5 September, 2022
Do you love SUP? Contributor, David, has put together some of his recent paddle boarding experiences which may inspire or educate you on your next adventure.
Turning 65 is a bit of a milestone so I decided to celebrate my birthday by paddling the Basingstoke Canal especially as it coincided with a water sports show at Farnborough.
The weather was kind, kingfishers and water voles supported me and I had tracked the event on Strava. Reviewing the trace, beer in hand pre birthday dinner we started to consider what other challenges we should add for the year. Since 2020 I had been very busy as Commodore of my local sailing club at Chelmarsh which had diversified and welcomed both SUP and Open Water swimming as part of a plan to open up membership to a wider and more varied demographic. It had been a very busy period but time for a few personal challenges.
In 2021 I had taken part in the Trent 100 joining Caz Dawson (SUP Lass) Jon (Sup Lad) and Will Worthington as team 4 Lads and a Lass. The experience was brilliant and responding to the Trent team’s plea we spoke about it at SUPFest and on social media. 2022 therefore already had me signed up for that (along with 3 other Chelmarsh Teams). What else?
My “bucket list” included a return to the Scillies, paddling more Ultras and having a little more paddling time on local canals and rivers. Over dinner I signed up for The Norfolk Broads Ultra and pencilled the Great Glen and Loch Awesome challenges.
Paddling for me started as a calm weather alternate to sailing. Messing about on boards I was self taught, enthusiastic but hopeless.
Sailing has been a hobby for 20 years or so and in 2018 I was writing a development plan for Chelmarsh Sailing Club. Club membership was falling, sailing members were older, male, and racing enthusiasts. We needed to introduce more women, families and social sailors to the club which has a fantastic reservoir location near Bridgnorth Shropshire. SUP seemed an answer but we had to do it properly.
So that’s how I ended up doing the ASI fitness test, running, swimming and paddling distances in set times. Not quite what I had in mind for club development! But it’s also how I met Chris Kenyon (Coach and Instructor) and John McFadzean, fellow course member on the ASI Instructor course. Serendipity in every sense of the word.
Chris completely disassembled my paddling (it’s still awful but at least I know now how to teach properly!) he also provided a fantastic framework to develop Standard Operating Procedures, Safety, Risk Registers and a proposal to take to our Landlords. The fellow paddlers provided great inspiration and John in particular provided fantastic support to our SUPFests at Chelmarsh.
So in 2019 Chelmarsh SUP was born. Permission for paddling , a lottery grant for equipment. We bought a SUP container and started lessons. Linda Harrison trained as an Instructor and also started SUP Yoga. The timing was perfect, SUP was taking off people wanted to take up the sport, in the first year we delivered nearly 200 courses and had 50 members. The sailing club would survive but more important we had more local people younger people and women discovering a love for the water and discovering the club.
Social media provided our only advertisement. People attending courses discussed and shared their experience and demand grew. One of the key drivers has always been safety. The club is on flat water with great facilities including hot showers and a bar, but sailors were nervous about risks and conflict. The answer was simple rules, mandatory PFD, mandatory leash, buddy paddling and a simple system to log paddlers use (using a closed Facebook page).
The sailors very soon got used to paddle boarding and indeed the RYA holds Chelmarsh up as an example of great integration. National sailing championships have been held at the club with SUP continuing but using different parts of the water. This integration has also seen cross over with sailors taking up paddle boarding and vice versa.
Chelmarsh SUPFest allowed the club to bring in top WSA coach Ben Julian and invite speakers including John McFadzean, Caz Dawson, Sarah Blues (plus size paddler) Clare Rutz Rutter and others. The event also allowed new pursuits such as SUPpolo to be introduced along with SUP Yoga and Improver sessions and coaching.
The SUP club has continued to grow. Personally I have delivered more than 500 lessons and still get huge pleasure in seeing people Walk on Water for the first time. As membership hit 170 and with 12 Instructors in place and Craig Jackson as SUP lead it was time for me to stop writing “What’SUP” each week for the social pages and to stop teaching every weekend and to start enjoying my year of being a SUP veteran.
