What's it like to paddleboard in Norwich?
- Credit: Norfolk Paddleboards
Like many people, the last 18 months have given me a renewed appreciation of the outdoors.
During the coronavirus lockdowns, I’ve paced or dawdled around Norwich’s parks in all seasons and all weathers.
And even on those grey and rainy days, it seems that my mood will always be brighter on my return home from having spent time in the fresh air.
As lockdown has eased recently, continuing to get outdoors for socialising and exercising is a habit I’m determined to keep up.
One of my favourite walks in Norwich is through the city along the River Wensum. It’s a beautiful stretch of water that is teeming with wildlife, including kingfishers.
In the last year particularly, it’s been noticeable how many more people are now taking to the water to explore and enjoy the city.
I’ve seen people out in kayaks, canoes and, increasingly, on stand-up paddleboards.
You may also want to watch:
SUP, as it’s known for short, is one of the fastest growing outdoor activities in the world.
As the name suggests, you stand or kneel on a large, stable board, a bit like a surfboard, and use a single paddle to explore rivers and lakes.
- 1 New BBQ takeaway set to open in Norwich
- 2 Famous Norwich firm locked in legal battle with Red Bull
- 3 'We will come back stronger': Norwich restaurant to close for rebranding
- 4 To cross or not to cross? Pledge to trim back danger hedge at blind corner
- 5 Former teacher who abused young boys handed 25-year sentence
- 6 'We do everything correctly': Norwich takeaway handed one star hygiene rating
- 7 Bus services to be cancelled and changed amid driver shortage
- 8 'Sneaky and selfish' changes to bus route slammed
- 9 Diggers roll into village as work begins on 267 home development
- 10 5 of the best places for a curry in Norwich
And it has a huge range of benefits for body and mind, from helping improve your balance and strengthening your muscles to reducing stress and anxiety.
Plus, it looked like great fun, but, as someone who definitely falls into the not sporty category, and has no sailing experience whatsoever, a bit outside of my comfort zone.
But when Lee Tayler of Norfolk Paddleboards invited me to take a lesson with him, I put the nerves to one side and said yes.
Lee founded Norfolk Paddleboards during lockdown last year.
Looking for ways to get outdoors and keep active during the pandemic he decided to buy himself a paddleboard and explore Norwich's rivers.
He ended up buying 10, trained as an instructor at the Water Skills Academy at Loch Lomond and Norfolk Paddleboards was born.
Norfolk Paddleboards has two hubs in the city – one at the Red Lion pub at Bishopgate on the River Wensum and one at the Rivergarden in Thorpe St Andrew on the River Yare.
He has since expanded the team of instructors and as well as individual and group lessons and paddleboard hire, Lee has also created a paddleboarding community for the city, with members of all ages.
There’s a programme of Social SUPS, with a pub meet-up afterwards and there have been special events including a Paddle for Pride and river clean ups, plus regular women's only paddles. Their What’sup men’s paddles, designed to encourage men to start talking and listening, sell out every month.
"The moment you get on your board and float away from the riverbank, all your troubles and worries seem to just melt away," says Lee.
"The time you get to re focus your mind concentrating on what you are doing enables your mind to switch off. The sound of the water as you glide along the top is somewhat therapeutic.
"I get to now give this opportunity to other people. Giving them the chance to switch off and unwind from life. Put some perspective on life. whilst making sure they are safe and comfortable."
Our lesson was on the Yare, on a stretch of river that I’ve never explored before.
The waterways are there to be enjoyed, but safely, of course. So before taking to the water, you’re kitted out with a buoyancy aid to wear and you’re attached to your board with a safety leash around your calf.
There are also the rules of the river to observe – keep to the right, be aware of any bigger and faster vessels around you and give way to them.
When it comes to what to wear, as there’s the possibility you might fall into the water (spoiler – there will be more about this later), in summer comfortable clothing made of quick drying fabrics, such as sports tops and leggings, are recommended and you can either wear trainers or go barefoot.
Lee is a great teacher – kind, calm and clearly loves being out on the water and helping others to enjoy it too.
He assured me that the butterflies in my stomach were perfectly usual.
Taking it step by step, Lee talked about the boards (his are inflatables by the Red Board Co) and showed me how to adjust the paddle to my height.
Then it was time to get on board.
You start out by kneeling and paddling along. Despite having no experience of rowing, I was amazed by how quickly I mastered steering, stopping and turning.
I will admit that my attempts at standing up on the board were a bit wobbly and did end in rather a damp fashion. But whether you’re paddleboarding while standing, kneeling or sitting, being out on the water is a really magical experience.
We set out towards the city on an afternoon mini expedition – and despite the leisurely pace, an hour and a half just flew by.
While we were only a few metres from dry land, totally immersed in the experience, away from the digital distractions of daily life, it felt like a world away.
Gliding along to a soundtrack of birdsong, tummy butterflies replaced by blue damselflies which darted around us, I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt that in tune with nature.
Back on dry land, I felt lighter. Lee was right - somehow, by being out on the water, my usual worries had floated away.
And doing something out of my comfort zone gave me a big confidence boost. The sense of achievement put a spring in my step which lasted for days.
I can’t wait to get out on the water again for another lesson later this summer – and I’m determined to master standing up on the board.
It just goes to show that travelling just a little way out of your comfort zone can give you a whole new perspective.
For information about Norfolk Paddleboards and group and individual lessons, social paddles and board hire, visit norfolkpaddleboards.com