Did you know that from 2015 to 2020 the stand up paddle board (SUP) market worldwide doubled? 2020 saw an incredible increase in cheap boards and new brands making an appearance to that market as the popularity for the sport grew. It's hard to tell if this will be just another trend or will everyone be hooked for life?
In the past decade we've seen some trends make quick appearances and even quicker disappearances, remember loom bands and fidget spinners? Many of these products were bought as cheaply as possible with little thought of their production, for them to now either be in landfill or sit in a cupboard. I have a big fear that the latest increase in interest in SUP, especially iSUP (inflatable) may be a similar trend.
My internet adverts have been flooded by brands I've not heard of with iSUP prices that seem too cheap to be true, I had one advert offering 2 SUPs for £300!! When I Googled the brand, the reviews were awful.
I realise many people will be questioning how this has anything to do with being more sustainable with your dog and in many ways it doesn't but SUP is something I have enjoyed for over 6 years with my parents' dog Max and now Roly.
These cheap boards are most likely being made in a not so sustainable way and they won't be build to last. I want to share some of my thoughts on how people can join in and enjoy SUP but in a sustainable way. So I will go through each area of SUP and share where I feel you can make better choices with my main focus on iSUPs as these are currently the most popular. Hardboard SUPs are easier to get in sustainable materials, after all wood and cork are well known and reliable!
Buy or rent?
If you are someone who has never paddle boarded and are just thinking you can buy a cheap board and go for it, I would strongly advise you don't. There is no point buying something you might not enjoy. Have a lesson and rent from a shop for a few days then decide if this is something you really want. If you have a friend who has a board ask them if you can head out with them for a free taste test.
If you've then decided you do want to keep up the SUP then please please don't buy the first board you see! A good board will not be cheap. iSUPs need to be rigid when inflated, otherwise it will be incredibly difficult to keep your balance when standing. I've seen numerous Facebook posts in groups where people are asking why they are finding it difficult to stand when their board is bending in the middle. There are a few places I would recommend looking
Go secondhand - They are hard to find at the moment but check out places like Second Surf, eBay, Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree. An incredibly sustainable way to get a board and cheaper than new prices. Paddle schools and sellers may have ex demo boards too that they will be looking to sell.
Shop local - Find a local seller or school. These will be people who know their stuff and can recommend the right board for your build and the purpose you want it for. Also buying local is that little bit better for the environment as you save on postage. A bonus if they have the board for you in stock means you don't have to wait and can get out straight away! If your local supplier is like those we have in Scotland, they'll allow you to try before you buy and can help you with the basic skills too.
Buy a sustainably made board - Many more brands are looking at how they can be more environmentally friendly and sustainable in their manufacturing process but few selling within the UK have currently started this. Check reviews again for packaging information, some brands are wrapping every single component in plastic whilst others are going for totally plastic free packaging. Sea Lion boards have been practicing sustainable methods from their very beginning, using algae made deck pads, natural rubber handles and recycled plastic board bags. They also have stuck to their ethos throughout this increase in demand, not mass producing to meet demands but insuring that everything is still sustainable. We may be biased but we think they are the best! Paddy has an ex-demo board and I have one purchased in a previous sale. They may be more expensive than others but they are well made and made ethically.
The most important things I would look for in a new board are the reviews, how rigid the board is and what is the company doing to be more sustainable. Sadly the companies mass producing at cheap prices are probably not doing very much to help the environment. And a whilst you might not want to fork out for an expensive board, a cheap board may end up costing you more in the long run.
A lot of companies are offering packages where you get a free paddle with your board but if you need to purchase one then why not consider some of the following:
Secondhand - like with the boards, giving an unwanted paddle a new home is an incredibly sustainable option.
Shop local - again getting expert advice can be extremely beneficial
Buy a sustainable paddle - The main option here is plant based paddles, Sea Lion have a range of paddles infused with plant based resin and wooden core whilst many other brands are using bamboo to make their paddles.
I will admit the paddle I have wasn't sustainably made but it was a gift.
What to wear
I wear different things depending on the season and where I am paddling. In summer if I'm somewhere sheltered and I'm confident I won't fall in I will wear shorts and t-shirt or a shorty wetsuit. In spring, autumn or somewhere not sheltered, like the sea, then I will wear a full length wetsuit. In winter I like to be extra warm so wear dry trousers and a cag. Some of these items I have had for years, my wetsuit is well over 10years old. If I am buying something new I will always search eBay for second hand items, give them a good clean and I've never had any issues.
I would always recommend wearing a personal flotation device. I wear a buoyancy aid. I have 2, one I have had for 15 years and the other that I was gifted.
