Extreme isn’t the first word that comes to mind when we think of stand up paddle boarding. It’s often seen as a relaxing pastime, languid downriver paddling or SUP yoga sessions on mirror-like lakes. But SUP, like all sports, can get pretty gnarly. Here are eight of the wildest, wackiest places in the world that you can explore by paddle. Grab your McConks paddle board and get exploring.
Nature’s Ice Palace, Tyrol, Austria
Paddle boarding at Nature’s Ice Palace in Tyrol, Austria, is really just the tip of the iceberg. Adventurers can also go kayaking, ice climbing and ice swimming (we’ll stick to the board, thanks!). The Hintertux Glacier is the country’s only year-round ski area, meaning that you can even start the day on the slopes and finish it by paddling around underground caves within the glacier. The contrast between the walls of ice and turquoise glacial pools is incredibly special.
Surf Le Mascaret, Gironde Estuary, France
The Gironde Estuary in southwest France is the largest in Western Europe; a haven for birdlife with strong tidal currents. It’s also the site of a curious phenomenon, a wave created by a tidal bore. It’s possible to surf Le Mascaret for up to half an hour on one continuous wave, but most of the time paddleboarders ride the wave for roughly 10 minutes. At its highest it reaches around 2m, but can travel as fast as 30km per hour. It’s best tackled between June and October when water levels are at their lowest.
The Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland
Paddle boarding in the Outer Hebrides doesn’t feel like being in the UK. Remote, mythical, often shrouded in mist, rain, or both, the Isle of Lewis is peppered with granite cairns and standing stones. Seals are common, and many paddlers also spot dolphins, porpoises and even whales. If you believe the legends, kelpies, merpeople and loch monsters could all make an appearance too…
Convict Lake, Sierra Nevada, California
High in the Sierra Nevada of Mono County, California, the iridescent waters of Convict Lake are ringed by toothy mountain peaks. In spite of what the name would suggest, it’s easily accessible by car, making it a prime spot for paddle boarders. Convict Lake was named after a group of 29 criminals, including murderers, thieves and train robbers, escaped from Nevada State Prison in the late 19th century and made their way here, looting along the way. After the group killed a local man, the community gave chase and the escapade culminated in a dramatic shoot-out. These days, paddling on the lake feels peaceful and freeing.
Down river through the Himalayas, Nepal
A landlocked country and home to the highest mountains in the world, Nepal offers just as many thrills for watersports enthusiasts as it does for hikers and mountaineers. Forget scenes of seawater and cargo ships engulfing Mount Everest like in the film 2012, the adrenaline-rush here is six days downriver through the heart of the country, in the shadow of the high Himalayas.
When Charles Darwin traversed the Beagle Channel aboard the HMS Beagle, he looked over the same glaciers and snow capped peaks that we can now explore by SUP. Often described as the end of the world, Ushuaia is the last town on the mainland before Antarctica. We recommend taking a thermos of maté (strong green tea) to warm you up.
Paddle the desert, near Marrakech, Morocco
Riding a camel through the desert is common practice, but what if you could paddle through the dunes? In Morocco, you can do just that. This desert lake near Marrakech may look like a mirage, but it makes for relaxing paddling surrounded by sand dunes in balmy temperatures. Spots for post-paddle sunbathing are abundant but don’t expect to find any shade and pack plenty of suncream.
The Amazon River, Manaus, Brazil
Paddle the ‘river sea’ from Manaus, in the heart of Brazil. The Amazon River transports the largest water volume of any river in the world and has extraordinary biodiversity, and pink river dolphins, sloths and black spider monkeys are just a few species that call the Amazon Basin home. Don’t take a dive while paddling here, the statuesque caiman lying open-jawed along the riverbank aren’t the only danger. Many parts of the river are home to piranhas, too.