With paddle in hand and calm waters ahead, Stand Up Paddleboarding is a unique and accessible way to explore the shoreline. Whether it’s a river bank, sandy shore or rocky cliff face, paddleboarding offers up a fresh perspectives on the familiar.
In episode four of our #WhereItTakesYou microadventures series, we explored tidal waterways with Cornish paddleboard pioneer Sean White. After the adventure we caught up with Sean to discuss his love of paddling, how he made his passion his life, and how to get started in the world of paddleboard adventures.
What is Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) and how did you first discover it?
You can paddle on any body of water, whether you’re paddling a puddle or a great canal in Scotland, it doesn’t matter. You can use it for fitness, for expeditions, for friendship forming and socialising, for your mental and physical health. You can paddle into waves, there’s racing and touring - there’s just something for everyone in paddleboarding and the access to discovery is so simple and easy.
Before paddleboarding came along I was working in the music industry. One of the bands we worked with was called Yellow Wire. The lead singer of this band had just come back from the states and he had a paddleboard. It was the first time I’d ever seen one and he wanted us to shoot this music video where we would all dress up and go paddleboarding at Godreavy Beach.
So I got my first go on a paddleboard because of that video shoot. And at the time I couldn’t even really swim, so I didn’t really have a very good relationship with the sea. But that day paddleboarding – when I got my first glide on that board, it was just the most visceral experience I’d ever had and I was hooked immediately.
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So, how did you go from that first moment to where you are with WeSUP now?
The sport wasn’t a thing in the UK. We were quite literally pioneering it in this country. I did my initial deal with the ambition of getting 100 people a month on the water, and it didn’t work. I couldn’t get 100 people a month, it was more like 10. But all the advice I was getting was saying “do what you’re passionate about and the money will come.” So I just kept doing what I was passionate about. Everybody who tried it loved it, and I just had this feeling that if I loved it this much, surely everybody else would too.
Really, it was just about connecting with people, and allowing them to experience the environment that I loved. I realised that paddleboarding was this beautiful blend of people and the environment and that all people really crave in their lives is that connection to other human beings and to the environment. Paddleboarding gave an enormously eclectic demographic of people the opportunity to connect to both of those things. So ‘Club WeSUP’ formed the centre of our business and it’s allowed us to inspire the generations of paddleboarders that are now coming through.
What’s so special for you about paddleboarding?
In our third year, a friend of mine had the idea to go and paddle the entire width of Scotland, from Inverness to King Loch Leven. The scenery there was devastatingly beautiful and the experience changed me; it changed my life and my whole perspective on what paddleboarding really meant to me.
We saw so much wildlife, camped each night and had beers under the stars… we had the most unbelievable Scottish weather, it was stunning. We’d experienced these waterways and the environment in a way we could never have imagined in our own country. Most people are off travelling trying to have these visceral experiences which we had by just driving up to Scotland. It showed me what paddleboarding could be in this country. From that point paddleboarding became a vehicle to tell stories about adventure. And everything about my life was about where the next adventure was going to come from.
The ocean offers you is a completely alternative perspective. If you go out on the sea, you’ll spend a lot of that time looking back at the land. All of a sudden, you have a new perspective on your life that you never had before. You’re looking back and seeing all these coves and beaches and amazing places that you’ve never been to, and can’t even believe even exist. That alternate perspective on our lives is what humans crave. Providing this connection between people and the environment has never been more crucial than it is right now. At a time where people are coming out of lockdown and they’ve had months to think about their place in the world… all that anyone actually craved while they were locked up in their home was that connection to other humans and that connection to the environment. And paddleboarding does that entirely naturally.
How can someone get into paddleboarding if they want to give it a go?
WeSUP is an access point into the world of paddleboarding. I’ve never seen us as an elite company, we’ve kept paddleboarding in a space where it’s really accessible and people can come and discover it. So you don’t need anything to come paddleboarding with us, we provide everything. Using all of our equipment really allows you to understand what kind of paddler you want to be. There is no point in going off and spending hundreds of pounds on a stand up paddleboard, then learning a bit more and discovering that you’re into racing, or you’re into touring, and that all-round board that you bought is no good for either of those things!
Some people may never leave the confines of the bay; they may just actually love the opportunity to glide across the water in fair weather, have a chat with friends and decompress from their day. Some people may quickly find the bay boring and want to paddle 10 miles around the coast, or try riding those waves they’ve seen at the beach. What I would say is, if you are unsure about what kind of paddler you are, if you don’t have the room to store a board, if you don’t want the hassle of pumping that board up every day (that’s 8 minutes of pretty solid cardio to pump the damn thing up!) WeSUP is there.
The business has evolved into these hubs where people can just be whoever they want to be. They come from backgrounds where they are doctors, shop assistants, care support workers. They are everyone, and that’s been the success of paddleboarding. The simple fact that for once there is an entirely accessible water sport where everyone, even people who can’t swim, still feel completely safe.
I’ve gone from putting about 100 people on paddleboards to around 16-17,000 people on the water each year. That’s what’s important to me. I’m connecting people to my passion and to the environment.
A Finisterre Production
Keep a look out for our follow up interview with Sean, where we discuss the topics of diversity and inclusion within the outdoor industry:
“It’s a really difficult subject, and I’m in admiration of everyone who has been brave enough to just talk. The topic around racism is uncomfortable and people are scared about talking about it. But it’s that fear which has got us into this position in the first place.”