I first wobbled my way onto a paddleboard in summer 2016, when I booked an introductory session with Andrew on the backwaters of Oxford. Like most of my current past-times, I can’t remember what made me sign up for the first lesson.
I think he was being kind, but Andrew said he could always tell those who practice yoga when they get on a board as they’re much more stable. Paddleboarding is basically tadasana on water. He introduced me to the different paddle strokes and we had a potter up and down the river. I managed to stay on top of the board and I enjoyed the different viewpoint from on the water.
Amongst his other enterprises, Andrew launched Oxford SUP club in spring 2017, and it became a regular meetup for a paddle and a laugh. We began supporting swim races by crewing for the swimmers, shepherding them along the rivers and providing a respite if needed.
Weekday evening paddles in the summer were my favourite; to cycle from work to the launch site (changed regularly), lock my bike to Andrew’s trailer, and paddle with friends in the sunshine.
The first paddle of 2018 for the club was a few days after I got back from New Zealand, and it had been raining for weeks. We went to the quietest stretch of river but around some corners the water was flowing so fast we were breaking a sweat in the chilly air just to make progress. Getting back to the start just required steering.
For May Morning we gathered at 5.30am to paddle to Magdalen bridge for dawn and the choir, along with an armada of other water craft and thousands of people on the streets. We might have been scraping frost off the boards to start, but it was a great start to the day.
The club expanded rapidly in 2018 and SUP seemed to become more of a mainstream sport. We got smiles rather than confused faces from passers-by on the river banks. Many of the club now had their own boards, meaning there were more available to borrow for others – some summer evenings we had over 20 on the water!
We continue to crew the swim/run races, and have started participating in some races of our own. Our first outing was to the 2018 British SUP Club Championships. Many other clubs were specific SUP race clubs, whereas we turned up for the fun of it (and the BBQ). Andrew provided boards to those who needed them, and entered some of us in more races than we knew about. Which can’t have been a bad thing as we ended up in the top 10 clubs, and I came away with a 2nd place trophy for my women’s novice 12’6 board race! It was a great day out and there’s some talk about actually training for the 2019 championships.
The racing isn’t what appeals most to me for SUP however. For me, it’s a mode of exploration of the waterways. Oxford may be a city but there’s so much wildlife in and around the rivers and canals. Over the years I’ve seen otters, kingfishers, herons, red kites (admittedly not hard in Oxford), dragonflies, woodpeckers, foxes, bank voles and bats. We’ve been involved in plastic cleanups and it’s heartening to watch the water quality improve in places.