“Let’s go surfing now, everybody’s learning how,” Mike Love once said, in a melodious attempt to encourage more people to try a growing sport on America’s west coast.
The idea of following this lyrical enticement into the River Nore might seem like an unusual one, but on a recent evening it was precisely this situation in which I found myself, seeing a whole other side of the city: Kilkenny-by-water – skimming along weir currents by Peace Park, and examining the lesser-spotted (under) side of John’s Bridge. The smell of brewery hops and proximity to nature (we were greeted by one inquisitive otter) only added to the mix.
Stand-up paddle surfing is the latest offering from Pure Adventure – a watersport/ outdoor activity company based in the South East. Patrick ‘Paddy’ McCormack accomodates a range of different water activities including kakayaking and canoeing, and this is the latest: a fast-growing sport, originating from the somewhat balmier climes of Hawaii.
But it works here too, even if it does draw a crowd. Nobody expects to glance over the side of John’s Bridge and see six people surfing down the river, through the Friday afternoon city.
No better testament to the novelty of the sport: John Street pedestrian traffic brought to a standstill, shouted enquiries from fishermen and wedding party cheers in the Rivercourt Hotel, posing for photos for the tourists on Canal Square.
Paddy has been all over the world sampling every outdoor sport under the sun. At home on the water, it is only once you disregard the natural inclinations and listen to his instruction that you start to make any real progress.
Having done some more conventional sea surfing in the past, I initially adopted a more traditional surfer’s stance. But this inhibits your ability to paddle on both sides with ease, and soon Paddy had me standing straight on, and moving back the board, allowing for more side-to-side control.
The board is shaped much like a normal surfboard, although is inflatable. The paddle, adjustable in length (I had mine around a healthy 7 feet) provides some sense of balance, as well as propulsion.
The first thought that goes through your head as you attempt to stand up on the board is that you will probably never get the hang of it. After this dissipates, the next emotion is irrational over-confidence, until you have spent enough time tumbling headfirst into the water to return to the basics.
Days of rain had swollen the river to the point where it was touch and go whether or not we would hit the ‘surf’ at all. About four feet above normal levels, it made paddling back upstream a more laborious (although arguably more rewarding) challenge.
And it can be a challenge. The sport is growing globally, apparently, because it is becoming renowned for the full-body workout it gives its practitioners.
The core, the arms and back all get a good going over, not to mention your ankles and calves, keeping you clamped to a wet, moving surfboard. You know all about it the next day – in a good way.
Paddy also used the opportunity to test out whether his new phone was waterproof (it wasn’t) and whether any of us could position ourselves further back on the board than he (we couldn’t). Nonetheless, stand-up paddle surfing is a great afternoon out on the water for all ages and abilities regardless, and it certainly offers a chance to see a different side of the city.
Difficulty level: Straightforward.
Physical fitness required: Any.
The introductory sessions, (two hours, which fly by) are €25, with all equipment – paddleboard, helmet, life jacket and wetsuit – provided. For more information or to book an event, trip or tour, contact 087 2265550 or visit www.pureadventure.ie.