Back in 2014 SUP Mag UK profiled one of the UK’s first stand up paddle boarding clubs – Central SUP, based in Tamworth. Chris Kenyon, founding chairman, has been at the forefront of developing grass roots levels stand up paddling and continues to input massive amounts of his time and enthusiasm. Here’s the article profiling the club – the first of an ongoing trend for SUP Mag UK.
Words and pics: Chris Kenyon
Central SUP started in October 2010. There was never really an intention to set up a club, just get some water time when I couldn’t surf. The journey from that point has been pretty amazing – one which I hope others may also find themselves making.
That was then…
Before Central SUP, the sport of stand up paddle boarding was unheard of in the Midlands. There was an unorganised group of inland surfers, but nothing else as such. This was frustrating and I was always on the hunt for another fix. Snowboarding, skateboarding and windsurfing; I went through the lot but nothing really grabbed me like SUP.
My first experience was in Sheffield on a lake. It felt (and tasted) very different to the sea! I still got hooked though nonetheless.
Location, location, location
The biggest obstacle was trying to find somewhere to paddle. Nobody had done this on inland waterways near me so I started tagging along with the local canoe club. They happily accepted me as one of theirs, even if I did look a bit odd standing up.
I got more a lot of attention on the water which started to build interest in the sport. After a few chats Central SUP came together. I started offering club night sessions using a couple of boards I had purchased. We also paddled in Birmingham City Centre which was a unique experience in itself.
There was still no real structure to the SUP club other than a Facebook group. This was a really good way to raise the profile of Central SUP. I found by adding content I could get more people interested, but without the support of a proper club it was merely a way for likeminded people to meet up and paddle together.
The game changer came after a winter paddle ended in an argument with a fisherman. I was not wise to the world of water access but after paddling a local lake in Tamworth I learnt very quickly you couldn’t SUP where you pleased. I took it a bit personally, at the time, and not wanting to give up called the council.
I never expected them being keen to offer new sports to the people of Tamworth. (One of the development officers happened to be a surfer and had seen SUP in Hawaii). They wanted to meet with me and discuss the idea further.
I had nothing other than my boards and a lot of enthusiasm – I never expected the outcome to be what it is now. As it was the year of the Olympics in the UK there was funding around so the council offered some help to formalise Central SUP and get it going in Tamworth. They even had a room right on the river they were prepared to rent to us.
Driving home I was so stoked with the outcome – this was it I thought! Then a bit of panic set in. How on earth would I do this?
I would need kit, I would need insurance and I would need to be able to teach SUP. Fortunately I had made some good friends and I got straight on the phone with my good pal Scott (Warren), also a very keen paddler.
Good will, hard work and determination
The guys at Starboard UK helped me out on the kit side and offered advice and support – I just needed the training side of things in place.
A conversation with Steve West put me on the road to becoming an ASI instructor. Scott and I headed to Norfolk like a couple of giddy school girls and attended our course. It really opened my eyes. I thought I could paddle, but a couple of days under Steve’s watchful eye told me I had no clue. His teaching made sense and my paddle technique is something I always refine.
With our ASI tickets won Scott and I made the journey home discussing how we would build our SUP empire. That was early April and our funding was hopefully going to be approved later that month. We would purchase more boards and aim for a May start.
We realised the club would work best affiliated to the BCU – this would give us a support network which we had seen work elsewhere.
Roles were simple; Scott was vice chairman and I was chairman with my wife secretary.
At the beginning of May we launched the club. It was wet and cold but our supportive friends came down and joined up. From that point we had regular club paddles around Tamworth.
Weather was poor that year but interest grew steadily and numbers began to increase. This was a very steep learning curve – we made mistakes and learnt from them.
As winter drew in we had good membership numbers and a thriving club atmosphere. We taught people how to paddle and managed to become the first ever SUP club to secure funding from sport England. Our regulars started to contribute to the club and our SUP family grew.
We ran the first ever Midlands Race Series which went down a storm, attracting paddlers from all over. It was our first venture into racing, which was growing at a rapid rate
The following year our regular paddlers were keen for more. When the opportunity to become instructors they jumped at it. Scott was moving on to pastures new so I would need help to keep things going. In particular, one of our club members was keen to get the SUP scene happening at the National Watersports Centre. Stacey took on the challenge and with our support Central SUP Nottingham was born.
We also took part in the Head of the Dart, the Battle of the Thames, Bray Lake Race Series, Paddle Round the Pier, Watergate Bay Nationals and built our network with other SUP clubs.
Central SUP – playing its part
The UK club scene was going from strength to strength and Central SUP played a key part. Last year the highly anticipated UK SUP Clubs Race Series was born – something Central SUP helped create. To top it all off we found another venue for a third branch of Central SUP. West Midlands Water Ski Centre provides us with top notch facilities and access to a great body of water. The first ever Midlands based SUP Festival, as part of the UK SUP Club Series, happened here in May 2014 – something were very excited about.
Why not start your own SUP club and join the family?
Chris Kenyon is the founding chairman of Central SUP. You can find out more about Chris and the club by visiting http://centralsup.net/