Two Girls Go Wild in Suffolk: Stand-up paddleboarding on the Stour
PUBLISHED: 16:21 11 July 2019 | UPDATED: 16:21 11 July 2019
Sarah Lucy Brown
Two Girls Go Wild at paddleboarding, an increasingly popular way to explore the our waterways and stay fit at the same time | Words: Naomi Gornall - Photos: Sarah Lucy Brown
Some people believe stand-up paddleboarding could have originated in East Anglia. In 1886, photographer Peter Henry Emerson captured a man paddling, standing up, through the Fens. Although this is thought to be the first photographic evidence of paddleboarding, it wasn't established in its current form until the 1960s in Hawaii.
It really exploded in popularity in the late 2000s. In 2012, Suffolk SUP was set up and now has 30 members, continuing to attract people of all ages and fitness levels. I've always liked the look of it - a sort of chilled style of surfing crossed with kayaking. So, I decided to give it a go, along with my photographer friend, Sarah, as part of Two Girls Go Wild in Suffolk.
Neil Morris, chairman and principal instructor at Suffolk SUP, who has been paddleboarding for eight years, explained his passion for the sport. "I love the sense of freedom a paddleboard allows. It is also my personal stress buster. I enjoy competing in races and endurance race events, and meeting other paddle boarders from all over the UK and the rest of the world. The SUP community is really sociable."
It was a gloriously sunny day when we arrived at the Cattawade picnic site by the River Stour, to be greeted by Neil and two other Suffolk SUP members, Wilma Zwikker-Killgallon and Kelvin Davies.
I spotted our inflatable boards straightaway and my mind was instantly put at ease as they seemed much wider and sturdier than I had imagined. Wilma gave us a quick tutorial of the basics, including tips on how to avoid falling in, which was to come in handy.
At the water's edge I attached my board's Velcro strap around my ankle, so that if I fell in, it would not float away from me and could be used for buoyancy. The 10ft 6ins board was placed in the water and I gingerly climbed on, using my paddle as an anchor, while crouching on my knees and trying to keep steady.
Beginners are encouraged to stay kneeling for as long as they feel comfortable but I felt I needed to stand to get more balance. Once on my feet, it felt slightly surreal. My new waterscape stretched out before me. I was exposed, with nothing to hold onto and just a paddle to propel me forward.
Our starting point happened to be a bit of a wind tunnel and with the direction of the breeze against us, it was a tough start. I soon realised why SUP is good exercise - I really had to push through the water and use my arms to make progress. Once past that section, I began to really enjoy it as we headed down the Stour, towards Flatford.
Feeling more at ease, I drank in my surroundings, relishing the stillness, the scenery, the sounds, the serenity.
A couple of Canada geese flew fairly low, flapping furiously just above my head, seemingly unaware of my presence, and almost causing me to submerge. Then a pair of swans, protecting their young, gave us warning looks to stay away.
At certain times, when we reached a more exposed section of the river, the wind picked up and it was difficult to steer, feeling like you were almost paddling on the spot. There were many times when I ended up in the reeds and had to be directed out, with help from Kelvin.
With the shelter of overhanging trees once again, calmness resumed. That was until we got to the lock. We were given the option of turning around and heading back to our starting point or to have a go at navigating through the narrow lock first.
Being wild girls up for an adventure - or just foolhardy - we opted for the latter. While Sarah dropped to her knees to glide through the wooden structures, I remained standing but couldn't steer away from the edge quickly enough.
The board stopped but I didn't, and I was flung forward. Amazingly, I managed to keep my balance. Five minutes later a similar event happened and I fell onto the board backwards. Thankfully they are quite wide. Sarah, who acted like a seasoned pro from the off, had her own mishaps, which included almost toppling in while taking a photo - an occupational hazard, I guess.
As our trip came to an end, it was clear how enthusiastic Neil, Wilma and Kelvin are about the sport. It's peaceful yet exhilarating, it's a good all-body workout and it enables you to embrace the natural environment. What's not to love?
Suffolk SUP's season is April to October when members paddleboard on rivers, the sea and at their Alton Water base. They meet every Wednesday evening at the reservoir and some Saturdays/Sundays at various locations. More information suffolksup.club.
If you know any spots in Suffolk we should explore or exciting new activities we should try, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also tag us on Instagram (@twogirlsgowildinsuffolk) if you are out and about being wild in Suffolk.
The ride of our lives
Adrenaline junkies might not have Southwold on their list of hot spots but they would be missing out. Coastal Voyager, based at the harbour, offers one of the most thrilling rides I have been on. The company runs various trips in its inflatable 12-seater boat, constructed in New Zealand and based on the design of an NZ coastguard vessel. We opted for Sea Blast, a 30-minute, high speed dash around Sole Bay.
We joined a cheery bunch of women celebrating a 50th birthday, which created a great atmosphere as we donned waterproofs and lifejackets. Firmly strapped in, we set off like excited teenagers on a rollercoaster, led by Marcus Gladwell, an experienced skipper who set up the company.
Once past the harbour walls, Marcus took up the speed a few notches and the next 25 minutes were spent whizzing across the sea while listening to a catalogue of popular rock anthems. Quick turns and sharp angles had the boat leaning to one side, then flying into high waves, lifting then smashing down on the sea, making you wonder how and why it doesn't capsize.
Sarah and I were on a high when it finished and can't wait to do it all again.
More information and booking T: 07887 525082 or coastalvoyager.co.uk