Why Paddleboarding on The UK's Rivers is Such a Privilege
I first tried paddleboarding on Concha Bay, San Sebastian in 2012 and that first hour of falling, laughing and finally finding my feet was more than enough to turn my head. So much so that when I got back to the UK I immediately bought a RedPaddleCo 10’8” inflatable paddleboard and hit youtube to see what early SUP masters, like Laird Hamilton (pretty much the only name I associated with SUP back then), could teach me. There weren’t any SUP schools to speak of, certainly none nearby being such a fledgling sport so it was very much a self-teaching experience. Not a route that I’d recommend today of course, not just as a SUP instructor but because I would have enjoyed myself so much more back then if I’d known how to paddle properly, not to mention safely, instead of tiring quickly with the wrong techniques and not making the most of those early adventures. It was a heck of a lot of fun though.
I wasn’t exactly a stranger to paddling in general, kayaking and canoeing were amongst my favourite ways to explore and escape; especially in the UK where we are truly blessed with some of the most staggeringly beautiful waterways in the world. In fact, my favourite canoe trip was a 3 day camp and paddle on the River Wye, just over the Welsh border from my home county of Worcestershire, from Glasbury to Symonds Yat, and it didn’t seem like a stretch of the imagination to take the same trip on stand up paddle boards, and that’s exactly what we did.
It's so easy to escape on a paddleboard
Explorer boards are more than capable of carrying enough gear for a few days of paddling and camping, so long as you’re happy to travel light and keep things simple. Actually we used to strap pretty sizeable wet bags full of tents, sleeping gear, spare clothes and lightweight cooking gear onto the front of our 2012 10’8’’s with no dramas at all, and you’re so spoiled for choice now when it comes to finding the right board for the right SUP adventure that proper expeditions are as easy to arrange for SUP as they are for any other paddle-sport.
It was gently paddling down the River Wye in the Spring of 2013 that showed me just how magical stand up paddleboarding could be. Everything from the perspective (stood up with a broad view of the landscape rather than hunkered down in a canoe), to the gentle nature of floating on the surface, moving organically on top of the water rather than cutting invasively through it. Sure, canoes and kayaks aren’t known for sending nest and habitat disturbing washes marauding toward the banks but a paddleboard barely sends a ripple. You can float, noiselessly downstream closer and less of a nuisance to the natural world than even if you were wild swimming in it yourself.
It’s no wonder then that rising early on a misty morning, pushing the boards gently into the mild flow that carries paddlers through most of the navigable Wye is so often rewarded with the regular blue flash of the kingfisher, the darting from bank to bank of the almost tropical coloured Jays and the playful silhouette of an otter chasing his breakfast. It’s more than a privilege, it’s often heart-stopping.
Our waterways are as beautiful as any in the world
When we started Wittering SUP last year we moved to Evesham, right on the River Avon and even here, much like on most rivers in the UK, we are constantly treated to a SUP safari, especially as we take trips from Eckington Bridge. I get into trouble for saying “Look, a buzzard! “Look, a deer!” “Look, an otter!” to my students on their first lessons. There may be some distracted falling in...
Paddleboarding on a river in the UK is isn’t like paddling anywhere else; it’s like walking on water, fully immersed in a tranquil, natural wonderland, surrounded by bountiful, playful life and not feeling out of place but feeling close to it all, feeling welcome rather than invasive. When we get the weather right, and that’s more often than you might think, I can close out the busy world on the river and become an explorer in a sepia tinted Lost World. HG Wells would have been a paddleboarder.
We have all have a responsibility to keep our rivers safe and clean
I’m lucky enough to have a great relationship with the Avon Navigation Trust
who work so hard to keep the River Avon in the great shape that it currently is and it’s so important that we all do our bit to help preserve the environments we use and to remember that the river is not just there for our pleasure but as a home to so much wildlife as well as an important part of our heritage and culture. We try to share some of that awareness in our lessons and on our trips and it’s always so cool to see people of all ages engage with that philosophy; always happy to help us with litter and plastic cleanups.
71% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water (and that could rise the way we’re going) but there’s nowhere in the world (and I’ve paddled all over the globe) that comes close to paddling through our beautiful waterways; not just the rivers but our lakes, canal networks and beautiful coastlines too. We really are ridiculously lucky :)