While Football And Rugby Are Busy Arguing Who’s The Biggest . . . There’s Plenty Of Sport Thriving In Wales

Sport is thriving in Wales. Pic: Owen Morgan.

While Football And Rugby Are Busy Arguing Who’s The Biggest . . . There’s Plenty Of Sport Thriving In Wales

By Owen Morgan

The publication of the FAW’s recent research into the popularity of football has re-ignited the age old argument – what is Wales’ national sport?

While the heavyweights of rugby and football battle it out for a title which is unlikely to ever be undisputed, here’s a gentle reminder that there are plenty of other sports out there.

Domestic rugby and football may have wound down for the summer, but there’s an awful lot of top quality action going on in Wales this summer.

Many people have called for the nation’s two biggest sports to switch to summer completion to avoid the worst excesses of the Welsh winter weather.

But what would that do to the thriving community of so-called “minority sports” which traditionally take centre stage during the warmer months?

Cricket and athletics are two of the sports most people think of as summer activities in Wales.

But there are a whole host of others which come to the fore as the weather improves and the days get longer – and not just at a community level.

Over the past month alone Wales has hosted a number of events which have welcomed top level competitors from all over the United Kingdom, let alone the high quality home participants.

Here are just three of the events which has seen Wales welcome the best of British during the month of May.

Cardiff Paddlefest

The annual Cardiff Paddlefest attracted hundreds of competitors and spectators from all over the UK on the May Bank Holiday weekend.

The event featured opportunities for first timers to try kayaking, canoeing rafting and stand up paddle boarding amongst a number of other activities.

The Sunday saw two endurance races taking place as part of the 2022 National Stand Up Paddleboard Distance Race Season, featuring some of the country’s top SUP competitors.

While Bank Holiday Monday witnessed, some of the best kayakers and canoeists from around the United Kingdom took part in a series of UK Slalom Premier Division races, hosted by the Cardiff-based Seren Dwr Slalom Canoe Club.

I have to admit, I had never set foot inside the Cardiff International White Water Centre until the Early May Bank Holiday Monday, but I will certainly be going back.

The centre may not have the natural beauty of a rural river in full flow, but the 250m concrete course’s artificially induced rapids were the perfect environment for some thrilling and spectacular racing as dozens of competitors from Dundee to Taunton battled the wild water.

The Olympic standard facility is one of the finest in the country having hosted the Canoe Slalom World Cup in 2013.

Etienne Chappell competing during the Paddlefest at CIWW in Cardiff. Pic: Owen Morgan.

The volume of water can be adjusted to suit the calibre of paddlers from beginners to the top athletes who spent the Bank Holiday battling both with and against the flow as they negotiated the upstream and downstream gates.

Among those tackling the challenging course was Pontypridd paddler Megan Hamer-Evans, who recently became the first Welsh woman in 20 years to be selected for the Great Britain Senior team.

As a result, the kayak star is part of the 10-strong British slalom team for the 2022 season, which is the first of the Paris 2024 Olympic cycle.

And the international season has since started well for Hamer-Evans, who was part of the three-woman GB team which won a K1 team silver medal at the ECA Canoe Slalom European Championships in Slovakia, last week.

In Cardiff, the Seren Dwr club member finished third in the Premier K1 Women’s race behind Tokyo Olympians Kimberley Woods and Mallory Franklin, who returned from Japan with a silver medal in the C1 category.

Also taking part at the CIWW event, was fellow Welsh star Etienne Chappell, who is a member of the Great Britain under-23 team and a former extreme slalom junior world champion.

Chappell, who competes for Seren Dwr and Llandysul Paddlers – Wales’ two major clubs – was runner up in the Premier K1 men’s class.

With such a high quality entry, competition was every bit as exciting as you’d expect with the competitors showing remarkable strength and skill as they negotiated the white water and slalom gates.

