Discovering Natures Playground
With its diverse landscapes and an abundance of activities, Cardiff offers the perfect backdrop for a variety of family-friendly adventures. There’s one experience that stands out as an absolute must-try: stand up paddleboarding (or SUP, for short). Kris Roach, the owner of SUP Hike Explore, describes paddleboarding as an “instant mood booster”. Whether you and your family prefer a leisurely cruise down the Taff taking in the sights, or you’re looking for a fun way to work out, a day of paddleboarding promises to be a fun day out. We had the pleasure of speaking with Kris, who shared some insights about his own paddleboarding experiences as well as his encounters with his customers on the Taff.
Switching careers is a big challenge, especially when it’s to start your own business. Kris completed his UK mountain SUP challenge, pushing him to further develop his paddleboarding skills and knowledge. Next, he naturally thought to begin his instructor training. COVID-19 forced Kris to take the plunge and turn his hobby into his full-time job. Prior to lockdown hitting in March 2020, “I was working in luxury retail using paddleboarding as an escape from my ‘9-5’, so the gravitational pull to the outdoors has always been there. Luckily, my partner and I were surrounded by rolling hills and I was able to explore highlighting my love for the outdoors.”
Kris’ daughter, Felicity, was born in August 2020, just as the nation was coming out of the first lockdown. It wasn’t quite how he imagined it but it soon made Kris realise that he wanted more flexibility in his work. After lockdown, Kris decided to use his “passion for paddleboarding to help others enjoy the benefits of the outdoors”. His ultimate goal of SUP Hike Explore is “to show people how lucky we are to be surrounded by nature with adventure just on our doorstep.”
Blue spaces (outdoor environments–either natural or manmade–that prominently feature water and are accessible to people), are scientifically proven to improve mental health. Kris’ way of life can help to promote a healthy lifestyle, both mentally and physically. Paddleboarding is great for you in many ways as “it promotes social interaction, unites you with the water and nature, as well as helping improve your physical and mental health.” Unlike Kris, not many people get to call the great outdoors their everyday office.
SUP Hike Explore hosts social events to help people expand their network with like-minded people. “The first meetup might feel a bit daunting, especially if you’re attending solo but everyone is super friendly, making it easy to make friends within the community.” Finding time amidst busy schedules can be challenging, but it’s crucial. Once you acquire the knowledge, paddleboarding socials can be a great outlet, allowing you to truly disconnect from the real world. “We have only two rules: no emails or phone calls allowed, and only selfies and smiles while on the water!”. Kris believes paddleboarding is an all-season activity, so continues to offer lessons throughout autumn and winter, acknowledging that “it can be a tough time for many people, but it’s also a great option for people looking to get outside and continue reaping the benefits of our blue spaces. Even paddling on the grayest and wettest of days, you’ll feel great. It’s an immediate mood booster getting out of the water”.
As well as the mental and physical benefits that paddleboarding can provide, Kris was lucky enough to get up close and personal to a Kingfisher during one of his lessons. Not only that, other notable wildlife sightings include; Herons, Cormorants, minks, fish, ducks, dragonflies, and a “swimming squirrel!” If you’re thinking about a lesson with SUP Hike Explore, “picture the fauna and flora with the glassy reflections that you only see on Instagram, making you feel like you could be anywhere in the world”. Although Kris has paddled all over the nation, his favourite spots are within the Brecon Beacons National Park, Cardiff, and the South Wales coast.
While venturing the Taff may sound like light work, paddleboarding is actually a full-body workout, with the added bonus of exploring your surroundings. Don’t fret though, as paddleboarding can be tailored to suit your skill and fitness level. “Whether you decide to venture up the Taff with views of the fairytale Castell Coch or go hard to get that PB on a 5K paddle, it can be as challenging or as relaxing as you want it to be”, Kris told us. If you like the idea of exploring the picturesque river Taff but are unsure where to start, paddleboarding adventures could be your answer. SUP Hike Explore run lessons and socials between Cardiff and Bannau Brycheiniog.
Beginner sessions are usually a maximum of four people per session, however, there’s also an offering of customer 1:1 or 1:2 sessions. This gives you a chance to focus on your goals, whether it be to build confidence or work on turns or steerings. “Nothing makes us happier than seeing paddlers leave with new skills and knowledge, whether they are new to the sport or enhancing their techniques”. Being a part of the Canoe Wales-affiliated club gives paddlers the chance to join a community, and a huge advantage is that they cover your water licence!
If you’re worried about falling in, Kris told us “wild swimming” as he likes to call it, can be a great part of your session. “Getting in the water gives you a real buzz and allows an awesome opportunity for you to explore your self-rescue skills. It can be a discouraging experience but there are multiple ways and cool techniques to safely get back to and board your paddleboard, some of which include peer-assisted rescue. Once people are happy and comfortable, we love getting the GoPro out to capture their wild swim moment for them to post on their socials and show their friends”, said Kris.
If you’d like to get involved this summer, there are several sessions including ‘Intro to SUP’, helping to introduce you to the basics of paddleboarding. Throughout the two-hour lesson, safety, techniques, self-rescue, and paddleboarding, both on your knees and standing, is covered. “SUP Improver’ is the session for when you want to enhance your knowledge and technique. Availability is easily checked on their website and you can keep an eye on their Instagram for their social paddles”.