Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness challenge: Stand-up Paddleboarding (aka SUP)

Each week intrepid reporter Rachel Grunwell will try out a new form of exercise to bring you the lowdown.

Rachel Grunwell tries paddleboarding at Little Shoal Bay on Auckland's North Shore. Photo / Getty Images
Rachel Grunwell tries paddleboarding at Little Shoal Bay on Auckland's North Shore. Photo / Getty Images

What is it? A surface water sport in which you stand on a special board and use a paddle to steer through the water.

What's needed? Swimwear, wetsuit (if cold), lifejacket, sunscreen, towel.

The experience: Flick through glossy magazines and you'll see a string of celebrities who have been papped while paddleboarding - musicians Ben Harper and Sting, plus actors Matt Damon, Kate Hudson, Jennifer Garner and Jennifer Aniston.

So if those glamour pusses are doing it, then it must be "cool". Either that, or they like sports that don't get their hair wet.

I reckon the first hurdle is sounding out the name of the sport in one breath. Or with the shortened version I reckon I sound similar to a Naughty by Nature rapper or something ... I'm off to SUP, yeah, you know me ...

About 10 minutes' drive from the central city is Little Shoal Bay and I'm on the sea with a paddle, thanks to the Point Paddlers company, which Jeremy Keating and his dad set up about a year ago.

Instructing this day is Andrew Wilson. Along, too, is Christie Houghton, who joins Jeremy to run fitness classes on the boards if clients request this.

Andrew tells me it's a "dry sport", but he'll dress me for "water immersion" just in case. The words "water immersion" send me into visions of a submarine tanking on the sea floor. Not good. However, I wriggle into a wetsuit in case I have the balance of a drunken sailor.

The day we go out, the conditions are "choppy" (code, reasonable waves) and there's 20 knots about (code, it's a tad windy), and the odd sprinkling of rain. But it's supposed to be spring, I whimper.

However, Auckland ends up being "four seasons in one day" and the next mintue the sun is out and I'm sweltering in the wetsuit.

I start on my knees in the middle of the board, for balance (not to pray to God - yet). Andrew tells me to paddle out a bit before slowly standing up, feet hip-width apart, and to keep my knees bent for balance on the board. Then the paddle quickly gets a workout so I can dodge the mangroves and moored boats.

Luckily, Andrew has drilled me on techniques before we start: to stop, I must use my paddle as an oar; to turn I use the paddle with a forward sweeping stroke and take it out wide into a semi-circle; to reverse I put the paddle at the stern and sweep out wide; to go fast (especially good if you have a following wind) the trick is to get a good reach forward with the paddle and dig in forward and pull it back hard to about the position of your feet before quickly digging into the water again.

By mid-paddle I spend less time watching my feet and trying to avoid "water immersion" and enjoy the view. Even on an overcast day, Little Shoal Bay is picture-postcard pretty: there's the backdrop of the city and the arch of Auckland Harbour Bridge; in the foreground are moored boats and a shore edged by pohutukawa. That sea air is sublime.

After an hour on the water I get better control of my board and can turn with ease.

It's a good workout. There are the arm muscles that power through the water to get toned and the quads and abs that work hard for positioning on the board. I get even more of a workout when Christie decides we should take turns racing around a fixed point, then we all do some planking on our boards.

I'm chuffed to say that I didn't immerse myself in the sea. I don't think I will ever like the shortened name, SUP, but I dig the sport.

It's a nifty way to get about on water and see spots you normally wouldn't get a peek at - like those fancy-pants houses hidden around the bay, which are bound to be owned by a celebrity or two, I reckon. Celebrity spotting anyone?

How much? Paddle adventures, from 1-2hrs depending on the weather and conditions, run on a one-way route on the first Sunday of the month, departing from Little Shoal Bay. If you borrow a board and paddle it's $35, or, if you bring your own gear, it's $20. Transport is provided for the return to Shoal Bay. Or you can contact the company for individual or group lessons.

Worth it? Good fun, good fitness.

Try it: Contact sales@pointpaddlers.co.nz, or ph 0800 480 013.

Rating: 9.5/10

- Herald on Sunday

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