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There’s nothing like the inexplicable feeling of being on or near water. Women’s paddle boarding group She SUPs founder, Vikki Weston chats to B+S about how it can benefit you.
Paddle boarding has gone through the roof throughout the pandemic – being one of the few activities we were actually allowed outside to do.
With more and more Aussies taking to waterways across the country, maybe it’s time to consider why they’re doing it, and what health and wellness benefits we could reap if we were to give it a whirl.
Here to take the mystery out of the paddle is Vikki Weston, founder of community supping group She SUPs, located the iconic Sydney suburb of Manly. Here’s what you didn’t realise paddle boarding could bring to your life.
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#1: It works out more than just your arms
“Physically it’s an overall, full body workout and many people don’t realise that when they first start out paddle boarding,” explains Weston. “There’s just a perception that it’s all in the arms and shoulders…What people don’t realise is that every single muscle from your feet, up through your calves, into your abs and into your arms – every single muscle is working in unison,”
Weston says that getting the best workout and paddling speed is about the correct paddle stroke.
“You need to focus on utilising your core muscles. What you do is you hinge from the hips and keep fairly straight arms to enter the blade into the water. By doing this, you’re moving your whole body. So it’s a very gentle and supportive workout that manages to use all of these muscles at once.”
“I definitely notice those who have done a lot yoga or Pilates before pick it up extremely quickly because they already have that kind of core strength. I also have a lot of people that comment when they come off the water about how their legs are shaking or their bottom feels sore, because they’re actually locking in and using their glutes and quads.”
#2: Paddle boarding helps you to decompress and release stress
Once you get over the initial nerves of standing up on the board, you’ll realise that being out on the open water, surrounded by nature is a great way to get back to your equilibrium.
Weston has experienced this first hand. It was actually one of the reasons she got into paddle boarding.
“It stemmed from being a kind of support vehicle for me when I was working quite a corporate and stressful job. I took to paddle boarding as way to relax and unwind after a busy day,” she explains.
“I learnt [a lot] during that time where I was in this quite intense role, that wasn’t doing great things for my mental health. I was finding that doing a high intensity workout or a run or something – it was almost too much for me at that time because I had so much kind of – if you think of yin and yang – like yang energy. Tense energy at work and I just needed my body to calm down.”
“I took to paddle boarding as my way of doing that and it just became my lifeline.”
#3: The community is so friendly, you can’t help but meet girlfriends
When Vikki started She SUPs, it was a way to connect women on the water and encourage them to explore their local area from a whole new perspective. She was pleasantly surprised to see the mass uptake this movement has received.
“There are now so many women on the water and it’s so amazing to see. I love the fact that even around Sydney I get messages all the time from female paddlers who are out paddling and they’ll see someone with a She SUPs t-shirt or cap on and they’ll just go up and say ‘hi’. It’s such a sense of community which is so wonderful to see.”
If you’re considering trying out paddle boarding, Vikki has set up an online community hub where female paddle boarders can connect with others in their area – so they can go out for morning paddles as a group.
#4: Unlock secret spots in your local area
While you may be familiar with your local beaches, Australia is a country surrounded by water with many rivers, creeks and inlets running throughout. Paddle boarding is a great way to discover the road (or stream) less travelled.
“You’ve got the range of benefits,” explains Weston. “You’ve got the ability to unlock all these secret spots around your local area. If you get in an inflatable paddle board, like the Red Paddle Co. ones, you can then travel with it and it opens up so many travel opportunities around Australia.”
That’s right! If you opt for an inflatable board you can easily pack it up in your car and take your paddling around Aus. Whether it’s through middle-harbour between Sydney’s iconic beaches, through the Noosa Everglades or along Western Australia’s famed Margaret River, paddle boarding can be a new way to unlock what this country has to offer.
#5: It can make you healthier in other parts of your life
Just like wearing activewear can help you make healthier food choices, paddle boarding is great for a holistic approach to wellbeing.
