Much fuss has been made recently about stand up paddle boarding. Along with wild swimming, it's perhaps one of the most popular outdoor activity trends of lockdown. And while I can't speak for the whole country (I've spent most of the past 18 months within a 5 mile radius of my flat, after all), where I live in Bath there seems to be at least 3-4 paddlers on any given stretch of river during any daylight hour. They're surpassed in popularity only by those death-trap motorised scooters that the students seem to have replaced walking with, but that is a separate issue.
I will admit that I was not immediately sold on SUPing. Not to show off, but I first tried it well before it hit the mainstream, in an organised session in Bristol Harbour. While I'm assured that it's really cleaner than you'd imagine, one look at the murky water, with its occasional floating crisp packet or plastic beer cup, and it was more than enough motivation to master this new skill as quickly as possible. There was no way I was taking a dip.
More recently, I've been testing out products for T3's best paddle boards for beginners guide. I was lucky enough to be loaned a Ride MSL paddle board package from Red Paddle Co – amongst the top paddle board brands – as well as a cheap and cheerful M.Y Pointbreak paddle board. For these, I headed to a stretch of river in the nearby countryside.
- Best budget action cameras: capture your adventures
- Amp things up a notch: here are the best beginner surfboards
- Browse the best wetsuits to buy now
None of these trips exactly blew my socks off. My original issue with stand-up paddle boarding was that, providing you have an okay board and a passable sense of balance, it's really quite easy to do. (That's not necessarily true for everyone – taller people with broad shoulders, I've noticed, tend to struggle to stay stable. Probably something to do with your centre of gravity.) Either way, most people can achieve it without falling in even once.
That in itself is not a bad thing. It means lots of people can try it, and you don't need to be super fit or agile to take it up as a hobby. But it's also really quite slow. For a beginner, I'd say probably around walking pace. On all of these early trips I was fighting the feeling that I could be having a similar experience by simply walking along the bank, or harbourside, a couple of metres to my left. Which I'd be annoyed about if I'd paid for the paddle board.
That brings me to my big change of heart, and here's the crux of it: you need to take the board somewhere where you can't just walk. I went on an outdoor retreat for work (Thera-Sea (opens in new tab), if you're interested) that included stand-up paddle boarding in the River Fal in Southern Cornwall. It was a whole different experience. While still a river, the bay we set off from was tidal and saltwater, and a much bigger and wider expanse of water than I'd been exploring on previous SUP excursions.
In a location like this, the higher viewpoint really comes into its own. You get a completely unobstructed view of the whole area, and once you're in your SUPing stride, you can really take time to appreciate it. There are other benefits to this standing viewpoint too: it means you can see upcoming obstacles nice and early, and if the water is clear you might even be able to spot sealife too.
Over a longer period of time, and on slightly less calm waters, I reckon it's a pretty good workout too. You're using your core and legs to balance and constantly adjusting your positioning to stay upright, while your arms, shoulders and stomach get a decent workout pulling you along. As you get better you can also start to build up speed and improve your technique.
I've thought about it for a while and come to the conclusion that this is hands-down the best way to travel by water. Sure kayaking is fine, but you're all hunched up and quite often staring at the back of someone's head.
If you're worried about storage, don't be: pretty much all paddle boards come with a elasticated straps where you can attach a dry bag of valuables and essentials. One of the instructors on the Cornwall trip told us that she and her friends strap a tent to their paddle boards and take them on multi-day trips down the Cornish coast, pulling in on beaches when they get tired and wild camping at night. Right now, I'm struggling to think of a better way to travel.
Want to try it for yourself? Head to our guide to how to stand-up paddle board for tips on getting started.
- Don a pair of the best water shoes, designed for amphibious adventuring