Keen for a dabble at this popular new outdoor adventure activity, Jessica Way, Editor of British Travel Journal, joins in the fun with a group of stand up paddle boarders in Bristol, floating around the harbour at the epicentre of this hip and cultural city, where the views are fascinating and diverse at every turn.
There is one question on my mind as I looked out over the pretty, glistening expanse, in anticipation of the day ahead, “Am I going to get wet”? I’m a first-timer at this increasingly popular sport, surrounded by all the gear but with absolutely no idea.
My nerves kick in just before our briefing. What if I float off? Glide away from the group and down the river, towards a ferry, out of control? I refocus – reminding myself that I can at least swim. The sun is shining, so even if I do end up in the river, I should hopefully dry out quite quickly.
I don’t get asked any questions as our briefing is mostly an introduction to the super-stylish SUP kit around us, from brand ‘red’, and quite rightly so – as it was Red Paddle founder, John Hibbard, who had the ‘crazy’ idea back in 2008 to launch an inflatable board.
Having spent over a decade as a full-time, sponsored competitor on the professional windsurfing world tour, John knew only too well the problems of transporting and storing cumbersome windsurfing kit.
At this time paddleboarding was still finding its feet, with most boards made using an epoxy composite, very much like a giant surfboard. John could see this was stopping the sport becoming more accessible, and that overcoming this problem would help achieve a more widespread appeal. John’s pioneering and innovative engineering to deliver on his theory is considered to be one of the major driving factors in the explosion of paddleboarding’s popularity across the UK.
Over a decade of experimenting with intelligent engineering, the team at Red Paddle Co found a way to turn the cumbersome and fragile rigids into inflatable models, without compromising on performance.
We were each provided with one of their boards – mine’s a 9’6” Compact. If I hadn’t been told I never would have guessed that it was inflatable – and it folds down the middle to pack up super-small.
There’s a couple in the group from Bristol TV who’ve both paddled before and are running a story about using SUP as a better way to get to work in the city – almost like the Brompton of the cycling/train commuters. Still pondering on my possibilities of getting wet, I’m yet to be convinced.
When asking about competition we are told that there’s nothing else on the market that comes close in terms of design and manufacturing quality – and looking down at the board I’m standing on, I believe them.
It’s time to get on board. Final checks – I have my lifejacket on, my gopro and phone are safely tucked away in a nifty ‘red’ waterproof pouch (they do accessories too) and slipped into the netted storage compartment at the front of the board, along with my socks and trainers – as you SUP barefooted. With my ankle strap safely fastened (keeping me connected to my board at all times), paddles in hand, I am ready to set out.
We start on our knees and step up slowly, bending and extending one leg before the other. The board doesn’t wobble, not even a bit. I feel surprisingly more confident and extremely stable. I paddle away gently, with remarkably little effort required, and am now able to appreciate the pretty sights along the waterways of Bristol Harbourside.
We glide past SS Great Britain without a care in the world; it’s incredibly relaxing. The sounds around you become clearer, hearing the birds singing and the gentle lapping of the water being swished under our paddles. No wonder our instructor Kate Ingham, who runs SUP Bristol with her partner, Great Britain freestyle kayaker, Tim Trew, looks so full of life, zest and energy.
As we paddle alongside the famous Matthew, and wave at more passers-by, I get my first chance to chat to Kate. Her passionate enjoyment, both of being out on the water and running her business with Tim, was compelling. They discovered stand up paddleboarding in New Zealand, and in 2014 co-founded SUP Bristol. They were keen to bring the outdoors to the city, and convinced the sport was the perfect way to introduce more people to the water.
Kate also loves open water swimming, competing in distances up to 10km. It seems water is her natural habitat, having, like Tim, also come from a canoeing background, even having trained with the British whitewater-rafting team.
We stopped for lunch at the Spoke and Stringer – a restaurant which thrives on adventure and escapism. Well, I was enjoying the day in the mindset of a paddleboarder, and I loved everything about it. The interiors, the menu (I had poached egg and avocado and their fresh juice of the day), the music, the setting, the coffee – it really was the perfect lunch stop.
