SUP – Standup Paddleboarding (or stand up paddleboarding or stand-up paddle boarding or however you are actually supposed to write it) – has been on my bucket list for a little while. I have always loved water sports and this is one of the few I haven’t had the opportunity to try. That was until I booked (well, my mother-in-law very kindly booked) a lesson on our recent break at Center Parcs in Elveden Forest.
SUP, I probably don’t need to tell you, is an off-shoot of surfing and was ‘invented’ in Hawaii for those days when the water was a bit flat to catch waves. It’s developed a lot in the last couple of years, and is now a popular way to explore rivers and coastlines, and even to race. It’s also found its place as a popular mode of transport for expeditions; I found Dave Cornthwaite’s SUP circumnavigation of Martinique very inspiring (not least because some of his companions had never done it before) – me next time please!
Anyway, the lesson at Center Parcs would be my chance to see if a) I could stand up and actually paddle the board and b) if I liked it. That, right there, is the very reason I have a bucket list – I want to try loads of things to see if I like them and if I can do them. Nothing more; there is generally no commitment to a bucket list item (with the exception of a few), just a desire to give something new a try.
After donning our borrowed wetsuits (no comments please), boots (I’m told the bottom of that lake is not nice to touch with bare feet) and buoyancy aids, we had a short but vital demonstration on land. Our instructor explained the board, the paddle, and a little bit of technique so that we had a starting point. We didn’t hang around on the bank for long as our instructor was keen that we had the majority of our one hour time slot messing about on the lake. Within about ten minutes of the lesson starting I was lying on my board, being pushed off the pontoon into the lake, and was being encouraged to stand up straight away.
Having been surfing a few times, although not particularly recently, I was confident that I understood how the board would be on the water and where my weight should be in order to get the most stability from it. But unlike when surfing, there was nothing fast about me jumping to my feet as I caught a wave. Oh no, this was much more slow, gentle, and a teeny bit shaky! I got up onto my knees no problem at all, but then took a little personal encouragement to make it too my feet, and even once my feet were firmly planted on the board for some reason actually standing up straight took some effort!
Once I did get stood up I started to move around the lake using the enormous paddle alongside the board. We were encouraged to relax and just paddle using whatever technique worked for us to begin with, just to get used to how the board moved in the water and how it was actually very happy to not capsize even when you move your body weight around a little bit. After a few minutes we were taught a couple of proper paddling techniques, and were encouraged to practice those as we made our way to the other side of the lake.
We were joined on the lake by the usual Center Parcs lake traffic – kayaks, pedalos (one full of my family and friends offering encouragement), rowing boats and the new electric boats. Thankfully there was no crashing!
Once there I remembered that this was, in fact, a proper lesson and not just a bit of a mess about on the lake. We were all encouraged to jump in and practice a few self-rescue techniques. It reminded me completely of doing BCU one and two star as a kid – wow that was a long time ago, in Plymouth Sound. I jumped off my board reluctantly and unsurprisingly as soon as I’d been in the lake I was much more relaxed – less bothered about falling in, less stiff on the board, and as a result had a lot more success paddling. We also tried rescuing a friend using a really cool roll technique which worked a treat, and later in the lesson had a go at towing someone else on their paddleboard.
Back to the standing up side of things we spent the rest of the time paddling up and down the lake, with our main goal (set by the instructor) to paddle in a straight line without swapping our paddle from left to ride side. We learnt a couple of ways of doing this and I think, while it didn’t always work, I was getting the hang of this by the end. I was also able to pick up some speed (probably up to about walking pace!) which felt good. The hardest thing I found was making the board stop where I wanted it to – everyone else seemed to be able to line up in front of the instructor for the inevitable race but I just couldn’t get my board to sit still in the water.
At the end of the lesson we tried a few more things to help us understand the board a bit more, including getting as far forward and as far back on the board as we could before falling off (which inevitably meant spending more time in the lake). Oh and we did forward rolls on the board too – rolly pollys if you prefer – which I totally nailed! No yoga poses for me, though, I’m nowhere near graceful enough for that!
Our farewell to the lesson came with a paddle through the centre piece of the lake at Elveden – the fountain. That water hurts your face!!
The lesson was really relaxed, and loads of fun. I am so pleased I had a go and would recommend the tuition at Center Parcs Elveden Forest without a doubt. Being confined to a lake we had tide-free pretty flat water to learn on, which made things nice and stable (I imagine it is much harder on the sea), although I did also manage to stay upright when the rescue power boat provided a few artificial waves for us to play on. SUP is an awesome water sport: calm, not complicated, not too strenuous while still working the core, and genuinely one you can do smiling.
As soon as I’d had my lesson (and washed away the lake water, so pleased I didn’t drink any of that) I got straight online to see where I could have another lesson close to home. It seems nowhere in Lincolnshire, but I’ve had a few suggestions thrown at me from friends who have tried it at various surf schools in the UK and abroad. I will be back on a SUP – I might never get to paddle around an island quite like Dave Cornthwaite, but I’d love to do a tour on one some time.