At the start of lockdown, I witnessed somebody stand up paddle boarding down the River Thames and I was mesmerised.
Watching them glide under Hammersmith Bridge in the early hours filled me with intense envy. It looked like the perfect socially distant activity, especially compared with the bustling parks and river paths near where I live.
I clearly wasn’t alone in my jealousy. Gary Willingham, director at the seller SUP Inflatables, said: ‘Paddle boarding has gone crazy during lockdown. We are almost completely out of stock. Early July has become the earliest delivery date for boards right now.’
He continues: ‘At the start of lockdown our orders really snowballed with the combination of people wanting to get outside and the good weather. We were working between 7am and 11pm to deal with it all. We are at least 300% up on regular sales.’
As I am fortunate enough to live near the river Thames, I signed up for a lesson at the West London paddle board company Active360. The water sports company is based just off Kew Bridge, a gorgeous location for a paddle on a summer’s evening.
They reopened mid-lockdown and offer socially distant solo and group lessons to customers, including absolute beginners like myself.
My instructor, Paul, asks me how I feel about falling in the Thames before we have even started the lesson. This, paired with the fact that I have terrible balance, does not fill me with confidence.
Paul teaches me how to carry the board, how to go from kneeling to standing up on it, what to do if I fall off and how to navigate the river safely. All of that teaching is, of course, socially distant and all equipment is thoroughly cleaned between uses.
After a shaky start, it’s not before long that I am standing up on the board and paddling away, albeit rather tentatively. It feels like an enormous achievement.
I can see why the activity is thought of as very mindful and relaxing. It requires all of your attention not to fall off and I’m pleased to report, reader, that I did not.
The experience must be one of the best ways to enjoy the river scenery, including the seals (!) who are regularly spotted in the Thames.
Annabel Anderson, who held the position of World #1 SUP consecutively from 2012-2017, confirms my instinct about the mindful nature of the sport.
Annabel tells Metro.co.uk: ‘There’s just something about being on water that brings a sense of calm from the chaos of our current world.’
‘It’s like hitting the reset button to be able to face the unknown and uncertainty of what is going on around us. If you are able to get on the water during these times, you’ll know what I’m talking about.’
I can completely understand the appeal after my first lesson and am eager to get out on my board again. It is truly one of the best ways to hit the reset button during lockdown.
Where to paddle board in the UK
Paddle boarding can be enjoyed on rivers, canals and lakes. It can even be done at sea on surfing waves. However, there are some restrictions to ensure that paddlers and other river users are safe.
SUP locations in London include spots like Richmond, Paddington Basin, Hackney Wick and the Royal Docks.
As the Thames is a tidal river, make sure to check conditions before you go and enter the river at a safe spot and time. The Thames Skills and Knowledge course, which teaches the Tideway Code, is also required to SUP below Putney Pier and Chelsea Bridge.
Other spots outside of London include The Witterings in West Sussex, Wastwater Lake in Cumbria, Watergate Bay in Cornwall and the Isle of Mull in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides.
Remember that a waterways licence may be required dependent on when you go. You will need a licence to paddle on Canal & River Trust and Environment Agency waterways, as well as the Norfolk Broads.
If you are unsure whether the stretch you want to paddle requires a licence, contact British Canoeing or the waterway authority that looks after that section and they will tell you if you are unsure.
How to get a paddle board
Paddle boards are not particularly cheap, though the activity will probably work out as less expensive than a long term gym membership. There are two types of paddle board: fibreglass or inflatables.
A starting price for either is between £200-£400. But paddle boards can run up to a price of £1,500 and sellers warn that cheap ones are at risking of bending.
Booking a lesson at your local centre should include hire and, generally, a higher quality board.
How to paddle board safely
Lessons are very much advisable if you are a beginner as they will teach you how to paddle safely. Lessons should also come with hire, including the board and buoyancy aid, which is recommended in case you fall in.
Lessons at Active360 in various London locations start at £50 for your first group lesson. Returnees are then charged £45 for a two hour lesson.