Anna Hunter on why paddle boarding is the new big thing

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Water babies everywhere, listen up. The elite’s new watersport has hit our shores, lakes and canals, and you don’t have to be a surfer chick or adrenaline junkie to get your oar in (or rather, paddle). Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP - this sounds like a pretty chilled out dude-esque acronym to me) is growing as a sport at the rate of knots in the UK, and it’s possible to take to the water everywhere from a Cornish beach to The Thames to your garden pond, although the latter probably won’t provide the kind of sightseeing pleasure and sense of freedom that this sport is renowned for.

When you pick up your paddle for the first time, remind yourself that some of the most hip, honed and toned stars on the planet are also paddleboard partakers. From Jennifer Garner to Eva Longoria to Alessandra Ambrosio, paddle boarding has gained serious popularity among the fit and the famous, although its origins and practice date back to primitive Polynesian cultures, when paddle boarding was a means of transportation rather than a sport.

Recreational SUP took to the waves in Hawaii in the late 50s and early 60s, when a group called the Waikiki Beach Boys started to stand on large surfboards, using paddles to steer themselves through the water. This was just a first wind for SUP - the development and eminence of shorter surfboards put the sport on the backburner until the late 1990s when surfers such as Laird Hamilton and David Calama decided to look back into surfing history in search of new ways to train. Paddle boarding was well and truly back on the map, and when you consider the benefits of the sport for both mind and body it’s not hard to see why.

I spoke to expert coach and Active 360 founder Paul Hyman to find out why we should get on board:

“Exercise in a natural environment tends to be much more engaging than any gym workout and when you add in the dimension of water and the wide open spaces of a big river or lake you take the satisfaction and enjoyment up several levels. Participants almost always finish a training session physically tired but mentally very relaxed.”

Active 360 got off the ground in 2011, when Paul recognised that there was a great opportunity to grow SUP on the Thames and in Britain’s canals (Honolulu isn’t for everyone you know). According to Paul, the UK’s waterways are the perfect venue for beginners:

“It’s not difficult to learn the basics. With good coaching most people can paddle 3-5 miles on the Thames on their first session using the currents and tides to assist.”

Once you’ve mastered the strokes the fitness benefits of paddle boarding really begin to take shape. Simon Harrow, chairman of the British Stand Up Paddle Association, states that ‘It is the ‘flat tummy’ aspirations of our clients that first brings them to our Ready to Ride sessions’. Riding the waves keeps the wobble at bay, as according to Simon:

“The nature of a well performed paddle stroke is that the propulsion comes largely from the ‘core’. When perfected you can feel all the strength of the paddle stroke from the core and with minor adjustments to foot positioning you can target key areas of the lower and upper abs.”

It’s not just your awesome abs that reap the rewards either, as Simon delightedly tells us that our upper arm jiggle will walk the plank.

“The bingo wings can be kissed goodbye as the triceps are key in the short, sharp paddle stroke. The draw pulls evenly on both biceps and triceps but the quick release from the water and the ‘reach’ before placing the paddle back in works the triceps harder.”

As a beginner, go for a longer, wider board, and don’t forget a leash just in case (we want to get toned, not marooned). A paddle is clearly a prerequisite, and clothing is highly dependant on your location (think thermal top on the Thames, floral bikini in the tropics… grrr). If you are taking to the sea, surfing the waves takes a bit more practice and you might want to book a few lessons to refine your technique. It’s worth the extra effort however, as expert aromatherapist and Get The Gloss favourite Annee de Mamiel  will testify:

“I love it because it keeps you fit, you use loads of different muscle groups - your arms and legs as well as constantly working your core and balance. You can go from A to B and look at the scenery as well as catch waves! It enables you to catch more waves when the surf is a bit flat as well and anyone can do it, which is great. There is a race from Molokai to Oahu in Hawaii which is 30 miles and I am tempted to enter, but no promises!”

MORE GLOSS: Behind the brand with Chantecaille

Make-up maven Olivia Chantecaille is also partial to a paddleboard, as she revealed to our very own Susannah Taylor:

“I discovered paddle boarding last summer. You paddle around in the sea and do some Pilates, yoga and meditation on the board, while listening to the birds and being among nature.”

Paddle board Pilates? Yes, it’s a thing. Essentially, the board becomes your gym mat at sea, and the precision and zen-like concentration that paddle boarding requires make yoga and similar meditative practices a natural transition. As you might imagine, balance is paramount when assuming downward dog in the deep blue, and toppling into the surf would really ruin your flow, so the incentive to stay focused and perform each move with exactitude is considerable.

If however, like Annee, you’re up for a challenge Robinson Crusoe style, join Paul and Active 360 for a 26 mile SUP Thames Marathon or the upcoming 100km expedition through the Arctic waters of the Sermilik Fjord in East Greenland. Or just use your board as a floating picnic table. It’s totally up to you, but one thing’s for sure, paddle boarding never gets boring; the treadmill just can’t compete.  

One to one and group coaching available in London, Brighton and Mersea Island with Active 360 from £25pp, board hire from £10

Visit the BSUPA website for approved Ready to Ride courses nationwide