For more details on opportunities to spectate or take part in these watersports:

Canoe Wales: https://www.canoewales.com/

Canoe Slalom: http://www.canoeslalom.co.uk/info/precision.htm

GB SUP National Series Races: https://www.gbsup.co.uk/

Cardiff International White Water: https://www.ciww.com/

Seren Dwr Slalom Canoe Club: https://gopaddling.info/clubs/seren-dwr-slalom-club/

Llandysul Paddlers: https://llandysul-paddlers.org.uk/

Cardiff International White Water Centre on Bank Holiday Monday. Pic: Owen Morgan.

British Autograss Series

Pendine has a long association with motorsport.

The pan flat golden sands of the Carmarthenshire seaside resort are famous around the world for the endeavours of those fearless drivers who pursued the land speed record.

Perhaps the most famous being Sir Malcolm Campbell in 1923 driving his famous ‘Blue Bird’ and J.G Parry Thomas behind the wheel of ‘Babs’.

But take the winding road out of Pendine and within a mile or so you will arrive at a farmers’ field, which most motorist would pass without batting an eyelid.

But several times a year, the fields of Castle Lloyd Farm in Red Roses, is transformed into one of the country’s finest autograss racing circuits.

May saw the South Wales Autograss League host round one of the British Autograss Series at Castle Lloyd Farm.

When I sought permission to take photographs at the event, I was asked whether I had personal liability insurance.

“A bit over the top” I thought to myself, “it’s only going to be a few old bangers trundling around a field”.

How wrong can you be?

There was little room for error on the bends at the British Autograss Series races held near Pendine. Pic: Owen Morgan.

Without the necessary insurance policy, I reluctantly settled for a vantage point amongst the hundreds of spectators surrounding the track.

And once the action started, I was more than grateful to be on the safe side of the protective barriers.

From the second the engines roared into action, it was clear these races were going to be no Sunday afternoon pootle around a small patch of Carmarthenshire countryside.

Spinning wheels sent clouds of dust into the air along with bits of debris pinging against the metal fencing as a variety of souped up saloons tore away from the start line and headed for the first bend at breakneck speed.

Collisions and spin-offs seemed inevitable, but the skill of the drivers meant there were surprisingly few serious spills.

But there were certainly plenty of thrills as cars went bumper to bumper, or wheel arch to wheel arch, around the oval’s tight but perfectly prepared corners.

As any enthusiast reading this will already have noted, I’m no motorsport expert. In fact it’s one of the few sports which doesn’t generally capture my imagination.

But it was impossible to take my eyes of the action as some of Britain’s best autograss exponents threw their vehicles into corners with an apparent disregard for their own safety which was only outweighed by the brilliance of their driving.

The action was fast and furious at Pendine. Pic: Owen Morgan.

As well as the skill of the drivers, it was impossible not to be impressed by the ingenuity and expertise of the mechanics who prepare the wide range of vehicles on show.

From the saloons, hatchbacks, pickup and other familiar road cars to the steel tube spaceframe chassis of the home constructed or professionally built ‘specials’, there are 11 racing classes to choose from.

It’s also a sport for all with male, female and junior classes from the age of 10 years upwards available.

With 900 drivers entered from all over the UK across the weekend and hundreds more spectators in attendance, the organisation of the event was impressive as the sport on show – and the variety of refreshments!

The social side of the sport is an important factor and the variety of food and drink stalls available would have put many summer festivals to shame.

The growling engines would easily have been audible from the sands below, had they themselves not been hosting the annual Pendine Sands Hot Rod Races.

And on the very same weekend, just up the Carmarthenshire coast, the Pembrey Circuit was welcoming the Motorsport UK British Rallycross Championship Five Nations Trophy!

If you like your sport fast, furious and loud, Wales – and Carmarthenshire in particular – is the place to be with plenty more motorsport action to come this summer!

For more information:

South Wales Autograss League: https://www.facebook.com/groups/408221852579807/

National Autograss Sport Association: https://www.national-autograss.com/

Pembrey Circuit: https://pembreycircuit.co.uk/

here were all kinds of vantage points for spectators at the British Autograss Series in Pendine. Pic: Owen Morgan.

