After 20 years of successfully raising money for 30 charities, Dave Samuel, director of Paddle Round The Pier shares his story of how it started and how his love of the sea and Brighton turned into the city’s most popular event.
Paddle round the pier is publicly funded event created by Dave Samuel, for over 20 years Dave has been responsible for one of Brighton’s most talked about and loved family fun days that include sports such as SUP polo, kayaking, swimming races and of course, the star of the show –The mass paddle.
Q. From the past 20 years of your event, are any of the original members involved?
A. There is only really me from the originals. Our longest serving member of the crew is Alison Harris who began in 1998, and she’s so going to hate me for telling you that!
Ali is a legend among the crew, she’s a “do it all kinda-girl”! She has done practically every job there is in the Paddle Crew – even moving an illegally parked tank from the seafront one year. We hope to have everyone back sometime this year to celebrate our 20th anniversary!
Q. Where did your inspiration for the original concept come from? Has it changed over the years and why?
A. My inspiration was simple .At the time I was doing a fair amount of campaigning for the then new environmental group Surfers Against Sewage. It was my way of raising awareness for the poor state of the sea and a way of bringing a social gathering of surfers. At the time there were only a limited number of surfers in the area, something like 100-150 not like now where there must be over 1000! By year two I realised that we needed to tag SAS alongside a more recognised charity in order to reach a wider audience, so we started with two and later added the third charity in subsequent years. The essence of the event remains the same – raise some money for charity but have a good time doing it.
Q. Did you ever expect the event to get up to your current amount of 50000 annual visitors?
A. Certainly not in the early years but by 1999 I realised the potential as the water sports community rapidly grew once the advent of surfing in mainstream marketing & culture was upon us!
Brightonians are spoilt for choice when it comes to events in the city, but they know a good one when they see one!
Paddle is everyone’s event; it doesn’t belong to me or any other individual. It’s collectively owned by the people and the city, and I am merely the custodian.
Q. Do you normally advertise your event or just rely on word of mouth?
A. Paddle has a rule of never paying to advertise. We rely on the good will of our media friends to put the message out there each year. It’s not an event that has ever been heavily PR led, it doesn’t need to be as it’s such a simple concept. It’s good work is spread by word of mouth, it’s reputation for being genuine is key.
Our biggest form of advertising is locals supporting Paddle stickers on their cars or vans! Have you got yours yet???
Q. What do you think makes people volunteer for Paddle round the pier?
A. People volunteer for all sorts of reasons and in different types of ways. Some are pre-planners doing most of their work in the lead up to the event, others are there just on the weekend, the one thing that connects us all is our belief that it’s good to do things for the betterment of others. The Paddle Crew are some of the best people I have ever met and consequently we have all become lifelong friends.
Q. Where do your profits from the event come from?
A. Initially they used to just come from the sponsorship people raised to Paddle Round The Pier, but these days its more about donations on the gate. The event cost over 95k to put on last year so it’s vitally important that everyone pops £2 in the bucket on the way in. Paddle are determined to keep the event free to enter but unless people donate a little bit then it’s a lost cause which can’t be sustained. I’m embarrassed to say that we only raised about £16k on the gates in 2015 – think about that for a moment, with 50,000 people attending… who’s not putting their hand in their pocket?
Q. Do you have a mission statement, has it changed over time?
A. For the betterment of others is our mantra, alongside spread a little aloha spirit. Aloha is such a wonderful word as it means so many different things but in essence for me it’s about sharing our love of the ocean and its cleansing properties with as many people as possible. I sound like an old hippy now don’t I!
Q. How would you describe the event to someone that’s never been? and what in your opinion is the best part of the event?
A. Wow that’s a tough one! I suppose the best way I could describe it honestly would be to say it was like a village fete on steroids. We try to reinvent the Paddle Village each year with new items alongside old favourites. My two personal favourites has to be the Beach Flags competition on the Jeep Beach Sports Arena as its so competitive, and the Access Beach sponsored by Brighton & Hove Bus company as this genuinely changes lives. Both are a joy to watch and help on!
The Paddle Round the Pier event will return this July on the 2nd and 3rd. All proceedings will be donated to charity.