Thursday, 2 November 2017

Buy now or cry later

Shopping in India can be a crazy experience!! It's probably the nearest I get to understanding how a magpie feels - I want everything shiny and colourful. There are shops that sell every single kind of stainless steel cooking implement you can imagine

and shops full of such colourful, shiny tat which here, in the UK I wouldn't even look at. Somehow in India it's all so very appealing! There's such a fine line between buying unusual and fun things as gifts or for the house and ending up with a suitcase full of rubbish...

The advice I'd give? Take it slowly, don't be rushed in to too much tat and buy fewer - but better - things. And when it comes to haggling... I'm actually hopeless! It's complicated, the whole haggling issue. I was once in a shop in Istanbul with my husband. He was doing a brilliant price of haggling on the price of some cushions and I piped up and said that the price was unfair. Much too cheap!! So I'm probably not the best one to advise on this one. Some shops have fixed prices, the street vendors and markets expect a haggle but it's not always the done thing. If I love something I'm happy to pay the price if met with a tough bargain - and I always regret it if I don't buy something I loved!

And then there are the shops with the interesting or amusing names and signs. I particularly loved this one selling country drugs...

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Holy Cow!

I've just spent a week in India immersing myself in the colours and the culture. The beauty, chaos and contradictions of the country always surprise. This time I went from Chennai to Pondicherry and my next few blogs will be sharing my photographs with you. Enjoy!

The cow is sacred to most Hindus, they honour her and thank her for the milk, cream, yogurt, cheese, butter, ice cream, ghee and dung that she provides. 

Her nature is represented by the goddess Kamadhenu, the mother of all cows. They wander freely everywhere, they have free reign and there are huge penalties if you hit one whilst driving. You have to keep your wits about you at all times as they cross the road at a leisurely pace, whether it’s a dual carriageway or a country lane. In the state of Gujurat it is illegal to slaughter a cow and is now punishable with life imprisonment.

They eat the food littered by markets and bins and this means, of course, that they often eat the litter too, plastic and detritus thrown on the street. One of the many contradictions that is India. 

Friday, 4 August 2017

My brother can SUP

I was at a memorial service down in Cornwall a few weeks ago and got talking to my youngest brother (Merlin) and a friend of his about how they'd been paddling in Mull recently. They'd had a great time, fallen in a fair amount and had gone to bed tired, happy and with aching shoulders.

They were discussing how they'd like to do a long trip, maybe the length of the Tamar or similar. I said they should have at least one lesson before attempting this - oh how they laughed! They both agreed there was nothing to this SUP lark, you just jumped on the board and off you went. When I asked them if they were using their core they said they thought so but (and then did a paddling action) it didn't really matter because they were perfectly able to get where they wanted to go, whatever. As for leashes? They're for dummies. Ok.

I persuaded Merlin to come and spend the day with me and said we could go paddling. I didn't tell him that I was actually going to give him a two hour lesson, half an hour on land technique the works, but he's a cool guy and I knew he'd be fine!

I always start my lessons explaining the parts of the board, what the different fins are for and talking about the leash. One of the main problems with not wearing a leash (apart from an obvious safety issue) is that if you fall in the board might go off one way and you go the other, possibly dropping the paddle as you go. Do you fetch the paddle or chase the board? And if you do get the paddle how do you then swim to the board? It's not that easy with a paddle. You'll probably swim to the board and realise you've lost the paddle. Not a great scenario. He'll wear a leash from now on!!

We then move on to discussing the paddle. I asked him if he's kayaked. He said he had. So then I demonstrated how a paddle is held when kayaking and how it moves the water. Then I turned the paddle around and said 'when you SUP you hold the paddle this way round'. Most people are surprised. Merlin was very surprised. He had probably been paddling with the paddle the wrong way round all the time in Mull...

He even did it a couple of times with me. It's a hard habit to break.

He soon got the knack of using '90% body, 10% arms' though and was nicely powering through the SUP stroke.

