Age (no) concern – stand up, pensioners, for SUP!

Words: Martin Barlow

Pics: Georgia Wharton

Martin Barlow proves that age isn’t a barrier for stand up paddling, whatever level you choose to participate. If you’ve got the will then there’s definitely a way. Over to Martin for some inspiration.

I am a 65 year old pensioner who first tried stand up paddle boarding six years ago in California. My brother ran the San Diego Canoe Kayak Team on Fiesta Island and there were a couple of paddle boards at the club ready to be taken for a glide across the bay. Initially and inevitably, there were a few dips in the warm water of Mission Bay but before long I was able to stand up and oar across flat water – that was it, I was hooked.

Touchdown in England and my first port of call was trawling through eBay pages for that elusive beginner’s board I longed for. It may be the fastest growing watersport now but six years ago used boards were few and far between. Luckily I came across a second hand SUP, 11’2 by 25” and clicked straight to the checkout. Safe to say I’ve had more than my money’s worth. Weekends were spent exploring and learning, SUPping on canals, rivers, lakes and once I mustered up the courage, the daunting open ocean.  I realised fairly quickly that I could SUP without any back ache or knee pain and at the same time enjoy some gentle upper body exercise, whilst strengthening my core muscles.

With time and growing ability I was ready for my next board, a Starboard Pin. My love for SUPing only spurred me on further and my wish to improve grew just as fast as the sport. In 2012 I completed a three day ASI course. I was fairly apprehensive about how able I would be among this group of eight, seeing other younger people taking part. No sweat! It was an exhilarating three days and I came away with an instructor’s qualification for level  1 and 2 SUP, together with a better knowledge about tides, winds and water safety – what a  feeling.

What a difference one discovery can make. Just eight years prior to this I had suffered a prolapsed disc and had imagined that my time engaging with watersports was over. Even now going out in a kayak or canoe can bring on a twinge and the memory of being immobilised. Paddle boarding, on the other hand, was a welcome therapy that has me in better shape than perhaps ever before.

I found that any time spent on a SUP was not only enjoyable but beneficial to my all round physical and mental wellbeing. Without much effort my central core gained in strength, improving my balance as well as supporting my upper body.  My overall ability to stand for long periods of time also improved, which helps when you live with a wife and three daughters and there’s no space on the sofa! The simple stroke motion of stretching, pulling and bending, works the limbs and uses muscles which became neglected in other retirement activities.  With paddle boarding though, my body feels stronger and upper body exercise became the norm whichever type of paddling I took part in. Paddling for leisure on flat or open water and racing with all age groups through surf or on rivers provides me with different levels of effort and keeps my shoulder muscles and upper limbs loose and supple. I think it is safe to say that I credit SUP for being in this shape at the grand age of 65.

According to Wave Physiotherapy, ‘The fitness aspect of SUP is one of the key underlying factors of why it gets so many people hooked. SUP offers a core and cardiovascular workout, because training on an unbalanced surface targets the muscles in the mid-section of our bodies.’ I soon found that this was true and my all round health improved immensely just by being on a SUP board.  When not racing I spend a lot of time exploring rivers or coastlines with or without Yasmin (my wife) who is not so keen to paddle in the winter weather so tends to be my sunny day companion.  It is almost effortless, putting the boards on the roof rack and trekking off to various locations. There are many to choose from not too far from home. Favourite SUP spots of mine are Keyhaven and Hurst Castle, Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island, Marazion and St Michaels Mount, Sennen Cove, Saunton Sands, The River Teifi, Cardigan and Fishguard Harbour.

As an Instructor I teach at AV SUP Club on the River Hamble near Southampton and I have noticed that interest in SUP tends to be more popular with the under 40’s age group. I wanted to write this article and open the eyes of those who might not realize how beneficial this sport is for all ages.  Likewise, when I started racing at events such as The Frostbite series, The Head of the Dart and the UK SUP Club series, participants over 50, and especially over 60, were few in number.  I was very encouraged when I found that UK SUP Clubs had introduced age groups in their race series. This motivated me to take part in more events, hoping to meet more like-minded grey-haired boarders.  Coming 1st this year in the 12’6” BOTT, 63+, age group and then 2nd in the 12’6” UK Sup Club series, 52+, age group certainly rewarded my enthusiasm.

So whether you’re a youngster or someone getting on in years, paddle boarding is probably for you. If you want to keep fit and don’t mind the possibility of falling in the water every now and again I would of course recommend it. If you know someone of my age who has the gift of spare time on their hands and would like to try something new, do encourage them to try it. They might just find a new way to stay flexible, strong and young and also be surprised at how easy it is. This is still a small and very friendly community and we are looking to expand the enthusiasm as well as create greater competition in each age group.

As the saying goes: ‘age is just mind over matter, if you don’t mind it doesn’t matter.’

So … stand up, pensioners!


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1 Comment on Age (no) concern – stand up, pensioners, for SUP!

  1. Hi I’ve just had my first two hours lesson a month or two ago, I think they were surprised at how old I was!🤦🏼‍♀️I’ve since joined a SUP group but due to weather etc haven’t had chance of another chance to SUP! Would love to catch up with newby pensioners !x

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