As one of the fastest growing watersports in the world, stand-up paddle boarding is turning heads. Lindsay Walsh tries out this latest craze to find out what makes it so popular.
Most people who live near water have tried either surfing or canoeing at some point but few have thought of doing both at once.
Stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) combines elements of both sports and its simple, accessible style has seen it grow in popularity across the world with celebrities including Jennifer Aniston, Lewis Hamilton, Cindy Crawford, and Pierce Brosnan giving it a go.
For the first time this year the Portsmouth Watersports Centre on Eastern Road has decided to offer SUP and Nathan Staley, centre manager has seen an increasing interest in the sport.
‘SUP has been really popular and it’s one of the fastest growing sports in the UK,’ says Nathan. ‘We got our boards in March and started doing courses. We’ve had lots of schools groups coming to do it and people paying to hire them. There’s been a great response. It’s a growing sport.
‘I think it’s proved popular because it’s so accessible. Anyone can come and have a go whether they’re young or old and it’s a good work-out for most people. You can race, you can go for a leisurely paddle and you can do yoga or pilates on it – a bit of everything.’
Portsmouth Watersports Centre offers many different ways for people to try SUP.
‘We have a taster session so you can just come and have a go and see if you like the sport,’ says Nathan. ‘We have hire facilities where you can come in and take a board out for up to three hours and we also do a day tour and a half-day tour around Langstone Harbour. The half-day tour goes round the RSPB islands and a day tour would incorporate going round the islands but we also stop for a packed lunch at Hayling Island as well. We do a Learn to Stand Up Paddle Board course too that’s really getting the basic techniques but then improving on it as well and we also do a women’s morning and SUP pilates.’
This wide range of courses is delivered by the centre’s dedicated instructors including Hayden Devine who loves to be out on the water.
‘Even on overcast days I’d rather be here than indoors,’ says Hayden. ‘I first paddle boarded about four years ago out in Greece and that was on old windsurf boards, but the sport has definitely developed a lot. In the past three years it has just boomed all over the world.’
Despite SUP’s recent growth in popularity the sport can trace its routes back thousands of years to traditional fishing craft made from reeds called caballitos de totora which have been used by Peruvian fishermen for more than 3,000 years.
SUP technology has advanced considerably since then and today paddlers even use inflatable boards and folding paddles that can be packed into a backpack making it possible to enjoy the sport in a variety of different ways.
‘You can do paddle boarding anywhere: rivers, streams or seas,’ says Hayden. ‘Some people have bungee cords and they strap their boards together, attach to a pole in the sea and have some lunch. People can surf with paddle boards as well and they are used in surf videos too. For filming, wih the space on the front of the board you can strap your kit on the front.
‘It doesn’t have to be an extreme sport. It’s a combination between surfing and canoeing. The strokes are the same as canoeing and the paddle is almost the same but longer. Also, like surfing, it builds up your balance.’
The sport is relatively easy to learn and is a greatway tp develop overall fitness.
‘It’s very beginner friendly and it’s a good workout. It’s an all over body workout but it’s in the water so it’s less impact. The instability works out your core strength, building up joints, balance and stamina.
‘People down here have an hour session and usually by the end of that hour most people will stand up, you won’t be a pro but you will have the basics of it.’
One of the things that Hayden loves most about being out on the water is the strong connection you can develop with the natural world.
‘You want to try to use the elements for you not against you. That’s something you develop from doing these sports, a better understanding of the natural world. You get more of a connection and an understanding of the water and waves. You start to notice things, you can see farther out and tell what the weather and water is going to do.
‘If you go out early when it’s calm and clear you can see into the water and see the plants and fish, or lie down on your board and look into the sky. It’s very serene, relaxing and peaceful and if you’re by yourself it’s a nice way to get some space.’
Jake is a chief instructor at the Portsmouth Watersports Centre. He used to teach paddle boarding in Greece and helped to introduce the sport to the centre.
Jake says: ‘It was so popular in Greece that when I came back and settled into the UK to work here it was just a new sport that I wanted to bring into the centre and by then it had started to become popular in the UK. We’ve had about 800 people try it since we’ve had the boards here.
‘Paddle boarding is a sport that you can make as easy or as hard as you like which makes it accessible for all ages and abilities to get on a board and get going. Within an hour you can be up and paddling around.
‘It’s really chilled and it gives you the chance to get close to wildlife, especially in the harbour. We’ve got a big colony of seals in the harbour and they come up within 20 metres of the board – they’re always intrigued to know what’s going on.’
Liz is a graphic arts graduate who has just returned to Portsmouth after studying at university and enjoyed her first SUP session.
Liz says: ‘This was my first time paddle boarding but it was great fun. It’s harder than it looks.
‘In the pictures it’s normally shown on flat sea but it was a lot different today.
‘It was hard dealing with the waves, they were coming from everywhere.
‘By the end I was standing up, I was quite proud of myself and then I fell in! But I would definitely try it again.’
Tom is a senior instructor and duty manager for Portsmouth Watersports Centre. He has been working in adventure sports for more than 10 years and has taught windsurfing, high ropes, climbing and even mountain biking.
Tom says: ‘SUP is new for Portsmouth Watersports and it’s really starting to boom. People are interested when they walk past and see it and you even get people commuting on paddleboards and doing SUP yoga!
‘A lot of people go to the gym but personally I’d much rather be outside than at the gym – it’s nicer and more rewarding to get outside.’
Mercedes Boyd & Stacey Bell
Mercedes and Stacey moved to Portsmouth at the beginning of the year from Carlisle and decided to explore their adventurous side by trying paddle boarding.
Mercedes says: ‘I like doing adventurous sports like this. When I cycle to work I ride past Portsmouth Watersports and so I wanted to see what paddle boarding was like.
‘My first fall in was a nose dive, straight in, but if you’re going to fall in you’ve got to make it worth it! Next time if it’s a bit calmer we’d do even better. It’s quite easy to pick up and I’d definitely do it again.’
Navy writer Stacey agrees: ‘In the navy you do different stuff like surfing and going out on RIBs (rigid inflatable boats). I’m not really confident in the water, but that’s why I push myself to do stuff like this.
‘Paddle boarding was good but tiring. I enjoyed it more than I expected – you can pick it up quickly.’