If you have read my previous blogs (I’m assuming you are all avid fans, and why wouldn’t you be?) you will know that paddle boarding has proved to be one of the things I enjoyed most when I did my own year of surprise experiences. I had been desperate to introduce my nnoodl adventurers to this fantastic pastime for a while, but of course it is quite weather dependent. As summer seemed to be finally showing itself a bit more consistently, I decided that June was the time for it. Now I know that this could be a tricky call as water isn’t everyone’s friend, but I reviewed the ‘what scares me’ section of everyone’s forms and was happy to see that amongst the fears of things like spiders and being in an underground in a confined space, this experience wasn’t going to freak anyone out. Next came the instruction that I had to give people in terms of meeting place and what to expect. I chose the beginners’ session at Kew Bridge and so instructed people to meet at Gunnersbury station. Yes, this was a 15 min walk to the location rather than 5mins from Kew Bridge, but I like to throw people off the scent a bit!
So what should they bring? Well the good thing about paddle boarding is that no specific equipment is required to do this in warm weather. You can wear shorts, leggings, or any sort of outdoors sports kit, and either some old trainers, or the company lend out neoprene shoes. So people would hopefully not have any idea of what they were about to do….
Of course the element of surprise is always a bit of a risky moment and the ‘reveal’ on the day is the part that makes me almost as nervous as the participants. Although I could have chosen the slightly easier version of paddle boarding along the Grand Union canal from Paddington, I don’t think anything beats the Thames, and especially this trip from Kew to lovely Richmond. As we gathered at Gunnersbury you could tell that people wondered what they might need their summer/sports kit for in this slightly industrial looking area.
As soon as we approached the bridge and headed towards the arches, murmers started amongst the group as they saw a sign for kayaking. One or two people had done this, but still seemed keen, but when our instructors came out with a paddle board, I could hear some gasps of excitement. Phew, so no-one wanted to cash in their ‘pass card’. There were, inevitably some people who felt a bit apprehensive, but our instructors quickly put everyone at ease, explaining that you didn’t necessarily even need to be able to swim to do this sport – just let them know if you can’t so they know to keep an extra eye out!
Our instructors gave us a brief overview of paddle technique whilst on dry land and before we knew it we were launching ourselves into the water. The group gathered near the shore, still on their knees, trying to get to grips with the paddling, and watching apprehensively as speed boats and pleasure cruisers went by, causing some small waves.
Although I am now quite a competent paddler, I decided to stay on my knees too until everyone got their confidence up. Once we were through the arch of the bridge, we took a little inlet down the side of the main part of the Thames, where the water was quite calm, and within 10 minutes, everyone was having a go at standing up. There were a couple of people in the group who, like me, are confident swimmers, and so they couldn’t understand why they were afraid of falling in the water. I told them how I had felt exactly the same and that I got over it by falling in, slightly deliberately on a nice hot day.
With that, I heard a splash behind me, as someone fell in the water. You have to try to resist the urge to turn around quickly as a beginner or else you will unbalance yourself and also be in the Thames. But as we checked our fellow paddler was ok, she surfaced giggling. This little incident seemed to put everyone at ease, as she assured us it was ‘lovely in here’. Our instructors reminded her to wash her hands before she ate anything, and to maybe have a Coke when she got out of the water. Yes, Coke kills all the possible bugs in your stomach. Well you have seen what it does to a penny if you drop it into a glass of the stuff...just saying..
We were out on the main part of the Thames now, and on such a sunny day, people were out in force enjoying the water. Suddenly, whoosh, a motor boat went past and the wake started to throw the group as small shrieks went up. But I was so impressed, as no one dropped to their knees. This happened a few more times (I couldn't help but think that the RNLI boat went past deliberately causing a wake to try and spice up their day!).
Everyone seemed to be really embracing the sightseeing side of this activity too. As we paddled past Syon Park, it really was idyllic. It’s a very sociable experience too as you paddle along with different people having a chat and comparing experiences. We were quickly approaching Richmond, and had to navigate our way to pull into a small inlet by the White Cross pub for a refreshment stop. I could feel the apprehension as people were out drinking by the river, obviously intrigued by these visitors, and watching us, and I’m always sure, waiting to see someone fall in. We had some snacks and drinks for the group as we enjoyed a 30min stop whilst we waited for the tide to turn. We heard about some new paddles that the company were offering, including some environmental events to clear plastic from the river, which I liked the sound of. By the return paddle the group were even more confident and really loving it. There was a short section where the wind picked up and it became a bit of a struggle to paddle against it. I could see a few people getting a bit competitive at this point, and then I think were quite relieved when they were advised to slow down to keep the group to together for safety. The group safely navigated their way back under Kew Bridge and managed to avoid cranky geese to get safely back to shore. Everyone seemed to be on a total high, comparing how shaky their legs felt, but how exhilarating this experience had been. Even the most apprehensive were already asking about other sessions they could join. Hooray, another nnoodl success!
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Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.