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Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Paddleboarding - the modern way to try out Venetian gondola life

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. Just enjoyed a new activity - stand up paddleboarding - and combined it with a couple of hours picking up rubbish from a canalWords from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

I only collected one of these rubbish tubs. Have to admit that I was so proud I forgot
to ask #Trash4Treats organiser Kiko how she got rid of them. Notice I'm holding a cake 
(rhubarb and coconut, yum) which was my treat for being a SUP litter picker.
What is it about the very end of August?  It seems to be a time I need adventure, ideally on the water...

Lola, then 13, with Patrick from
  Kayak Sydney taking us out in sea
kayaks under Sydney Harbour's
famous bridge.
Five years ago I took up an invite from Patrick at www.kayaksydney.com to paddle with then 13 year old Lola around Sydney Harbour under the famous bridge. It was fantastic - we went past amazing houses, rode the wake of the ferry and enjoyed Australia's bluest skies. (In a bid to avoid adding to climate change the family plan is to avoid flying, or to make a trip every 10 years).

Roll on 2016 and I'm trying to stand on a paddleboard on the quiet waters of the River Lee Navigation (the canal) which runs past Olympic Park in Stratford. There's a great stand up paddleboarding organisation, run by Kiko, called SUPkiko which combines two hours of learning to paddleboard with collecting rubbish from the canal.

There are five of us on today's #Trash4Treats outing. None of us have ever stood on a board before - but 30something Kiko, who learnt how to paddleboard while working in Uganda, explains clearly what we have to do. She reckons only 1 per cent of people fall in (and they possibly want to do so!).

Canals are notoriously dirty thanks to the lack of tide. Even with Kiko's regular #Trash4Treats scheme - where paddleboarders go out rubbish picking for two hours and when they return are rewarded with an ice cream or a nice piece of cake - there is plenty of litter. In fact Kiko dreamed up the idea while paddleboarding here because she didn't like her "office" (ie the canal) to be so grubby.

Everyone is meant to collect at least 10 pieces of rubbish but quite soon the five new paddleboarders have hoiked enough trash to fill their rubbish bucket. Kiko's got two!

Back on land it's clear that we've all got the same sort of stuff - polystyrene chunks, empty beer and drinks cans/bottles, condom wrappers and plastic bags. I've also found drinking straws, a large chunk of foam and a yellow plastic bowl.

Kiko says her scariest find was a doll's face with long flowing blonde hair. Guess what that looked like at first?

Learning to standup paddleboard via #Trash4Treats run by SUPkiko at Hackney Wick
(there's Kiko bottom right). With treats provided by the Milk Float Cafe
Hunting for litter is a good way to forget any standing up nerves. You start the session on your knees, just to get the hang of the paddle. After 10 minutes (or however long you need), you lay the paddle across the board and stand.

My legs were shaking at first but by repeating the mantra "your paddle is your friend" (hopefully silently) I began to enjoy the sensation. When I felt like I was about to fall (eg, as a result of my poor steering, another paddleboard heading towards me or getting tangled in the thick green weed that coats part of the canal, or me rubbernecking the hipster bars in this area) I just went forward on to my knees.

To be truthful I loved paddling on my knees. But this is stand up paddleboarding so I stood up and went for it.

SUP (stand up paddleboarding) is an all body work out. It's not too hard to learn, and as a bonus the muscle workout is amazing - I woke the next day feeling as if my chest/back was actually barrel shaped as clearly every one of the muscles/ligaments around my ribs had been worked equally.  They definitely don't function like this when I'm on the laptop.

When conditions are right (ie I'm on land or on water, but not on the high seas thinking I'm about to drown) water is often calming, but Kiko claims SUP can be meditatively good for you too.

Kiko's friend Charlie Head, who has paddleboarded the Amazon, is currently going round the UK on a SUP talking about mental health issues (and travel) #TheBigStand.  Follow Charlie's facebook page and you can see a much shared video about how mental health effects us all (and donate £3 for his next meal, #thehungrySUPper!). I've also linked to his 2min video from Blackpool Pier here:



And even if paddleboarding wasn't making your mind relax (I keep imagining I'm in Venice), it's extremely cheering having so many passersby congratulate the paddleboarders when they see them chasing a bit of litter, Kiko is a brilliant ambassador for cleaning up the canals. While supervising her newbies, she also chats with all sorts along the canalside including the drinkers at Crate and Grow, the boats that come past and lots of kids (she used to be a teacher).

Ahhhh London, so beautiful, and now a little bit cleaner in the Venetian light.
"It's brilliant what you are doing!" "Is it easy to stand up?" are the things the people we pass keep on saying as we paddle up towards Hackney Marshes and back. What a fantastic way to spend the afternoon.

My husband, Pete, was definitely impressed, claiming I'd passed my "hipster proficiency test" as we had a cheeky lager at Tank (one of the many super cool bars near the super coolest of all the canalside bars, Crate, in Hackney Wick). Perhaps one day after a West Ham match at their new stadium some Hammers fans (like Pete even) will avoid the crowds at Stratford and instead just hop on to a SUP and paddle back to their homes? It's a nice thought, but for now if you take a paddle with Kiko you can enjoy crowd-free canals with only a little bit of dodging young coots, swans and the occasional passing barge. Bliss.

VERDICT: Go and try SUP paddleboarding with Kiko. It's really fun, and definitely will reward you with a set of photos that seem nothing short of miraculous - you (well me) standing on a paddleboard on the water. Kiko also runs corporate (team bonding) paddleboarding sessions and has a base at Richmond for those Londoners who don't do north east. 
website: SUPKiko  @SUP_Kiko Insta: SIPKiko F: SUPKiko

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