The British Tour Penarth

For two weeks every year, tennis enjoys possibly the most intense and extensive coverage of any sport in Britain.

Wimbledon takes over our TV screens while fans happily camp out overnight in all weathers to watch the planet’s greatest tennis players live on the hallowed courts of SW19.

But for the rest of the year, the sport returns to relative obscurity.

However, every year there is an opportunity to see some of the sports finest emerging talents competing at a community tennis club based in the leafy avenues of a seaside town in the Vale of Glamorgan.

The British Tour Penarth tournament is the only Welsh Tier One stop on the LTA British Tour – previously known as the Aegon Tour.

The event hosted by the Windsor Penarth Lawn Tennis Club is one of only seven events on the 24-date British tour which are rated as Premier or Tier One standard.

The British Tour is a tennis circuit for professional players wanting to compete on home soil, young stars with ambitions of going pro in the future, and national level players who still compete at a high level – in other words, the best of British tennis.

Welsh star Evan Hoyt on his way to victory at Penarth in 2018. Pic: Owen Morgan.

Previous winners of the tour include US Open winner Emma Raducanu.

The men’s competition at the 2018 Penarth tournament was won by Evan Hoyt, who beat Chris Lewis in an all-Welsh final.

The tournament proved to be springboard back to fitness for Hoyt, whose hugely promising career had been blighted by serious injury.

Following his success in Penarth, the Llanelli player went on to win a series of tournaments in Europe, the United States and Australia, before going on to reach the Wimbledon Mixed Doubles quarter-finals with partner Eden Silva in 2019.

Hoyt is currently recovering from knee surgery but hopes to return to the professional tour doubles circuit when he returns to full fitness.

This year’s week-long Penarth tournament also featured a visit from former British number-one Annabel Croft, who opened the Windsor Penarth LTC’s new padel court.

Padel is the fastest growing sport in Europe. Similar to tennis it is played in a smaller court surrounded by glass walls and a steel fence.

Tiffany William on her way to winning the British Tour Penarth women’s title. Pic: Owen Morgan.

The game is hugely popular is Spain where an estimated six million people play. Windsor Penarth LTC hope the court will help its popularity in Wales.

This year’s British Tour event saw Middlesex’s Tiffany William crowned women’s champion with Buckinghamshire’s Michael Shaw taking the men’s title, while a number of Welsh players also took part.

Chris Lewis, head of performance at Tennis Wales, speaking about the tournament, said: “It is a great motivation and incentive for up-and-coming Welsh stars of the future.”

South Wales’ Hugo Cochlin reached the quarter-finals of the men’s’ competition, while Hari Lloyd-Evans made the last 16.

The British Tour calendar in Wales has expanded this year, with Tennis Wales investing in new events to support up-and-coming players.

In total 20 Welsh players competed in Penarth and the next British Tour event in Wales will take place in Newport, beginning on 29 June.

As well as the British Tour events in Wales, there are dozens of tournaments taking place in Wales throughout the year for various ages and abilities along with disability events including visually impaired tennis and wheelchair tennis.

For more information:

Tennis Wales: https://www.lta.org.uk/about-us/in-your-area/tennis-wales/

Windsor Penarth Lawn Tennis Club: https://clubspark.lta.org.uk/PenarthWindsor

Michael Shaw, who won the men’s title at Penarth. Pic: Getty Images.

These are just three sports that have attracted some of their finest exponents to Wales over the past month.

And there’s plenty more to look forward to during the rest of the summer – starting next week with the Women’s Tour of Britain.

Some of cycling’s biggest names will be competing in the week-long event which will see stages starting in Wrexham on June 9 and Pembrey Country Park on June 10

So, if you’re suffering withdrawal symptoms from your footballing fix – whether that’s the round or oval ball version – get out and enjoy the summer of sport coming your way in Wales.

Football and rugby are far from being the only games in town whatever the time of year.

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