Stand Up Paddleboarding

With SUP, you can do everything, you can always do it and it’s always fun

See original article in Enjoy the Algarve magazine September 2015

Want to feel like a surfer, but aren’t keen on terrifying waves? Fancy a workout, but a fun one? Looking for the nice water scenery of canoeing, but with a bit more action? The answer is simple: try Stand Up Paddleboarding! So that’s what we do this month, in the stunning Ria Formosa nature reserve.

Surfers are cool, period. The board dudes and beach babes with their bleached blond hair, riding waves all the way to the shore as they nonchalantly stand on their boards. Outside the water, their lifestyle consists of driving a VW T2 hippy campervan, holding awesome parties and dressing like those models in O’Neill or Roxy commercials. I want to be one of them (who doesn’t?!). Unfortunately, a childhood tumble in the surf left me scared for any wave above head height (that’s measured while lying down if I’m honest). So no, not normal surfing this month. Still we take to the water. Stand Up Paddleboarding, aka SUP, is a combination of board riding and paddling (and probably way less scary than surfing as you can combine it with yoga, the least scary activity possible.)

 

Waiting on the beach in Fuseta is our SUP teacher Raoul Linden (20), indeed a board dude. Apart from SUP instructor, he also is a kitesurf instructor who does snorkelling and bodyboarding in his spare time. He even has the bleached blond curly hair (and an impressive six-pack, I can’t help but notice as we do our stretches on the beach). The warming up involves stretching and doing aerobatic helicopter-like motions while holding the paddle with straight arms. I hold the paddle the wrong way. It won’t be the last time this afternoon.

 

My SUP board is massive and the most stable one of the group

Conditions are ideal for trying out Stand Up Paddling: high tide and no wind. Still, in the water I start off on my knees to get used to the board. My aim: to do the basic stroke as shown previously by Raoul on the beach; leaning forward so the paddle points forward and the blade, which has to point forward as well, is straight in the water. Then, while keeping your arms stretched, make a stroke; it’s meant to be a rotation of your arms and body, not pushing or pulling the paddle. I soon get the hang of it and feel confident paddling around on my knees – I even manage to avoid the swimmers. “It’s called Stand Up Paddleboarding, not Sit Down Paddleboarding,” Otto Linden, Raouls father and co-owner of Your Algarve Adventure, laughingly shouts from the accompanying boat.

Right, standing up, here we go. The rest of the group, French guys and girls, most of them who have done SUP before and make it seem effortless, are already standing on their boards. “When I first tried it, I hardly got up at all on my first tour. The weather wasn’t that good that day though, it was quite choppy. Now it’s completely flat so you’ll be fine,” one of them encourages me. My SUP board is massive (think giant surfboard size) and the most stable one of the group (it’s inflatable and made out of plastic). Trying to get up, it doesn’t feel stable or big. It feels very wobbly. Conditions were indeed flat when we started out, but maybe they’ve somehow changed in the last couple of minutes? No, still no wind or waves at all. Now why isn’t this working? Raoul passes by and tells me to hold the paddle the other way up: “The blade has to point forward.” Oh right, I forgot.

 

Then the ferry comes along. And with it, waves. Very big waves

Unable to spot the blade, I notice that one end of the paddle has a slight chip off and cheat by using that as a reference. When I finally manage to hold my paddle the right way though, it goes smooth. I can actually steer, make the board turn when I want it and even manage to stay on when one guy purposely bumps into me. It’s great fun hanging out with this group on the water and I soon feel like a cool surfer. Everything’s jolly and I’m practically ready for someone to offer me a sponsorship and thus free clothes. Then the ferry comes along. And with it, waves. Very big waves. Well, not really, they’re rather small, especially seen when standing on the board, but they feel gigantic. Trying to remember Raoul’s advice, I turn the board’s nose into the waves and paddle as hard as I can, holding the paddle in the water to stabilize myself. Not stable enough. The board bucks like a wild rodeo horse and I fall in.

 

I’m even trusted with transporting Tinus, the family dog

Trying to get back on my board, I’m not sure how cool I look. Probably a bit less board babe, and more soaked loser. After a while I get my bearings again and as we set off for a tour of the lagoon I’m even trusted with transporting Tinus, the family dog. Despite my warnings to stay in the safe boat, Tinus bravely hops on the board and settles between my legs for the trip to Ilha da Armona. As soon as it notices my rather clumsy strokes, the poor dog starts shivering as if it’s already feeling the cold water of the ocean and longingly looks for Raoul, who paddles back and forth around the group, giving advice on how to improve our stand. Somehow I manage to keep both myself and the board upright until we get to the island and the dog can hop off into the safe sand.

