SUP guide to buying a first board.

With some many companies and so much choice out there to buy a board is a disaster waiting to happen.  I bought my first board 8 months ago and I will be honest I had no idea what I was doing….I was clueless and now I am paying the price. It is a huge investment and a rewarding one, but get it wrong as I did is to risk throwing money down the toilet.  If I knew then what I know now I would have made a very different decision.

I got the SUP bug whilst on holiday and was determined to buy a board but my funds were limited.  So I shopped around, read widely about boards and found a company run out of a guy’s apartment who imports their own brand of boards. Great, I thought, low overheads give low prices and also it is supporting a local business and I am all for that.  I arrived with pockets bulging with cash ready to be impressed, I guess my inexperience and naivety led to me falling for the patter of the sales man, and guess what I was sold a dummy!

Buying a SUP is akin to buying a car….. The person selling it makes money if they convince you to part with yours, but like a car you need to try before you buy.  After all you wouldn’t buy a car without a test drive, one should never buy a board without testing it on the water.  This is lesson 1!  A bad board will dump you in the drink, no matter how accomplished a SUP rider you are, if the rocker is tippy or the design poor then it will be unstable and if that happens then no matter how good your balance is you wil never successfully ride that board.  

What makes a good board? Well, the best thing to look for is Research and Development, also have a look at the brands doing well in professional competition. Chances are they will have put a lot of time and effort into research.  As I write this the top brand on the circuit is Starboard, followed by Mistral.  It sounds like a cliche but the bigger brands spend a lot of time and resources making the best boards.  It is difficult to see how smaller home based brands can spend the time and money researching and developing good performing boards.  It is not possible they don’t have the research budget as a result they are bad boards.  

Let me tell you what is wrong with my board then maybe that will give an indication on what to look out for.

Rigidity:  one of the key things is how stiff the board is, many inflatable boards have an issue that they are not stiff enough.  In fact my board bounces around all over the place.  If a board is not stiff enough then it will be unbalanced and balance is everything when remaining upright.  

Tracking:  my board has 3 fins, a central large fin and 2 smaller ‘thruster fins’,  in a perfect world this gives stability and tracking, in reality the thrusters are made of such soft plastic that they curl and I paddle in circles.  It takes a lot of effort to keep the board tracking straight so constant adjustment is needed which takes all speed out the board.  This is a major design flaw but not one that is covered under the warranty.  

Shape:  ask yourself what you will be using the board for, flat water, surf, race, yoga?  There is a shape for every activity and the difference between them is vast.  I wanted an all rounder so had a rounded nose.  This is probably the best board for most.  But is the nose doesn’t have the right angle it does not cut through the after and tends to cut into the after and nose dives, meaning constant adjustment of stance, not ideal for the beginner.  

They are the key things to look out for.  I spent a great deal of time in the water because my board is imbalanced, the rocker is tippy and threw me off.  I have got the hang of my board though and as a result I can ride nearly anything because I have developed a great sense of what the board can do.  This is the positive of a bad board…..if you can handle a cheap bad board when you do upgrade and go for something better then you will be well practiced.  

So here are buying points:

  • Try before you buy
  • Don’t fall for sales technique
  • Try before you buy 
  • Research the board and company
  • Try, try, test and try
  • Cheaper is not better
  • Find what is suited to you and what you want to do with it
  • Try it on the water – that’s is where you will use it so try it!
  • Talk to more experienced boarders and what they use.
  • Don’t fall for sales as they want your money

I have had to learn the hard way and I did wrong and now I’m stuck with a poor board.  Don’t make the same mistake.

Delay in paddling out

It has been an unfortunate few weeks.  The U.K. Has been battered by several storms and inclement weather making paddle boarding nigh on impossible.  The good days we have had I have been working and regrettably I have been unable to get out on the water.  I am quite sad about this as I could do with a good SUP.  Get out on my mind, in the middle of nowhere with no interruptions and no technology.  Go and get some quality exercise whilst soaking up the brisk chill of a winter water adventure.  Sounds idyllic but not always practical in the British weather.  Having said that I see a lot of posts on social media of people paddling around icebergs or trapping through snow to get some water time.  The problem I have here is that the water becomes treacherous with the increased volume and quite frankly I have no desire to get myself into potential dangerous situations.  I have already risked that this year and I got a bit frightened.  

