Five words that you don’t often string together! Probably because Fistral Beach doesn’t represent what some people might think of as the ideal sup learning location – being that it’s exposed to wind and swells, is surrounded by rocks and craggy headlands, and is basically where the land stops and the world’s second largest ocean begins. But it’s for these reasons that I’m really keen to let people know that I offer standup paddle training at Fistral Beach from our base at the Surf Sanctuary, and that it’s really, really good fun.
My philosophy is that stand up paddling comes from the ocean, so I believe in doing it on the ocean – especially when the ocean is on your doorstep. I learned to paddle on the beaches of Newquay, my first ever session in the UK was in empty 2ft winter surf. Providing appropriate precautions are taken, people don’t need to shy away from the chop, a bit of wind, moving tides, rolling swells – basically realistic conditions – to go somewhere where all these factors are reduced to zero. I equate that to teaching a child to ride a bike indoors on a machine with an LCD screen displaying a forest instead of actually on a real bike with mum or dad holding the saddle in the great outdoors. All the factors that make sup so challenging, so rewarding, so addictive and so good for you, can be too reduced. So do it in the sea, where you and the equipment belongs.
Teaching sup on the sea does mean that I’ve had to think differently about how I provide my sup training and who I provide it to. When someone asks me if sup is difficult, I tell them yes, it’s about as demanding as learning to surf, but that they will be on the board for much longer. I can’t stand there and tell them that it’s a benign pastime like walking in the park and that their granny could do it, because Fistral Beach is not a duck pond, it is exposed to the forces of nature. So, all my teaching is done either to individuals or very small groups. We don’t cater to stag and hen parties, or large groups out for a jolly; to paddle with us is not to merely partake in a one-off throwaway experience. it is to learn a new sport that is as big as learning to ride a bike.
That said we can and do teach people across a broad spectrum of ages and abilities. Provided the client has the drive to succeed, and is willing to get stuck in to some ‘real world’ conditions, we can provide them with safe, exhilarating, educational experiences on the water that will equip them with valuable skills that they will own for life. There will be a bit more falling off, a bit more climbing back on the board and a lot more physical exertion than there would be during a session on a lake but it’s these experiences and pressures that accelerate the learning process, that demand the paddler takes responsibility for their success, and we find, leads to instant addiction. We’re human beings after all, evolved over two million years to thrive in the natural world, not in spite of it.
I’ve run lots of sup paddle sessions on reservoirs and lakes. These environments are great because everyone can get up to their feet and wobble along without much thought about what they’re doing, and it’s likely they won’t fall in. But I know that some people – not all people – but some people walk away from those sessions and instantly forget about the whole thing and probably not feeling inspired to paddle again. Done it. Ticked the box, not enough risk, next! I’ve also run lots of sup sessions on the sea, where people fall in, fight for balance, get out of breath paddling against the wind, but get back up again, eyes on the horizon, getting a few more strokes in this time, now finding a rhythm…and it’s these people that always ask me where they can BUY a sup board from. Instantly addicted, from day one their eyes are open to the endless possibilities that lie ahead in a life of paddling on the ocean.
Our base at the Headland Hotel is located perfectly for sea sup sessions. Directly in front we have several fun, safe launch spots that allow us to get out to the non breaking sea without having to push through the surf line at all. Proper ‘dry hair’ paddle outs. On the other side of the headland, just a short walk through the hotel grounds, we have the Gazzle – the vast lagoon like expanse of water that offers shelter from prevailing south west winds. We can do circular routes, point to point paddles, or even just keep it really close and do skill drills or master the basics. The beauty of the coastline around the headland never gets old. It’s always a joy to paddle there and I notice something new each time I go out.
I said it earlier; learning to sup is as big a deal as learning to ride a bike. It opens up an entire world (actually two thirds of it!) of possibilities – race, touring, exploration, downwinders, fitness, even commuting and transport! – once you acquire the skills to take you off of the still water and into the open water. Get in touch if you want to start your life of paddling on the sea.