Words and photos: Becky Dickinson
Love at first sight
It was summer 2012, a picture popped up on my Facebook feed, it was a long looking surfboard and my friends Guy and Matt were standing on it, gliding across the sunny Sidmouth coastline in Devon. What is this magical thing, I thought? It wasn’t long after that Guy opened his SUP school in Sidmouth (Jurassic Paddle Sports). I got down there as soon as I could and tried this new sport out for myself. What did it feel like? It felt magical! I had finally found the water sport I felt comfortable with.
I have always been a water baby but never found a sport that genuinely excited me. My Dad was a keen windsurfer growing up. He spent many days on the cold lakes of West Yorkshire (yep, I am a Yorkshire lass at heart)! My Mum grew up in Bournemouth, spending much of her time sailing around Studland Bay, so I suppose that’s where the love of the water has come from.
I sailed as a kid in Exmouth at weekends at the legendary Spinnakers Sailing School and feel lucky that the owners, Steph and Eric Bridge (they now own Edge Watersports) passed on an immense wealth of knowledge of water safety, some of which I can still remember!
For years I tried to get into surfing. My boyfriend is a keen surfer and teaches surfing in his spare time and has tried on several occasions to get me back on my surfboard. However, my idea of the perfect surf is warm water, clean small waves and no one around (don’t get much of that in the south west)! In surfing it feels like there is a pecking order, a hierarchy, a hostile environment in specific line-ups. I don’t enjoy it.
Then came along paddleboarding, such an inclusive sport. So friendly, no barriers to entry. No bias towards men or women (that I have come across yet!) and pretty easy to get the hang of once you master the balance. A sport where you can paddle to remote coves, uncover secret beaches and escape the crowds. No noisy engine, just the sound of the water rippling under the board, now that’s what I am talking about!
A problem the industry faces
When I was looking for my first board, there were not as many iSUPS on the market as there are now, making my decision process in finding a board pretty easy. Fast forward eight years and the market has exploded, so much choice and so many great companies. However, for every fabulous company, there’s a not so fabulous one. With such a fast-growing sport, it’s no wonder that people want a slice of the market, but it’s created an enormous problem: An abundance of poorly made inflatable paddleboards.
Head online, choose one of the many SUP manufacturers in China, pick a pre-designed board, upload a logo and pick some colours to customise the paddleboard. Boom, paddleboard brand created and shipment of boards is on their way for a relatively low cost. DONE. So what’s wrong with this? What’s wrong with poorly made iSUPS entering the market?
Apart from the fact they give the rider an uncomfortable ride, the environmental and safety impact is becoming a huge problem. Poorly made paddleboards are not made to last and this means there’s going to be a horrible amount of plastic floating around our oceans in the future from discarded cheaply made boards that have broken and/or not fit for purpose.
This summer I have witnessed just how unsafe these boards are, I was sat next to one which exploded – luckily the owners were not paddling on it at the time! Some of these companies have great marketing and advertising, making it hard for the consumer to make the right decision. Fancy pictures, fake testimonials and technological jargon is clouding the water. Since starting my paddleboarding account on Instagram, I have been overwhelmed with the number of people asking for advice on boards.
WhatsApp group for ladies
It was this that led me to create a WhatsApp group for ladies based in Devon/Cornwall along with a Facebook group for paddleboarders in Devon. We meet up, and we share advice on boards, we share experiences and knowledge which we in turn share with others. It’s been lovely meeting new people in the south west to paddle with. Still, more importantly, it’s been rewarding giving out advice to beginners and people entering the sport from our own experiences, so we can help combat the issues this fast-growing industry faces.
We’re going to try and organise some ‘ask the expert’ sessions, get brands we trust involved and help spread good advice and safety knowledge to people entering the sport. It’s fantastic that it’s a sport so easy to join, but with the number of rescues this summer, there’s a safety awareness issue that needs addressing.
I hope that someone reading this, perhaps in a different region is doing a similar thing or will start, and together we can spread the knowledge to keep the sport safe and enjoyable for all!
As the famous words go, ‘knowledge is power’, it’s with these final words, I leave you with some SUP tips from the paddleboarding ladies of the south west:
Dani from Plymouth
“Always let someone know where you are going, even if you are going out with friends.”
Favourite bit of kit: waterproof phone case!
Favourite paddle spot: Drake’s Island or South Milton Sands.
Rachel from Somerset
“Get used to falling in and getting back on the board, and if the prospect of falling in scares you each time you head out jump in to reassure yourself that it’s fine (but make sure you have the correct clothing for the conditions).”
Favourite bit of kit: I have a karabiner clipped on to my board which allows me to carry more on longer paddles.
Favourite paddle spot: Grand Western Canal, Tiverton.
Lauren from Plymouth
“It maybe called stand up paddleboarding, but kneeling and sitting are also great (especially if it’s windy/choppy/you’re tired!)”
Favourite bit of kit: carbon fibre paddle because it is sooooo light!
Favourite paddle spot: currently Pentewan Beach.
Karen from Okehampton
“Laugh at yourself, fall in, get up, giggle, jump in, paddle, stand on one leg. Get a lesson to start and get to know your local spot. Tides, wind, current, weather.”
Favourite bit of kit: my waterproof 13l bag and my leash.
Favourite paddle spot: Summerleaze Bude
Eden from Devon
“Always make sure you have your phone with you! You never know what could happen, no matter how much experience you have.”
Favourite bit of kit: probably my GoPro 7, perfect for getting all the shots.
Favourite paddle spot: Seaton Estuary.
Holly from South Devon
“Always check conditions… tide and wind! The tide might be going out, but the wind will pull you back!”
Favourite bit of kit: my waterproof phone case for safety and the beautiful things you’ll see! And a bottle of water!
Favourite paddle spot: Burgh Island.
Julia from Exeter
“Keep a base layer style top in your dry bag in case you’re chilly after falling in, Respect the sea, go on a safety course!”
Favourite paddle spot: Changes all the time, currently Helford Passage!
Anna from Devon
“Everyone has to start somewhere, book a lesson to learn the basics and have fun!”
Favourite bit of kit: waterproof phone case and waterproof bag.
Favourite paddle spot: Europe – Lake Annecy & Lake Bled. UK – River Dart & South Devon coast.
My bit of advice:
Don’t rush into buying your paddleboard. Everyone is different, and we suit other things, sizes, shapes. So if you can, try a board out before buying it.
Favourite bit of kit: my Red PFD and trusty GoPro.
Favourite paddle spot: it’s a secret;).