There’s something about the River Thames that seems to take on almost legendary proportions. For centuries past, and still today, the Thames has been the lifeblood of London, cutting through the heart of what is undoubtedly one of the world’s most historical and important cities. The peaceful flow of the river stands in contrast to the frantic rush-hour traffic, and bustle of commuters just meters from its shores.
All this makes the Thames a great place to experience London from, and therefore, when the opportunity arose to go Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP’ing) somewhere as iconic as the River Thames, I was just a little bit excited! Besides, while I had been kayaking on many occasions, I had never been SUP’ing before and always love trying something new.
Editor’s Note: Check out our Where to Stay in London to see our personal recommendations on hostels and hotels.
I had connected with Paul from Active360 who seemed the perfect person to lead me on this adventure. Having Stand Up Paddleboarded all over the world, he regaled me with stories and pictures from his trips to Iceland, India and Greenland, and yet he still remained massively enthusiastic about paddle boarding on the humble Thames. So after spending the day paddleboarding with them, here is my Active360 review.
My Paddleboarding Experience
When I arrived, my excitement was dashed slightly as I learned the Thames wasn’t always the idyllic location to learn how to paddleboard. Paul pointed at frothy bubbles swirling innocently on the surface of the river, explaining “There was a big sewage spill in the River a few days ago”. Okay… well that raised the stakes; now I really didn’t want to fall in! Don’t let this put you off though; apparently such incidents are fairly rare, and in addition to the Thames, Active360 also run trips to other ‘sewage-free’ locations both in tranquil canals around London, and further afield. And besides, Paul pointed out only around 10% of people fall in on their first session. As long as I wasn’t one of them I’d be fine.
My friend and I were able to borrow everything we needed from Active360 and we quickly changed before waddling down to the river in our unflattering wetsuits, both awkwardly clutching our long paddleboards at our sides. We soon launched out into the wide expanse of the Thames, thankfully without too much prior instruction required. At first we were cautiously kneeling down, but after a few minutes, we plucked up the courage to stand. After all, it’s called stand up paddleboarding for a reason, right? I have often heard that it is a relatively quick sport to grasp the basics of, so I was shocked by how unbelievably unsteady the board felt at first. My legs shook uncontrollably beneath me, threatening to toss me into the water at any moment, and Rose quickly retreated warily back to her knees where she felt more safe.
I felt my confidence growing with every paddle stroke, and with some pointers from Paul, I gradually felt more stable, and at less risk of an imminent soaking. Only then could I finally begin to look around and appreciate what an amazing place I was paddling through. Sadly beginners aren’t allowed to paddleboard through the busy stretch of Thames passing the centre of London, so our adventure left from Putney Bridge. We were just 5 miles from the centre of London but it felt a world away. Trees and greenery lined both sides of the river in abundance. This area seemed to be a mecca for watersports as rowers coordinated in perfect unison regularly powered past us, and small boats whizzed up and down; it felt only natural that we also joined them in taking to the water to explore this section of London.
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On all sides, geese and ducks took flight to the skies, while others glided smoothly into land; it really was quite stunning. Despite the peaceful setting though, we were still in London and could feel the sense of the energy and vibrancy the city seems to possess. An underground train rumbled in the distance as we passed under bridges as red buses and black cabs thundered above us. The famous Wembley Arch proudly reached across the skyline ahead. There was so much to take in, it was impossible to fully appreciate it all. As I experienced this feeling of sensory overload, I began to wonder if it got any better than this. …And then I nearly fell in, swiftly answering my questions and returning me to reality as I remembered the risk of sewage in the water.
In London, the Thames is tidal. This is great. We could paddle in one direction and then, when the tide changed and the water gushed back out to sea, we could turn around and let the currents carry us back to where we started. This may sound pretty cool when you’re reading this at home, but when you’re beginning to tire from the tough workout, and your arms and core feel on fire, it’s freaking awesome!
I was lucky enough to go on a day the Thames experienced an usually high spring tide which added a little extra adventure to our trip, as we paddled down flooded roads past partially submerged cars and through people’s front gardens over their walls. This provided a taster as to what it would be like if the streets of London ever flooded; if a “The day after tomorrow” kind of situation ever happens in London, I’m prepared… Sadly, I’m not sure this is a regular feature of Active 360 trips.
I want to try this Paddleboarding! How much does it cost with Active360?
As of 2016, these are the prices: Lesson prices include tuition, full hire of equipment and clothing.
– Beginners group lesson (2½ hour session) = $85 (£59) per person
– Tailored private 1 to 1 lesson (2 hour session) = $115 (£80) per person
Once you have completed a lesson with Active 360, you are able to borrow a board independently.
– 2.5 hours hire = $30 (£20)
– Full day hire = $57 (£40)
There are many options available to try SUP’ing and the best way to view these, and their prices is to check out their website at Active360.com.
What to bring for a day of Paddleboarding?
For your lesson with Active 360 you will be provided with everything you need, but you may prefer to bring your own wetsuit and watershoes if you have your own. I would recommend warm clothes for after you get off the river, especially as you may have fallen in!
Don’t forget a waterproof camera if you would like to take pictures!
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Have you been Paddleboarding? How was your experience?
Please note that despite receiving complimentary services from Active360, all opinions are ours and remain completely unbiased.