As an island nation we’re always finding new ways to be on the water; exploring our extensive coastline or navigating the 2000+ miles of British inland waterways. Perhaps you’ve seen some stand-up paddleboarders float by recently, and now you're wondering what all the fuss is about...
As well as being a novel new watersport to try on holiday, paddleboarding is fast becoming a regular pastime for a growing community across the UK; with wide-ranging physical and mental health benefits. Having recently moved to the coast myself, I spoke to the team at WeSUP in Falmouth, Cornwall to learn more about the paddling way of life.
Set on the picturesque Gyllyngvase Beach, WeSUP caters to passing holidaymakers as well as a growing body of regular paddleboarders who brave the seas all year round. Friendly staff run balance clinics, race training, fitness sessions and touring paddles which build confidence and skills - opening routes for progression that you never even knew existed.
Instructor Harvey explained the advantages of the sport’s low-impact and total-body workout. The trick is to use your core and back more than your arms, and just by being on a less stable surface you use different muscles without even noticing. You set your own goals and the barrier to entry is incredibly low - complete beginners can be up and paddling in no time at all.
Hanging out on a beach-side deck chair, club member Kirstie chatted to me about the specific ways in which paddleboarding has improved her life; from enabling her to explore the local coastline to creating memorable moments with her children.
Having been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis as a teenager, Kirstie withdrew from sports almost completely for nearly twenty years. In her mid-thirties as a mother of four, her introduction to paddleboarding was initially a way to explore the Cornish coastline and access hidden beaches.
Being a low impact form of exercise, every paddler can adjust their exertion level accordingly, and Kirstie soon found that on good days she was paddling strongly and even partaking in races and competitions. Placing highly in the River Dart Race, the feelings of fulfilment and confidence were more than she ever thought she could achieve through sport. On more relaxed outings she can be seen paddling her six year old daughter to school across the Carrick Roads… what an amazing childhood memory for a little girl to have!
As well as providing an enjoyable and picturesque physical workout, anyone who paddleboards regularly will tell you how good it is for your mental health. Without diving into cliches about ‘tranquil turquoise waters’ and ‘floating away from your troubles’, it really is clear to see how time on the water is good for the mind and soul. Time to slow down, focus on one repetitive action, be outdoors, and appreciate the things around you.
We’ve all heard the research about the necessity of spending time in the natural world, and particularly about being near water. The recently coined ‘Blue Therapy’ movement includes specific challenges such as‘100 Days of Blue’ which involves getting on, in, near or under the water every day from 27th May to 7th September 2019. And it’s even better if you can do it as a team.
Speaking to the staff and members at WeSUP, there is an inescapable sense of companionship and community. Paddlers from 8 years old to 70 years old have joined the club, bringing together an eclectic mix of professionals, parents, freelancers and university students who may never normally have crossed paths.
Some people like to paddle and chat, whilst some just enjoy quiet exercise in the company of others. Whoever you are, you’re sure to be welcomed at the door. Belonging to some kind of group or ‘tribe’ is fundamental for humans’ positive wellbeing, and even if there isn’t a dedicated paddleboard club in your area then it’s possible to build ocean-loving connections online, at competitions, or at festivals and events.
As a frequent relocator whose biggest fear is having nothing to do and no-one to do it with, joining a paddleboard club has made my move to a new area so much more enjoyable. I often come up with my best ideas whilst gliding over rock pools, and have the biggest laughs of my day after falling in learning step-back turns. As adults we’re often hesitant to try new things, but the physical and mental rewards of getting out on the water are more than worth a few soggy bottoms.
This article also appeared in 'Bloom in Doom' magazine, Autumn 2019.