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Coach needed - or can I do it myself?

We don’t need to say again that SUP took off massively last year with thousands of people buying their boards and joining the ever-growing community of SUP paddlers in the UK. 

Easy and accessible – finally a totally no fuss paddlesport that almost anyone can do and more – look good doing it without never drying neoprene, unflattering waterproof outer gear, helmets, throwlines, towlines and other endless bags of bits and pieces you cannot go without. 

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Words and imagery: Active360

Anyone can buy an inflatable board – there is a board for every budget and any colour preference, so to say (!). So we’re not surprised the attention is diverted from the technical aspects of SUP to the purely aesthetic ones like the scenic backdrop and the design and/or the colour of outfit (often relatively minimal and photographed from certain angles) matching or contrasting the board. 

Get a board! Lots of online deals available. But do it quickly. Everyone seems to be running out of stock. No special requirements need to be considered as an all-rounder 10.4- 10.8’ seems to be ‘one size fits all’ in this department. Just make sure the colour is nice. And you’re set to go paddling!  

So if that’s all there is to SUP… do I need to get some coaching? 

Humans have mastered much more complicated things than SUP, so, of course, you can teach yourself. But whether you can do it well depends on many factors: aptitude for sports learning, previous experience of sports requiring good balance, exposure to watersports, your observational skills, how much time you are willing to put into it, how resourceful you are in finding sources of help, how analytical and self-reflective you are, and many more.  

It might also be wise to consider your paddling aims – how much paddling you want to do and how good you want to get – as developing bad habits is the easiest thing to do and the hardest thing to undo. And you need to have the right board and paddle for the type of paddling you will do. 

The Tideway

We operate on a very specific body of water – the tidal Thames in London (known as the Tideway) – a beautiful and powerful urban river, bustling and potentially hazardous at times. Rowers, cargo boats, passenger cruise boats, sailing boats, barges and sports cruisers of all sizes mix on the river. Tidal currents can be powerful, and heavy rainfall adds fluvial flows to the mix, making the Tideway at times a river tricky to navigate and best avoided. This happens only at certain stages of the tide and in specific weather conditions but can unexpectedly change and catch you out when you are out there. 

To paddle safely on the Tideway, you not only have to have good personal skills to deal with wash, currents, the tide against wind, chop etc. It would help if you had the right equipment. You need to understand the unique navigation rules on this stretch of the river with unique upper and lower Tideway Code areas. You are expected to be ‘working the slacks, which involves paddling on the wrong side of the river. This is outlined in the Tideway Code issued by The Port of London Authority. 

Most of all, you must understand the specific risks that paddling on an urban river with fast-flowing currents entails. Overhanging trees, moored boats, pontoons, buoys, floating logs and trees at different stages of the tidal flow combined with wash from passing traffic create serious and very dangerous pinning or entanglement hazards. Understanding why a leg leash is not appropriate on a moving water is vital. We explain these to everyone who comes paddling with us and teach these skills more in-depth in the Thames Skills and Knowledge course.  

The demand for paddlesports increased further by Covid 19 lockdowns, attracting more inexperienced paddlers to the Tideway. We welcome it – but based on long 30+ years of experience paddling this stretch – we advise all novice paddlers to get some training to improve their paddling competence and understand moving water. 

Quick-release leash

We employ SUP instructors and coaches, and we were frustrated for years not having found a SUP training provider that would properly prepare people to teach in Tideway conditions. Extensive local training is always required, and some basic safety principles need to be understood and adapted – the main one being the ‘golden rule of safety’ – a leg leash. Most existing training programmes do not consider that a leash is useful and often essential in some situations but that a leg leash can be deadly in flowing rivers. In contrast, a quick-release leash adds to safety in most situations. 

Frustrated with the lack of a SUP ‘training the trainers’ programme we could have complete confidence in, we started on a route to develop our own. We piloted a course in 2017 and were considering how to develop it further in 2018. We soon realised our time and resource limitations and decided to focus on the top-up local knowledge training. This was our strength, and we could offer it to both coaches and directly to paddlers themselves. 

British Canoeing

Last year’s surge in demand for paddlesports made us realise we urgently needed more instructors and coaches. We needed to train them reasonably quickly and to a high standard – and that’s always a tough call. The Directors of Active360 are all long-standing British Canoeing coaches coming from whitewater backgrounds. After checking out other SUP training providers, we turned to what we knew well years ago – British Canoeing. 

The new coaching pathways programme is flexible and enables participants to upskill to coach different paddlesports. It is also comprehensive with an in-depth insight into the psychology of learning and coaching.  

Hurley Weir...

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