By the end of the day I was an extremely proud sister. He was talking about courses that he was going to go on before taking to the Thames (he'd already decided to buy a McConks board) and now completely understood why it was a good idea to have at least one lesson! Even if he can't persuade his friends at least he will be safer and, although of course we all know it's not at all important, he'll look cooler than them out on the water!!

Friday, 9 June 2017

Should I stay or should I go?

One of the hardest decisions I have to make is whether to cancel a lesson or not.

I use two, sometimes three, apps/websites... the main one is Windfinder, then I check on Tides4Fishing and finally Buoyweather. But Whitstable has it's own weather - honestly, it's true! The only way to be absolutely sure of how the sea is is to go down and look at it. The apps might all say that the wind is up, say 10 kts gusting at 15 kts... I walk down to the beach and it's dead calm.

Or vice versa.

My scenario is often that I have a student coming from an hour away, Dartford perhaps, and they need to know the night before, or early in the day. The tide goes out so far here and is out for a really long time. I'll go down to the beach to look and the distant water may look fine but all the apps say the wind is coming up and could be more than I'm comfortable teaching on (12 kts or 13.81mph max).

Luckily I can offer a choice - but only if I have time and the student doesn't mind changing location. There is an excellent river half an hour away and, unless it is blowing a total gale and lashing down with rain, we can usually go there. For a first lesson it's ideal - easy to launch and lots of sheltered places to practice standing and turning.

It's only a 35 minute drive from Whitstable and it's always a pleasure to paddle on the river. I do tend to err on the side of caution and believe the app - even though I have returned to Whitstable to find the sea has been glassy! It's not worth the risk.

So, hopefully the lesson can still happen. I'll check the apps and ask myself, to quote The Clash, 'Should I stay or should I go?' and then I start to load the car!

Monday, 1 May 2017

Are you scared of the water?

Last summer I took my best friend, J, out for a SUP lesson. The day was fairly typical for Whitstable, a little breezy with a small chop on the water.

I was freelancing at a school nearby where it's obligatory to wear a buoyancy aid (otherwise known as a PFD, personal flotation device). There's some mixed feelings about wearing these and it grates a bit on some SUPers but the body they are associated with insist on it. Of course, there are times when it's essential to protect yourself and your students/clients/staff but when paddling on reasonably calm enclosed water conditions it can sometimes seem like overkill. The PFD J was wearing was a bit bulky and didn't fit her very well and this made the whole situation harder and more dangerous. Wearing one can also make it harder to swim to the board and awkward to climb back on to the board.

When we SUP we wear a leash (coiled or straight, depending on the location) and this attaches us to, what is in effect, a huge PFD.

We paddled out on our knees and got comfortable with the boards. J practiced some turns and then stood up. Her legs started to shake uncontrollably as soon as she rose to her feet. This often happens to a newbie and is quite normal. After a while it should stop but it's important to relax your body, and those shoulders. Flex your knees a little and breathe. Take time to look around and take in the surroundings.

We're really lucky here in Whitstable, there's so much to see. There are the beautiful brightly coloured beach huts and pastel 'Wavecrest' houses, the restaurants and food shacks scattered along the beach and always plenty of wildlife.

It's often possible to see a Cormorant diving and then reappearing further on, great flocks of birds that fly so close you can hear the beat of their wings and even the occasional sighting of a seal or porpoise.

J was doing really well but then she did fall in. And she panicked. She swum to her board and clung on but because she was wearing the pfd her legs went under the board. I was talking to her and trying to coax her to put her legs out behind her but the pfd had slipped up over her chin and she was really uncomfortable - she wasn't hearing me.

I slipped into the water and came up next to her. This is where it helps to be experienced and calm. I've got two grown up daughters who have put me through my paces and a husband who is an ex racing driver so I've had to learn this skill!

I got her to rest on the edge of the board and talked her round to pushing her legs out behind her. Then I slowly coached her into lifting her chest on to the board and then helped her swing her legs around so that she was lying on her front. None of this was easy because of the bulky pfd but we did it. I got here standing again quite quickly and she soon forgot about having been in the water and started to have some fun.

