The explosion of paddle boarding - does it meet the hype?

21 Oct 2021
By Hazel M., Freelance writer, journalist and total bookworm at Unite Students

From wanting to be out in nature to having a good time with friends, the paddle boarding trend is taking over. Here, Hazel gives her verdict on whether the sport is all it’s cracked up to be.

When I started paddle boarding a few years ago, it was a relatively unknown sport (or, at least, only really known among those who already spent a good amount of time on the water).

But the popularity of this water sport has been growing fast - particularly over the last year, as people were forced to spend more time outside amid a global pandemic. Three lockdowns later, the sport has exploded across the UK (and abroad) but is it worth the hype?

Getting started

One of the biggest draws of paddle boarding is that, you don’t actually really need a lot of practice to get the hang of it. Sure, it may take time to stand up as you learn to get your balance right but, as a general rule, you can pretty much get up and go. All you need? An inflatable board, a leash and a paddle.

There are some pros and cons to this because, while it means pretty much anyone can have a go, it also attracts people who haven’t done their research first. From learning to get back on if you fall off to understanding how to judge wind directions and swell, it can be more dangerous than you think.

Luckily, when I started, I was already pretty well-versed when it came to winds, swells and rip currents – all things that can dramatically change your paddle experience on the sea (if you’re paddling on an inland lake or canal, they’re not quite so much of an issue but it’s still worth knowing your stuff).

So, with this knowledge tucked away, I bought a budget board online at the nifty price of £300 and headed to the river outside my house… and instantly understood why this was becoming one of the fastest growing sports in the UK.

Embracing tranquillity

Paddle boarding is one of the few sports that can be enjoyed solo or with a group of friends. Whether a silent paddle through your local canal listening to the birds is your jam, or you want an adventure-fuelled session of laughter with your mates, you can make the experience your own.

On my first paddle out, I went alone and was amazed at the total peace of being in the middle of the water on a warm, calm day. The river was totally clear and, being that it’s part of an estuary not far from the open sea, I spotted some amazing wildlife, too – including spider crabs and jellyfish.

Honestly? I was hooked. While I normally spend a lot of time in the surf being battered by waves, this was a whole new vibe. Utter tranquillity, just for me.

After that first paddle, I went out as much as I could (when conditions allowed), travelling all around the county to paddle different rivers, lakes and beaches. My partner was so intrigued that he bought his own board, and then my friends got them, too, and I’ve rarely paddled alone since.

So, does it live up to the hype?

I think, in short, yes – but there are some caveats. When I paddle board, I use an inflatable SUP. This means that, before every paddle, I have to spend ten minutes pumping it up, which can take a lot of energy and arm strength.

I don’t mind this at all because I know it’s worth the trouble but, if you’re not particularly keen on hard work, it can be a little bit off-putting.

The other thing is knowing what board to get. When I started out on my budget board, I was absolutely fine on a lake or river. The board was good enough to hold my weight (and my weight alone) and I could manoeuvre pretty easily as long as the wind wasn’t too strong. The best part? You can even buy one new these days for around £200 in your local Tesco.

However, I soon wanted to take things to the next level and head out on real ocean adventures, as well as take my dog on board. This meant investing in a new board that could both withstand the extra weight of my dog and be sturdy enough in the open sea. The result was a £650 hit on my bank account, but a premium board that can withstand almost anything.

Today, when I go out, I see a lot of other paddle boarders and, while it’s harder to get a parking spot in some of the most accessible places now, I love the community that’s built up around it. Often, I’ll make a pitstop and pull out a flask of tea, only to be joined by a fellow paddle boarder who’s just as excited about making the most of a sunny day on the water as I am.

In fact, it’s even been linked with having a positive impact on mental health - and I’m not surprised. Every time I head out, I come home feeling more in tune with nature, and like I’ve truly achieved something.

For anyone who hasn’t tried it, I’d say give it a chance. You don’t need to live by the sea to do it – a lake can be just as fun – and you’ll reap more mental and physical rewards each time you do it.

Just don’t forget to check out these safety tips before you do.

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When not stringing words together, can usually be found on the local beach with her cocker spaniel pup, Huey.