I can swim fairly well even though I mostly use frog legs style 😂 Spent most of my childhood swimming in lakes and didn’t see sea till I was 23 so is pretty obvious I am not a beach bum.
Luckily for me other people must have felt similar because in the past 20 years humans developed at least 15 new water activities. Not all of them require an access to the sea nor an extensive beginner course. Paddle boarding has been on my mind for a while now and I had plenty of opportunities to try it but just lacked the courage.
As a complete beginner I opted for a lesson on the canal rather than the open sea. No waves means one less thing to worry about.
LOCATION: Godalming Wharf
Yes, I love Surrey so of course I would choose trying paddle boarding here.
I booked with Roar Outdoor and here is their link: https://www.roaroutdoor.co.uk
In the last 5 years companies offering paddle boarding in London multiplied like mushrooms after a rain so you really do have plenty of choices. Multitude of canals also means you don’t have to venture all the way to the sea side. Well, at least not at the beginning anyway.
I booked 2 places so my fearless adventure buddy @beckytravells could also embarrass herself. Yes baby, I’m not going down on my own.
I recommend bringing spare clothes just in case. There is a big Sainsbury by the Godalming Wharf with a toilet facilities you can use to change.
The morning didn’t start promising as we encountered rain and fog on our car journey. I was wearing shorts, vest and swimming shoes so felt a bit underdressed but it meant less drying in case I got super wet.
I booked two slots but expected at least few more people to be in the group. Turns out it was just me, Rebecca and our instructor who’s name I have forgotten.
Whilst I liked the fact that we will have a rather private SUP session it made me anxious knowing the instructor will be giving us his whole attention constantly. I mean what’s the worst that can happen? I will fall into the canal and get wet. I did bring spare clothes but no towel… Common sense has left the building.
I love the colours of the board and life jacket as it is my favourite combination: red and blue.
My main concern was a group of about 15 kids in canoes who will be travelling on the canal at the same time we are. What can possibly go wrong?
This is the part where we learnt how to use the paddle, how to hold the board, how to position it on the water and how to get on. Easy peasy. The one bit I didn’t like was that you have to strap yourself to the board. Every time we had to carry the board I would almost trip over the chain and it also made me feel like I’m a prisoner. Was the instructor concerned I will just run off with the board?
I actually voiced over my concerns and was told the strap is to help me get on board in case I do fell in the water. It is there for my safety.
When you are paddling on the canal you will have to carry the board over each time you approach a lock, which is very often.
I’m cross handed which basically means I was born left handed but had to adapt to living in a world built for right handed people. The right side of my body is the strongest but I also know how to use the left side. Win win you may think except my brain will be lagging when I’m asked to play sports.
Luckily our instructor must have experience with that because he asked a very valid question to help me solve my dilema: which leg would you use to kick me? With no further hesitation I strapped my right leg to the board.
Now this is where it got complicated for me: since my right leg was strapped to the board it makes sense to carry the board with my right arm. However I would always end up carrying the board with the back facing front which is incorrect. I just couldn’t comprehend how to make my legs and arms work whilst not tripping on the chain. That’s the part I need to work on. I know, it’s really simple.
GETTING ON WITH IT
Once we were explained the basics it was time to put it into practice. We sit on a small wooden deck and place our boards on the water. Well I’m glad it was on a strap because otherwise I would have to swim after it. Got it. It all makes sense now even though I still feel trapped. Getting on the board it’s really fun too…
We were told to put our left hand and right knee in the center of the board. Luckily for us our boards had a strap to indicate the center so at least there is that.
We started off on our knees which is very humbling. Time to practice the navigation skills first. There are two ways to turn the direction of your board: paddle on the right to steer left or paddle on the left in backward motion to go left. Do the opposite if you want to turn right.
After few minutes of practice it was time for stand up position. I watched Rebecca as she glided gracefully on the water like a swan. “Have you done puddle board before?” I ask even though the answer should be obvious. “Yes, I have done it in NZ”. Great, now I’m the only beginner here.
“Come on Ania, stand up. You can do it” I hear from my adventure buddy and can’t help but wish I could accidentally on purpose hit her with my paddle to wipe that smirk off her face. But I need to focus on finding my balance and get up, which is actually lucky as my knees were killing me.