So, what have I been doing instead?  Well, I have been putting in some serious pool time and getting fit in the gym.  I am going to be swimming for charity in July to raise money for the British Heart Foundation swimming between Bournemouth and Boscombe pier, a 1.4 mile open sea swim that is annual done (weather and sea state permitting) for a fantastic cause.  I have not swam seriously since I was in the Hampshire swim team when I was 16 and even then I was a backstroke specialist so this poses a unique and interesting challenge.  One for which I cannot wait to attempt.  I have been on a major diet and loosing lots of weight, getting into shape, changing my lifestyle and generally overhauling my life.  What changes have I made?  Well, firstly I have stopped drinking carbonated drinks, no Coke, no lemonade, no fizzy water, since Jan 04th I have not had a single fizzy drink and this has made an interesting change.  I feel better just for drinking water and green tea.  Coffee and high caffeine drinks have been dramatically reduced and as a result I feel calmer and happier.  I was once told that coffee can act as a depressive.  Surprisingly this is true.  Limited caffeine and also reduced meat and fat intake has given me a spring in my step.  

It’s remarkable to look back and analyse what I was eating, the portion sizes, meat intake and realise that I was headed to bad times if I continued.  A healthy diet fruit, vegetables, fish and low carbs are having a remarkably positive effect…Who knew?

Now what I need is some good weather!  Get on the board and paddle, paddle, paddle!  I really can’t wait for spring in order to get some calm seas and calm rivers with a light wind and a warm sun.  In preparation I am looking into some new kit.  I am really happy with the inflatable board I have, it was a bargain buy and is serving me well, but I am still using the paddle that came with it which is a no frills alloy paddle, heavy, very little flex and freezing on cold days, so I am looking into a new one which I am leaning to an intermediate paddle with a glass carbon shaft.  It is the outlay that is getting to me as I struggle to find the funds.  I am looking at a Red Paddle Co glass paddle and hopefully will get one soon.  The other thing I am after is a pair of floating sunglasses but they seem to be quite rare to get a suitable one.  Obviously they are abundant online but I would rather know they are suitable before I purchase, after all don’t want to look like Elton John or Dame Edna!  But all these things are relatively minor, and all I ally need is some bright weather and a favourable tide. 

The plan is to hopefully get out on Tuesday but we will see.  Anyway folks, happy paddling and stay safe in the winter weather.

New Year, New Regime!

It has been some time since I have posted a blog.  In fact I have only blogged once before about my exploits on the water.  I have had A couple of health issues recently that I am under investigation for but when we heralded in the new year I heralded in a new me!  I let myself go a bit, put on a to of weight and also became a bit lethargic.  So a radical weight loss programme that includes a great deal more exercise. Part of the regiment is to get the board out every week, whatever the weather, and have a paddle for at least a couple of hours.  I have done so at my usual paddle spot in Christchurch, Dorset and it has been one of the oust dramatic, changeable and challenging paddles I have done.

I am still very much a novice and have so uch to learn, but the good news is I am getting to know my board and how it reacts I different types of water.  On Tuesday last week I caught a break in the weather and a forecast of light winds and lovely winter sun.  Signs were good, tide was on the turn and I pumped up and got on the water. What I had not accounted for was rain water run off.  The amount of rainfall we have had o the south coast has not been as severe as the poor folks in the North of England, not by a long shot, but the increase in volume of the Stour made low tide like high tide and the speed of the water was quite remarkable.  I tried to paddle up stream, but after 15 mins and getting about 500 metres I finally turned the board around and headed out to the bay behind Hengistbury Head.  It could not have been different, once away from the river mouth the water changed from a torrent of run off to a mirrored glass, it was perfectly still, no wind at all and the clouds and sun were perfectly reflected in the water.  Sometimes I can be philosophical and floating in such a perfect place of peace and tranquility brings in to sharp relief what is happening in ones life and in ones own world.  People often speak of getting back to nature and to realise that they are just a small speck in the world at large.  I did feel insignificant, just another of natures creatures enjoying some time alone.  Lost in ones thoughts. Relaxed I decided to return home.

The return journey was not pleasant, nature decided to show me that for every peaceful Monet one enjoys there is a stressful one just around the corner.  The tide should have been I o the turn and I should have had a relatively straight forward paddle through the river out hand back to the slipway. Yeah….right!  The rain run off into the river no the increase in water volume meant that a very strong current was still flowing against the tide making the approach in to Christchurch choppy and like paddling through treacle.  I battled hard against the torrent but it was exhausting, it was incredible the war of the water, just a little bit and how much it would effect the board and the paddler.  I had to get to the side of the river and beach just to get my breath back.  It was so difficult my inexperience showed in reading the river and underestimating my ability, especially after a month and a half lay off.  I waited about 5 minutes by the side of the river watching as the flotsam and jetsom whipped by out towards the sea. I tried not to get panicked and tried to find a route that I could walk the board back but there was too much in the way, reed beds and deep water.  I examined the river closely and saw that the reed bed on the opposite side of the river had a greatly reduced flow so I pointed the board across the river and tried to mount the board.  

Top tip: point the board into the current paddle across and angle the board slightly a let the current take you across.  Do not do what I did and point the board 90 degrees to the river bank into a strong flow and have it flip over.  I got a bit wet, but thankfully was wearing a winter wetsuit and didn’t get too cold. 

