Lucy Young discovers that Stand up Paddle Boarding is a great way to join the river fun with her swimmer friends
One of my favourite swimming activities this summer has been SUPPING – that’s Stand up Paddle boarding – with swimmers. There is something very rhythmic about the gentle splash of a swimmer next to you in the water and you feel like a guardian angel. The closure of swimming pools has meant more swimmers have been taking to the rivers to maintain their training (and their sanity) and there is of course an element of risk in this. Water quality worries and family opposition have so far prevented me from venturing into the water but I hate to miss out and I love seeing my swimming buddies so I have opted to SUP with them instead. This has given me ample opportunity to enjoy the tranquillity of the river scene, to spot fantastic wildlife and to engage with other river users. I hope I am also working my core.
Generally, swimmers are viewed as a nuisance by rowers, kayakers, fishermen and boat captains but having a SUP in support seems to diffuse this animosity. Obviously, you help swimmers to be more visible as you are a taller presence on the water but it is more than this. When you are paddling next to a group, you become their spokesperson. You can pre-empt any negativity by smiling and saying good morning to other river users. You can give other river users plenty of warning to adjust their course and you can reassure them that planning and thought has gone into the swim. People generally ask how far the group is swimming and this knowledge tends to inspire respect and greater understanding in those who initially think it is a ridiculous activity. When your swimmers pause to rest and chat I like to recite the conversations I have had and to describe the stir they have caused in that particular stretch of river – it somehow adds to the camaraderie and experience. I also like to keep a mental tally of my wildlife spots (as swimmers tend to miss these) so that I can relay that too.
The SUP has become a handy raft for transporting ‘vital kit’ to make the swim more fun. Snacks and water for a longer ambitious swim, mobile phones for emergencies or for those moments when you spot a rope swing or jumping platform (and someone just can’t resist and obviously requires a picture) plus towels and warm clothes for skins swimmers who are worried that perma-frost might set in before they make it back. The SUP also gives wetsuit swimmers the option of peeling off their suit for the last stretch. It is amazing how much stuff you can load on.
Sometimes it is good to paddle at the front to check for obstacles, angry swans and sailing clubs that might be hazardous ahead. The front swimmers can sight off you too. At other times you need to herd a swimmer who is going off course or drop back to be with a swimmer who may be falling off the pace and is more vulnerable on their own. That’s when the guardian angel feeling kicks in. Watching over a group swimming strong against the odds this year makes me feel proud. I am connected with them, with the river and the other river users as we are all enjoying the space and the early morning light together.