This week Bill Carne met up with James Coney, who is flying the Pembrokeshire Flag with distinction in canoeing and kayaking around the world, making a name for himself in a sport where raw courage is linked to common sense and good judgement . . .

At 19 years of age James Coney’s rise through the ranks in both canoeing and kayaking has been rapid, to say the least, and if he maintains his current rate of progress we are sure to hear a great deal more about him in the future.

For the uninitiated, the most common difference is that competition kayaks are always seated and paddled with a double-bladed paddle, and competition canoes are generally kneeled and paddled with a single-bladed paddle.

James started out when Ysgol Dyffryn Taf put a group forward to start canoeing on the river Teifi in Llandysul and this group was part of the team used for the Welsh Indoor Rowing Championships in Cardiff.

They started paddling in 2009 with Nigel Midgeley, who coached them and paddled with them, teaching them the basics of canoe slalom.

James took to it like a veritable duck to water (excuse the pun) and once he had made significant progression up the divisional ranking lists into Division Two and Division One he received coaching from the Welsh Performance Squad coach Richard Lee, again on the Teifi in Llandysul.

James told us, “Others that have helped include Ysgol Dyffryn Taf headmaster Mr Robert Newsome, who started us kayaking in Llandysul with Nigel Midgeley the Welsh Paddlesports Development Officer.

“Jeremy Bowen Rees of Landsker Business Centre has supported me as a paddler, since he used to be one of my rugby coaches at Narberth RFC juniors.

“Llandysul Paddlers and Gareth Bryant have always supported us and allowed to use the facilities up at the centre in Llandysul whilst Mason Bros allow us to use their lake to train right next door to our farm.

“Burns Dog food sponsored me through 2013, but we are constantly looking and applying for sponsorship to fund training, fuel and equipment because from when I started canoeing in 2009, the miles to training and the cost of equipment has been steadily increasing and my family have both supported and funded my training all the way.”

Training twice a week in Llandyssul means a 70-mile round trip from home and his parents Tom and Kate Coney, plus Hazel Ridge, who has daughters Gabrielle and Alexandra similarly involved, know the road like the back of their hand.

With James being able to drive now, his parents have less of a role in driving him and brother Will around but still financially support the training and often volunteer to help run events in Wales.

Outside of his time spent shooting the rapids, James played rugby for Narberth as a flanker for all junior age groups, and he also represented Pembrokeshire County rugby for the Otters alongside Josh Helps and Will Boyd, as well as playing Carmarthen and District schoolboys’ rugby from Ysgol Dyffryn Taf.

James has enjoyed participating in most sports and also played football for Narberth at junior level, either as a goalkeeper or striker, but both ball sports had to go because of his total commitment to canoeing but he still enjoys cycling, which has the added benefit of helping his fitness.

Now that they are at such a high level, James and William regularly train at the Cardiff International White Water Centre, Lee Valley Olympic White Water Centre (in London) and Holme Pierrepont White Water Centre (in Nottingham). Then there are natural tests at Llangollen, on Lake Bala and Treweryn Dam whilst a little more closely to home they also train regularly on Mason Brothers’ lake next door to their farm!

By 2013, James had made so much progress that he was chosen for the GB team in the canoe doubles category, racing in Slovakia and the French Alps in the World and European Championships respectively, finishing in the top 20 boats in both races.

“I am now in the Premier Division for all three categories (single kayak, single canoe and doubles canoe), said James, “and in C2 with my paddling partner, Tom Abbott, we won the Welsh Senior Championships in the canoe doubles.

“The challenge is to negotiate the course, going through all the 20-25 gates without touching them (incurring two-second time penalties each time you do) or missing one out, a cardinal sin that adds on a ruinous 50 seconds!

“Some have to be gone through whilst paddling against the white water and the courses are designed so that the best canoeist might take around 100 seconds to complete them.

“In C2 we were top British Juniors in the British Open, held on the Lee Valley Olympic course and finished the season ranked eighth in the British senior rankings.

“I am currently on the Welsh Performance Squad, training for wildcard races later this year, to enable me to race in senior and under 23 levels for the senior and under 23 GB team for next year. The selection races are to be held next March.”

Ask James about best moment so far and he has to pause to think because there have been quite a few but racing in the semi-finals of the European championships in Bourg St Maurice in the French Alps, finishing 16th despite an unfortunate time penalty because Bourg St Maurice is one of the biggest white water canoe slalom rivers in the entire world.

Other memories include the team run in the World Junior Championships in Slovakia where three boats from the same country race down the course together being careful to not only avoid getting penalties for hitting or missing gates but also have to avoid hitting each other as they weave amongst the slalom gates!

One of James’ ambitions in his sport is to make the GB under 23 team and secure his place firmly on the team for the next four years – and race at a consistent standard to make the finals at World-standard races, and to keep enjoying paddling white water canoe slalom.

One of his particular goals outside of sport is to head off to Nottingham Trent University this year so he hopes to achieve academically alongside his canoeing in Nottingham.

If he shows the same commitment to his studies as he does when he negotiates the white water rapids which would have most of us freezing with fear, then we are quietly confident that he is already on the road to success – and we wish this modest and focussed young man every success in the future!