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Discover a new skill – try paddleboarding

Escape the beach and head out on a paddleboard, explore beaches and coves impossible to reach on foot – but have a lesson first!

Get a unique perspective of the coast, learn to paddleboard along England's coast

Every now and then a new way of exploring the coast comes along that seems so simple and straightforward that you wonder why it hasn’t caught on before. Paddleboarding fits into this category: all you need is a board, a paddle, common sense and off you go.

As learning new skills go, paddleboarding is one of the most straightforward and one that rewards you with the uplifting experience of exploring inland and coastal waters.

The beauty, says George Shillito of the Red Paddle Company, based in Totnes, South Devon, is that paddleboarding can offer you everything from a short half an hour of nurdling around inshore coves to a two-day coastal camping experience exploring beaches and coves, difficult or impossible to reach on foot.

From his Totnes base in South Devon, George loves to head down the River Dart, stopping off at the Sharpham vineyards along the way for a picnic and even heading all 14km downriver to Dartmouth. 

‘The whole of the south coast is great for paddleboarding,’ he says. ‘My wife and I were walking near Gara Rock (in the South Hams, between Plymouth and Torbay) and looking at the coast below the headlands of Bolt head and Bolt Tails. We just thought how wonderful it is to paddleboard along the water there and get a unique perspective on the coast. 

 ‘The real magic of paddleboarding is that it means so much in different ways to so many people; you can do it with family, friends, or by yourself. It gets very personal, there is silence and you are just looking back at the bustle of the beach or the shore.”

Discover a new skill – try paddleboarding Discover a new skill – try paddleboarding
Discover a new skill – try paddleboarding

Have a lesson before paddling solo

While paddleboarding can feel like a timeless experience, intriguingly, it turns out to have been with us for much longer than we might think.

‘It’s been around for hundreds of years. Hawaiian fishermen have always paddleboarded,’ George explains. ‘They used it to get from one little island to another and to give them a higher perspective when looking for fish or looking out for waves.’

Recent years have seen paddleboarding evolve into an accessible leisure pursuit. More stable, inflatable paddleboards make it easier to stay upright. However, the most important piece of equipment you need, says George, is your brain. 

Much of the southern English coast is suitable for paddleboarding, as tides are generally not too strong (with the exception of some tidal races outside Poole Harbour) and it’s always sensible to check conditions with a local water sports shop or lifeguards.

This, says George, is why it makes good sense to have at least one lesson before you start paddling solo.

‘There’s little involving technical challenges,” he says, “but an instructor will show you how to watch the wind and the waves. Your body is effectively acting as a sail and it can catch the wind and pull you the wrong way quite easily. People tend to look at whether it’s sunny or not; they can overlook the windspeed, which is what is more important.”

By Mark Rowe

Discover a new skill – try paddleboarding
Discover a new skill – try paddleboarding Discover a new skill – try paddleboarding

Top Paddleboarding water safety tips from the RNLI

  • If you can, always go with a friend. It’s more fun, and they can help you if you get into difficulty.
  • If you are going out alone, always tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back. Don't leave the house without a mobile phone or communication device.
  • Bringing your phone to take some photos? Make sure you keep it in a waterproof pouch. That way it won’t get wet, and you can use it to call for help in an emergency too.
  • Check the weather forecast and tide times before you set out. If the water is too choppy, you might find it difficult, especially if you are a beginner. And be aware, the conditions can change quickly. 
  • Avoid offshore winds. They will quickly blow your paddleboard far out to sea, which can make it extremely tiring and difficult to paddle back to shore.
  • You should wear a suitable personal flotation device. This can be a buoyancy aid or a lifejacket. Choose one that still allows you plenty of movement so you can paddle freely. Not only will it keep you afloat, but it will also help give you time to recover should you fall in – and chances are you will!
  • Wear suitable clothing for the time of year. In the winter, you will want to use a wet or dry suit. In the summer, you might be able to get away with a swim suit. But if you are going to be in the water for a long time, you might want to upgrade to something that keeps you warm. 
  • You should always use a paddleboard with a leash. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to swim after your paddleboard if you fall off. The leash will also help you stay connected to your board if you get into trouble and help you float.
  • If you are launching on a lifeguarded beach, make sure you launch and recover between the black and white chequered flags. There should be less swimmers in this area, giving you more room to manoeuvre. Consider other water users by learning the rights of way in the surf. This can save you and others getting injured.
  • Get the appropriate level of training. You might be tempted to just buy a board and head out. Having a few training sessions can teach you the right technique, so it’s more stand-up and less fall-in paddleboarding!

You can download a handy paddleboarding safety brochure from the RNLI here or visit their website here for more info

Paddleboarding images provided by the RNLI