It wasn't until afterwards that J told me how scared she was. She really had believed she was going to drown - but she had then gone on to enjoy the experience.  She's more experienced now and, although she still has a healthy fear of the water, she's no longer terrified when she falls in.

So don't be scared! Come and have a lesson and experience the beauty of stand up paddleboarding. The chances are you won't fall in - but, if you do, I can assure you you'll be fine!

Sunday, 9 April 2017

From housewife to SUP teacher

When we first moved to Whitstable I knew I wanted to spend time out on the sea. I just wasn’t sure how I wanted to do that! The children were all grown up and I had time on my hands. I had sailed a little when I was young, water-skied, swam a bit, quite fancied windsurfing or kite-surfing - so many options!

The first thing I tried was a sailing lesson at the local sailing school. Jason was very, very patient with me because it was, to say the least, a disaster! There’s so much to think about: a jib sheet, boom, cleats, a rudder etc. etc. Ok, to be fair it wasn’t perfect conditions. It was very cold and very windy.

I spent a lot of time hunkered down in the middle of the boat terrified of the boom which seemed out to get me at every opportunity.

For the next three days I could hardly walk and it was utterly apparent that sailing is great for so very many people but absolutely not for me.

A friend had given me a yoga magazine and in it there was an article about SUP yoga. I loved the look of it and really wanted to have a go. A few days later I found out that my yoga teacher had done a course. I asked her for a lesson.

I was hooked.

I bought an RRD 12’ x 34” board. It arrived and I was so excited to take it on the water. I had no idea what I was doing and there were no instructions. I inflated it and put the fin in. Unfortunately I put the fin in incorrectly - I hadn’t locked it in with the pin and the minute I put it on the shingle, in the water, the fin sheered at its fixture point.

The wait for a new fin was agony. But eventually a new one arrived and I was out on the water. I felt like Pocahontas. I’d go out in all weathers and felt absolutely at home. I wanted to teach others how to do this - get them out on the water and share this amazing thing with everyone. I even taught Elmo to ride!

I rang the ASI (Association of Surfing Instructors) and told them I wanted to teach.

“How long have you be paddle boarding?”
“About two months”
“Ah, right. Um, have you ever had a lesson?”
“No, but I’ve watched lots of videos…”
“Right. What’s the furthest distance you’ve paddled?”
“I don’t know, maybe two miles?”
“Right, well you need to have paddled 10 Km before you can teach. And I suggest you have some lessons…”

I felt a bit of an idiot but it spurred me into action and for the next couple of years I tried to do as many different SUP things as possible. I swapped my RRD board for a Red Paddle Co 12'6. I had  lessons with different teachers and joined the Blue Chip SUPer Club. Every Wednesday night I’d drive to London and paddle (often in the dark) on the Thames. I went to Portugal and did a Learn to SUP course with SUPxscape. And I paddled in Whitstable. As much as possible, in all weathers.

And then I heard that there was an ASI teacher training course coming to Whitstable. It was what I’d waited for all these years. The hardest part was the mini triathlon - a 200m run, swim and prone paddle in under 10 minutes. I knew that I’d find the whole course hard. I’m not great under that kind of observational pressure, I was the oldest on the course (by far!) and I couldn’t swim very well. I failed.

For the next six weeks I ran, swam, swam, swam and prone paddled. And then I passed.

And now I am a teacher. I've swapped my three Red boards for six Mcconks 

a lovely, and affordable, new brand. I absolutely love being able to help people feel confident on the water. I love it that age is no barrier in the world of SUP - in fact it's great for the older generation as it is an excellent way to get flexible, get stronger and get out there.  I still train as much as possible and attend as many courses as I can and. If you've never tried it - come and have a go. If you're already a paddler then maybe I'll see you on the water!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

How to safely take your pup on a SUP

When I first discovered stand up paddle boarding (SUP) back in early 2016 it never occurred to me that Elmo, our long-haired dachshund would want to join me.
My new board arrived and I was so excited to get it out of the box and inflate it. As soon as I had finished Elmo jumped on and sat there as if he knew what it was for! I hope you find some of the tips I’ve learnt about keeping him happy and safe when he comes along with me as my SUP buddy helpful.

