Standing on a paddleboard in the middle of Llyn (lake) Padarn, looking into the distance at the snow-capped mountain ranges of Glyderau and the Snowdon massif, I paddle rhythmically – one, two, three, swap sides; one, two, three, swap sides; one, two, three – until my mind empties and all I can feel is the gentle flow of the water beneath me.
Before travelling to Wales, I’d googled paddleboarding and seen thumbnails of bikini-clad women on calm azure waters, like something out of a Thomson holiday catalogue. Essentially, it involves standing on a long board, not unlike the ones used for surfing, but using – you guessed it – a paddle to move through the water, rather than relying on the surf.
It originated in Hawaii as instructors stood on boards as they coached beginner surfers, before becoming a sport of its own in America. Snowdonia is no Honolulu, of course, so here I am, trying to avoid looking down at the icy waters beneath me. One heavy-handed paddle too far, and I’m a goner.
To avoid a watery fate, I begin the session on my knees, bracing my core to avoid rocking the board. Under the watchful gaze of my instructor Sian Sykes, I build my confidence mastering the four key moves: back paddle; forward paddle; halt; and the turn, making big sweeping arches with the paddle, turning my body to look in the direction I’m moving, while the watery extension of my arms travels the opposite way.
Once I’ve battled the wind to cross the lake, into an area enclosed by trees where the waters are calmer, I try the standing position. Battling my extra layers – a rash vest, wetsuit long johns, fleece, waterproof jacket and pants, socks, water shoes, hat and gloves – I manoeuvre myself onto all fours, hoisting one leg at a time in front of me, coming into a squat, keeping my centre of gravity low.
As I move into standing position, my legs begin to shake, twitching muscles coming to life as they attempt to keep me stable on the board. This is much harder exercise than I imagined, but once I’m up and paddling forward, I begin to slip back into my calming “one, two, three” breaths and glide along.
As I duck to avoid a low-hanging branch, I realise I’d totally misjudged paddleboarding, writing it off for those too scared to surf. Instead it’s a journey with a payoff. Battling winds, and finding the balance and strength to master the board, it takes a session to find your feet. After that, it’s like walking on water. Being so close to the lake, you can observe the nature around you as the tide of your thoughts recedes.
Over a break for soup on the bank, Sian tells me why she left her career in London advertising to teach paddleboarding instead. No wonder – unlike surfing and kayaking, paddleboarding brings mindfulness to water sports. “It’s like floating on a water lily, you can feel the water lapping against your board, you see fish jumping out of the water,” she says. “You’re at peace. I’ve seen porpoise, dolphins and seals. You’re getting away from the masses.”
Her company, Psyched Paddleboarding, also runs night-time expeditions – with lights attached to the bottom of the boards, you can really see the hidden world beneath you. Later, having spent a good deal of the day trying to stand upright, I will lie down on my board and take in the stars, thanks to Snowdonia’s dark sky status.
Snowdonia is an area well known for its hiking, climbing and bouldering, but having spent quality time on its lakes, I think paddleboarding’s where it’s at.
The closest station is Bangor. Virgin Trains go from London from around £46 return.
The Royal Victoria Hotel in Llanberis has doubles from £75, room only
Lessons with Psyched Paddleboarding cost from £45
The London Boat Show (10-14 January) will have paddleboarding in the watersport activity pool, a dedicated SUP river and paddleboard clinics. The SUP Company will also feature a range of paddleboards for sale, with prices beginning at around £499.
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