dave samuel | paddle round the pier

We say ‘aloha’ to Dave Samuel, the brains behind the annual Paddle Round the Pier festival, which has grown enormously since it started in 1996, welcoming over 50,000 punters last year. Dave filled us in on just how Paddle got started and where he likes to surf.

Where do you live in Brighton or Hove, and what do you like about that area?
I actually live just outside the city, on the top of Southwick Hill. From here I have a great view, not only of the city but also of the South Downs and, of course, the sea!

You’re the founder of Paddle Round the Pier, but what is it exactly? We know it involves much more than paddling round the pier…
Briefly, it’s a summer weekend of water and beach-based activities supported and surrounded by a ‘Paddle Village’ based on Hove Lawns. The beach festival is run for the sole purpose of raising funds for charity – remember that when you’re asked for a donation on the gate!

And what prompted you to set it up in 1996?
I was looking for a way of campaigning for clean seas for the city but also a way to bring the surfing community together. From that first year when 50 people turned up (who swiftly headed to the pub after the event), it progressed to 100 people by year two. This time, people stuck around and had a few beers on the lawns. By year three, I think someone bought a frisbee and a couple of people had an impromptu jam on guitars. The feel and vibe of the event was set there and then. Brighton had its own take on how a beach festival should be run and for 21 years I cultivated and developed it on the city’s behalf. This year, I handed the reigns over to a new charitable trust, which was formed especially to keep Paddle alive and keep doing the good work it’s become synonymous with.

What drove your decision to hand Paddle over and are you still involved in some way?
After 21 years it was obviously a tough decision. The event takes 12 months to organise and it was my life. However, as a consequence of that, my personal earning capacity was dramatically restricted over the years. It was when I started to see my family suffer because we couldn’t afford to take the kids on holiday or buy new clothes that I realised I had to get a better paid job! Setting up the charitable trust took over a year, but I’d been talking about it for three as I knew this was the only sustainable way forward for the event’s future. It was a huge undertaking for one person each year to raise the more than £80,000-plus needed to underwrite it, then plan and deliver it, even with a host of volunteers to help run it on the weekend itself. I’ve left it in some very capable hands so I fully expect it to be bigger and better each year now. I will still be volunteering over the weekend – only this time, I will be on the water, where I belong!

You sought to campaign for clean seas for the city through the festival – how has the water quality in Brighton changed from when you first started?
It’s improved immensely, thank goodness, mostly due to the great work of environmental group Surfers Against Sewage who have campaigned for over 25 years in the city. The fight has shifted slightly now as we all battle single-use plastics and the amount of rubbish people simply thoughtlessly discard. A forward-thinking city needs to be at the forefront of this and set an example.

What sorts of projects does Paddle support through its fundraising?
Lots! In the past, Paddle always chose three specific charities to raise funds and campaign for each year. This has been as varied as the RNLI and Chestnut Tree House, to The Rockinghorse Appeal and The Teenage Cancer Trust, giving over £300,000 to charity in recent times. But since I handed over the reigns of Paddle to a charitable trust this year and they are running the organisation, things have changed. The event has become a charity in its own right, which means it has also become a grant-giving organisation. Anyone can now apply to Paddle for funds, so the trust have a greater say on how the money you donate is spent, ensuring it supports local charities and organisations.

One of the things you wanted to do with Paddle was bring the surfing community together, are you a keen surfer yourself? Where are your favourite places to surf? 
I like to consider myself a waterman; I have surfed now for 30 years and also dive, sail, kitesurf, SUP, wakeboard, body board, bodysurf, ocean ski and paddle an outrigger. So, basically, I like the sea! I’ve been fortunate to travel the world in my former career [Dave was a choreographer and theatre director] so I have surfed and played on some great world-class surf breaks – but I was rarely there with friends. Nothing beats surfing with your mates, so my best surfs have almost always been at home. Brighton has some reasonable surf spots in the area and some excellent kitesurf places, too. There is a big free playground out there that we can all enjoy.

One last question: what would be your perfect day in the city?
Fresh coffee and fruit with the summer sun rising, an early morning paddle on my Hawaiian Outrigger as I watch the city awake and the beaches start to fill. Then home to collect my kids and watch them play in the surf. It’s a joy to see their confidence grow in the ocean. Lunch with my wife at Moshimo in Bartholomew Square followed by a walk along the seafront. A trip to Siam Siam in Preston Street in the evening for what has to be the best Thai food in the city. Did I tell you I like my food?

Paddle Round The Pier takes place on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th July 2018


Photo credits: Hugo Michiels (main picture); Sean Nolan