The Scillies delivered, I couldn’t believe my luck, 2 years in a row, good conditions for inter island paddling. The islands are exposed sat far off the Cornish Coast with big tides and Atlantic swell but with care and planning there are fantastic paddling opportunities. We circumnavigated St Marys paddled across to Tresco, Bryher and St Martins and discovered lots of empty beaches. The water was cold (12 degrees) and Atlantic swell created interesting (seasickness inducing) conditions even on calm days but for the second year we had great family paddling. Maria my long term partner was nursing a torn abdominal muscle so missed out this year on interisland paddles (but used the local tourist boats to meet us for lunch most days). Tide and wind planning are vital so evening time was often spent with tide tables and windguru for company. There are also some great local sailing and paddling companies always good for advice.
So to Awesome, well it lived up to its name. I was honoured to be placed with Team Supaholic, we chatted online and looked at each other’s training records on the Trent training pages but it was weird setting out onto the loch with people I had never paddled with! What an Awesome team though; Steve Humphrey, Gemma Palmer Deighton and Lucy Small. I had taken a brand new paddle and within the first few km ended up with it in two parts (lesson learnt) so had to kneel for a while and managed to borrow a replacement. The conditions and reports are available for anyone to look up but words can’t really describe the fantastic team dynamics involved. The Team Challenge saw us come through its not a race, but I was delighted to find us in 4th place. We were well matched and stretched and still talking to each other at the end.
The Norfolk Broads Ultra again is a well reported event. Personally, I loved the monotony of miles of reed and searching for wind shelter. I also enjoyed the solo challenge a completely new experience for me. In a bizarre way you get to know people well very quickly chasing them down or being chased. Ultra events suit my paddling (not pretty, not super fast) and the mindfulness and mind games nature plays with you over 7 hours on the water is very much a meditative experience. I have only really paddled on inflatable SUPs and was starting to feel a little envious of hard boards, I also am starting to think about some proper coaching to improve my stroke, however at the end of the day, at my age and with a podium place (2nd in Inflatables) maybe I will just carry on as I am.
So, to the third formal challenge of the year Trent 100 time! This was not new to me and it’s not a race but Will Worthington, James Sutherland and I wanted a respectable time and were the lead Chelmarsh Team (the Chelmarsh Chimps) so we did push on a little (James did ask if there were any checkpoints and is still waiting for a banana stop!). The Trent is a great challenge event and I can’t praise the organisation highly enough they have created an achievable and very rewarding paddle with great support and a legendary party.
The last 2022 challenge lies ahead, The Great Glen, the fourth big paddle of the Year. I am sure another event that will bring further great memories.
Paddling is all about mindset: challenges are achievable irrespective of age and to a certain extent ability. You need to train a little, work with your teams and with your inner game. Most of all harness your enthusiasm.
Volunteering is fantastic. I have as much pleasure teaching someone to stand for the first time as I do from crossing a finishing line. Starting a SUP club has been a great privilege and brought me huge personal satisfaction. Nothing could be better than a sundowner paddle with new and old members.
There are great opportunities everywhere. Training for the Trent or Broads has seen me paddle new stretches of canal in Wales and Shropshire that I never knew existed! Travelling to the Scillies is fantastic but the Welsh coast is closer!
So what’s next? (Apart from a Hardboard?)
I would love to explore Ireland, maybe some of the inland waterways and Loughs but also the West coast.
Maybe an Ultra Challenge overseas, in 2020 I managed to get to the Gla Gla and loved the experience of being on a lake with 800 other paddlers. Somewhere close to home would be good given environmental costs maybe the 11 cities?
Teaching more beginners. I am passionate about opening up SUP to all and look forward to teaching more people (especially those who are less naturally inclined to give it a go) to Walk on Water.
I have rushed through life gaining experiences, memories, friends and a little knowledge. Its been a snowballing, vertiginous ride collecting layers of culture, stories, anecdotes and the occasional injury.
Working as a professional balloon pilot, doctor, tea packer and Company Director travelling the world with work and meeting the most amazing people has gifted me with unparalelled moments of joy, exhilaration and terror.
I now paddleboard , sail, canoe and walk wherever and whenever I can.
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