Stand-up paddleboarding (also known as SUP) has experienced a huge surge in interest over the last couple of years. Membership of British Canoeing has grown by 136 per cent. SUP is now the second most popular discipline behind recreational kayaking. Paddleboarding is also very popular with women, who make up 51 per cent of their membership. It is great for our physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing. I have made some wonderful friendships and cherished memories through this amazing type of water sports.
When I paddled 162 miles coast to coast in 2019 along the Leeds Liverpool Canal, people on the towpath would ask me what I was standing on. A couple of years later when I was fortunate enough to travel around England, Scotland and Wales researching my book, everyone knew what my inflatable board Grace was!
Canal near the village of Gargrave in North Yorkshire
If you would like to start recreational paddleboarding near you, here are my top tips!
(1) Invest in a lesson or course of lessons with a qualified instructor. This will be the best investment in your time, safety and energy. They may even be able to save you money with best advice on which of the many SUP boards and equipment you can buy. An instructor or coach may have qualified via ASI (Academy of Surfing Instructors), British Canoeing, BSUPA (British Stand Up Paddleboard Association), ISA (International Surfing Association) or WSA (Water Skills Academy). As a beginner you will learn about how to set up your board, how to get on and stand up, strokes and turns. You may also practice falling off and getting back on your board and learn about local places to paddle.
Paddleboarding near Ganavan Sands in Oban, Scotland
(2) Always wear a Buoyancy Aid (also known as a PFD or Personal Floatation Device). This will help keep you afloat if you fall in. I prefer a chest style with a zip up the front and two great pockets which are always handy!
(3)Always wear a leash. A leash is what you wear to keep you connected to your board so that if you fall off it is near by and you can get back on. As recreational paddleboarders, we wear a coiled leash, either round our ankle, calf or waist. I prefer to wear a leash around my waist via a QR (quick release belt) which sits high out of the water so it won’t snag on debris or objects nearby. This is especially important on moving water like rivers or estuaries.
(4) Dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. This is particularly important in spring when the sunny weather can feel like summer is here, but the water temperature is still very cold. Cold-water shock is something we need to think about. Consider wearing a winter wetsuit or dry suit for the colder months and a lighter summer wetsuit, Long John or Long Jane or quick drying leggings and a rash vest when the water warms up in the summer.
(5)Take your phone – fully charged and in a waterproof case – with you on your paddleboard trips. Keep it on you, not in a bag on your board.
Paddleboarding near the cliffs of St Austell Bay in Cornwall
(6) Buy a dry bag or deck bag, in which you pop something to drink, snacks and something warm in case you fall in or if the weather changes and it gets chilly. A waterproof cagoule is great.
(7)Look after your feet! It is so lovely to paddle in bare feet, especially on the sea, but it is important to think about rocks or litter on beaches as you are walking into the water. Some of my favourite beaches are St Austell and Porthpean in Cornwall and Llangrannog, Tresaith and LLandudno in Wales.
Paddleboarding near the seaside village of Llangrannog in Wales
(8) When I am paddling on a river or canal, I wear booties or trainers too. I loved the River Teifi in Wales and River Severn in England. They were both so lush and full of wonderful wildlife from red kites to otters and kingfishers!
(9) If you are at the coast, do not go out in an offshore wind as this could blow you out to sea! Learn about tides, wind and weather forecasts too.
(10)Tell someone on land where you are planning to paddle, when you expect to get back, if you are delayed and when you return. Have a plan in place so they know what to do if you don’t return by the time you say you will.
Paddleboarding on Regent’s Canal in London
(11) If you want to SUP on a canal or river, you will need a Waterways Licence which you can buy from British Canoeing, Canoe Wales, Canal and River Trust or WSA. This will give you access to over 2250 km of inland waterways, such as the beautiful River Thames, Regents Canal or Beeston Canal in Nottingham.
(12) If you live in Scotland, you don’t need a Waterways Licence as a result of the Right to Roam Scotland (2003) Act. Some of my favourite places to paddle there are Loch Tay, Loch Morlich, St Andrews and Portencross.
(13) Lakes are beautiful places to paddle too! Two of my favourites are Derwent Water and Ullswater in the Lake District. Beautiful mountains, views and history to learn about. Just be careful as the wind can whip up!
On the shores of Ullswater in the Lake District
(14)Harbours can be interesting places to paddle too – just keep a good distance away from moorings and buoys. Some harbours like Bristol Harbour, Fowey Harbour in Cornwall and Salcombe in Devon require a permit so check in advance and sort that.
(15) Find like-minded people on social media or via your SUP club who will encourage you in your paddleboarding journey. It is always great to paddle with someone else and good for safety too.
(16)We have a saying in SUP, if in doubt, don’t go out! So always err on the side of caution and only paddle within your abilities.
Approaching a stone bridge on the Kennet and Avon Canal
(17)Follow the latest advice on safety with organisations such the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and their Float to Live campaign (www.rnli.org/magazine/magazine-featured-list/2018/july/how-to-float), SUP Mag UK, SUP International magazine, Academy of Surfing Instructors (ASI), British Canoeing, British Stand Up Paddle Association (BSUPA), International Surfing Association (ISA), Water Skills Academy (WSA) and Facebook communities such as Stand Up Paddle UK.
Above all, enjoy yourself, always keep learning and have fun. I hope to see you on the water – do say hello if so!