Paddleboarding on the thames & canals in london

Want a fantastic way to strengthen your core and reduce back pain, combined with a great day out? This increasingly popular sport could be the answer. It is easy to learn, and allows you to chat to friends while getting fit. Apparently more women do it than men… we wonder why? Here Paul Hyman, paddleboard expert, teacher and director of London-based Active360, explains why it might be time to get on board.

People take up paddleboarding for many reasons. It’s good all-round no-impact exercise, a chance to connect with nature and meet people, see the city from a unique perspective and it’s fun.

Active360 started developing stand up paddling (SUP) in London in early 2011 and, in less than five years, have become the UK’s biggest and best-known SUP provider. In 2011 the sport was rarely seen on the Thames and other waterways and for three years was banned downstream of Putney by the Port of London Authority (PLA). Now it’s seen by all agencies as a good safe and inexpensive way of opening up our rivers and canals to many more people. Our working relationship with the PLA is excellent and we have developed training courses to increased river knowledge and risk awareness with their help and approval.

Getting out on open water is incredibly relaxing and de-stressing. Wildlife on the Thames is prolific and fascinating. It’s not unusual to see a cormorant or heron fishing and if you are out there regularly you will sometimes see seals, large fish jumping and even the odd porpoise. On the canals kingfishers are sometimes sighted and moorhens are quite common.

Although the predominant age group is 30-40 and women participants outnumber men by 2-1, SUP is attracting people of all ages, from teenagers to 70+.

One of the great things about the sport is its accessibility. Learning the basic skills is a quick process with good coaching. We can teach most of the basics in 2.5-hour induction lesson and then, with practice, most people can be proficient intermediate level paddlers within a few weeks.

Also its low impact nature makes SUP suitable exercise to aid recovery from some injuries. Back injuries can make running and many impact sports risky and painful but SUP can help to rebuild strength and mobility of back muscles once recovery is underway. All major muscles are used in SUP and it can also provide a good cardio workout and burns many calories.

In London the range of venues is growing every year. We started on the Thames at Kew Bridge and the Grand Union Canal at Brentford Lock. In 2014 we started up a new base from a barge at Paddington Basin and in 2015 at the Crewroom at Putney Embankment. In 2016 our new base at Islington Boat Club will start up and other venues are under consideration.

Almost any stretch of water is suitable for SUP and paddling on rivers and canals can be just as much fun as on the coast. We obviously don’t have surf but there’s always so much to see on the river and it’s a great venue for touring, fitness paddling and racing.

What’s new for 2016?

Active360 have a few great collaborations underway. One is with Aquativity who are introducing PowerBoards to the UK. These are electric motor-assisted paddle boards, ideal for the Thames, where the motor provides extra push against the tide, or when you feel like an easier or longer paddle. They are also great fun and we are proud to be the only company in London to offer demo sessions on these. Our coaches will be using them to whizz around between groups on the river.

We have also developed a new inflatable adventure SUP with friend and comedian Bill Bailey (who lives close to the Thames and loves paddling there) and designer Soren Strange. This will be available by Spring 2016 and the prototypes are proving a great success. Inflatable paddleboards have now become the most popular type because their performance has increase so much and because they can be easily stored and transported. Active360 stock a range of inflatable paddleboards and can arrange demos of many types and brands for people looking to buy one.

To join in the London paddleboarding community, visit Paul’s company also runs exclusive paddleboarding adventures outside London: Sardinia in April, the Hebrides in June, with more planned for Portugal, Patagonia and Slovenia. Palace Gate’s Lifestyle service can arrange this for you or your group of friends, hassle-free.

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