1. Buy your dog a buoyancy aid. This is important even if your dog is a good swimmer. There are some great ones on the market. They have improved, are a lot less bulky and have come down a lot in price since I bought Elmo’s.

2. Keep the board inflated and somewhere safe for a few days to a week. Put a toy on the board, or a favourite cushion, along with occasional treats. Sit with the pup on the board and play some games.

3. Teach your dog to get on and off the board, sit and stand at your command. Make it fun and do it little and often. The dog really does need to be able to obey commands otherwise it could get dangerous when you’re out on the water.  Rock the board and tell the him it’s ok, make him/her feel safe and secure and then take the board to the beach or waterside and practice there, playing the same games and using treats as rewards. Remember, take it slowly!

4. Get on the water. Start by kneeling, with your pup in-between your legs if they seem worried. Don’t go out too far, use the treats, stay calm. 

5. Have fun!! 

Most dogs love being on a board and soon get the hang of staying still. They don’t have to sit down, Elmo prefers to sit but I’ve seen plenty of dogs standing. Good luck and let me know how you get on!

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Should I buy a cheap ISUP? (Inflatable stand up paddleboard)

There are so many (ISUPs) inflatable stand up paddleboards out there to choose from - where the heck do you start?

My first bit of advice is spend as much as you can afford. There are some lower priced boards - and some of them are good - but it's really worth having a good think about. Ask yourself "what do I want my board for?"

As a rule of thumb, as a beginner, you will want to look at boards ranging from 9 feet to 13 feet, 4" or 6" thick

If you want a board to take out on calm, flat days to just have a muck about on with the kids then a very cheap board will probably do you (by 'very cheap I am taking about under £300). A glorified lilo if you like. But what about the great reviews you've read? Please, take these reviews with a pinch of salt. Most of them have been paid, in one way or another, to get the ad placed there. This blog sums it up...  www.mcconks.com/blog/how-to-choose-the-best-inflatable-sup/

If you want a board that you can play on, which is stable in a light wind, which is a pleasure to ride on long distances then read on - these are my top three affordable ISUP brands:

                                                     1. Mcconks (www.mcconks.com)
These boards are, in my opinion, the best value for money on the market. They are made by paddleboarders for paddleboarders. They have used similar materials to brands such as Red Paddle Co and Starboard and they really care about the quality of their products. Their 10'6 or 10'8, 6" thick, are good entry level boards, and they come with a fibre glass paddle, a coiled leash, front bungees, a wheeled rucksackBravo pump and a repair kit. They offer excellent after care and customer service. At present these are in the sale at £480 - £495.

2. Jobe (www.jobesports.com/jobe-sup/)
Jobe are a Dutch company. They were founded in 1974 and supplied skis. In 2008 they were sold to a sports company and began selling a wider range of goods. The Jobe Lika 9'8, 4" thick, is, while a little short for touring, a good value board. The package includes an aluminium paddle, a straight leash, a simple rucksack (looks a bit like a dry bag) and a simple double action pump.  At present on sale for £599.

3. Slingshot (http://www.slingshotsports.com)
Slingshot are an American company. Boardworx in Whitstable (https://www.board-worx.com) are selling their 2017 Crossbreed Airtech Inflatable 11', 6" thick, in the sale. The package includes a simple double action pump, front and rear bungees, a simple rucksack (looks a bit like a dry bag) and a repair kit. Note, no paddle included. At present in the sale at £599.

So, I hope I've helped you to make up your mind. It's as the saying goes - 'you get what you pay for'. If you love the sport you will wish you'd paid a little bit more and bought that little bit better. In an ideal world it's best to try a board out before you buy it but, of course, that just isn't always practical. And, if you've never paddled before and want to buy a board - try and hang on. Have a lesson or two. You'll be really glad you did!