Stand up paddle boarding has emerged as one of the hottest new water sports, and it’s perfect for everyone from competitive athletes to those looking for a family or recreational activity to enjoy. Fitness Journal chats with paddleboard enthusiast and instructor Phoebe Clark about what makes paddle boarding so appealing…
Phoebe Clark grew up surrounded by water and water sports, so it is little surprise that life has come full circle and she has created a business around her passion.
With her family home on the banks of Lake Karapiro, her dad Richard, boasting a lifetime involvement in multisport paddling (including competing in 10 Coast to Coast events), and the fact the family business is Boatshed Kayaks – it’s fair to say that Phoebe has the ideal pedigree to forge her own way in the world of water sports and business.
Her chosen sport at school was rowing, and even then she spent more time on the water than most of her St Peter’s team mates.
“The rowing sheds are literally straight across the water from home, so instead of driving all the way around the lake to training, I used to just kayak across and I was there,” she recalls.
Phoebe’s link with the school remains, but these days she is sharing her skills with students, helping run team building days on the water with kayaks and paddle boards.
As a family, Phoebe and her two sisters Rebecca and Maddy, grew up involved in sports from a young age. Starting out with the Weetbix Triathlon series, the girls went on to participate in various events and under dad’s influence, kayaking was an everyday part of life.
Richard Clark is pretty much a household name in the world of kayaking, so the girls have seen much of New Zealand from the shore and on the water. These days the two older sisters are involved in farming in Hawke’s Bay and Reperoa, while Phoebe, the youngest (24) has returned home to the shores she grew up on.
The Karapiro property, which was originally the family dairy farm, has since been subdivided, but years spent exploring the local waterways have paid off. Richard and Phoebe now take guided tours to nearby waterfalls and glow worm canyons.
“We started off hiring out kayaks just from home. We’d pop down to the water and show people around – and demand saw it grow from there.”
Enter The Boatshed, an impressive building designed to take advantage of the site overlooking Lake Karapiro.
The Boatshed was the family business for more than a decade before Richard sold it to focus on Boatshed Kayaks, which allowed him to spend more time on the water, teaching people skills from basic kayaking to wing paddle lessons and multisport introduction.
For the love of paddle boarding
In the meantime Phoebe headed off to work in Australia where she quickly became a paddleboard enthusiast, while Richard spent six months sailing to Tonga, where the paddle board surprisingly became his favourite toy, even more than his beloved kayak.
“I’ve gone from taking the kayaks everywhere, to now just throwing a paddle board in the boat or car,” he says. “They’re so versatile; I paddled around Tonga on one and became hooked on the sport.
“It’s an easy way to explore too as you can go in shallow water – we’ve discovered some great spots we probably wouldn’t have come across otherwise.”
As organisers of the Cambridge to Hamilton Paddle Race, Richard and Phoebe have seen a huge increase in the number of people entering on paddle boards.
“The popularity of paddle boarding is growing really fast. It doubles every year,” says Phoebe.
“It’s a great event and open to serious as well as recreational paddlers on everything from kayaks and paddle boards to wakas.
Fresh business focus
Phoebe reckons the sport of SUP has a huge future – with something to offer elite athletes through to those wanting a fun family recreational sport.
To this end, she has started her own business, Fitsup Waikato, taking group sessions on Lake Karapiro and the Waikato River.
“It’s a great all over body workout, while having fun and exploring the waterways,” she says.
“The other plus is that if you learn the right technique to start with, the skill level progression happens pretty quickly – and that’s always rewarding.
“It has taken off hugely. Paddle boarding seems to be the new thing with everyone keen to give it a go, and once they try it, they generally love it.
“I think people are surprised to learn how important the right technique is though,” says Phoebe. “We usually start first-timers off with a 15-minute lesson. Then they’ve basically got the hang of it and can have a play, but what they don’t realise is that they’re working a lot of muscle groups.
“You use your entire body when you do it properly.”
Phoebe’s Fitsup sessions focus on providing a fitness workout within an hour class, held mid-week on both Lake Karapiro and the Waikato River.
“It’s mostly females who have not really done anything like this before, so we start off with some land-based strengthening and then jump on the boards and go for a paddle and do some workouts. We also have more experienced paddle boarders who love the constant challenge the sport provides.”
The Waikato river session is best suited to those who have already mastered the basics on the flat water of the lake, as it can be a little bit trickier starting out on water with a current like the river.
“It’s like any sport. If you get the technique right at the beginning, it’s so much easier to progress, rather than having to undo bad technique.
“It’s an overall body workout. There’s heaps of core involved with it and we do some exercises with the paddles – it’s a full body cardio. The best thing though is that you’re having fun, so you don’t really notice that you’re exercising and working your body at the same time.”
Richard adds in the fact that paddle boarding is a natural strengthener for knees and ankles.
It’s ideal for anyone wanting to improve knee or ankle stability as it develops the muscles.”
Taking the plunge
With more than two decades spent as a solid kayak advocate, Richard admits to initially being ‘a bit dubious’ about paddle boarding.
“But when you actually do it, it’s fantastic. There’s so much more to it than you’d think. The good thing for me is that you see so much more, you’re standing up so everything is more visible. It’s hard to explain but it’s a different viewpoint from being in a kayak.
“It’s easy to step down from a yacht onto a paddleboard too, it’s way easier than getting into a kayak. The places you can go with it are fantastic. It does have similarities to kayaking, but there’s a lot of differences which make it special.
“You can access places that you just wouldn’t get to otherwise. We have lovely waterfalls just up the lake that are amazing to paddle board under. But it’s versatile enough that you can have an inflatable paddle board in your car and take it with you.
“We went to the Catlins a few years ago and took paddle boards which we used in the surf, on rivers and estuaries.”
Having taught kayaking for so long, Richard says teaching paddle boarding is basically transferring the same skills.
“The basics are the same; you’re grabbing the water and leveraging yourself forward. Waka ama, kayaking, paddle boarding, they’re all similar, they’re all a paddling sport.”
Keeping it in the family
Working together on a daily basis poses no problems for this father daughter duo.
“Phoebe grew up working in the business and helping out and now she’s making her own mark on the business,” says Richard.
“She’s stepped in and done such a great job. It’s pretty physical too, a lot of loading boats and paddle boards, as well as the high level of organisation required with groups and individuals.”
Given the family involvement in the sport of rowing, it’s not unusual to see some of New Zealand’s best rowers kayaking and paddle boarding alongside Richard and Phoebe.
“A few of the rowers have done the Coast to Coast as well and I’ve trained athletes like Mahe Drysdale, Carl Meyer and Joseph Sullivan – we’ve all done the Coast to Coast together.”
Mahe’s wife Juliette Drysdale has become a keen paddle boarder and there are quite a few athletes who use paddle boarding and kayaking as a form of cross training.
“It combines really well with the skills they already have.”
While Phoebe handles the increasing numbers of athletes and families flocking to have a go at paddle boarding, Richard is kept equally busy with busloads of visitors pouring in to experience evening kayak trips to the nearby glow worm canyon.
“It’s pretty spectacular,” he admits, “and even though we’ve been there hundreds of times, we never fail to appreciate it.
“The kids and I grew up on the water here, water skiing before we got into kayaking and paddle boarding. Many of these spots like the glow worm canyon and waterfalls are only accessible by kayak and paddle board. That’s what makes them so special.
“It’s an experience and journey to remember, as well as incorporating kayaking and paddle boarding.”
Phoebe sums the experience up nicely: “We just want to see people out enjoying the gorgeous Waikato water opportunities, having fun and potentially learning a new sport and taking it to a competitive level if they wish.”