Lake is so clean and fresh.”

The Kelowna Paddling Centre clubhouse and outdoor space are an amazing location and facility. This is the club’s fourth season with the full centre at 3020 Abbott Street. “Both calm and windy conditions are great for training, but it isn’t always easy. Injuries can be frustrating, knowing how much to back off training without losing too much.” Kelsey also began solo outrigger racing last summer. “I raced in Vancouver, Bellingham and Harrison. I keep at it, progress is very motivating.”

Kelsey is suitably proud of being named to the National Outrigger team of six women going to Australia this summer. Others on the team include Leanne, along with two other veteran competitors, one from Victoria and one from Vancouver as well as two rookies from Toronto. As team members are spread across Canada, they will have only eight days to train together before Australia.

We wish these strong, inspiring women smooth seas as they represent Canada.


Passionate about paddling, a sport where competitors improve with age, Leanne and Kelsey encourage teens to seniors to visit the paddle centre website for information about how to get involved.

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