Paddle boarding: Why You Need To Give It A Try

Looking for a way to slow the world down? Take the plunge and dive into a mindful new hobby this month. Paddle boarding is a calm, relaxing activity that the whole family can enjoy. Our Product Marketing Coordinator, Amber Powell, extols its virtues.

Q: What is paddle boarding?

“Standup paddle boarding, or SUP for short, involves balancing on a kind of oversized surfboard and using a single paddle to pull yourself through the water. It’s a bit like a combination of surfing and canoeing.

“For me, it usually involves just going out for the day on the river with a backpack to explore and sightsee. I tend to use the River Nene, Northamptonshire, which I’m lucky to live near. It’s quite a chilled and calming activity. But there are so many variations now and more extreme and sporty versions.

“I haven’t tried it yet, but white-water SUP looks like a real adrenaline kick. Then there’s SUP yoga, which you need a bigger, wider board for so it’s more stable. You can even do SUP with your dog! I’ve tried it a couple of times with my dog, Jack, but he freaked out a bit.

“I tend to paddle on the river in my local area, but you can mix it up by paddling across a lake or in the sea. It’s a bit trickier – particularly in the UK where the water can be quite rough and cold – but good to test your skills or give yourself a new challenge.

“You can also paddle in all weathers, you just need the right kit. As long as you can manage the temperature and current, paddling in pretty much any body of water at any time of year is possible.”

Q: How did you get into it?

“It was about five years ago that my parents suggested we try stand-up paddle boarding as a family activity.  We found a local club, River Spirit, hired boards and wetsuits and took to the water for a 90-minute lesson.

“I was instantly hooked. It was just the most relaxing thing I’ve ever done and a great activity for our whole family to enjoy. Since then I’ve been out on the water most weekends (in the summer at least), exploring different regions in the UK.”

Q: What do you love about it?

“It’s so peaceful. When life feels hectic and you’re constantly rushing from milestone to milestone, going for a paddle on the river just slows everything down.

“I usually head out on a Friday night after work. The river near me is really quiet and sometimes I might not encounter anyone for miles. It just allows me to mentally log off for a bit, it’s almost meditative.

“Aside from the mental benefits and relaxation, it is also a great all-body workout. It’s great for your core and you really feel it in your quads and arms after an all-day paddle. Best of all, you don’t even know you’re working out – until you wake up in the morning and can’t walk!”

Q: Is it a good way to connect with nature?

“Paddle boarding is a fantastic way to see the countryside and explore your local area from a new perspective. There’s so much wildlife and I love seeing the animals and nature, like birds, fish, even snakes on occasion. I paddle past a lot of fields and love seeing the horses, cows and sheep too.

“I often see swans on the river and am amazed by how graceful they are. Swans get a bad rep for being really aggressive, but they are actually quite calm creatures. I think because you are moving so slowly on a board, they assume you are part of their little flock and just paddle along with you.

“Appreciation for nature is one of the main reasons to try SUP. It makes you more mindful and considerate of your environment. You just accept that at that moment you are part of nature.

“There is a bit of a SUP code of conduct to make sure you don’t disturb or damage wildlife: Don’t approach nesting birds; don’t poke anything; and obviously don’t leave any litter. There’s even a growing trend of paddle boarders heading out with plastic bags and litter pickers to clear waterways and protect animals, which is a really positive initiative.”

Q: Is there a strong paddle boarding community?

“Definitely! Its popularity is growing year-on-year. Having joined a local SUP club, I’ve been surprised by how friendly people are. There is such a strong community on the river as there are always new challenges to overcome in paddle boarding and everyone kind of shares the hurdles.

“People are always so helpful and keen to help you route plan too. We’ve found out about a lot of our favourite places to paddle through word-of-mouth. Little unknown places you can get in and out that you won’t find on the map.”

“It makes you more mindful and considerate of your environment. You just accept that at that moment you are part of nature.”

Amber, Product Marketing Coordinator, Joules

Q: How would a newbie go about giving paddle boarding a try?

