NEWBURY Canoe Club celebrated “a great legacy” at the weekend as it marked 50 years of the Waterside Series races.
More than 500 paddlers hit the Kennet and Avon Canal to mark the historic occasion.
The races attract international canoeists, with Dutch competitors turning up for Sunday’s event, joining other paddlers from across the country.
Newbury Canoe Club member David Seward said the event had been a special day, adding that he was absolutely delighted that the series was still going strong.
“We had one paddler who said ‘it’s lovely that a series has been going on for 50 years’. Only one race has been cancelled in the 50 years, because of foot-and-mouth disease.
“Even when there’s ice and snow we still run it.
“That’s the beauty of it. The whole point of doing it in winter is the challenge.”
Mr Seward said that the transformation of the canal from a place of dereliction had created an interesting challenge for canoeists.
Among the hundreds of people in the 13.5-mile race were four paddlers who took part in the original race in 1968.
And three original canoe club members turned up to present prizes, joined by Brian Greenaway from Fowey Canoe Club, who handed out trophies in recognition of keeping the series going for 50 years.
The Kennet Valley Canoe Club was formed in 1958 by the amalgamation of members of the Kennet and Avon Association and the regular Newbury paddlers.
By the end of the decade, canoeing in Newbury had become a formalised activity.
Club members Tim Davis and Chris House were keen to improve race times and wanted Newbury to play a key part in the development of long-distance canoeists.
In 1968, the Waterside Series of canoe races was born, with the first race being held from Great Bedwyn to Newbury.
Looking to the future, the club will open its new clubhouse next to the A339 bridge over the canal later this year.
Mr Seward said that the club was looking to get more people involved in the lifelong sport.
“You can be any age – four, five, six all the way into your 80s,” he said. “As long as you can put on a buoyancy aid and follow the instructions you can get in a boat.
“It’s a very accessible sport and when the new club opens it will be a family club.”
Three more races in the series are to be held this year on February 18, March 4 and March 18.