Paddleboarding in London

Paddleboarding has, in the past few years, seen an enormous rise in mainstream interest. So much so that most of us would probably assume that’s it’s actually a fairly new sport. Most of us would however be quite wrong. The first recreational appearances of paddle boarding came about across the world as early as the 1930s with incarnations popping up in Hawaii, Australia and California (yeah, places where people do surfing, go figure). Since then it has maintained a consistent interest amongst surfer types for various reasons.

Looking even further back there’s historical evidence of various river and coastal tribes standing up in their canoes and rafts as a mode of transport. Unfortunately we don’t have any videos of that, so here’s one that many believe to be the first official video documentation of paddle boarding (and inordinately high waist-lined shorts) in Australia in 1939.

So yeah, it’s been around for a while.

Now, in 2015, it’s becoming pretty damn popular, with various races and events popping up across the globe. If you fancy giving one a go we’re heading down to Chichester in September for #supbikerun; a triathlon event incorporating stand up paddle boarding (SUP’ing – if you want to sound cool), mountain biking and trail running.

supbikerun event

With that in mind, and the fact we’ve never actually tried paddle boarding, we thought it might be a good idea to give it a go before heading out into the middle of a lake with nothing but a floating board, an oar and a modicum of fear. We like to be prepared when we’re doing something where you can actually drown – call us safety conscious.

So imagine our joy when we found out that we didn’t need to jump on a train and head out to some lake in the middle of nowhere. You can actually paddle board in central London. That’s right, on a weeknight, straight out of work. Amazing huh?

Active360 offer paddle boarding in three locations across London; Kew Bridge, Putney, Brentford Lock and Paddington Basin. We opted for the latter due to the fact it’s about twenty minutes from our office. They run various sessions ranging from one hour training sessions, beginners groups and two-hour tours, all under the guidance of qualified instructors. Which is kind of what you want when there’s a risk of falling into the Thames.

When we turned up at the Paddington Basin there were two things on our minds. The first was the somewhat worrying sight of the dark canal water ominously rippling below us, the second was the fact the pubs surrounding us were crammed full of people drinking. People that would be sat watching us as we attempted to stay afloat on our boards. Now we’re not normally self-conscious about our athletic performance – you can’t really be when you’re not that athletic – but there’s something about falling into a body of water with 200 drunk people waiting to cheer that adds a certain sense of foreboding.

But nevertheless, we sucked it up and got changed into our shorts and T-shirts. There’s was no avoiding it. For the next ten minutes we had a run through from our instructor on how to stand up on our boards effectively and how to use the oars. Safely stood on the side we carried out a series of stretches and drills explaining how to correctly distribute our weight and – this is the bit we really listened to – how not to fall in.

So with ten minutes of teaching under our belts we made our first step onto the water under the glazed eyes of the drinkers around us. To begin with we knelt down, as we paddled through the water like Pocohontas. Yeah, it may not have been the most masculine of sights but it meant we stayed afloat long enough to get out of view of our audience. Now it was time to stand up.

In actuality it wasn’t that hard. The water of the Paddington Basin is far from to the swells of Hawaii, and maintaining balance was fairly easy. The boards are also pretty big so it’s more like standing up on a boat. For the next fifteen minutes we carried out our previous drills on the board. Squatting and twisting to understand the best way to propel ourselves through the water. By the end we actually felt pretty good.

The Paddington Basin route took us about 1.5km down towards Westbourne Park and back again, an area which, when viewed from the roads, is enjoyable enough. But when seen from the water it’s like being in a completely different city. The fact that it was the hottest day of the year probably helped the holiday feeling a fair bit, but even without, travelling past the various bridges and water-level buildings meant the experience was like a trip through some scenic European waterway (we’d say Venice but that’s probably going a bit far). Just don’t look down into the water – the shopping bags and bottles tend to distract from the serenity.

 

After half an hour we were feeling pretty relaxed as we repeatedly pushed our oars into the water. Our instructor kept popping up and offering guidance and advice, but in reality it was actually an enjoyable social event more than an intense exercise session. The other paddle boarders weaved in and out of each other, chatting and pulling soft drinks our of their bags, occasionally taking pictures or attempting to balance one-legged.

After two hours the tour took us back, where we were greeted by an decreasingly lucid set of pub goers, excitedly cheering as we pulled into the side of the canal. We stepped up onto the docking area, dry as a bone.

We may still have a long way to go before we’re ready to take part in a 3k race in September, but two hours pottering down a canal in London meant we learnt some valuable lessons. The idea of standing on a board on open water is fairly daunting, especially if you’re not overly keen on water to begin with, but taking your first plunge into the world of paddle boarding on a nice calm canal just down the road from work, makes it a lot easier.

Active360 have a large selection of sessions running throughout the week with a 2.5 hour beginners session costing £55 with all kit provided. Follow them on Twitter for updates on events coming up or check out the extensive website here.