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Learning to SUP after COVID-19 lockdown – things to consider (in the short term).

Additional pics: Jo Andrews, Richard Smith.

With lockdown restrictions about to be lifted (all being well – as of May 5, 2020) there’s a good chance newbie stand up paddlers will be in a position to get on the water. Total beginners may also have the opportunity, but as we’re all aware, social distancing will still be a thing for a while yet. And that could make getting a SUP lesson tricky.

So could you go it alone and take those first tentative steps with SUP all on your lonesome? Simple answer: yes! It’s a “yes, but” however, There are some points to consider first, particularly safety elements. So if you’re looking to get involved with stand up paddling for the first time, here are the things to consider.

Online SUP resources

Plenty of SUP resources exist online. Simply do a Google search for what you’re after – in this case beginner SUP tips – and you’ll be presented with a raft of results. The trick from your point of view is softy through the ‘noise’. Stick with reputable sources. If it’s a brand, such a McConks, you’re getting info from then you’ll also need to research the company in question – just to make sure. If it’s a media outlet then check who’s actually giving the advice and whether they’ve got pedigree. Yes, this is time-consuming but it’ll stand you in good stead.

Research accredited SUP schools/coaches online

Chances are you’ll come across a bunch of SUP teaching establishments and/or coaches whilst researching online. Most likely there’ll be videos you can watch that’ll give some advice on starting to SUP. You may have to navigate to other platforms, linked to the coach/school in question (such as YouTube), but it’s worth it if you can glean knowledge. As with above make sure the coach/school has the relevant qualifications and endorsements. Check out the map below with some of our recommendations where to get help and instruction.

Choose your stand up paddle board equipment wisely

Board

Length of your SUP isn’t as critical as its volume and width. You’ll need a board that’s got adequate float, so go high volume if unsure. As far as width is concerned this’ll help with stability. Something around 31″ will be fine for average-sized paddlers (smaller SUPers can go a tad less). If you feel like increasing the dimensions of your board then do so. There’s nothing wrong with making life as easy as you can.

Paddle

When you begin an adjustable paddle will be best course of action. This way you’ll be able to learn what length of paddle shaft is optimum for you. Don’t go too short but equally don’t go too long either. When you put a stroke in your knuckles, on top of the handle, should be more or less level with the bridge of your nose. Top tip: remember to paddle with your blade the correct way round. The blade’s rake (or bend) should face forwards.

Leash

Don’t go afloat without a leash! Your leash will keep you in contact with the main form of buoyancy you have: the board! We’ll talk about water states in a moment but either a coiled or straight leash will be fine for placid, flat water.

Paddling apparel

Temperatures are certainly on the increase here in the UK. But don’t forget we can still have chillier days – even in summer. Layering is therefore the best option. A wetsuit works while you’re still in the falling off stage but during warmer periods this may be too hot. There’s plenty of paddling gear available from brands and retailers alike, including McConks. Thinner bottoms and tops, with perhaps a fleece on top and maybe even booties will be the go. If you find you’re getting too sweaty then layering allows removal of garments. Likewise if you start to feel cold then get off the water and warm yourself up! Have a flask of tea or other warm drink ready. Pay attention to how you’re feeling, in terms of body temperature, when afloat.

Additional flotation

If you’re paddling solo then having an additional form of flotation is a good call. Whilst your SUP is primary sometimes leashes can break and paddlers become separated from their board. A buoyancy aid will work well as would an inflatable float belt that fills with air upon deployment, via ripchord and Co2 canister. This is worth having a dig about online for additional info as well.

Emergency communication

A means of communication is essential. Carrying an older or less valuable mobile phone, carefully secured in waterproofing, is worth it. Waterproof VHFs are also available although you’ll need to know how to operate correctly. A whistle and other means of attracting attention ‘on the ground’ should be thought about. Some experienced paddlers also suggest things like flares can be kept onboard your SUP in case of emergency.

