United Kingdom | A SUP Scene on the Rise

UK racer Ollie Shilston attests that the British paddling scene is growing every year. Just last month, St. Ives held the first international SUP race as part of the Euro Tour. Photo: Ollie Shilston
UK racer Ollie Shilston attests that the British paddling scene is growing every year. Just last month, St. Ives held the first international SUP race as part of the Euro Tour. Photo: Ross Shephard Photography

United Kingdom | A SUP Scene on the Rise

The UK and its islands have almost 20,000 miles of coastline, and nowhere in the country is more than 70 miles from the ocean. This means that 64 million Brits are within striking distance of a beach. Add to this an extensive canal system and plenty of lakes and rivers, and you’ve got a nation that’s primed for a SUP explosion.

Though surfing remains popular across the country, it’s SUP that is revitalizing surf shops, providing seasoned watermen and women with new challenges and captivating a new generation of groms. In 2007, Marie Buchanan won the women’s distance race at the “September Sessions” event in Cornwall’s Watergate Bay. She recalls, “Everyone’s race boards were 12 feet or shorter.”

A lot has changed in the UK scene since then. “A few years back every time I went on the water with my SUP I had a gaggle of people coming up to me asking me what it was all about,” Buchanan said. “Now most people know it, have tried it, and are out doing it themselves.”

In 2008, the BSUPA (British Standup Paddle Association) started holding races, including the National Surf and Racing Championships. Last year, several of the UK’s top SUP and water sports clubs created the UK SUP National Race Series, which crowns men’s and women’s champions after 10 events.

In May 2015, St. Ives, 32 miles southwest of surf mecca Newquay on Cornwall’s north coast, hosted the UK’s first major international SUP race, the Celtic Cup. Glenn Eldridge, one of the co-founders of the St. Ives SUP Club, helped bring the event to his backyard and organize clinics with the likes of Quickblade founder Jim Terrell.

“I saw being part of the Euro Tour as a potential catalyst to develop the sport not only to inspire the elite and to benchmark themselves against the best, but also to integrate participation by running introductory classes and kids taster sessions,” Eldridge said.

One of Eldridge’s St. Ives SUP Club co-founders, Ollie Shilston, has become one of the top UK paddlers, claiming third in the 2014 Battle of the Paddle 12’ 6’’ distance race. Shilston believes that SUP will continue to grow as more and more young people get into the sport, and the race scene becomes increasingly competitive.

“We’re seeing over 100 people enter some of the National Race Series events, which shows how far SUP has come in the UK,” Shilston said. “We’re also getting great attendance at our junior training nights.”

A group of paddlers from the island of Jersey has also been tearing it up in recent years, putting the UK on the map as a breeding ground for SUP surfing talent. One among them, young gun Aaron Rowe, believes that anyone planning a UK SUP trip shouldn’t ignore his home island.

“The best breaks are St. Jean De Luz, St Ouens Bay and a reef called Petit Port,” he said. “One of my favorite downwind runs is along the north coast of Jersey. It’s nine miles of pure fun.”

The next stop has to be Cornwall, where surf and SUP culture is as close as you’ll get to California in the UK. Shilston recommends hitting Gwythian for waves and trying the 10-mile downwinder from Porth Leven to Mousehole.

More on the St. Ives Celtic Cup, the UK’s first international race.

More on newly formed Euro Tour.

Aaron Rowe
Aaron Rowe, one of the UK’s most promising SUP surfers, goes off the top on a fun looking British break. Photo: Bob Berry