Words: Wet ‘N’ Dry SUP Club
Pics Wet ‘N’ Dry, Georgia Wharton
Duncan Slater is one half the organiser (his other half El is the, er, other half) of Wet ‘N’ Dry SUP Club. A relaxed collection of paddlers the east coast based SUP club attracts a regular crew and their Wednesday night get togethers are popular social gatherings. We caught up with Dunc to get the low down.
- Tell us a little about the club’s history – how did it come about and how did you get involved?
We’d done a couple of group paddles before, but I guess we properly started in 2011. Having been two of the first guys to SUP around here, Jamie from Wet’n’Dry Boardsports (see www.wetndryboarsports.com) and I were hooked, did our instructor tickets and started looking for suitable venues for teaching in various conditions. Wednesday evenings naturally became our regular midweek meet when we’d paddle for a couple of hours after work, usually followed by a swift pint. Soon enough a few friends had joined in too, so we decided to open it up it as a ‘club’. Initially it was just customers from the shop, but numbers really began to rise when we started calling our paddles on a Facebook page…
- What’s the club’s ethos and how do you see the Wet’n’Dry SUP club evolving in 2016?
We’re really informal, don’t charge a fee and are open to anyone who knows how to paddle already! We try to be as relaxed and inclusive as possible, aiming to encourage people out and make everyone feel welcome. Our core is the Wednesday evening ‘SUP Club’, which is a social affair, and we move to viable Sundays after the clocks go back for winter. This season we aim to stretch to a few longer-distance tours and maybe some race training nights – but our main event is always going to be that all-inclusive SUP Club night.
- How many members do you currently have? Any stand-out up and upcoming talent you’ve identified? Or is it more about social paddling rather than competitive SUP?
As we’re not officially a club, we don’t technically have any members at all! But we must have welcomed well over 100 paddlers to SUP Club by now; our biggest night was 50+, with a regular turnout of 20-30 in the summer. Overall, we’re much more about social paddling and getting people involved than competition, but we do have a few useful racers amongst us. As a team we’re very proud to have finished third at the last couple of BSUPA National SUP Club Championships (OK, technically fourth on countback last year, but we were tied equal third with Bray Lake on points!)
- What type of stand up do most of Wet’n’Dry’s members participate in?
Recreational flat-water probably best sums us up. Definitely a handful of us are into waves, but we’re such a long way from any sort of reliable surf (normally via the M25 too!) that we haven’t taken the club that way. Conditions out here are brilliant for touring, distance and race training, so making the best of what we’ve got, that’s really our thing. But week-to-week it’s all about getting out there with a sociable bunch of other paddlers. Oh, and usually a cheeky drink afterwards too…
- Tell us about your local put in and what its advantages are for paddlers.
We use about a dozen different launches to suit various wind and tide combinations. High tide can be Chalkwell, Thorpe Bay or a couple of other spots near Southend, on the Thames Estuary – or up on the River Crouch we have a Hullbridge to Battlesbridge route to tuck out of southerly winds. Benfleet Creek and Old Leigh, near Canvey Island, can be super-flat at high tide. Two Tree Island is our go-to low tide spot, as we can paddle out down ‘the Ray’ from there to ‘Seal Point’ and even round the end of the world’s longest pleasure pier! If it’s too windy for the coast, or the tides don’t suit, we head inland to a few favourite launches on the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation, notably Paper Mill Lock where we run most of our school lessons as it’s so well sheltered.
- How often do you meet as a group?
Every week in British summertime Wednesday evening is SUP Club, in all but the very worst of weather, and we call the venue and distance on the day (with a heads-up the previous evening) to suit the forecast. Out of season though, when it’s too dark in the evenings and we’ve finished teaching on the weekends, we move to an occasional ‘Sunday Service’ in good weather. Last winter did get a bit windy after November though!
- Ever head further afield on SUPfaris?
Except for the National SUP Club Championships and a few other race events, we haven’t really ventured outside of Essex as a club. We intend to strike out a bit more this season, but the great thing about SUP is that it can fit into your life pretty easily – so we like to keep it local to allow as many paddlers as possible to make it without too huge an impact on ‘normal’ life. What have proved really popular are our gentle downwinders (more down-tiders really, with moderate tailwinds) which we’ve built up to 12km and could go even further this year…
- Does Wet’n’Dry have any big trips planned for 2016?
For a couple of seasons now we’ve been talking about heading west for a surf trip, so maybe 2016 is the year we finally do it. We have formed good links with Bray Lake, Suffolk SUP and Aqua Sports, they’re all within a couple of hours of us so we plan to get started with a few flat-water trips first.
- What about overseas – is that a possibility?
We’ll start national before we go global! But Southend Airport does fly to a few interesting places: my wife Elisa and I are fresh back from some awesome paddling in sunny Lanzarote – plus Tenerife, Portugal, Italy and Ireland all have potential too…
- Have you guys had to undergo training to be able to run club get-togethers? What tickets do you hold and how does this help?
We haven’t had to for the club, but Wet’n’Dry SUP is an official school (see www.wetndrysup.com/learn-to-sup/) so we’re fully BSUPA affiliated for that. Both Elisa and I are qualified BSUPA Level 2 (Race & Touring) instructors, which is pretty handy for keeping on top of big groups. Plus Jamie was first to do his BSUPA and more recently his son Nathan completed the Level 1 course last year too.
