The sport of paddleboarding appears to be going from strength to strength with no signs of running out of steam anytime soon. With boards becoming ever more easily available, at prices that don’t break the bank, this runaway train has been scooping up new passengers at every town and city across the world.
And this leads directly into our talking point - Is such growth a double-edged sword?
On the one hand, to see SUP thrive is undeniably great. The schools and businesses that have long been built upon SUP foundations can feel assured that they remain on solid business ground. The added demand for outdoors life in the wake of the pandemic has also seen a steady flow of newcomers who see paddleboarding as the more accessible cousin of surfing or windsurfing. Again, great for schools.
However, the fact that a paddleboard and all associated kit can be purchased for less than £250/$340 from the local supermarket or sports store is not entirely without concerns. One element is of course that some people will forego the instruction offered by a school and venture out regardless. And this leads to the bigger problem, being that at no point from supermarket checkout to water’s edge is there any form of instruction or advice on the real dangers of SUP.
And the dangers can be plentiful. Water flow, tides, weather conditions, in-water hazards, currents, other water users and so on. Throw an inexperienced paddler into the mix and it’s a sure-fire recipe for the emergency hotline to be running red hot.
Even the simple summer breeze can play havoc, having huge implications for the inexperienced paddler. The feeling of paddling out with the wind at your back may feel uplifting and joyful, right up until the point the paddler has to paddle back towards shore into a headwind that has no intention of making life easy and suddenly the adventure totters on the brink of an emergency situation.
But wait. Let me play devil’s advocate and spin this on its head a moment.
We live at a time when financial strain has risen. The pandemic has bitten hard across the world and taken a huge chunk out of many people’s former financial security. Surely then, these cheaper paddleboards are a lifeline in trying times? Do they not make an accessible sport even more open to newcomers? Could they not pave the way for people to find a newly acquired love for SUP that will see them seek out more suitable boards and key instruction down the line – after the holiday perhaps, as they arrive home and hunt for a local SUP school. Everyone’s a winner!
Much like a foam surfboard can be picked up for peanuts and can inspire a lifelong love of riding waves, surely the cheap paddleboard can similarly inspire? Can we not give credit to the paddler in having some common sense in paddling such as we offer the newcomer to surfing?
There are questions surrounding the cheap paddleboard, that is for sure.
In reality, as accessible a sport as SUP is, and it truly is a sport that holds few barriers, we also know that it is one that requires real depth of knowledge and preparation if a paddle is to be a pleasant, uneventful one that doesn’t involve getting to know the emergency services personnel on first name terms.
For the outsider looking in, SUP appears to be incredibly simple. Where pounding surf might make an aspiring surfer think twice about venturing out because the danger is clearly evident, the aspiring paddler boarder is more likely to be looking out at a seemingly tranquil body of water, where dangers just as real are sadly not as prominent to the eye. This is where knowledge and understanding comes in if a paddler is to have any chance of countering some of the potential paddling pitfalls. To fail to prepare as they say, is to prepare to fail. Only when you fail out at sea on a SUP, or suddenly find yourself in the arms of a river current that has no intention of letting go, the failure can be catastrophic.
But, as we live in a world where cheaper brand paddleboards have become only slightly more expensive than picking up an inflatable dinghy, and where images sell us the beautiful tranquil peace of paddling over glassy water that SUP can deliver and then state it can all be yours for the low-low price of only £199.99, then the ever more flooded cheap SUP market and its’ consequences both good and bad, is a topic ripe for discussion.
So, what do you think? Are the cheaper boards a recipe for disaster, or are they another gateway to the world of SUP where we hope paddlers will become hooked and seek out instruction and education?