Before 2020 the average person probably hadn’t even heard of stand up paddleboarding (SUP) even though it had been around from the early 2000s. Since then, paddleboarding has surged in popularity as a recreational activity for all ages.
Since the pandemic began, we have seen a sharp rise in the number of people taking up paddleboarding. Travel bans led to an increase in staycations and people were looking for alternative ways to enjoy the UK. All over the world people became more concerned about their health and wellbeing and this has led to an increase in people enjoying outdoor pursuits.
It’s not surprising that water sports are popular in the UK since we are surrounded by a beautiful coastline and our land is packed with waterways from rivers and canals to lakes and reservoirs. It’s not only the countryside but even our cities that have perfect waterways to provide temptation for all kinds of water sport enthusiasts.
It is estimated that there are currently 614,000 SUP participants in the UK. So, what has made SUP the fastest growing sport and recreational activity both here and across the world?
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8 reasons why paddleboarding is popular
Let’s take a look at the 8 reasons why paddleboarding has become so popular here in the UK.
It’s easy to learn
Unlike some other water sports, SUP is very accessible. Not only is it a great choice for the whole family including children and seniors but even the dog can join in the family adventures. It is easy to learn and is also suitable for people who are not very confident on the water as it is a low-intensity sport that only requires some general fitness and an ability to learn how to balance.
More importantly, it is easily adapted to suit people with a variety of needs or disabilities, and it provides an important opportunity for them to experience an outdoor activity that is inclusive to all. During the pandemic, a Somerset paddleboarding company called WhatsupUK even provided adapted boards for children with different disabilities to try out SUP.
For those who are more adventurous with more water sports experience, they can learn advanced techniques such as SUP surfing or take on challenging tours to explore otherwise unreachable caves and riverbanks. Simply pack up a lunch into a waterproof bag and head out for a day of exploration and adventure to find the hidden beauty of our country.
It’s safer than most water sports
You may have heard about the tragic paddleboarding deaths that occurred in South Wales on 31st October 2021. This heart-breaking incident highlights the importance of carrying out appropriate risk assessments before going out on the water.
It’s really important to understand the potential risks, but paddleboarding is generally safer than other water sports with very few incidents. It’s always a good idea to start with some lessons to get you used to the equipment and learn the right techniques to help you balance.
Beginners paddle boarders should always check out the tide and weather conditions as wind will affect you more when standing up on a board. Even experienced paddleboarders should check out the tides and make sure someone knows where they are heading. Like any sport, you need to recognise your limitations and stick to waterways that are suitable for your level of experience.
The social scene
The social aspect of paddleboarding is one of the main reasons that it took off during the pandemic. The British public was looking for ways to entertain themselves and find respite from the isolation by spending time outdoors. With clubs springing up all around the UK, paddleboarding has created a readymade social scene where it is possible to meet like-minded people who share a love of the water and the outdoors.
Since SUP is not just a summer sport you can throw on your waterproof performance clothing and join in the fun all year round. Clubs often offer regular or one-off meet-ups and events to appeal to different interests and levels of experience such as tours, challenges or exploring local wildlife.
Joining a club means you can make friends to go travelling with or have weekends away combining your new hobby with building a social circle of similar people.
Great for mental health
With mental health becoming such an important issue over the last few years, people are always searching for new ways to deal with anxiety and depression. The combination of being surrounded by nature alongside gentle exercise is perfect for escaping all the stresses associated with modern life.
Paddling is a peaceful activity that promotes mindfulness as you glide along the rippling water. It can provide a real ‘get away from it all’ experience if you explore quieter waterways. If you choose somewhere scenic you may even find that it takes your breath away as you get to see the view from a completely different angle.
Although it’s a hard activity to start with, after a few sessions to perfect your technique, you will grow in confidence so you can completely relax and enjoy the fresh air. As well as providing some gentle exercise it is also a perfect opportunity for some meditation or how about combining the two with some yoga for those who are feeling particularly agile.
One of the great things about the UK is that we are never too far away from a waterway. There is something special about the attraction of water that encourages people to want to get out and enjoy it. With paddleboarding, there is no need to be near the coast since you can find suitable opportunities on many rivers, lakes and reservoirs. Wherever you live, there is bound to be somewhere ideal for paddleboarding close by.
The British Canoeing Association offers advice about safe places to paddleboard and explains how to obtain a licence to use the various waterways in the UK. If you aren’t ready to head out on your own, then look up a local club or instructor who can provide individual or group lessons. You don’t need to buy your own equipment as many clubs provide hire.
Cost of equipment
One of the great things about paddleboarding is that it is an affordable water sport compared to many others. Obviously, swimming is the cheapest but for a sport that requires some equipment, you will be relieved to learn that you can pick up a budget paddle board for around £400. The small investment has been a big incentive for new paddleboarders.
Since most inflatable boards come with a handy travel bag, you won’t need a large vehicle or roof rack to get to the water and it will be easy to store when not in use.
You don’t even have to invest in a board to try out the sport as there are lots of clubs around the country that offer hire and taster sessions or tuition for a relatively low cost. Fortunately, there is no need for specialist clothing as a beginner. Simply choose lightweight quick-dry clothes in the summer and extra waterproof or thermal layers for the colder months.
Equipment storage and transportation
Live in a small flat or apartment? No access to a garage or shed? With paddleboarding, there is no need to worry about storing bulky equipment like a rigid windsurf board. The advantage of an inflatable paddleboard is that it will pack away into a handy bag that can be easily stored in a cupboard or wardrobe.
Many paddleboards are so compact that they come in a package along with a pump and paddles so you will have everything you need to get started in one neat storage bag.
This also means that you can transport your paddleboard around more easily and some are so lightweight that you can even carry them in a backpack. So, whether you want to throw your board into your boot, or go on a hike, you can choose the right inflatable package to get you started.
Celebrities giving it a go
Like many trends, it is celebrities that often inspire people to follow them. Paddleboarding’s popularity could well be down to the likes of stars like Vin Diesel and Lady Gaga who have been pictured having a go.
Not just in the news but you will see shots of paddleboarding on Facebook, Instagram and Tik Tok where feeds are filled with spectacular photographs and videos showing that SUP is the latest must-do sport or recreational activity. The beauty of paddleboarding is that the surroundings are instantly picturesque creating inviting social media posts that are extremely motivating for others to follow.
Of course, the celebs make it look extra glamorous with their sunshine coast backdrops and stunning locations, but the truth is that paddleboarding is available to anyone who wants to give it a go.
As the UK is filled with its very own jaw-dropping paddle boarding locations, is it time for you to jump on the bandwagon too?
About the author
Watersports Pro is managed by Ollie, who has been in the industry since 2007. A paddleboard and advanced windsurfing instructor, Ollie has travelled the world teaching these sports.
Now based on the South Coast of England, he shares his experience and knowledge on watersportspro.co.uk.