The All England Koi Show - This Weekend!
The All England Koi Show 2023 will take place this weekend (23rd/24th), and being the last show of the season, I wanted to do my bit to give a final push and highlight what our koi shows offer. Despite being one of the biggest shows on the UK Koi Calendar, like every other show, the AEKS isn't immune to failure and low attendance. Koi Shows survive by having paying feet on the ground because events on this scale are expensive and put pressure on the volunteers and clubs. One bad year and a show could go bye-bye.
In light of this, I thought I'd share my full show report from the 2021 AEKS. Sometimes, a wee recap can remind us of what's on offer when visiting. I hope you enjoy... The 2021 All England Koi Show My ramblings on a very enjoyable weekend...
Having been cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19 (the first show missed since 1988!), the South East Section and its fiercely committed army of volunteers were keen to muck in (despite constant setbacks due to the pandemic) and make the AEKS 2021, an event to be proud of.
Detling Show Ground and the colossal 4600sqm venue were probably not even in the wildest dreams of those who planned and manned the Section's first open show in 1984. Mike Dilling and David Brown could probably attest to that, considering they both volunteered at that very show - all those years ago! Come 2021, and they're still giving up their time to support the club and the show, along with many others with a rich history with the South East Section - a history almost as long as David and Mikes!
Visually, this show is seriously impressive, and as a koi enthusiast, it's hard not to be excited when you walk through the entrance and behold the arena...
As I've stated before, trade stands are a vital part of any koi show, with many attendees turning up solely to see what deals can be had - no judgment here! Those with stands didn't disappoint and the punters were seemly impressed...
The AEKS operate a 'one vat per exhibitor' rule, which means each exhibitor gets one vat and one vat only to display their chosen koi. Each vat comes with an allocation of points, and the length of each koi (ascertained at benching*) contributes towards those points and thus dictates how many koi can be in each vat. It's implemented at most koi shows for the well-being of the fish. The interesting thing regarding the 'one vat' rule is that it not only encourages as many exhibitors as possible but also forces each exhibitor to put serious thought into what koi they decide to bring along...
(*Benching is the measuring and photographing of each koi entered and placing it into its relevant size and class category ready for judging. They also get checked for health issues).
As an exhibitor, making decisions must be extremely tough! You may have searched high and low for a specimen and dedicated many years to raising it. You've now been conditioning it for several months, begrudgingly starved it for a week, and you're convinced it's your best contender, but until the show weekend arrives - anything can happen!
Then comes the transportation.
It won't dawn on most people just how risky this is, and that's before the koi even make it to the motor - first, you have to net them! Mishaps can happen no matter how experienced and confident you are. Jumpers, broken pecs, bashed noses, damaged scales, snapped tails, the list of horrific possibilities is endless! Therefore, the exhibitors must exercise extreme care when handling and transporting their koi.
Upon arriving at the showground, the koi are placed into the appropriate vat and from here on in, they're under the care of the show volunteers. Each show team has a method, but at the AEKS, water parameters are maintained with binding chemicals and tonics. These are administered and monitored by David Edge and his team, and the purpose is to neutralise the negative effects harmful water parameters can have on the koi. As well as the addition of these clever chemicals, the vats also receive regular water changes using dechlorinated and aerated fresh water. The objective is to ensure the koi are as comfortable as possible on their little vacation to the showground.
Exhibitors must then spend the weekend witnessing their koi being goggled at - praised, critiqued and everything in between, and all whilst they anxiously await the verdict of the judge's decisions! Don't forget, when the awards get pinned up, it could be the victory they dreamt of or the disappointment they feared. When the award ceremony ends, it's time to carefully pack their koi and transport them home. However, the journey doesn't stop there, as the stress of the show and transportation may induce parasites, damage or other issues, and these will also require careful attention.
It's an abbreviated summary of the process, and I don't intend for it to appear overly daunting or scary. Showing koi is achievable on many different levels and is incredibly accessible. I just wanted to highlight (in some small way), the incredible efforts made by all those who choose to exhibit their koi. Hopefully, we might all learn to appreciate the immense value of every exhibitor - simply based on their decision to turn up!
Koi Exhibitors - We Salute You!
Like I said, the AEKS is not a small affair and this year over 330 koi were exhibited, fiercely competing for the trophies on display in the picture above. A big shout out to all the judges who gave up their time to be at the show, no easy task to undertake in sensible time!
The 'Benching Matrix' below details the number of koi entered in each size and class…
A slither of trivia - the South East Section was the first to issue a benching matrix, which has now become a rather useful staple across the country.
The major prize winners - from left to right:
David Brown - Club Chairman
Robert Robson - Baby Champion
Mick Preston - Young Champion
Luke Warren - Mature Champion
Paul - Selective Koi Sales (Prize Sponsor)
Steve Rollins - Adult Champion
Lee Manning - Grand Champion & Superior Champion
Let's See Some Koi...
(please enlarge to see the details)
There were some absolutely stunning koi gracing the show vats, here are just a few that caught my eye - many of which picked up prizes...
Full List of Winners
(click to enlarge)
Another nice tradition at the AEKS is that every winning koi gets its own certificate that is pinned on the display board near each vat. I think this is a lovely touch and something the exhibitors can use to document progress.
I think koi shows are often judged by some on their 'scale' as an event - were there enough koi on display, were there enough trade stands offering enough deals, how much money did the traders make, was the catering comprehensive enough - did the bar sell honey coated Brazil nuts...?!
Although worth consideration in some respects (especially the Brazil nuts), I think we sometimes miss the point. I'm reminded of something I said after my visit to 'The National' (2021), which I'll quote...
Inevitably there is always an influx of suggestions after an event of how it could be improved, and whilst these are useful and constructive in most cases, I would say that if you're a koi enthusiast with a burning passion to add something to the mix, get involved early doors!
A koi show requires all sorts of brains and brawn!
Organising a show is no easy feat, and we must remember that with any given amount of manpower, money and resources, there's only so much one can achieve. However, if you consider the hugely versatile skill set of all the UK Koi Enthusiasts and Koi Dealers - imagine if you could deploy but a small percentage of those people on "Project Koi Show," just think of what could be achieved...
You only reap what you sow.
To see the major winners in more detail, click the pic below.
Due to illness, I very nearly didn't make the show. Aside from snapping the koi, I spent three enjoyable days catching up with folk, having a much-needed laugh, and meandering around the show trying to absorb the spirit of things.
Once again, I was reminded that (on the whole), this is an inclusive hobby, full of good people who are truly passionate, and the South East Section are a prime example. I saw so many acts of kindness over the weekend. I saw the GC winner and a 'water-team' member taking the time to bag other koi before finally doing their own. I saw a dealer offer his equipment to another to aid vital water changes. I saw the head judge elbow-deep in water to ensure that koi were packed safely, and I saw gifts given to youngsters to get them excited about the hobby...
This year, the show faced uncertainty from the pandemic and the fuel madness that descended upon the UK over the weekend. Despite their unavoidable impact, the AEKS 2021 was brimming with all the positive things we should be celebrating about this wonderful hobby; good vibes, camaraderie and some of the very best koi in the country...
Well Done South East Section
- I'm very glad I made it!
Thank you to everyone who made the show possible.
More pics, I hope you enjoy...
Don't Forget! The All England Koi Show 2023 is happening THIS WEEKEND (23rd/24th), poster here:
More Info about The South East Section:
*Thanks to Bernie Woollands for helping me with show info and club history.