Paddling grounds – beginner specific

Where you choose to paddle is extremely important. As much as possible it’d be wise to keep things local and also you’re not looking to cover distance (yet) so keep fairly close to your launch point. The stretch of water you plan on going afloat at should be devoid of all but minimal movement. If it’s coastal then aim for a sheltered venue with little tidal flow. Open seafront locations can also work if the weather’s playing ball. Inland water users need to steer clear of rapid water flow and obstructions/hazards such as weirs, dams and locks.

Weather and tide info

Understanding and knowing weather forecasts and tidal information, for each of your sessions, is something to get your head around. If you’re inexperienced with tides, for instance, then at least know what times high and low water is. And how this affects your location, which is info that can (again) be found online. Also, there are many groups available, such as with Facebook, where seasoned SUPers will only be too happy to impart knowledge about paddling locations. Before you head afloat get an up to date weather report and ideally have some prior understanding of how conditions may affect your chosen location. As with tides, and interpreting this info, weather and local affects info can be sought from experienced paddlers who know your area.

Tell someone

Before you head out (and this applies to any level of paddler) tell someone of your plans: what time you should arrive, how long you’ll be out and what your return ETA is. Stick to the itinerary as well as you don’t want false alarms raised!

Know your limits

We salute anyone who makes moves to get involved with SUP, especially going it alone. It’s definitely a slightly harder route. As much as enthusiasm shouldn’t be curbed, however, you should also be aware of your limits. If it’s blowing dogs off chains, big swells are running, the river’s banks are fit to burst or anything else looks untoward then perhaps can it and wait for another day. You want the best experience possible and in the absence of a qualified instructor to hand calmly calmly, softly softly should definitely be the aim.

Some resources to help you out when learning to SUP without an instructor –

McConks SUP advice for beginners – https://mcconks.com/are-you-a-sup-noob/

Choosing the right SUP – https://mcconks.com/inflatable-sup-shop-premium-affordable-specialist-round-sup/choosing-the-perfect-inflatable-sup-board/

Paddles and paddling – https://mcconks.com/paddles-and-paddling-still-the-most-important-aspects-of-sup/

Windguru (wind and swell forecasts) – https://www.windguru.cz/

Magic Seaweed (swell, surf, wind and tide info) – https://magicseaweed.com/Bracklesham-Bay-Surf-Report/3764/

Met Office weather forecasts – https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/

Big Salty weather info – https://bigsalty.com/en/

RNLI SUP safety and tips – https://rnli.org/safety/choose-your-activity/stand-up-paddle-boarding

McConks paddling rashvests – https://mcconks.com/product-category/technical-sup-clothing-sunglasses-rashvests-recylced/mcconks-rash-vests/

McConks paddle selector – https://mcconks.com/how-to-choose-a-sup-paddle/

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What’s the best SUP for a beginner?

What’s the best type of SUP for a beginner?

At McConks, we used to (rather arrogantly) think that we knew the answer to this question, and we used to tell people that an all-round paddleboard shape was the best of no worlds, and that most new paddlers would be better off with a touring shape pointy nose board. We based this on our own experience, and the experience of the relatively small groups of people that we paddled with. But we forgot there is a whole wide world of other paddlers out there, paddling in different environments and doing different kinds of paddling. And lots of instructors with decades of experience of teaching paddlesports.

Photo courtesy of Wild River

Now that we’ve grown up as a company, we have a shed load more instructor friends with decades of experience. They’ve been offering accredited lessons and introductory sessions all around the UK and Europe, and for many, many years. And these are full time professional instructors as well – with PhDs in paddlesports instruction and sports psychology degrees, rather than recent converts to SUP. And they have had a quiet word with us to tell us that we’re wrong, and quite frankly, arrogant. It took a while to believe them. But when enough people tell you the same thing, you eventually start to listen.

Super stable for Yoga (Kathy Marston Yoga at Cotswold Water Park Hire)

Like we say, it took a while to believe them. After all, they’ve only got decades of experience and qualifications between them, so why would we trust them? To delve a little deeper, we asked why they preferred this particular shape of board for SUP beginners. They didn’t all have the same answers, with some thinking that certain features were more important for paddleboard beginners than others. But they did all agree on one thing – our All round Go Anywhere boards are the best paddle boards for beginners to learn on. And here’s what they said!”