I would always recommend buying from a brand that has good reviews, a buoyancy aid could potentially save your life if the worst happened and you want to have something you can rely on. If you buy a good quality wetsuit it can last you a long time! Mine has hardly any signs of any tear and is over 10 years old.
Within the UK there are few options for sustainably made buoyancy aids and wetsuits. The USA has started to see an increase in wetsuits made from natural rubber and buoyancy aids made from recycled PET materials and biofoam. Hopefully more of these options will appear in the UK for those who can't or don't want to buy secondhand.
When I'm paddling I like to make sure I have items at hand in case of an emergency. Most importantly my phone and I use a waterproof pouch. These are also handy to store keys. Sadly I haven't been able to find any made sustainably but if you get one that will last it can be a life saver!
I also bring a bottle of water and some food to keep myself energized and hydrated and I keep these in a dry bag. I also carry a spare jumper, first aid kit and map just in case I get into trouble. My dry bag is made from recycled plastic bottles and is from Silva.
I will also wear sunglasses (mine are donkeys old but there are many ecofriendly alternatives now) in the summer. If it's sunny I will wear a baseball cap to prevent sunburn, mine is made from recycled materials and is from Tentree. When it begins to get colder I like to wear an infinity band to keep my ears warm, I have a few from True North Life which are made from recycled plastic bottles too.
Four legged SUPer
The reason we started this blog was for being eco-friendly with your dog so I should really include something here about what we use for Roly when we SUP.
Sadly I can't find brands that have made an eco-friendly doggy life jacket but what I will recommend is don't buy a cheap one!
Roly first started with a novelty jacket off eBay, she fell in once and I had to use the strap to help her back on to the board and it ripped. Now we have a jacket from Stylish Hound. We love Stylish Hound as they are changing as many of their products as possible to be made using recycled plastic instead of using new materials. We have other accessories from them and make sure we order multiple things we need in one go to offset the international shipping a little bit (we know it's not great). Roly's life jacket from here is really durable and tough. The straps are really strong making it easy to help her back on the board if she jumps in. We also love the fact that some of their life jackets have matching shorts and rash vest for the owners, which are made from recycled plastic!
If you do want to bring your pup SUPping, start of slowly, introduce them to your board on land to start and reward them for any positive interactions. When on the water, if they fall in, give them lots of treats, try and get to land ASAP and get them warm, you don't want a negative memory. If your dog loves getting wet then them falling in shouldn't be as traumatic. We carry treats for Roly in a pouch that attaches to our leash belt.
Some people may feel that a dog doesn't need a life jacket but I would rather be safe than sorry. Water can be dangerous and we don't always know when we will get in to difficulty. I've had a previous dog swim off on us and had to be rescued by a boat. She was a golden retriever and a strong swimmer but she got tired and needed extra help (she swam after a duck). Likewise never tie your dog to your board, if you become separated from your board and it floats away you want your dog to be able to swim away safely too.
Do a local clean up
Sadly like many green spaces the local waterways and beaches are seeing an increase in litter and illegal tipping. Why not use your time on the water to help your local area by picking up any rubbish you see floating around and sorting it and disposing of it responsibly at home. Keep Britain Tidy and Planet Patrol have excellent resources to help for individual and group litter picks and the Planet Patrol app allows you to log anything you have collected. This then allows the organisation to lobby the brands that appear the most among litter.
To end I want to share some safety tips, it is so important not just for yourself but for the coastguards and RNLI. 2020 saw an increase in the number of rescues required, being safe and smart can help reduce the need to call for help.
Know what you are doing - it's not as simple as getting on and paddling, join other experienced paddlers, have a few lessons, do an online theory course. I have been paddling for years and have just completed a course on coastal SUP and have learnt so many valuable things that will keep me safer when on the water.
Check your equipment - is your board in good condition and properly inflated? Is your paddle still in one piece? (Funny story, Paddy's broke whilst paddling at the weekend). Is your leash in good condition? Do I have the right equipment for where I am paddling? Different areas of water may mean you want to use a quick release belted leash instead of round your ankle.
Tell someone where you are going and how long you aim to be out. If you can, share your location with them on your mobile and inform them what to do if you don't contact them after a certain time.
Always carry a mobile phone and a water bottle.
Plan your route and research the local area. If going out to sea check the tide direction and speed, on a river ask locals for information on dangerous areas where there may be fallen trees.
Buoyancy aid - personally I will always tell people to wear one but this is my personal choice. You can get belted inflating flotation devices that aren't as bulky, but if you bang your head I wonder how will this inflate? Again this is my personal preference. Just make sure you are confident in what you are wearing.
Most importantly though, have fun!