Diversions: Because It's...Absurd and Illegal

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Dispatches, June 1997

Diversions: Because It's...Absurd and Illegal

The latest sport to take London by storm: sewer canoeing
By Denise Dowling

Given that most British celebrities — David Bowie, Brenda Blethyn, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales — tend to be pallid, toothy types, perhaps it's none too surprising that London's latest sporting heroes do their thing 20 feet below ground in the company of feral rodents. A bit more unusual, however, is the fact that this group, known as Canoeists With Attitude, has gained its renown while managing to elude local officials who want to put an end to their favored athletic pursuit: paddling the city's Victorian-era sewer system under cover of darkness.

"They're certainly not easy to keep up with," says Anthony Noguera, features editor of Britain's FHM magazine, which brought a flood of unwanted attention to the group with a recent article. "After our piece ran, the telephone was ringing like mad. Readers wanted to know how they could join, film crews from the television networks were after them. Word got back that they were really annoyed with us, and we didn't even mention anyone by name."

T O  T H E

"Manatees are an animal your dad might relate to. Large, gentle, and slow moving, most of their time is spent eating and sleeping."

— From a press release sent out by the Maitland, Florida-based Save the Manatee Club, attempting to entice offspring everywhere to adopt one of the endangered sea creatures, via a $20 donation, in dad's name for Father's Day.

Indeed, the CWA faithful — 30-strong, all male, mostly London professionals — have good reason to want to maintain their low profile: The Thames Water Authority wants to throw the book at them. This is not to say, however, that they decided to become outlaws of their own accord. They had been perfectly content to do their boating in the whitewater of the Thames Barrier, a dam just six miles from the heart of the financial district. But when the water authority banned the practice for safety reasons, the group sought both a new place to paddle and a small measure of revenge. Armed with detailed maps of the sewer system obtained from a sympathetic local architect, CWA went underground — where it's clear, judging by the reaction of its nemesis, it found both. Snaps water authority spokesman Andrew Boyd, "It's a very dangerous and silly thing to do."

Illustration by David Butler

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web