23rd Sep 2012 12:45pm | By Jade Bremner
If you hate exercise that actually feels like exercise (monotonous running on a treadmill or boring stair climbing come to mind), consider taking a paddleboarding course.
New watersports centre WakeUp Docklands in east London and paddleboarding specialists Active360 in west London offer the chance to try the sport and get toned up on the city’s waterways.
“Paddleboarding has become a hugely popular way of keeping fit,” says our instructor, WakeUp’s Jack Ginty. The activity works the core, and uses arm and leg muscles to propel the boarder forwards.
It also requires constant balancing, turning, lifting and pulling, meaning it works the stomach muscles and provides a cardiovascular workout at the same time.
“It’s amazingly accessible, and can be taught in an hour,” reckons Paul Hyman, from Active360.
Instructor Ginty teaches British Stand Up Paddleboarding Level 1 courses at Victoria Docks, and, once proficient, you can put your skills to the test exploring docked mega-ships, abandoned factories and the city’s snaking waterways – all as part of your workout.
“You can do a three-mile paddle in this stretch of water,” Ginty says, as we set out on our 10ft boards. With the right conditions, tides and wind he reckons it’s possible to travel at up to 10 knots (11mph).
“Despite what people think, the Royal Docks’ water is cleaner than seawater,” claims Ginty. “It’s brackish – both salty and fresh.” En route, we spot flounder, mullet and bass in the water.
In places, this area is more than 12m deep; it’s the largest enclosed dock in the world, which is why it doesn’t get stagnant. It’s also been here more than 20 years, and is historically fascinating.
“We were recently on a boat with a vertical scanner,” says Ginty. “All sorts of shapes were coming up under the water, like London buses, taxis and boats.”
During my lesson, I plough through the water; balance-wise it’s much easier than surfing and, depending on where you find yourself, it allows you to spot waves and oncoming boats, and enjoy the sunrise in the distance (I’ve had a 7am start).
“We sometimes teach people to ride the whitewash on the Thames,” says Hyman, “or get them racing against the current in a mass-paddle. It’s a lot of fun and a diverse activity.”
During my session, we paddle down small channels with bridges and obstacles so I can practise precision and turning.
“The water goes all the way under the pavements here,” says Ginty. “Experienced paddlers can make their way under the city’s walkways, and explore this cave-like area.”
It’s a hugely calming experience despite the fact we’re working our bodies to the core. “No other sport in London offers this sense of freedom,” says Hyman. “You become an explorer while keeping fit.”
London paddleboarding sessions take place every day at various times depending on the weather.
What: This central London gym offers a whole body workout, concentrating on the core, mid-torso and all the sporting muscles.
With these blow-up blobs you’ll be doing press-ups and squats, and rolling them around in the name of fitness. It looks absolutely ridiculous, but really works.
Where & when: Every Mon 7.15pm-8.15pm, 112 Great Russell Street, WC1B 3NQ
What: You don’t need to be wearing a suffocating girdle to strengthen your core, reckons fitness expert Mark Anthony, who runs specially designed classes that aim to tone your stomach area.
In the sessions you’ll use a ‘reformer’, a nifty cushioned device used in Pilates that supports your back while you’re building some serious strength.
Where & when: Various times, 57 Ossington Street, W2 4LY
Photos: Active360; WakeUp Docklands; Thinkstock; Getty