Words: Crispin Jones
Photos: SUPJunkie, Phil Ellery, Ali Pereira, Jade Rogers Photography & Peter Tranter
Franklin D Roosevelt was accredited with saying,“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor,” and this has never felt so prevalent to the story of Waterborn as it has in the last year. Our ability to grow as paddlers, as a business and as a family with challenging situations hopefully strengthens us in the long run.
Life has a funny way of testing us at times, and without throwing too many cliché sayings such as ‘as one door closes, another opens,’ it certainly seems to be the case for Waterborn of late, but let me rewind a moment and regale you of our rich history and place in the outset of SUP.
This quiet corner of the South Hams in Devon has long played an integral part in the growth and development of the beginnings of SUP in this country. A close family friend Paul Simmons introduced us to this ‘new sport’ that’s come to the UK in 2007. Despite initially falling in repeatedly, much to my brother’s amusement and vowing never to paddle again, I gave it another go a few weeks later. After some more time in the water, I finally stood on the 12’2 x 26” Starboard.
Suddenly, the estuary I was accustomed to was transformed, and I was exploring somewhere new and exciting! There was enough in those five minutes of being above the water on the Salcombe Estuary, looking out to sea, that would allow me to at least give it another go, but I was far from sold on this new ‘fad’.
At the time, boards were long, narrow and heavy, great for catching small waves but could have been more friendly for those trying to learn. There certainly weren’t any schools or YouTube videos around for pointers, so we just picked it up as we went along and used our general water knowledge as best as possible.
Fast forward to 2011, and Kingsbridge Estuary Stand Up Paddlesurf (KESUP) is set up from The Crabshell Inn; I would see the sessions going out as I paddled into work, something that every few weeks when the tides and weather would allow would be far quicker than driving in. The following year I thought it would be a good idea to take my British SUP Association Level One Instructor course to gain more knowledge in the safety and recovery side of SUP. I wanted to develop my skills and hopefully get the odd day on the water teaching SUP and help others bypass many of the mistakes I had made in the early days.
My love of the sport started taking me abroad to compete on the international stage, trying to make the most of the fledgling race scene and competing against the world’s best!
Rebranded to Waterborn
KESUP had rebranded to Waterborn to outgrow its ties with Kingsbridge in the future if it so wished. In 2014, Ollie O’Reilly had an offer from Starboard to work out in Thailand; the manager position opened up for Waterborn, and after much deliberation, if I wanted to get paid to paddleboard – I agreed.
A lot happened in those first few years; I wanted to grow and promote the club and saw our community as the heart of the whole business, even though it wasn’t the main financial driver for the business. Thankfully I committed, held my ground despite some decent from the owners, and Waterborn lifted the National Club Championship Trophy in 2015 and a few more times since too! This, along with the vision to create a national-level event to showcase the beauty and challenging conditions we can get on the estuary, help to cement Waterborn, and SUP The Creek, into the minds of paddlers across the UK. In 2017 the opportunity arose to purchase the business, and I committed everything I had to make it work.
With honesty, passion, and integrity at the forefront of the business, we provided lessons and tours to anyone that would like to share my knowledge of the sport and the area I grew up in.
I also wanted to ensure that schools and clubs had opportunities to access the water as much as possible. With such a diverse playground at our disposal and few opportunities for young people to get out on the water through local schools, we helped create an easier pathway for them to access watersports and the education the environment provides.
The club was thriving, and Waterborn received great accolades from various sources for its lessons and tours. The Waterborn family was growing, and boom, COVID hit and the business was shut. Life had changed drastically, but it gave us all time to reflect on what is most important, family, being safe and above all making the most of the time we have and enjoying ourselves! Once restrictions had eased, most people were ready for outdoor family fun, and SUP perfectly fulfilled this role. Paddling along emerald waterways, teaching that we at Waterborn love, it was easy to forget just for a moment, to enjoy the peace and tranquillity that only paddling seems to provide.
The start of 2022, however, didn’t go quite well, given a hard decision to accept some tough choices and lose our premises at the end of October or leave at the beginning of the season! Some time was needed to get a plan in action; I certainly wasn’t going to let a turbulent sea sink Waterborn, not on my watch! After an intense year of planning and pleading our case to the district council that Kingsbridge would be worse off without our presence, we managed to secure our future, retaining a much-loved business in the safe haven of Kingsbridge.
So here we are, sitting in the office ‘container’ that my family has all chipped in to help build over the past ten weeks, from Waterborn mother, my partner Katy, our little helpers Remi and Ella, brother, even nephews sweeping up, all adding their spirit to this daunting project that seemed like it might never happen. Now though, looking out over the water and watching groups enjoying the estuary with our fantastic team in the sunshine, the hard work and worry seem worthwhile. We are taking a simple concept and adding our passion and heart to turn these ‘boxes’ into the home of SUP!
By the time you read this, Waterborn will have been relaunched on June 10th, with Waterborn 2.0 ready to take on the next chapter and whatever the ocean throws at us. It wouldn’t have been possible without this incredible support from family, many of whom are also instructors and integral to the running of Waterborn. Our other brilliant staff members have taken on the ethos of Waterborn and what it stands for, and the pillars of our community that believe wholeheartedly in what we are trying to achieve.
As we continue to grow as paddlers, a community that encompasses the wider paddling community, yes, you, we should all take heart that those challenging days are there to make us better and more competent. It’s all part of our journey. I can’t wait to see where our journey takes us next, but I know we will be stronger for it.
We would love for anyone to come along for a paddle or to say hey, and remember, entries for our prestigious race ‘SUP The Creek’ went live on June 10th, so if you fancy paddling out with hundreds of others on the weekend of 21st/22nd October, please come and enjoy the estuary, it’s going to be a special year.
See you on the water!
About crispin jones
Crispin started to SUP in 2008, and is now an experienced ultra endurance racer, who has competed in the 11 Cities and led the Waterborn team that won the GB National SUP Club Championships three times. http://www.waterborn.uk.com