“To get started, I’d recommend finding a local group. Check out the British SUP Association to find a centre near you. Book a 90-minute lesson, hire your kit and just give it a try.

“You don’t need any special kit. Quite often you can hire a wetsuit, but if the weather is warm all you really need is a t-shirt and shorts for 90 minutes on the board. You’ll want to keep hydrated on board too. All boards have bungee cords on the front, so you can tie down a small dry bag filled with snacks, clothes and a bottle of water. That’s all you need.

“Once you progress to the stage of wanting to go out on your own, you might then invest in a board. I’ve had my own board for three years now.

“As you get more and more accomplished, you’ll start wanting to experience different types of water and different seasons. I would definitely recommend going out really early on a frosty morning, just as the sun is coming up. It’s just lovely.”

Q: Can anyone do it?

“I’d say so. If you’re not feeling in good physical shape, you don’t have to go out for long periods of time to enjoy it. Start with small guided sessions and build up from there.

“The biggest blocker can be that initial mental hurdle. Everyone has an initial wobble when they first go on the board – it’s completely natural that your legs will fight you, as you do feel unbalanced at first!

“But if you just relax your knees and accept that the board is not going to sink or throw you off, you’ll ease into it. Part of the beauty in it is accepting the discomfort and just going with it.”

Q: Do you have any top tips for getting started?

– “Check out the British SUP Association to find a centre near you.

– Keep your knees soft when you’re on the board. You’ll be able to better absorb any unexpected ripples or waves if a boat goes past.

– Don’t look down at your board, look up at the horizon. It will help you go straight.

– Practice turning before you have to do it.

– Remember certain waterways are restricted. For example, you can’t just paddle down the Thames. So if going out alone, you’ll need to get a local river license, which gives you permission to explore and details what you can and can’t do. Find a list of UK waterways that SUPs can be used on here.

– For route planning take a look at the British Canal Union. There is a lot of info on there.

– Plan your route, and safe entry and exit points. Always let someone know and have your phone with you in case you get into trouble.

– Invest in a hooded towel – the kind I remember using on beach holidays as a child to get changed. They are an absolute godsend, as you won’t need to worry about having privacy when getting in and out of the water.

– A dry bag can also be a good investment, if you want to take a camera or phone on the water.

– For longer paddles, cycling gloves help as you can get sore on the palms of your hands.

– For cold weather SUP you’ll need a thick wetsuit and boots, because once you get cold feet, you start having a bad time. I went out in February and found myself at the wrong end of this road!

– Make sure to wear insect repellent – good weather for us is good weather for midges too.”

Q: What have you learnt from paddle boarding?

“Definitely appreciation for my local area. I used to think that if I wanted to experience beautiful landscapes and incredible moments on the water, I would have to travel abroad, or to the Lake District or the Peak District.

“But actually, it was on my doorstep the whole time. I don’t really have to go anywhere, I can just get out and explore the natural beauty in my local vicinity.”

Q: Do you have any paddle boarding goals?

“I’d love to travel more and paddle in new places around the world. I think there’s a strong SUP community in New Zealand and Australia. My instructor has even paddled around Guatemala and Thailand.

“I took my board to the Netherlands recently, to a fascinating place called Giethoorn. It’s a a mostly car free village with heaps of waterways. Everyone’s got boats and the back of everyone’s house is the river.

“My boyfriend and I paddled out every day. There were so many amazing trails and it was so easy to take the board. Because they’re inflatable, you can just roll them down and check it in as a normal bag.

“You don’t need to go abroad to have a great experience though. Another goal is to do a weekend paddle in the UK. The longest paddle I’ve done so far is about eight hours. I’d love to go out at six ‘o’clock in the morning, do a full day paddle and cover as much distance as I can, then camp overnight on the river bank and set off at sunrise to head back the next day. I can’t think of a better adventure.”

Thanks Amber, what a wonderful way to spend your spare time. Race you to the river!

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