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An interview with… Sandra Hyslop

sandra hyslop Apurimac, Peru by Julio Baca

See me after class… World Class Academy that is!

Sharing a passion for teaching and kayaking. Interview: Peter Tranter

I started kayaking with the rest of my family at the ripe old age of 10 in a small town called Hexham in north east England.  Since then I’ve travelled all round the world to kayak and spent a good number of years representing GBR in the discipline of wildwater racing.  Although racing took up most of my time as a teenager and got me a scholarship to Durham University (where I studied Chemistry), during my time at uni I got back in to more recreational river running and driven by adrenaline started pushing myself to run harder rivers.  After training to be a teacher in the UK, I landed the best job in the world as a maths and science teacher at World Class Academy, the travelling kayak high school.  I spent two great years with the school and am now on a gap year of sorts travelling in South America, kayaking and learning Spanish.

Sandra Hyslop

Futaleufu, Chile. By Julio Baca

Firstly, where was your first paddle?
My first paddle, and the majority of the following eight years of kayaking was on the River Tyne in Hexham, North East England.

What and where was your first competition?
Again on the River Tyne, this time downstream at Prudhoe. It was a ‘Wavehopper Challenge’ event designed to get kids into wildwater racing, and for me at least it worked!

How does kayaking give you satisfaction?
In so many ways! Be it nailing a difficult line, landing a perfect boof or getting huge bounce on a wave, there are so many adrenaline thrills. Being with good friends on the water and all the new people you get to meet in our amazing and welcoming community provides me with a great social satisfaction. Also being a very competitive person, I enjoy the physical challenges of training and competing… and nothing beats the satisfaction of winning a race you have spent months/years preparing for.

Only early doors but what is the biggest accomplishment of your career so far?
A silver medal at the 2009 European Championships and team gold at the 2010 World Championships are definitely the highlights of my river racing days. More recently, getting the opportunity to compete in the 2014 Whitewater Grand Prix was another.

Sandra Hyslop

Apurimac, Peru by Abe Herrera

Please describe your role of teaching in the World Class Kayak Academy…
Hard to summarise such a complicated position but in a nutshell: World Class is first and foremost a high school and I was responsible for preparing and teaching classes in Maths and Sciences. As well as this there is a big pastoral role to the job and each teacher has three students who are their specific responsibility and every 4-5 days I would be responsible for preparing all three meals for that day with the help of my 3 students. Every day after classes we hit the river and again part of the job is to ensure the safety of the students on the water as well as coaching and guiding. It’s a pretty full-on job but you can’t ask for a more exciting and fulfilling way to travel the world and kayak every day.

I’m a paddler looking for the perfect river, where would you recommend?
The Raundal River in Norway, Alsesecca in Mexico and White Salmon in Washington state are three rivers I’ve paddled that come close to being perfect. Each offers whitewater sections of all grades so a paddler can progress from beginner to Class V pro and partake in different disciplines all on the same river. Closer to home…the Tees is pretty awesome but lacks a good Class V section to challenge the more advanced paddlers.

What are your goals for the next 12 months?
I would like to get back in to a structured training regime, something I haven’t done for a few years. I am planning to spend the summer (visas permitting) working on my playboating whilst working with the Ottawa Kayak School in Eastern Canada and get to a competitive standard in this discipline. I would also like to go and compete at Sickline in Austria this year as I’ve wanted to go for a long time but have always had other commitments.

Sandra Hyslop

School photo, Apurimac, Peru by Abe Herrera

What would be your ultimate achievement?
Winning a world championship.

Have you ever been scared and if not – what would it take?
Any kayaker who says they’ve never been scared on the river is a liar! However, overcoming your fears is one of the most exhilarating and rewarding parts of the sport.

What’s the most courageous thing you have done in life?
I threw myself off Tomata 1 in Mexico last Christmas. I don’t really like big waterfalls so it was big for me. Unfortunately I totally ballsed up the line so have to go back and do it again for redemption ☹.

What’s the craziest thing you have ever done?
Not sure it’s really crazy but one thing I really love doing is full-moon paddling and I have been racking up lunar descents all over the world my favourites of which have to be on the Trancura and Futaleufu rivers in Chile.

Sandra Hyslop

Bourg St. Maurice, France by David Bain

Any advice for women starting out in ww kayaking?
Not really anything specific for women but for anyone starting out you should just get out and try as many different types of boats as possible on as many different rivers. That way you can find what part of the sport most appeals to you and the people you most enjoy paddling with.

Which women paddlers out there are currently pushing the ww boundaries?
Sadly one of the women leading the charge in WW kayaking, Louise Jull, passed away recently but it’s definitely an inspiration still. In the competitive disciplines I think Claire O’Hara, Jess Fox and Nouria Newmann are just a few of the girls pushing hard. Mariann Saether has always inspired me for her adventures and expeditions and Katrina Van Wijk is doing a great job at promoting and inspiring women in kayaking. This is just a few… there are so many more amazing women out there going hard and enjoying life.

Besides kayaking, what other sports do you pursue?
I run shuttles when I have to and more frequently than I’d like I try my hand at whitewater swimming.

You’ve travelled far and wide, where’s your favourite destination?
It has to be Norway.

Sandra Hyslop

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
I would love to see myself living by the river or sea with lots of good runs nearby but hopefully with a bit more of a solid job and income.


If you could paddle with anyone in the world dead or alive who would it be?
Richard Fox and family.

Pick two celebrities to be your parents…
Mum: Paula Radcliffe. Dad: John Cleese.

Which famous person would you most like to see play you in a film?
No idea…I don’t watch much television/films.

Favourite track?
Bohemian Rhapsody… or is that too cheesy? (No – it’s a classic – Ed).

Cats or dogs?

Facebook or Twitter?

An ideal night out for you is?
Big meal out and pub with friends.

What one luxury item would you take with you on a desert island?
Uhhh a kayak?

Sandra Hyslop

Alsesecca, Mexico by Corinna Rebnegger

What do you get really angry about?
Camera faff.

If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us?
Lasagna and a big cake for pud.

If you could be a superhero for one day, what superpower would you choose and why?
Breathe underwater… to go and explore the oceans.

Favourite sport’s team?
England Rugby.

Who are your kayaking buddies?
So many! I will boat with anyone anywhere as long as they’re keen but especially enjoy paddling with my boyfriend Julio Baca, old river-racing buddies, the north-east crew and my fellow teachers at WCA.

What’s the most boring question you are often asked?
Where are you from? I talk funny.

Fill in the blanks: I am ______?
Short but stacked.

Any final shout outs?
Big thanks to Palm Equipment for fitting me out with some gear for the Grand Prix last year. To everyone I get to paddle with for helping make life awesome!

Find out more:
I have a blog which has been suffering lately due to poor internet but I’m trying to get back on it. Check it out at

Sandra Hyslop

Salto Sakaiki by Robert Moffatt

About thepaddlerezine (655 Articles)
Editor of The Paddler magazine and Publisher of Stand Up Paddle Mag UK.

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