Our afternoon kicked off with a skills and techniques training session, before finishing the day with an uplifting paddle yoga session. I enjoyed it so much.
We paddled back past the pretty multicoloured houses of Cliftonwood – feeling highly grateful for the day’s experience. It was the perfect setting for learning to paddleboard and I can see how easy it is to become hooked. Perhaps even the idea of commuting doesn’t seem so daft – though I’d rather go exploring. I’m told about a SUP micro adventure coming up in North Wales and my eyes light up.
WHERE I STAYED
Du Vin Bristol Avon Gorge
Sion Hill, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 4LD, United Kingdom
Tel: 0117 4030210
The Hotel Du Vin group has recently taken over, and completely renovated and upgraded, the Avon Gorge Hotel, set in one of Bristol’s prettiest areas, Clifton Village, with fabulous views across the Avon Gorge, and Brunel’s magnificent Clifton Suspension Bridge.
Back in the Victorian times, then known as the fashionable Grand Clifton Spa and Hydropathic Institution, visitors would use an old railway, (Old Clifton Rocks) which you can still see outside to the right of the hotel, to transport them to up and down the gorge to enjoy the waters from the hot springs below.
This recent transformation of this fabulous Grade II listed building (dating back to 1898) with its pretty Georgian terraces, has restored it to be one of the finest boutique hotels in Bristol. Full of eye-catching detail and luxury mod-cons, and its location is ideal too, with many boutiques and restaurants just a short walk away.
The interiors are exquisite, with contemporary and elegant furnishings beautifully complimenting the 18th-century architecture. During the restorations, some of the unique historic features – including the steam pumps for the former spa, original marble staircase and incredible stained glass windows, have been sympathetically uncovered.
The White Lion bar is perfect for a lazy afternoon, or stay in one of the stunning new bedrooms and suites (There are 78 rooms – including three suites and five garden rooms, many with balconies too). Guests can enjoy the new lounge bar and reception area, as well as brand new meeting, event and private dining suites, located in the former spa pump rooms.
There’s even a new restaurant, Goram & Vincent – a bright modern space with beautiful panoramic views, an open kitchen for fire, smoke and theatre, coal-fired grills and bespoke clay ovens. A meat eater’s mecca, with big hand-cut steaks by the 100g and mouth-watering thick cut filets, although I went for the vegan option! The food was delicious.
Breakfast was in the same restaurant, a fabulous way to start the day – those views! Delicious freshly squeezed juices, a range of cereals, freshly baked pastries, fruit, natural yoghurts and crunchy granola, or the full complement of choices from the cooked breakfast menu – including a continental twist with brioche toast with bacon and maple syrup.
Nestling in the heart of the old city, close to the rejuvenated waterfront, the shopping hub of Cabot Circus, Christmas Steps, Park Street and the charming Clifton village, it is a perfect touring base, whether there for a SUP Paddle adventure, or a weekend leisure break.
MORE ABOUT RED PADDLE
Red Paddle Co are dedicated to delivering the very best SUP experience in the world. With one of their award-winning boards by your side, you’ll be more than ready for that next adventure.
They are the world’s leading inflatable SUP brand, and for more than a decade they’ve been finding new ways to make SUPing easier and more enjoyable. Their innovative, super-stylish boards are packed with leading technology, subjected to extreme testing to prove reliability and rock-hard rigidity – nothing else on the market comes close in terms of design and manufacturing quality.
And it’s not all about boards either – they have also designed a premium clothing line specifically to use when paddling to give you maximum comfort, style and practicality. As well as all the equipment from dry pouches to cool bags, you can purchase these directly from www.redoriginal.com
We love this the cool bag below. Featuring a totally waterproof zip, drop it in the sea and it floats! Perfect not only for your paddle boarding adventures but also for picnics, days at the beach, festivals, travelling and camping trips!