What the instructors say:

“The width to volume ratio is really on point. It really is a stable board for beginners when first stepping on to a board – allowing total newbies to develop paddle skills and techniques without needing to always focus on balance”

“Having the option of both a 5″ deep and a 6″ deep board allows me to pair a beginner with a board with the right volume for them to gain confidence and improve. So many beginners boards are 6″ thick – which can be really hard work for beginner paddlers!”

“They are truly all round. With 2+1 fins they’re great for beginners to learn surf SUP. But single fin, they track really well in a straight line. So I can use them for lessons on sea, on rivers, on lakes or on canals. And even a bit of whitewater. The really are Go Anywhere!”

“There is ‘just enough’ nose rocker to be fun in small waves, but not so much it effects beginners in wind or chop. This is especially true for the 5″ 10’6 Go Anywhere!”

“The ability to ride with a long single fin allows the board to track just as well as any similar length touring board, and to be just as fast as boards with stuck on side. It also helps with stability, and so they’re great for SUP yoga as well!

“It’s a godsend being able to put shorter river fins on the boards. It allows me to give improvers lessons on faster flowing shallow rivers as well!”

“That tail shape is just perfect. Enough volume in the board through the mid section for top of the pile stability, but lots of play when you step back – so really good for teaching next level skils like step back turns.”

“Amazing for yoga”

“Carries more weight than McConks claim!”

“Handles – lots of them. So important for beginners! so many different options for getting back on to the board.”

“6 inch thick or longer boards have too much volume for most beginners and lots of improving paddlers. If they honed their skills on boards of a more appropriate volume and length, they would progress much quicker.”

Used extensively by businesses and instructors (Photos Courtesy of GoXperience.com and BoardinSkool)
Light and easy to handle

Why McConks?

Only one warranty return for faulty valve in 4 years

Only one return under our no quibble returns policy or try before you buy scheme in 3 years

We reinvest back into the SUP community with our GoInspire initiative

Ethical and sustainable principles

Price promise

Fusion and hot weld technology for three years

Three year manufacturer defect warranty

30 day no quibble return policy

Small UK family company with a big heart

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One year on…

So, McConks has been a registered company for over 12 months, and we’ve been actively trading since May 2016. We thought now would be a good time to look back at what, if anything, we’ve achieved.

When we opened in June, we were definitely the new kid on the block.  Noses were looked down, snooty comments were made by established brands and shops.  “Another company importing cheap crap from China” was heard more than once.  Even when SUP experts reviewed our kit favourably (shout out to Tez Plavanieks and Stand Up Paddle Board Mag UK here), there were squeals that SUPM was not standing up for ‘the industry”.  There’s a huge amount of snobbery in watersports hardware, and because neither Jenny nor I were known professional performance paddlers, we were written off.goerge-training

Hopefully those days are behind us.  We’ve had some amazing reviews from expert SUPpers, beginners and everything in between.  Observations that keep being repeated by experts and beginners alike are:

  • Board shape.  We keep getting great reviews which comment on the stability and true tracking of our boards when stood midboard, but really welcome the additional responsiveness that the pintail shape bring when you step back.  Rider after rider report that step back/pivot turns are easier than on a big brand equivalent like for like size board
  • Fins:  It is a recurrent theme in reviews of our kit that real fins really set us apart in our price range, and really improve tracking and surf sup ride.
  • The carbon fibre paddles are really very, very good.  Just enough flex, just enough power, just enough drive, subtle dihedral, comfortable paddle without needing foam or padding to make the ride comfortable
  • Quality:  Manufacturing quality is the same as the best of the best, but comes with  a much affordable price tag.

