I’ve been observing people stand-up paddleboarding, or paddlesurfing, at the beach for some time. It seems a very civilised activity: the closest you can get to having a stroll on the sea. Paddleboarders seem to be very nonchalant, just casually catching a wave and riding it into the beach. Everyone seems to be able to do it. In contrast to surfing, which hardly anyone can.
So when the opportunity came up for a sundowner session at Watergate Bay, I jumped at it. Firstly, it meant that I would get out of putting the kids to bed. Secondly, the conditions were absolutely perfect: the sun was still shining, the sea was glassy and we’d catch a sunset on the way home. Thirdly, after failing at surfing I had a feeling this could be my beach sport.
There were four of us in the group and Carl, who teaches everything from surfing to cardio cycle at Watergate, was our instructor. After a quick run through on the beach, which made it all sound deceptively simple, we took to the sea.
Paddling out through the small breaking waves on our knees, I already liked it more than surfing, as it seemed relatively easy to get into the hallowed territory of outback. Although that might just have been because the waves were so small. Whatever, I managed it without getting my hair wet, which was a good start.
Once we were beyond the breaking waves, Carl told us just to hop to our feet. Mine was definitely more of a scramble than a hop, but the wide board was very forgiving. It might not have looked pretty, but it worked. Carl advised us to use the paddle to help with stability. I was sceptical about that idea working, but it was interesting how the resistance of the water did help with the balance.
Before long, bar a few splashes, we were all paddling down the coastline, enjoying the scenery. Well, the scenery which was directly in front of me, because if I looked around too much I inevitably fell off.
The action reminded me of punting. As long as you kept your knees soft it was fairly easy to cope with the slight swell. Although by the time we’d travelled half a mile, my legs were feeling slightly trembly from holding the squat.
On the way back we were all feeling confident and ready for the next challenge of catching some waves. Carl had instructed us on how to catch the wave: line up the board and paddle to catch the wave. As the wave lifts it up, quickly turn the feet from standing parallel and into surf stance, keeping the paddle in the water on the same side as the lead foot. Easy.
I lined myself up for the first wave, felt the board come up, didn’t move my feet quick enough (it’s definitely NOT as easy as Carl made it look) and made the classic beginner mistake of walking off the back of the board with my arms flailing.
The next mistake was keeping my mouth open as I went in. I emerged with the taste of salt water and my eyes stinging from the sunblock washed into them.
I tried again with the same result: was it me, or had the waves suddenly got bigger? The others weren’t having much more luck either and one of them had got into an argument with a fisherman.
Carl kindly came to help me: I could get in the surfing stance and he’d launch me onto the wave. All I had to do was keep my balance. Just like snowboarding, right? I fancied my chances.
The first time my weight was too far forward, I lasted about a second before diving into the sea. The second time the weight was too far back and I went arse first into the sea.
We had one last try. Surely I could do it. Did I? No. As I said to Carl I’ll just have to go back again.
If you fancy a go at paddleboarding, get yourself down to the Extreme Academy at Watergate Bay. This week they are also running the sundowner sessions at £30 for two hours. It’s fun!