It is easy to forget sometimes that we are at the very beginning with this sport. I am sure most stand up paddlers can recall that first time out on a board, I certainly can (thanks to Andy Cooper for that !) and if you have never tried stand up paddling, but are curious to give it a go this is a great article about that experience. David Waddington, who earlier this year had his first SUP lesson, shares his experience.
“IT ALLOWS anyone to connect with the open ocean,” is how an enthusiastic devotee of SUPing on Twitter first described it to me.
With my interest immediately aroused, it seemed foolish not to take advantage of an offer to give it a go.
Despite priding myself on being an extreme sport lover, the term was completely alien to me and required some indepth Google-ing before I fully understood what I was getting myself in to.
SUPing, or stand up paddle surfing, is exactly what it sounds like: the rider stands up on a long board, much like one used in surfing, and uses a paddle to push themselves through the water.
Known as Hoe he’e nalu in the Hawaiian language, the global sport has early Polynesian heritage but really came to the forefront as a popular sport in the 1940s when surfing instructors needed greater visibility over their pupils.
It is currently the fastest growing sport in the UK, with a core group of enthusiasts garnering more and more interest from surfers and non-surfers alike.
Turning up at Llandudno’s West Shore beach in board shorts and an old pair of Vans, I was curious what to expect.
My tutor for the afternoon was Gary Jones from Conwy’s Sunset Club surfing shop in North Wales, who brought along the specialised equipment needed.
The first thing to strike you is the size of the boards. At 11 feet long, mine was a large piece of kit and resembled one which might be used in windsurfing.
Slightly thicker than Gary’s more streamlined model, he assured me it was an excellent all-round board for starting on.
He also brought along a simple paddle to be used and, despite the scorching sun, a much welcomed wetsuit.
Like any board-related sport, balance is the key in SUPing, so being a keen skateboarder and snowboarder certainly helped my confidence before entering the water.
After we pushed out into the shallows, Gary pointed out the ‘sweet spot’ just behind the centre of the board while on my knees, and after a few wobbles it soon became very comfortable to make the transition from kneeling down to standing up straight.
Introducing paddling was also surprisingly simple once a rhythm was found, despite some initial difficulties in keeping a straight line.
“It really works your core muscles: your abs and stomach, and your arms,” said Gary, who admitted that despite being fond of the odd beer, his stomach was pretty tight thanks to SUPing.
By keeping my eyes on where I was going and by bending my knees a little to absorb the occasional wave, everything quickly came together. And once relaxed, the speed could be increased with little fear of losing control.
“I really believe this area is perfect for doing this,” said Gary as we paddled out along the Great Orme. “It’s frustrating for surfers here because the surf doesn’t start picking up until the Autumn, but this is something you can do all year around.”
What is most striking about SUPing is how peaceful it is. Unlike aggressive extreme sports like surfing or snowboarding where speed and adrenaline combine, SUPing is serene and calm.
Taking in the stunning views of the coastline with the sun shining, it was an idyllic way to spend the afternoon, with two hours flying by. But Gary was quick to point out how the sport can be intense as well.
After he deftly demonstrated a manoeuvre for quick turning (just in case I wanted to catch a wave), my own attempt at the seemingly straightforward act of shifting my feet and lifting the front of the board resulted in my first topple into the sea.
SUPing is a sport anyone with even a moderate fitness level can have a go at and probably master the basics within the hour.
Its versatility means it can be enjoyed along the coastline, on lakes, or anywhere there is water, which goes someway to explain the surge in demand across the UK for the equipment.
The one aspect of confusion surrounding SUPing appears to be its categorisation, with some adamantly stating it is a sport, while others are happy to call it a ‘past-time’.
But whatever you want to call it, for the North Wales coast, the combination of exercise, enjoyment, and the opportunity to see the picturesque landscape from a new perspective makes it the ideal place to give it a go.