As the weather turns distinctly autumnal, the thought of jumping in the sea might not appeal. But if you’re a surfer, about now is the time to dust off your board and wetsuit and start scrutinising those beachfront webcams. The water is still warm and the waves are picking up.
But off the British coast, waves can be frustratingly fickle. And what if you don’t fancy bombing down to Croyde or Newquay every weekend on the off chance? Perhaps stand-up paddleboarding – SUP to you and me – might be for you.
As the name suggests, the big difference is it involves a paddle, which allows you to catch waves that you wouldn’t be able to on a conventional board, making it better in choppy conditions and even on flat water.
“You don’t have to wait for waves,” says Sophie Hellyer, a multitasker who both surfs and models for British cold water surf brand Finsterre. “You don’t even need to ocean. You can jump in a lake or a river in the middle of the city and SUP if you want to.” And it seems that many of us do.
“The sport is growing massively,” Hellyer says. “It must be the fastest growing watersport in the world, I’d imagine. People have been stand-up paddling in the UK for a few years now, but in the last year or so it really has exploded — almost every surf school now offers SUP alternatives and watersports lakes around the country are quickly following suit. And there’s something for everyone and everywhere, from SUPing on flat calm water, to downwind racing, and SUP surf to SUP yoga!”
Another advantage of the sport is that many SUP boards are inflatable — when not in use, you can stow them in a backpack, which while cumbersome beats lugging around a rigid board.
“Inflatable boards are amazing for flat water paddling,” Hellyer says. “They pack up into a backpack and feel exactly the same when you are paddling, plus it’s pretty hard to injure yourself with one. However, I prefer riding rigid boards as I feel they ride better in the surf, but it really is personal preference. The best thing to do is to demo a couple boards before you buy.
“If you are buying a beginner kit (board, paddle, leash, grip, bag), I’d really recommend spending that little bit more and upgrading the paddle to a carbon fibre one, which will be so much lighter — it makes a massive difference.
“If you are going in the winter make sure you get a toasty wetsuit (from someone like Finisterre, who is about to launch its own range). You’ll need a roof rack for your car too, but don’t worry, soft racks work fine.”
The moral: don't be caught up a creek without a paddle (a carbon fibre one at that).