I managed to get myself back to the river bank and pointed the board into the flow and got to the other side. The water flow was greatly reduced and I made my way up river towards Christchurch.  Getting the last 200 metres was hard with the strong flow, but exhausted and 140 minutes after I set out I was back at the slipway and to my car.  I packed up the board and went home.  Once I had washed the board off, rinsed the wetsuit and got a cup of Tea (never underestimate the awesome restorative power of a good hot cup of Tea), I sat and reflected on the close call. It really was a near miss and a very valuable lesson to learn.  

Lessons learned: always be mindful of what the water is doing. Never assume what the river is doing as it might just do the opposite.  Never overestimate your ability, you could end up looking like a prick, and that could be the best case scenario.  The worst is you get into some serious life threatening situations beyond your ability to get out off.  I was a tyke bit scared and I have definitely learned my lesson.  But, I am not discouraged, I will just be a bit more mindful of the conditions and take greater care.  

So, what’s next well, the tide times are favourable to attempt a new SUP.  Keyhaven to Hurst castle, a paddle that demands a high tide as there are a lot of shallows and sand islands.  But, Hurst Point and the castle is a fantastic place, a true bastion of history and a delightful day out. It seeps history and catalogues the advancing warfare through the ages from the age of sail to steam, to modern naval power whilst also standing like a beacon of the importance the UK put in commanding and defending the oceans. I have, many times, walked the mile long shingle bank to the castle and I really want to take the board and approach from the water.  That is the plan for this week to come.  

  
Mayors Mead slipway, Christchurch, Dorset, UK.  

My first forays

I have not been Paddleboarding for very long, in fact I am very new. I tried it out in Scotland whilst on holiday, on Loch Lomond, and the instant I fell off I was hooked! It was peaceful, calm and serene. I got an amazing sense of achievement when I paddled, standing up, out of the bay and managed to keep my balance and remain standing up.  The board I was on was definitely not suitable for me. After all I am a fatty! Standing at 6′ 2″ tall and weighing in at 20 st I am not the most likely candidate for this sport. However, I am not one who gives up when things are tough! I investigate thourghly what boards were out there and what would be suited to me. I eventually got frustrated and spoke to a company in Poole called Sandbanks SUP style and after talking my stats through with them I went and bought one of their boards! 

I then, within 24 hrs, was at the beach staring out at the sea and seeing 6′ breakers crashing into the sand and thought, well won’t be going out today! So, plans to SUP on hold. I waited for a couple of days and went again. In the meantime I had read about SUP surfing, paddling out and then catching waves like a surfer! Great, I thought that sounds awesome I will give that a go. So good waves breaking I pumped up the board an paddled out. Half an hour later and half the sea swallowed I realised I may not have been ready for that. Still, it was great getting out there. 

I had a chat with a friend and she also has a board and she told me tha she goes out at Christchurch Quay and paddles the Stour river and she was willing to come along and give me a few pointers. Fantastic! After a long shift we ventured forth the early evening sunshine, pumped up and got on the water! Under her invaluable tutelage I was up and paddling. That trip had 2 swims as I fell in and I knew I would need a lot of practice turning on the water. I learnt that going in a straight line was easy, turning pits you off balance. There are two primary ways of turning a the board, a ‘J-Stroke’ which turns in a gentle, wide arc or a back paddle which is sharper. As a novice I was yet to realise that I needed to counteract the forcs of the turn by shifting the weight in to the opposite side of the board. The inevitable happened. Splash! 
It’s a lovely, as yet unelected excursio. Schedules have not allowed me to have further tutoring. But, I deterred I continued to go out. 

I went back to the beach between Bournemouth and Boscombe piers. Only this time flat, calm seas with a maximum of 1′ swells. Perfect SUP conditions. The water was lovely and not too cold but I soon found out that paddling on a river and the sea are 2 completely different animals. On the sea I was up and paddling  but was falling off a lot. I wa not compensating for the tide or the waves and falling in. 

I went back to athe river twice on my own and practiced, practiced and practiced putting in 4 hours over two sessions and not falling in once. My confidence has grown massively, I know my board better, and I have bought you up to date.

Tomorrow theses is forecast as flat, the weather dry with a slight favourable north-easterly wind. My plan is a whole day on the beach, learning about what tide is best as I will be there during an outgoing and incoming tide, learning how to control the board on the sea. I am now self teaching, gaining experience and learning the sport by doing it. So if anyone is at Bournemouth and sees a Farman paddling, give a wave and friendly encouragement as it takes courage  and determination to try the sport and to fail so publicly!

I welcome friendly comments so please do share your thoughts equally I would love to hear your stories! See you on the water!