I’m ??-something and I’m going to learn to ‘paddleboard’. It isn’t much talked about, but I am at one of those ‘difficult ages’. I’m comfortable in my own skin and reluctant to try anything new. I’ve just got my first pair of reading glasses, my joints are beginning to show signs of stiffness and I’m normally very good at excuses. Mid-life is desperately unexciting. It’s the suspension between the aged P’s on the one end and reckless offspring on the other and the millstone of a ‘duty to care’ which could make me desperately dull.
Stand Up Paddleboarding, or SUP, I’m told is really very easy and accessible to anyone between 7 to 70. If that’s true, then I need to test the theory. My dad is normally pretty game but at pushing 80, politely declines my offer saying he has an old school reunion to attend. So I take my 10 year old son, Alex, along instead. He just nudges the recommended minimum height and it is ‘touch and go’ whether I’m boldly going into this challenge all on my own. As far as I can tell, SUP involves standing on a ‘surf’ board and pushing yourself across the water with the aid of a long paddle. With luck, I’ll look incredibly cool standing on water propelling myself smoothly across its surface. Albeit, to the most myopic of cliff top passers-by.
Saturday morning and son and I are lying prostrate on long lightweight epoxy resin boards while we’re shown the rudiments of paddling. The board is in fact much bigger than a surfboard so I wonder how I’ll do this when just my hands reach over the edges. I’m trying to concentrate but the distraction of two handsome instructors, a photographer, and the fact that we haven’t even got into the water yet; plus the very real fear of how big my bum looks in this wetsuit are all adding to my apprehension.
Chris Rea has been running Harlyn Surf School since 1994. SUP is so new that he only took up the sport himself two years ago. However, I’m assured, even though the conditions aren’t perfect today, that we’ll be standing up within our first lesson. We’re at the furthest end of the beach which is comforting on two counts: the water is flatter here and there are far fewer spectators.
Truthfully, I’m aware that I’m being treated to something pretty special. There aren’t many people who’ve had the opportunity to try what I’m about to have a go at and Chris is extremely encouraging. He has a positive approach which quickly makes me want to do this just to earn a bit more of his approval. I’m paddling out beyond the surf lying down using my hands as best I can. He then urges me to start to use the paddle from a kneeling position. I’m amazed how stable this feels and my confidence is quick to follow.
Meanwhile Alex is having the time of his life. Freddie, his instructor, is swimming alongside his board while Alex learns to paddle. Freddie, I’m sure is half man half seal! He dives under son’s board and pops up the other side. My child is giggling. There’s playfulness about Freddie’s approach which is brilliant for building a young boy’s confidence. Alex is keen to accept the dare to swim under his board too.
My challenge now is to stand up. It is something that has to be down with determination or I’m bound to wobble and fall off. Not only do I need to impress Chris but I have to beat my 10 year old or I’ll have taunts of “Mum’s a chicken” for the rest of the afternoon. This is the moment to go for it. Pick a few seconds of lull between the swell; place one foot after the other firmly where my knees were and push up! My paddle is suddenly essential to stabilise the unanticipated wobble.
Whoah! I remember what it is like the first time you ride a bike, this is not the time to hesitate. I have to go for it. Concentrate on what is ahead of me, don’t look at my feet and keep paddling. The moment I’m up the surprise itself is almost enough to make me fall. I’m wondering how long this going to last? Doubt for a second and I’ll be in the water. The temptation is to lock my knees but something of what Chris has said I remember. “Bend the knees slightly and the movement is all in the hips….”
“This is fun!” And “I can see fish!!”
Stand Up Paddleboarding is so new to Cornwall that all the possibilities are still to be explored. For sure, it is another way to surf the waves if you are an expert, or it gives surfers an alternative when the waves are not there. However, for the less athletic it has the same advantages that kayaking has to explore the shoreline and river estuaries. Kayaking can be hard work on the back and arms but paddleboarding requires less effort to propel. I also like the fact that I can change my position. If my ankles get tired from standing, I can kneel or lie down. The best part is the vantage point to look all around or down through the clear waters.
I’ll happily urge anyone to try it. I loved it and found it liberating! So I mean it when I say: ‘you really should give Paddleboarding a go’. Gift it to your mid-life crisis spouse, take your family to do something different, treat yourself before the rest of the world catch on and give your kudos a bit of a boost. I enjoyed it so much that I had to come back to try it again just to consolidate what I had learnt. The next day we were confidently exploring little sandy coves and reaching inaccessible rocky platforms where Alex and Freddie could show off by diving into the sea. I now have my own ‘seal-boy’ in the making.