In case anyone is wondering, the kids in canoes are finally starting to move ahead of us and it’s a total chaos I do not want to be near.
The instructor gets right next to my board and asks if I want him to hold my board steady so I can find my balance. Yes please.
He puts his paddle across my board to stabilise it whilst I’m on all my fours trying to find my balance. Feels like I’m learning how to walk again…not that I have any memories what was that like.
One knee up then another and I’m standing. Apparently you are not supposed to look directly at your board but rather a bit further ahead, same like when you riding a bike. Navigating the board is much easier when standing up, at least that is my impression. Need to work on my steering skills as I bump into the edge of the canal. Finally the instructor gives us a signal to move along and off we go.
The surroundings are beautiful and tranquil. Even the sun is trying to break through the clouds. Perfection.
At least it was till we had to pass a family of swans with cygnets… Trying to avoid them I paddled too close to the edge and got stuck. Not a big deal till you remember I’m on a canal which is not that wide and Rebecca bumps into me. She is closer to the swan and it starts hissing at her. I’m desperately trying to back out of the corner without panicking. Well if the swan will attack it will be Rebecca who gets to be sacrificed first…:)
“Ania move!!! Is hissing at me! Just go!!”.
“I’m trying! But you are not helping. Just chill”
“It’s hissing at me! Go!”
I don’t know how but I managed to finally get myself out of that corner without falling off the board. No swans or humans were harmed.
As we are getting closer to the lock all I can hear is screams and laughter. The kids in the canoes are waiting to cross the lock. All we have to do it get close to the edge, pick our boards and carry them across the road so we can continue our paddle.
THINGS I WAS NOT PREPARED FOR:
You do have to be a certain level of fitness. The board is quite heavy and uncomfortable to carry if you are new to this. My arm did hurt after the session.
You do need strong thighs and good sense of balance. Of course you will get better with practice, but it is a workout for your muscles. So do the squats and planks as a part of your morning routine.
I’m not saying you need to be super fit, but it certainly helps.
The whole session lasts approximately 2,5hrs and I feel like it took me an hour to feel confident on the board. There is a lot to grasp at the beginning but just take your time and accept that you may end up in the water…and that is perfectly fine.
Like I said earlier there are plenty of SUP schools available so be picky. Go with what makes you comfortable.
Most importantly: have fun! Be patient with yourself whilst learning new skill. And give yourself a pat on the back! You are awesome!
And now for the bit everyone was waiting for: did anyone fell in the water?
YES! But it was not me…
What happened? We had to turn around to swim back to our dock and I guess Rebecca’s body turned before her paddle did because all I could hear was “Aaaah! Oh gosh, oh gosh!” Followed by a splash. Sadly I was already facing the other way so didn’t get to see her fall in.
Next thing I hear is: “My glasses! Oh no!!”but I desperately try not to laugh:
a) because when I laugh it makes the board shake and it is hard to keep balance
b) because I feel like I will piss myself
c) because my friend just lost her glasses and is possibly upset.
The instructor is with her within seconds but I keep swimming ahead as the canoes are approaching. I can’t look back because that just causes me to laugh more seeing my friend all wet and sitting on a board.
It is a miracle that I didn’t fall in at this point. Finally the instructor and Rebecca catch up with me and the first thing I ask is: “can I laugh?”. “Yes, go ahead” says Rebecca and at this point I can’t hold it anymore. I also realise that the instructor must think I’m a horrible friend … But what was I supposed to do?
I had permission from my friend and you better believe it I took advantage of that. Plus Rebecca was such a good sport and was also laughing.
I was concerned about her driving home without glasses though but luckily she found a pair of prescription sunglasses in her trunk. But she didn’t have spare clothes so she had to drive back in a towel and my water shoes! Come on! How can you not laugh at this image!!🤣🤣
No, I could not drive because I don’t have license. And no, I love my adventure buddy but there was no way I would sit for 2 hours in a death sit with her driving without glasses. So I opted to walk for 2 hours to Guildford instead:)
Yes, I have a permission from Rebecca to post this.
We had so many adventures together and this one was the second one that didn’t involve police 😂😂
So yeah, looks like I found a new hobby. Next time I will be trying it on the open sea..Wish me luck and keep on exploring!