 

With SUP, you can do everything, you can always do it and it’s always fun

There, our instructor shows what you can do after a bit of training. Freestyling looks like a combination of jumping, spinning and turning; sometimes Raoul is bending so far down he almost falls in the water, but one clever paddle splash and he’s stable again. He’s been kitesurfing for almost five years now and still learns something new every day. “That’s what I like about it most, it’s limitless. With SUP, you can do everything, you can always do it and it’s always fun. It takes a while until you start to do crazy freestyle stuff though, there’s a lot of strength and power involved.”

 

If there’d be waves, I’d be out on the water every single day

Other Stand Up Paddleboarding disciplines include racing, surfing, touring and yoga, which is less relaxing as I previously thought, because the combination of balance and yoga makes it into a real fitness exercise. With SUP surfing, which is Raoul’s favourite, you’re able to paddle faster and thus catch more waves than regular surfers. “If there’d be waves, I’d be out on the water every single day,” he states.

 

I understand why this ancient Hawaiian form of surfing has become the fastest growing water sport

To me, that sounds like a pretty good idea (well, the being out at sea every day, not the waves part). It feels zen being on the water, using only a paddle to move, seeing the fish swimming below and the seagulls fly overhead. I understand why this ancient Hawaiian form of surfing has become the fastest growing water sport. According to Raoul though, there are still people who think it’s a lame version of surfing: “SUP doesn’t look as exciting as, for example, kitesurfing, and therefore some people see it and say it’s boring, although they haven’t even try it. That’s just a stupid attitude; you can knock something until you’ve tried it. And trust me, it isn’t boring at all. There’s so much possible, it all depends on the weather conditions and the type of board you use.” To show me what he means, we briefly switch board and I try Raouls way smaller, rigid Epoxy board. It feels as wobbly as my beginner one did a few hours ago, but I surprise myself by staying on and even managing a few turns, which indeed goes way faster on this agile, more responsive touring board.

Fuelled by a rest and a Caipirinha on the island, I’m feeling more and more like one of these cool board babes. Sunset paddling, with in the distance a few palm trees and Fuseta’s old boathouse for a scenic backdrop. As we hang out with the group on the water, music can be heard from the island and I imagine being in one of these funky Bacardi commercials.

 

Having grown up in the Algarve, I’ve always felt connected to the sea

While I dream on, the ferry passes again… The waves come unexpectedly from behind and I fall in with a scream, noticing that the water temperature has decreased a few degrees since starting our trip. On the way back, I make up for the cold by paddling as fast as I can. It’s a proper workout, the nice thing about SUP being that you can make it as hard or easy on yourself as you want. “For me, it’s also a way of letting go of cropped up emotions. Some people punch a boxing bag, I go stand up paddle boarding,” Raoul confides. “It can be very intense, sometimes even scary, for example in winter, when the waves are over 2metres high and I’m alone in the water. I love it though; having grown up in the Algarve, I’ve always felt connected to the sea.”

A combination of leisurely paddling and intensive workout, which can be done in one of Portugal’s prettiest places. Hello new hobby! But the very best thing about SUP? According to Raoul it’s the feeling when you get back on the shore. “If you’ve worked hard, you might not be able to move the next day, but you still feel great!” He’s 100% right. On both counts! (Now who knows a good masseur?)

Pictures by Kyle Rodriguez

 

When to go?

Best conditions for beginners are at high tide when there’s no wind or waves. The activity can be done all year round, but the water temperature is warmer in the summer months (and you’re very likely to fall in on your first time).

April and May, just before the high season starts, is also a good time to go as it isn’t that busy with boats and ferries (meaning less waves and thus less chance of falling in).

Want to go? Reserve your paddle session beforehand to avoid disappointment. All contact details can be found on: youralgarveadventure.com. Normally, all SUP tours leave from Fuseta beach (close to Borda d’ Agua).

 

For whom?

Sporty people who like to be outdoors and don’t mind getting wet. Having previous surf or paddle experience or a high fitness level isn’t necessary (but will help). This activity is suitable for anyone over the age of 8.

A board and paddle are provided, so just take your bathing suit, sun glasses and put some sun cream on.

Already an experienced SUPer? Your Algarve Adventure has a wide range of paddle boards and also offers intermediate and improver lessons, as well as courses in SUP tours, racing, freestyle, surf and yoga.

See original article in Enjoy the Algarve magazine September 2015

Posted in This month we try.

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