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!

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