Balance of Power
Paddleboarding is one of the fastest-growing watersports in the UK — and the Isle of Wight is the perfect place to try it. Mark Baxter gets on board
“Stance is very important,” says watersports instructor Huw Jones, correcting my footwork. It’s my first time on a paddleboard and it feels good. Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is one of the fastest-growing watersports, both here and in the US, where it originated.
Paddleboarding has actually been around for thousands of years, since African warriors first stood up in their dugout canoes. But the modern version of it dates back to the 1940s, to Hawaii, when surfing teachers stood on their boards to get a better look at their pupils. It arrived in the UK around 2006, but only really took off a couple of years ago and is now booming on the Isle of Wight.
There’s a reason for that: anyone can do it, even if, like me, you’re pushing 60. Whether it’s a leisurely flatwater paddle with friends, surfing or racing, SUP offers something for everyone — and it’s a great way to explore the Island’s coastline, rivers and creeks.
“That’s it — feet nice and wide apart. There’s less chance of the board tipping over,” encourages Jones, as we move off downriver. We’re at the causeway on the River Yar, in Freshwater, and it’s high tide. There’s not a breath of wind and the sun is warm through my wet suit, which was rented from Adventure Activities Isle of Wight along with the instructor.
It does wonders for your balance and it’s great for your stomach
After a couple of corrections to my paddling technique (you angle it away from you, rather than use it like a spoon, I discover quickly), we’re picking up the pace. It feels surprisingly stable, too. “Paddling on rivers is quite different to being on the ocean,” explains Jones. “A fair few paddleboarders have had to be rescued by the coastguard before now. If you don’t read the tide times, you run the risk of the currents taking you out to sea,” he says, as I nervously check that my ankle is securely leashed to the board.
Another reason SUP has become so popular is that the kit is relatively reasonably priced, starting at around £400 for a quality inflatable board, which is what I’m currently standing on. I also discover that SUP boards are manufactured right here, in Freshwater.
Charlie Cripwell started the Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co at the end of 2015, having spent almost a year designing and testing prototypes with professional riders.
“Having owned boards from the major SUP brands, none of them were making ones I actually wanted to ride. So I started designing them myself,” he says. Although only a small business, his boards are used by SUP coaches and centres around the UK, including the editor of Solent-based SUPM (Stand Up Paddle Mag UK), Tez Plavenieks.
Says Plavenieks: “Billed as ‘easy storage — easy transport’, it’s not hard to understand why, when beachgoers see paddlers standing on inflatable SUPs, they want to try it themselves. Added to which, how easy it is to simply jump on a board and paddle.
“Compared with other watersports, such as windsurfing, kitesurfing and surfing, this simplicity is tangible. And once the basics are mastered, you can then step things up. While some see stand-up paddling as a sport, others are simply happy to float about with the family on fair-weather days. At the very least, SUP is an activity that gets people outside doing something physical, which is no bad thing,” he adds.
It took me just 10 minutes to get from kneeling to standing and we’re going surprisingly fast. “You can hit a few knots — three to four on a calm day if there’s no wind or tide,” says Jones.
After three hours I’m starting to feel it in my knees. “It does wonders for your balance and it’s great for your stomach, but aside from the work-out, SUP is therapeutic, too. It’s very mindful and makes you feel centred — it uses a different part of the brain,” enthuses Jones as we glide past a couple of curlews digging up their lunch. I’ll go along with that.
Learn to paddleboard:
A one-to-one coaching session with Adventure Activities starts at £120 for a half day. Open sessions cost £25 per child and £40 per adult for a two-hour lesson, including all kit.
To book, call 0800 1804025; adventureactivitiesisleofwight.co.uk.
Other watersports outfits on the Isle of Wight that offer paddleboarding, include Tackt-Isle Adventures, which has paddleboarding classes from £25 per person for two hours, as well as SUP yoga (yes, you can do a headstand on a paddleboard), 01983 875542; tackt-isle.co.uk.
Isurf Mobile Surf School has group SUP lessons starting at £30 for 90 minutes. 07968 609169; iowsurf.com
If you just want to hire a board, then Two Elements will bring one to you. They also offer a guided SUP tour of the Island, from £35 for two to three hours. 07947 912886; twoelements.co.uk.