Ladies! Step up (to stand up paddle boarding competition)!

Words: Nicky Bowden

Pics: Greg Bowden

At the end of last year I made a promise. I promised myself that in 2017 I wouldn’t just be standing on the beach, trying to stay warm, holding my husband’s rigging jacket while he was out on the water competing against fellow SUPers at the British Stand Up Paddle Boarding competitions. This year I would join in the fun and enter the BSUPA comps myself!

Frankly, the thought has always terrified me. I am naturally quite shy and the thought of people actively watching me is not a pleasant one. Also I am not that great at paddle surfing. However, I think having reached my thirties I am suffering from a slight midlife crisis and find myself constantly thinking if I don’t do this will I look back on my life and regret it. Plus, my husband’s enthusiasm for competitions and their ability to push your level has been infectious.

One of my main concerns was my paddle boarding experience and that I would stand out a mile in a competition for being the worst one on the water! I first tried paddle boarding in waves about two years ago and living on the south coast, I am definitely a weekend warrior when it comes to putting in the hours. Still, I thought I would give it a go and just try to have fun – what is the worst that could happen?

I paid for my entry to the first BSUPA comp of the year at Saunton Sands nice and early to make sure I didn’t chicken out nearer the time. As the date came closer, the forecast wasn’t looking great with a short period swell but also a fair amount of wind. I was getting nervous. My fear at this point was mainly focussed on what would happen if my legs shuck so badly from nerves I couldn’t stand on my board! I was sure I was going to look like a complete idiot next to the other ladies.

The weekend arrived and we all gathered around for the morning briefing and for the first time I wasn’t just standing around gazing into space while my husband found out the plan for his competition. This time I was part of the event. Five ladies had entered including myself but unfortunately only three of us registered for the day.  As we were such a small group the plan was to run two heats with all three of us and the ranking would be based on the overall scores.

My time had arrived. The heat before ours was running so we had to get ourselves ready. I was in my wetsuit, feeling a bit sick and had already been for about ten nervous wees. The waves were as promised, about 3ft, messy and windy. I had borrowed my husband’s board with a bit more volume to help me stay afloat and hopefully counteract my legs shaking. The hooter sounded and we launched. Battling against the onshore wind to get outback was a great distraction from my nervs and I was very surprised to find my anxiety eased almost immediately.

I recognised the name of one of my fellow competitors, Tina Beresford, and I knew she was good so my strategy was to follow her line out, as she must know what she is doing. Twenty minutes in a heat feels much longer than I thought and I had plenty of time to gather myself together and try for some waves. At one point I was battling my way back out through the onshore wind and looked across to one of the other ladies paddling alongside me and we both grinned at each other. At that point I realised this is what my husband loves about these competitions: having fun, getting out on the water in conditions you would normally pass up and making friends with like minded people. Overall I was pleased with some of the waves I caught in my first heat and I was really chuffed that I hadn’t been crippled with nerves.

The second heat was even better. I felt relaxed and much more at ease with the situation. I never once thought about the judges watching me and it was more like just being out for a surf with a couple of mates. The results came in at the end of the day and I came third in the ladies. I was so pleased as I felt like I hadn’t let myself down and I enjoyed myself. Best part of all was meeting some fellow lady paddlers who, like me, wanted to have fun and enjoy the experience.

If you have ever wondered about giving these events ago but haven’t felt confident enough or unsure of your ability I really would urge you to give it a try. If I can do it really anyone can. I don’t have much experience, I have never had a lesson, I generally just make it up and hope for the best but I am passionate about the sport and love getting on the water. It was a great experience and I would never have bothered going out in those conditions normally and it really pushed my paddle surfing.


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