Aha - that title got your attention! Well, it is actually all very innocent, but still this experience did not disappoint. In fact, and I know I have said this before, but THIS has been my favourite adventure so far! Really, I think I have found my new favourite sport. 'Yellow 9' was the combination suggested to me (I think people have cottoned onto the fact that yellow = active challenge and are trying to find the parkour card..) I drew out 'paddle boarding', hmmm, this is something which I have seen more and more of recently and half fancied trying, but wondered how good I would be at it. is You might be thinking, but hang on, you went kayaking a little while back, so that must be good preparation, right? Wrong - as you will see below, this is more like mastering surfing, with a paddle. A bit of internet searching and Active 360 seemed to be the company who offered most opportunities around London. I chose the beginners session at Kew Bridge on a Saturday afternoon. Now there are certain times when a woman's hormones can cause strange things like clumsiness, lack of co-ordination etc, and let's just say that this was one of those days. Oh dear, perhaps not the ideal time to do a sporting challenge that relies on good balance, but The Secret Life doesn't make allowances for such things. And so I arrived under Kew Bridge with my now recurring sense of trepidation. As a group of kayak and Canadian canoes prepared to set off someone shouted "Has someone forgotten their picnic, 4 cans of lager and some sandwiches?" Something told me that there would be no opportunity for us paddle boarders to have some food and drink. In fact all cameras, phones, etc were kept safely onshore as we were reminded that we could well fall into the water. So here is a lovely pic below that I feel represents what the afternoon was like, but without losing my camera in the Thames....
Sophie and Ian, the 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 comprised 5 total beginners and about 10 returning paddlers. We gathered near the shore, still on our knees, trying to get to grips with the paddling, when we were told to head for the middle arch of the bridge and paddle down river. A funny thing happened at this point as I thought to myself "how weird, that bridge looks like it is getting much closer VERY quickly!" Which it was as the current was starting to pull a group of us towards one of the columns. Before we knew it, 3 of us were stuck as Ian shouted "keep paddling!". Now I think from my years of swimming that I have good upper body strength, but this was hardcore. I finally broke away from the group and went through the nearest arch, followed by two other girls and the sounds of screams and splashes as they both fell in. Oops. A bit of a shaky start, but off we went. As a few people ahead of me tried to stand up, my competitive side kicked in as I was also determined to get upright. This was the strangest feeling, although I have no fear of water at all and so falling in didn't bother me, why were my legs shaking uncontrollably? This happened for about 10 minutes as I tentatively paddled on, and just as I thought I was getting the hang of it, whoosh, a motor boat went past and the wake started to throw me so I dropped down to my 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!). Soon though, as we branched off near the lovely Eel Pie Island, I found I could stand up the whole time and manage a small swell too. This was excellent! A really sociable experience too as you paddle along with different people having a chat and comparing experiences. One girl was telling me about having been to some of the paddle board 'fitness sessions' that the company offer where you are encouraged to jump on the board as you change position to try more ambitious turns etc. As I was considering this I head another scream and a splash as someone else fell in behind me. All I could do was shout "Are you ok?" as turning around has the same effect as looking behind you when you are learning to ride a bike - disaster. By the return paddle I was really loving it - the whole experience, and the pure physicality of it too. I managed to stay upright up until the final turn back under Kew Bridge as the current again made it a real effort to paddle in the right direction. Wow, I arrived back onshore with my fellow paddlers feeling exhilarated with both slightly tired arms and thighs that felt like they had been squatting for 2 hours. I have real respect for sea paddle boarders, now that is something to aspire to. I rushed home on a total high and immediately booked my next session - I am hooked!
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.