Elizabeth Finney takes to the River Thames to try out two water-based fitness activities – and discovers that Pilates while stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking are fun ways to keep fit
SUP Pilates with Active 360
The sun is shining and I’m strolling through Brentford Dock in West London alongside beautiful canal boats floating peacefully in the water. I’m off to meet Sophy Aykroyd, a Pilates and paddleboard instructor who now combines the two with SUP (stand-up paddleboard) Pilates classes in Paddington Basin, Kew Bridge, Putney and Brentford Lock.
After a quick lesson on how to use a single paddle and how best to position yourself on the board, we’re gliding out into the lock – the water’s smooth, and the board turns easily with the lightest of paddle strokes. We find a good spot and anchor our boards with a kettlebell and gently stretch before the class. The combination of Pilates and paddleboarding suddenly makes a lot of sense – Pilates focuses on strengthening the core to benefit the rest of the body, and without an engaged core on a paddleboard, chances are you’ll end up in the water.
Bathed in sunshine with the soothing sound of water nudging the canal boats, I can’t think of a better way to spend the afternoon. The workout is slow, controlled and intense – every posture is so carefully considered and executed that I can feel a gentle burn throughout my body during the session. We cover some of the 34 key Pilates exercises, and while the single leg stretches, spine stretches and roll-ups are relatively simple and low risk, other moves such as the leg pulls, kneeling sidekicks, side bends and plank present an enjoyable challenge. With my brain keenly focused on completing the specific exercises while maintaining balance on the board, there is little room for daydreaming or worrying, so by the end of the session I feel that both body and mind have been well and truly stretched out.
As a beginner session, it is very manageable and gentle. At no point do I feel out of my depth (excuse the pun), and Sophy tailors every step to suit my abilities. It’s easy to follow her guidance as she explains each movement and how it benefits the body. Apart from anything else, it’s a little quirky, extremely fun – perfect for anyone who’s looking for a workout that’s a little off-the-beaten-track.
I speak to founder of Active360, Paul Hyman, who has taken his paddleboard around the world. “People like doing yoga and Pilates outdoors and on water because it is so much more enjoyable and relaxing than being in a studio,” he explains. “SUP Pilates also represents more of a challenge because you are on a relatively unstable surface, which helps strengthen your core muscles.”
Paul explains how SUP is the easiest water sport to learn, as the basics are very straightforward and the sport requires no special conditions. If this sounds right up your street, Active360 also plan holidays to destinations such as Sardinia. “We will be exploring the fantastic coastline of San Pietro with its beautiful caves and cliffs,” Paul tells me.
“We have noticed that people in the inner-city, especially Londoners who live, work and commute daily through the capital, love opportunities to get away from it all.” I can agree with him that SUP Pilates is a glorious way to do just that, whether you’re twisting and stretching somewhere exotic or simply in the sunny London docks.
Classes start at £25, or £100 for a block of five. Please visit the website for more details, active360.co.uk
Kayaking with Chelsea Kayak Club
After a couple of hours capsizing myself alongside a patient Alex Hester (session leader and kit officer) in a pool in Clapham, I find myself amid a party of kayaks in the shadow of Kew Bridge, ready to take to the Thames. The Chelsea Kayak Club was officially founded in 2010, and runs weekly sessions on the Thames. They’ve travelled everywhere in their kayaks; Croatia, Anglesey, Marseille, Cornwall, Scotland and Sardinia – they’ve even paddled from Kew to Tower Bridge.
We set off at a steady pace – it’s gentle enough to take in our stunning surroundings and to keep an eye out for rowers, who tend to take the Thames at a slightly more competitive pace.
I notice familiar landmarks as we strike out past Chiswick and Putney, heading through Mortlake and Barnes, then towards Hammersmith. Enjoyably, we provide some entertainment for diners at The Depot and The White Hart in Barnes. Giving the swans a wide berth, I wait until we pass the onlookers before practising a few new paddling strokes – using a few pointers and tips from other members of the group, I quickly get to grips with tricks to help me move sideways in the water and to turn without losing my balance.
I’m pleasantly surprised by the kayaks used by the club. Buoyant and well-balanced, you can easily lean so far as to dip your elbow in to the water without tumbling in. I’m cosily tucked in under my spray deck (a skirt-like piece of kit that seals you into your kayak) and I enjoy the experience of remaining warm and dry throughout. We reach a point near Hammersmith Bridge and decide to head back as the sun descends behind the trees. The tide is on our side and we fly back towards the arches, passing the odd pelican and coot while dodging a few seagulls flying ominously overhead.
I can’t recommend a trip out on the water with the Chelsea Kayak Club highly enough. It’s calm, easy to get the hang of and a wonderful way to witness London from a completely different perspective. You don’t have to be a fitness freak to enjoy kayaking, but a sense of humour and adventure are a must.