- Do you think you’ll continue with your personal training or are you more interested in getting club members up to qualification standard?
With four instructors, we already have plenty to run the school. 2015 was pretty busy with 150+ new paddlers coming through, but we’re expecting even more this season as the sport is really booming. To be honest we’ve not had much demand for advanced lessons yet, so we’ll focus on building those first rather than chasing more qualifications.
- Which areas of SUP do you see having the biggest growth and how can club environments help nurture this?
The biggest growth for the sport is always going to be getting new recreational paddlers onto the water, so a safe, friendly club environment has to be the way forward… Way out east, our flat water is ideal for touring (be that inland, coastal loops or our gentle estuary ‘downwinders’ with the tide), which is something everyone enjoys. Taking on these routes as a club really helps build confidence and competence, especially amongst those who are relatively new to watersports. But a few of us have also really enjoyed getting into a bit of racing these last couple of seasons, although it’s important to us that the competitions don’t get so ‘elite’ that they start putting off keen club paddlers who want to give it a go, but are really into SUP for the relaxed ‘surfsports’ vibe (even if they do enjoy a bit of tussle!).
- How does Wet’n’Dry go about attracting new blood to the fold? Why is paddling in a club environment beneficial?
We introduce a lot of new blood to SUP Club straight from their first lesson with the school. Having a ready-made group for people to paddle with is a very simple next step, and means we can keep new paddlers involved. Pure visibility helps too: a group of 30+ paddling along a busy seafront in club colours certainly gets us noticed! Then, as we’re tied to the shop and school, we rank pretty high when people Google us.
Paddling in a club environment definitely helps as people are beginning to log time on the water. We do the all-important route planning – checking and double-checking weather forecasts, timing around the tides, identifying any potential hazards etc – allowing our paddlers to just turn up and know they’re safe. Having a regular club night is great for motivation too: some Wednesday evenings the weather can seem off-putting and you’d otherwise be tempted to stay home, but they all turn out to be great paddles. (Even if you did make the effort just to earn the beer afterwards!)
- Is kit provided by Wet’n’Dry SUP club? Can paddlers just rock up and get involved sans kit?
Our school boards are available to hire for £25 per session – including paddle, leash, wetsuit and boots, if required – and we take the trailer to all but the windiest of SUP Clubs. We ask that anyone who hires already knows how to paddle: ideally that they’ve done a course. Otherwise, for anyone with their own kit, it’s totally free (except maybe for enough money to buy that pint afterwards!).
- What brands do you carry and why have you chosen this gear?
Boards are mainly Red Paddle Rides, as they’re perfect beginner platforms for the school – plus we normally carry a couple of RRD pump-ups and occasionally the odd demo board or two from the shop. Quality inflatables make total sense for us as they’re so user-friendly and robust, and Jamie at the shop makes sure the kit is always in top condition.
- Where do you see club level stand up paddling going? Do you think clubs will continue springing up and growing?
This is still a booming sport and there’s plenty of growth left in it yet, so of course there should be new clubs springing up all over the place! While paddling alone is plenty of fun, one of the special things about this sport is its inherent sociability – unless you’re going flat-out, it’s really easy to chat as you go and even if you’re not the talkative kind it’s much more reassuring to cover some distance or take on new routes as part of a group.
- What would you like to see more of with the UK’s SUP club infrastructure?
BSUPA and UK SUP do a great job already, so really the infrastructure’s already there. What might be nice is a little more interaction between the clubs away from the competition circuit. Not racing, but touring and social paddling, like ‘cultural exchanges’ – certainly anyone from any other club is super-welcome to come and join us if they’re out this way; just check out the calendar at www.wetndrysup.com or hit WetnDrySUP on Facebook or Twitter for details…
- Any tips for those considering setting up a club themselves?
Keeping it simple and informal has certainly worked out for us – it’s still a lot of fun, which is the most important thing, and has proved to be a very ‘inclusive’ model. We have looked at setting up a legitimate club – charging a membership fee, appointing officials and all that – but without a dedicated venue or facilities we don’t see how the benefits would outweigh the paperwork and effort. In fact, we’d probably end up with fewer numbers; after all, it’s a free sport and some people just aren’t interested in joining an official club. Our paddlers all feel free to come when they can, without the hurdle of having to commit to a membership fee.
The key to organising successful paddles is knowing your locations and understanding the conditions – then calling the sessions accordingly, so they stay safe enough for everyone, yet challenging enough to keep the more experienced interested. Then the mechanics of getting a ‘club’ together can be as simple as a Facebook page or group, a blog or simple website: whatever works for you!
- Any final shout outs and thanks?
Definitely huge thanks to Jamie and Graham Dodds at Wet’n’Dry Boardsports for seeing the potential in SUP, even if that doesn’t mean the biggest profit-margins! Check out www.wetndryboardsports.com and take a look round the shop via www.vimeo.com/147946356. Of course we’d be nothing without all of our regular paddlers who turn out most weeks to form the backbone of our club… Also BSUPA have been awesome for information and inspiration, not least Simon Bassett, Simon Frost and the living legend that is Sam Ross.