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‘For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) It’s always our self we find in the sea’ - E.E. Cummings
It’s 06:30 on a windless Cape morning. I’m at sea, standing on the board, paddle in hand, feeling part gondolier and part surfer on my Stand up Paddleboard or ‘SUP’. A small wave builds behind me and, paddling hard (a few strokes to the left followed by a few to the right), I’m at once gliding down its face. This time I manage to reach the shallows without falling off.
I feel focused, incredibly alive and filled with the exuberance that comes with being in the outdoors.
Stand Up Paddleboarding is a relatively new sport. It started in the 60s when Hawaiian surfing instructors used surfboards and paddles to get out to sea to take photos of their tourist pupils’ surfing attempts. Later, in the early 2000s, surfers adopted the technique as a way to train, when the surf was flat.
If, like me, you’re not much of a gym person - the thought of the confined space and other sweaty bodies leaves me simply tired rather than inspired - then SUP(P)ing out in the open air, feeling free, and immensely alive is the perfect sport for you.
The advantage is that unlike surfing, SUP can be done on lakes, harbours, canals, in the surf itself and, more recently, in rivers, where adrenalin junkies navigate rapids. So whether you live in Boksburg or Blouberg you can participate.
Raceboards, which are narrower and longer, allow for exciting challenges. For example, there’s a Downwind Dash every Wednesday from Milnerton to Big Bay (in front of the Lifesaving Club). Flat water can still provide racing thrills or simply the challenge of getting from one side of the lake to the other. Standing on the board, (as opposed to lying on the board) as you do in surfing, gives you an added height advantage. You can look out over the backline of waves and see when set waves are coming through. This ability allows you the opportunity to choose better waves more often than surfers. For those of you who just love the pleasure of being on the water, standing up allows you to spot more dolphins, gaze down through clear water into shoals of fish or just pass the time of day with curious seals.
SUP(P)ing is one sport where women, with their lower centre of gravity, do have an advantage over men when it comes to balance. Finding that position on the board that allows you to paddle over swells and come down wave faces, without taking an involuntary dive into the water, requires good balance.
Setup, however, (unlike boardsailing or kite boarding) is really fast and easy. Just offload the board, fasten the ankle strap grab your paddle and you’re ready to go.
WORLD’S FASTEST GROWING WATERSPORT
One of the reasons that SUP(P)ing has become the fastest growing watersport in the world, is the ease of learning. My teenagers jumped onto boards for the first time and within a couple of hours were catching waves. Whilst I did spend more time falling off, I got great exercise hauling myself back onto the board and the coolness of the water was a pleasant respite from the sun’s heat.
Yet, there was that defining moment for me: the WAVE that got me hooked.
Near the wreck of The Sealy, on Tableview beachfront, the swell for the most part had been small, until I looked behind me and saw this perfect, but rather too large set (wave), peaking ominously behind me. It was too late to try to paddle back out, so my choice was limited to a cowardly dive into the water or attempting to ride the biggest wave of my limited SUP(P)ing career.
I still have no idea how I managed to ride that wave. It was well above my head as I dropped down the face of it. Time stood still. I have heard surfers describe this ‘in the moment’ feeling, when time becomes expanded. I felt rather than thought my way through that ride, shifting weight and position just so, to maintain balance. I arrived on the shore amazed at what had just happened and at what potential we all have when we let go, (because let’s be honest here I’m not the skinny twenty-something I was thirty years ago!) And so I became hooked!
Supping is a great cardio strengthening core workout, being a low impact cross-training sport, strengthening the muscles of the legs, buttocks, back, shoulders and arms. Plus it’s a great stress reducer. It’s also a fun way to meet other people at the various events or with groups such as the SUP Sisters, who meet at small or little bay (before Big Bay, to the right of The Blue Peter restaurant) at 10:00 on Thursday mornings for a group session and training. (Find the SUP Sisters on Facebook for latest updates.)
SUP(P)ing may be one of the safer watersports around but being on large stretches of water still makes you vulnerable to sunburn, wind (it can be near impossible to paddle against a strong off-shore wind that may come up), hyperthermia, and strong currents. Going with a friend is important and flares are essential. Also, be aware of other water users: when learning and wave-riding, steering your board away from a bather can be a pretty impossible task.
So, maybe it’s time to forget the couch and that second cuppa and head off to your nearest body of water for a sport that’s going to give you a really good workout, allow you to make new friends, and be a huge amount of fun.
When you start out opt for a wider, longer board which is easier to balance on. If you carry on in the surf you’ll want to scale down to something smaller and more manoeuvrable, or if racing’s your thing you’ll opt for a longer narrow board. Remember the larger you are, the bigger the volume you’ll need in a board. Inflatable boards are available, but the most popular here in South Africa are the solid epoxy construction boards, with EPS foam filled inner.
Paddles are available in wood, fibreglass, carbon, plastic and aluminium. Carbon and fibreglass paddles are more expensive but more durable. Equipment can range from a second hand board and paddle for around R4 000 to R8 000 while a new board and paddle will cost you about R12 000.
Hiring equipment and a few lessons before choosing a board is an option. You can hire boards from the SUP sisters on Thursdays as well as a number of other venues in places such as Langebaan, Blouberg, Muizenberg, Durban and Knysna. Local watersport shops should have information.
She has authored several books, including The A-Z Guide to Common Habits, The Girl Who Bites Her Nails and the Man Who is Always Late, Finding Your Feet and Climbing the Beanstalk – the Hidden Messages Found in Best-Loved Fairytales. Ann has worked as a holistic practitioner, using Reiki and Footology. She teaches a number of workshops and is also an exhibiting artist. Ann has spent over 20 years studying the mind/body connection, with habits being her particular interest.
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