Words and pics: Dave White
The last time I went to Wales there were waves, and lots of them! In fact, whenever I catch up with the guys over the bridge, they always seem to be getting plenty of waves… so that’s the one thing I always associate with the Welsh coastline, and I’m sure most people do too.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great thing to claim if you live there and often well worth travelling for, but it did get me thinking – where are all the new paddlers learning and finding their first steps? Maybe we’ve missed some hidden gems and paddle boarding is really on the up, according to local boy Jim Brooks-Dowsett.
Jim is a keen paddler and helps run a local club, which is supported by the council-run White Water Centre where they are based and his shop, Puravida Boardriders. I gave him a shout, asked him to show me around and set the record straight.
Jim – “When Whitey asked me if I could show him a few of the local spots where we take out new paddlers and have a cruise ourselves, I thought; well that’s easy! It’s all right on our doorstep, in fact it’s right on the doorstep of the entire population of Cardiff and the surrounding coastal towns like Penarth and Barry.”
“The entire coast of South Wales has endless spots to get in for either a sheltered paddle or the perfect introduction to waves, not to mention some serious surf spots to give plenty of opportunities for progression. Locally for us, participation is the key and our main focus is to get new people into the sport and to make it as fun and easy as possible. From there, some people just like to cruise while others are keen to get in the surf.”
“The beauty is that you can make it what you want and there is a really buzzing scene of new paddlers growing all the time.”
Did you know that the tide is always in at Cardiff Bay? Well, since the Barrage went in a long time ago now, it has created the perfect venue to learn to SUP or cruise the two major rivers that run all the way from the Valleys out to the Bay.
Cardiff White Water Centre is the local base for a lot of watersports activities, and there are lots of other things like white water rafting, high ropes and even and indoor wave there to keep you entertained! The entire area has really been devoted to sport and this is where the local club and the centre itself teach people from scratch. There is a filtered, freshwater pool to cover the basics, then you can paddle the Ely or Taff Rivers and across the spectacular full tide bay. It’s one of those places where you get a completely different perspective of Cardiff than you would from the land!
The Ely is home to a lot of boats and acts as a giant natural marina. Around the winds and bends you get a lot of greenery and it’s well sheltered even on a windy day. When we paddled here we didn’t see anyone else on the water and it was very relaxed, a great route to paddle at any pace and wind down from the day’s stresses!
Across the bay itself, you get a full view of the Barrage and the spectacular buildings around. It’s a lot more exposed, so the water can be a bit more of a wild ride if there is wind around and you’ll see plenty of boats on the move. No matter where you go there is an edge, so it’s pretty safe for all abilities, if a little more open than the rivers.
I could see the iconic Millennium Stadium (now SWALEC) from the bay and the boys showed us all the way up the river until we were able to actually paddle underneath the outer side itself! This is another great paddle with a different set of views, more industrial and right into the heart of the city to the home of Welsh Rugby!
With so much lighting in and around the bay, the boys often organise a night paddle and this takes them right into the windier nights at the end of the year.
Just around the corner (literally) is Penarth, where the Puravida shop is based. With high cliffs, this seaside town has a really well sheltered beachfront, with a big pier and promenade all the way along. At high tide on a calm day it’s a great spot to paddle and the boys often train here for a bit of coastal paddling and to take some more experienced paddlers out for a different view!
There is a strong current in the Bristol Channel to be aware of and I’m told it gets bumpy in rougher weather… but we managed to stay dry (well most of us did) and experience a nice high tide paddle at slack water. Being the coast, it’s definitely a place to paddle with others and always wear a leash!
Mark Lloyd is a local fitness instructor running Brawd Health & Fitness, based in Barry, and says that this is another great place for progressing paddlers – only ten minutes further away from Cardiff! In Barry, if it’s flat water you’re after, then South Wales SUP Club run ad-hoc sessions out of Barry Community Water Activity Centre (BCWAC) from the newly regenerated No 1 dock in Barry. Here, complete beginners can practice in a safe environment and it’s a nice place to go if it’s too windy on the coast.
For those who want to experience a bit of SUP in coastal waters, there are a number of beaches in and around Barry that can be used. Due to the strong tides and rips you need a bit more local knowledge, but when you get the right conditions there is nothing more pleasant than seeing Barry Island from the sea.
The main bay (Whitmore) is where you will find all the hustle and bustle – have a SUP and a coffee at the infamous Marcos Cafe (made famous by Gavin and Stacey).
There’s also Watchtower Bay or the Old Harbour which, on a big tide, can be explored all the way around (you do need a big tide though or you’ll be grounding those fins in the sand). The little known Jackson’s Bay is also fun and quite safe if you stay up to 100 metres out and on an incoming tide! This place is the resident’s secret retreat… shhh!
Mark Lloyd – “Of course, if you are a more experienced paddler you can use the tides to your advantage and paddle around the point to all three bays on the incoming or outgoing tide! However, always paddle in at least pairs and have a phone. If conditions are tricky you should check in and out with the coastguard.”
South Wales Paddleboarding Club is organised by Jim and Mark and is the best place to start and find your way around if you are a compete beginner or just want to meet up with other paddlers for a cruise – www.sup-wales.com
Jim Brooks-Dowsett, owner Puravida Boardriders, SUP Coach
Mark Lloyd – owner Brawd & Missfit Health & Fitness, SUP Coach
Duncan Sheldon – local teacher and top waterman
Richard Norton – Australian soap star, now adopted local waterman!