Vikki tells us that while many of her men and women start out with a fitness or weight loss goal, most of the time paddle boarding ends up changing their entire approach to their wellness.
“Most of the time I see that people kind of tap into this whole new lifestyle and it becomes more than just a health and fitness goal. It’s bringing in healthy positives to all areas of your life…I think that’s pretty magic,” she says.
“As soon as you reach your goal, maybe you want to feel healthier or improve your power, stance and distance and as soon as you’re achieving that, you’re on to the next one. And it’s just, it’s almost addictive.”
How can I get variation in my workout?
Go the distance
“Ultimately you don’t need waves or strong winds to increase your fitness – you could just try paddle further. Sometimes that’s amazing from an endurance point of view, just keeping up that rhythm and paddling nice, long distances.”
“You can absolutely move into waves. Especially if you’re looking to increase your balance and you want to work on those kind of muscles. You could definitely go oceanside and explore that. I’m not necessarily saying surfing, but even just being out there on the ocean side, you’re going to have to play around with a few things like waves, currents, other water users. You’re going to have to have a lot more skill level to be able to balance all those factors,”
“You can try surfing as well. That brings a whole new element into it because you really need to get a lot more power to try to catch the wave. So you’re going to put a lot of power into your stroke and to try and get a lot more speed.”
What board is right for me?
“You could also look at exploring different types of boards to support those kinds of activities. So, for example, if you wanted to explore very long distances, you could perhaps move into more of a touring board, which is a narrower shape. It just allows you to glide through the water more effectively and maximise the use of your strokes.”
“If you move into surfing, you would go for perhaps a shorter board or slightly rounder style board that allows you curve and move around in the waves.”
“For ocean-style paddling, you could go for a touring board again or some people like to explore racing boards, which are even narrower again. This means that from a stability point of view you’re really using your core because it’s not so easy to just stand on the board.”
Inflatable or hard board?
It depends on what you’re used to and what you’re looking for, says Weston.
“When people are looking at the difference between an inflatable and a hard board, trying to work out what’s right for them, they need to consider what their lifestyle might be like. So if someone is an ex-surfer, is used to carrying a hard board, has roof racks and has easy storage then and wants to focus their efforts on SUP surfing then perhaps they want to look at getting a hard board.”
“Personally, I have paddled a lot of different boards but I keep coming back to inflatable. I do use paddle Red Paddle Co’s and I use them for all my lessons. They are absolutely amazing for beginners and when you’re starting out. They sit a little bit higher in the water, but they have great stability.”
If you’ve ever paddled a less-than-premium inflatable board, you’ll know they can be a little unsteady, but Weston says the best part about the type she uses is that they paddle like a hard board.
“You get benefits of it being inflatable, which means you can transport it, it’s light, it’s very safe if you’ve got family, friends and kids around but it paddles just like a hard board. You’re not going to compromise. It’s definitely not a compromise. I think you get a little more out of an inflatable because you can travel with it. I’ve done everything from attempting to surf – I’m not much of a surfer – to long distance paddles.”
Ok, so I’ve got the board. What are three easy tips to get going?
#1 Look at the horizon
Weston says that beginner paddlers tend to look down into the depths of the water below them, but that this can easily throw off their balance.
To find your centre, make sure your feet are in the correct position, slightly bend your knees and look out over the horizon.
#2 Put the paddle in the water
Weston explains that when you’re on the board you only have each leg as a point of contact, but your paddle can help to balance you out.
If you think of it like a tripod, the paddle is the ‘third leg’ that provides a stabilizing feel and provides the momentum to stop you bobbing around and getting the wobbles.
#3 Use your core rather than your arms
As you get your balance you’ll need to have a look at your paddle stroke. To get the most out of the effort you put in, Weston encourages you to engage your core, hinge from the hips and keep straight arms while you do your paddle movement.
You’ll instantly get more speed, more power and more body toning benefits.