‘…and most importantly, never look down. Where your eyes go, that’s where you’ll end up…’ In this case in the River Ely. It was a cold and grey Sunday afternoon in March, yet there we were, suited and booted in our finest neoprene, listening to the advice of our ever so patient SUP instructor Bryony.
Two months earlier, in the midst of winter boredom, four adventurous and foolhardy friends had signed up for a triathlon with a twist — #supbikerun (stand up paddle boarding, mountain biking and trail running). Two had never been on a SUP before and also didn’t own mountain bikes… I did say foolhardy didn’t I? These ladies are myself, my lovely friend and fellow blogger Margaux (aka the Outdoor Chic), her lovely friend Jo and my adventure buddy Hev.
In an effort to prepare ourselves for the event we thought it best that we all should at least have some experience of each discipline, so I signed us up for a lesson in stand up paddle boarding down at Cardiff International White Water centre. I have a friend who instructs there and she hooked us up with some sweet boards, some very long paddles and two hours of top class instruction.
Before we got on the river, Bryony took us through some of the board options available…
Wave Boards: these are designed for surfing and have a rocker built in for catching and carving on the waves. They’re generally used for high performance and so can be smaller and more unstable than other boards. They often also have a different fin set up.
Cruise and Explore Boards: for more relaxed paddling across open waters, they have a higher volume than more performance-based boards, making them ideal for cruising but not so much for speed. They’re stable and require much less effort to keep them going.
Inflatable Boards: these are a relatively new development grown out of the desire to still have your arms once you have carried your board to the water — traditionally SUP boards are quite heavy, these are not. They’re lightweight and easy to manoeuvre in the water, but can feel a little bit more tippy and unstable.
We decided to mix it up between Cruisers and Inflatables so we could all try out some different styles. Next – paddles.
How long is too long? Ideally your paddle should rise about 3-4 inches above your head (approx. one hand’s length). We all had fun trying to measure this — it helps to have a buddy to hold your paddle!
Once we had our kit sorted it was time to get in the water. And here are a few key tips Bryony gave us for getting up to our feet without getting too wet.
- Position yourself at the centre of your board and get into a kneeling position
- Before attempting to stand, use the paddle to gather some speed
- Once you’re cruising at a comfortable pace, come to your feet — you can either pop up with a jump or rise slowly one leg at a time
- Keep your feet parallel and hip width apart
- Keep looking forward and don’t look down
- Once you’re standing, bend your knees slightly whilst keeping your back straight and continue paddling
Sounds like a piece of cake, right? Trust me it’s a lot harder than it sounds. To begin with we all looked like aquatic Bambi’s as we slowly but surely took our first steps to being stand up paddle boarders. However it wasn’t long before we were all on our feet (and still dry)!
Once we were all up and cruising around, Bryony took us through the various types of stroke you can use while on the board to paddle your way forwards, backwards, and in my case around in circles.
Forward stroke: this is the most basic one you need to start moving. By reaching forward with the paddle, inserting it into the water and then pulling yourself past your paddle, you propel yourself forward. You’ll usually have one arm stronger than the other, so you might need to switch sides every few strokes to stay in a straight line.
Turning with a forward sweep stroke: to turn left you would place the paddle into the water on the right side. Then using a nice long reach you want to move the paddle outwards in the shape of a semi circle. At the same time twist your torso to the right to help with the momentum. A couple of these and you’ll have turned around. To go right you do the same movement on the opposite side.
There are of course a lot more stroke variations, but these are the key basics.
Once we’d mastered these, Bryony thought we were ready to hit the open river. Previously we’d been learning in a closed off area surrounded by lots of kayakers coming off the white water course, so being out on the quiet river felt great and we all found the space we needed to really practice our technique and have some fun.
Paddle with your core: don’t just use your arms. Your core is one of the strongest muscles in the body, so use it by engaging it during your stroke.
Look at the horizon: when you first start, the temptation is took look down at your feet and wonder if you’re going to fall in. If you do this, the chances of that happening become a lot higher. For stability you want to keep your head up, your back straight and your weight over your toes.
Keep your speed up: keeping your balance becomes a lot harder when you’re not moving. Try to keep the board moving forwards and if you need to slow down or stop, drop to your knees to keep stable and dry.
All in all it was a highly successful session, despite Tom’s (Margaux’s mischievous husband) best attempts to get as all wet by ramming us with his board and using his paddle to chuck water all over us. By the end of the session we had all mastered the basics and were just enjoying being out on the water. Something tells me our triathlon paddle won’t be quite as relaxing though!
Words and images by: Kate Owen (The Last Wilderness)