We always intended 2016 to be a slow year with organic growth. We wanted to make sure that our supply chain could cope with demand, and that we could achieve the very highest quality consistently.  We’ve made no secret of the fact that our kit is made in China (although we’re hoping at some point to be able to manufacture at least some of our products in the UK), and getting supply chains set up over such a distance is time consuming and challenging.  And we had a few false starts, due to last minute changes in design and supply chain ability, and we have struggled at times to meet demand.14086433_10154429591588550_1930899112128684129_o

If we had got all our ducks in line earlier in the year, we could probably have sold more boards and got more people on the water on quality, affordable kit. However, our customers have been so engaging and interested, and have asked lots of questions that take time to answer well; Where can I go paddleboarding?   What should I wear when SUPing? Can I paddle on any river? What kit should I wear? Can I just paddle on any lake?  (answers to these questions plus all of the other every day questions we get asked coming up in our next blog).  It’s been a privilege answering these questions, and helping some slightly nervous beginners get on the water for the first time.  After all, getting people who otherwise wouldn’t get on the water is what McConks is all about.  Judging by the great feedback and reviews we’ve had from customers about our quick responses to queries, and our non-judgmental responses, two very important thoughts come to mind.

The first is that we need to make sure that our team is big enough to always answer those queries as well as just ship the products. We won’t be dismissive or judgmental when answering your questions. We never want you to be scared to ask a question.  If you have a question, rest assured there is someone else who wants to ask the same question, but is too worried to; there’s no such thing as a silly question, just silly answers.

12'8 inflatable paddleboard.
12’8 go explorer inflatable paddle board

Oh, and to this purpose, we’ve just overhauled our website to make it easier to use.

The second thought is about inclusiveness. We hear time and time and time again that the riders and reps for the big brands are only interested in you if you’re young, pretty or rich.  I don’t know how much this is intended, but the perception is real.  One of our customers recently travelled from Scotland to the Lake District to meet some SUP heros and some Brand Reps.

“After meeting with (big brand team rider, name removed to protect their identity)” he reported “and having met countless (big brand inflatable SUP) reps in the past, you’re only ever a name on a list, and they don’t have that personal connection to the customer. They’re only your mate for the 5 minutes before you buy a board.  I travelled all the way from Scotland to the Lake District yesterday for Sup, Run, Bike, and no-one even offered me a trial of their kit.  They’re not interested because I’m old, on the heavy side, and not a pretty young thing, and because I work with a charity with not much money.  McConks is punching its weight with the big guys.  You keep it real and continue to value your customers”14053709_10154429589188550_8923877087909018249_o

McConks aim is to get riders on to the water. Big, small, pretty, ugly, good, bad, indifferent.  We don’t care.  We don’t take strength from how cool or pretty or handsome our riders are, and therefore we’re not going to be damaged by someone with Downs Syndrome on our boards, or hapless beginners.  And in fact, nothing makes us happier than seeing people of different abilities or different background using our kit.  Two great charities for disadvantaged people, The Princes Trust, and Beyond Boundaries East Lothian are currently trialling some of our demo kit.  The managers and technical advisors have bought their own personal kit from us, and we’re now thrashing out a deal for the charities as a whole.  And because we’re small, and don’t spend fortunes on marketing or on team riders, and because our passion is to get people on the water, we are surprisingly affordable.

McConks 10'8 inflatable paddle board (iSUP) in the warm, azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea
McConks boards on tour #paddlemehappy

So, has the first year been successful? We think so.  Customer feedback has been great.  Expert feedback has been great (shout out to Tez Plavanieks and Stand Up Paddle Mag UK, and to the team at our demo centre at Cotswold Water Park Hire).  We’ve delivered to happy customers all over Europe; including Finland, Spain, France, Sweden, Ireland, Switzerland, Norway and Jersey.  And we’ve shipped to the USA. We’ve also donated some ex demo stock to some great charities, and we’re still going to make a small profit in our first year.  After we have deducted taxes and stuff, and the cost of new stock for next year, we will give 100% of the profit to our charity for 2016 Surfers Against Sewage.  Because we’re still growing and expanding our range, most of our income is ploughed straight back into more kit and more prototypes.  But we will make sure that SAS has a c14067753_10154429587633550_5441173745612791058_oheque for at least £200 by the end of 2016.

And what about 2017? Keep your ears to the ground.  I hear rumours of a McConks dedicated Surf SUP and a McConks White Water SUP in 2017, once we have got our new Go Explore board out there.

 

 

#paddlemehappy