The other day I was lucky enough to pootle off for a bit of a staycation in a beachside town called Cronulla about an hour of Sydney. I was there to review a hotel, but the PR team had put on a few activities for us while we were there – one of which was a stand-up paddleboarding lesson. Cue massive squeals of excitement from me as it’s something I’ve always wanted to do but never actually found the time to get round to.
Now when most people think Cronulla, they think surfing. It’s one of the places where the sport started here in Oz – and rightly so as the swell the day we were there was HUGE. But, thankfully, that’s only on the east side of town – on the west is the supercalm Gunnamatta Bay which just had gentle ripples and this was where I was going to take to the water. My lesson was with John Clingan from Cronulla Surf School – and he was brilliant. You see, as normal when trying anything even remotely sporty, I decided I was crap at SUPping within roughly three minutes of being on the water and wanted to get out.
The other girls I was with were all Aussies and they didn’t need a lesson – it looked like they were born on boards and were standing up before I’d even got my board attached to my leg with the leash thingy. I’m trying to work out which way my paddle should be up and they’re heading out to sea. As I paddled myself (unintentionally) in the opposite direction, having no clue how to even steer this thing I was all ready to ditch the lesson and go lie on the beach and let the rest of them paddle – but John had other ideas. He sent the experty girls off round the bay and took me back to the shallows where we started with the basics like how to steer The next 10 minutes were spent getting me comfortable with paddling and while I wasn’t standing yet, I was happy enough to head out to sea on my knees and meet my class buddies. At this point I was given some firm rules – ‘If you see the sea turtle don’t put your hand in, she’ll bite. If you see the seal,don’t put your hand in – it’s like a dog with flippers – and it’ll bite. If you see the dolphin, don’t panic if she comes and lies on the board – she likes to say hello.’ At this point you wouldn’t have stopped me heading out to sea at any cost – turtle, seal, dolphin – what’s not to love, even if they might be a bit bitey? Plus rule four was ‘shuffle your feet in the shallows in case there’s a stingray’ so I decided I was safer on the water than land anyway.
For the next 20 minutes I was having a blast paddling about and every so often John would shout another tip at me to improve my technique. Obviously I didn’t have a notepad with me so this is all done from memory, but here’s the tips I can remember….
- The wider the board the more stable it is….however, in a clever psychological trick John started me on a thinner board when I was using my knees and only swapped me to the widest board when he thought I was ready to stand up. That way, I felt as stable standing as I did on my knees.
- You don’t paddle the SUP board like a kayak. Do a few strokes on one side, then on the other – and don’t pull the paddle too far back, just past your feet is fine then lift it out of the water and start a new stroke.
- Paddle along the side of the board, almost scraping under it. Do 2 and 3 and you’ll go straight.
- When you do go to stand up – look up. This was the hardest thing for me as I naturally look down in life to make sure I don’t fall over anything. Looking down equals falling down though – keep your eyes straight ahead at all times.
- Once you are standing up, keep your feet wide and pretend you’re doing a squat and slightly bend your knees and stick your butt out. Again, this was game changing for me as I’m slightly hypermobile and so my knees lock straight when I stand – that’s not a great position for balancing but thinking ‘squat’ kept me in the right position.
- If you get tired, lie down on the board, paddle underneath you and paddle with your arms. Particularly useful if you suddenly end up paddling against the wind.
The observant among you might have noticed that I give tips there that say ‘when you’re standing’ because yes, dear reader, eventually I stood up. In fact, I stood up, balanced without falling in and paddled for a good 10 minutes upright. I was extremely slow, but I did it. Actually it turned out I’d done it at least 5 minutes longer when I thought John was holding my board but sneaky little so and so hadn’t held on once and I’d actually been balancing just fine – we just had to give my head time to catch up with my body. And no, I didn’t see any of the aforementioned marine life but I was so proud of myself for not getting out of the water when I felt stupid and rubbish in front of the other people there it didn’t matter. Every time I manage to achieve something like this it kicks the girl who used to cry before gym class at school as everyone would laugh at her crapness a bit further back into submission (though she does appear every single time I try something new). I think I need a couple more lessons to really get the hang of things but I had a blast – and I can definitely recommend John as a teacher if you’re not hugely confident. Sadly I didn’t take my waterproof camera with me so there’s no pics of me on the board – well that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it – so you’ve got a nice view of the sunrise from my hotel room illustrating this piece instead.
I had a great weekend in Cronulla. I needed the break. I’d been working on a new book alongside my normal job and as such even a recent holiday hadn’t recharged my batteries but just spending one night close to the sea pepped me right up. If you want to read more about my Cronulla adventures, check out my post on The Carousel website – -you’ll find a few other stories on there from me too so even though I’m not posting here as often you can check in with the fun stuff I’ve found over there. Also thanks to the team at Eventhouse Cronulla for a great night away.