This year I bought a stand up paddle board or SUP. One of those new fangled, fashionable things to do. Not that unlike open water swimming in its recent upsurge in popularity. Despite my hatred of the words, one of those “fashionable” “current trend” things.
I’ve been a paddler, kayaker, canoeist or whatever you want to call me for 20+ years. Less and less in the last 10 years due to the level of faff and lack of available water to where we lived. But it’s still a love of mine. I have so many happy memories of paddling with my dad (Happy Father’s Day!) and then at university. Sea, rivers, canals, lakes. Some fearful trips (the Alps), some endlessly happy trips (sea kayaking in Scotland).
Never the most accomplished or bravest paddler but I loved it all the same. I met my husband paddling. One day I hope to take the boys.
In the last few years I’ve realised how much I’d learned from it and how much those experiences have made swimming outside seem so much more natural. The immersion in nature, the smooth, quiet cutting of kayak and paddle through water, propelled only by your own efforts. I’ve seen endless birdlife, seals, otters, fish, jellyfish, porpoises and even basking sharks whilst paddling. The only difference to swimming being that you get slightly less wet and your view of the world is about two feet higher up.
I already understood the feeling of cold water shock and afterdrop (though I didn’t know they had a name back then). I knew that content afterglow from warming up after a chilly paddle.
I’ve used my paddling skills to help set up the organised swims in our local reservoir. Comfortable that I can assist or rescue a swimmer from the water.
I love my kayak. You can stay warm and dry, enveloped by plastic and neoprene on a cold day or on a fast running river. You can literally paddle for miles………….22 miles was my longest trip. They have enough capacity to take a days-worth of food stashed away or even a weeks-worth of camping gear depending on the vessel. You can fashion a pretty comfy seat if you know your way round a bit of old karrimat and some waterproof glue. I get to sit on my bum!
On a paddle board you’re exposed to the elements. At the mercy of wind and rain, easily blown or pushed off course. Balancing on knees or feet to be able to paddle effectively. No internal storage space for kit.
So why have I conceded to this “fashionable” piece of kit?
The Short One got one last year. She bloody loves it! I was hugely sceptical of this fancy new blow up piece of plastic. I had a go and almost instantly fell off. I have a significantly higher centre of gravity than The Short One, good balance isn’t one of my strongest features.
But I watched. I watched her kids having a whale of a time throwing themselves off it. Gaining confidence in the water in their buoyancy aids and wetsuits. I saw hers fall off and get back on with ease. Able to paddle and swim as one activity.
The prospect of a piece of kit that meant I could take the boys out on the water, swim, play, and mess around appealed. I desperately want the boys to enjoy the water as much as I do but I’ve never believed pushing them to do something is the right way to get them to really engage and fall in love with it. That’s what school does, day in day out. I’d rather give them a break from that approach in our home life. I’d rather ease them in gently and let them discover the joy of something for themselves, allowing them to explore in the way that works for them. Maybe this could be the gateway activity to a life around water?
This year has also been the year I bit the bullet and qualified as an open water coach. I’ve done the qualification so that I’m insured to teach outside. My aspirations as a coach aren’t to make people swim fast and win races. I just want to introduce people to open water and encourage them to enjoy it in a way that’s right for them whether that’s through a swim challenge, triathlon or dipping in waterfalls.
Most of the teaching I do is in the pool. I’m usually in the water with my learners whether they’re kids or adults. I find it imparts so much more confidence in the swimmer when you’re at eye level and able to offer hands on support when it’s needed. I can also demonstrate skills and techniques if I’m in the water too.
That way of teaching’s a bit more of a challenge in open water though. Spending all of your time in cold water teaching is physically hard if you’re giving instruction and not moving around that much. It’s hard to see what learners are doing when you’re in deep dark water too. In the pool I can often stand up or get out on poolside to see swimmers from above. A key way to check that whoever I’m teaching is taking on board what we’ve talked about.
So how can I combine being in the water to impart confidence or demonstrate technique whilst also being able to watch from above.
And so the paddleboard comes into play…….…….
The perfect pontoon, platform, floating bench for me to sit, stand, kneel on to teach but also to flop into the water to help people. When I’m in the water it just bobs around behind attached to my ankle.
I’ve bought a biggy. It’s called a Phatpad! Deep, wide and stable. Lots of anchor points and elastic so I can stash kit on top. I can comfortably paddle four kids out into the reservoir on it and I can successfully, if not gracefully, haul myself back on it from the water. I can dive from it, do an impressive bomb off it and even eat a picnic on it.
It’s not fast and it’s hard work on a windy day but I’m a convert. I’m using it for safety support at the organised swim sessions I help run, coaching from it, undertaking exciting expeditions with the kids around the normally inaccessible beaches on our local reservoir. The Short One and I have even snuck out for cheeky lunchtime SUP sessions.
I love the new view of the water. From six feet up I see shafts of sunlight cutting through the water, shoals of tiny fish hiding in the weeds, eye level with the green of the trees. I’ve used it to video The Short One in her never ending attempt to get faster. We’ve even used it as a sneaky platform for an informal Short One/Tall One counselling session in the middle of the reservoir sipping non-alcoholic gins in tins.
I still love a kayak, they’re more versatile and I get to sit on my bum, but my paddling love has expanded to include my big red phatpad. It was pure coincidence that I happened to buy one that matches my car and my dryrobe 😉