Video: Riding the waves – at Royal Victoria Docks
- Credit: Archant
It’s late September, the weather is still unseasonably balmy beyond the chill of the morning and the sun is defiantly shining on.
Lucky for me, since I’m about to pull on a wetsuit and try my hand at wakeboarding and stand up paddleboarding for the first time in my life. Getting wet is a solid gold guarantee.
But I’ve not driven to the south coast to pick up these new water-based skills, actually I’ve just jumped on the DLR down to Royal Victoria Docks and Wake Up Docklands.
It’s here I meet my instructor, Jason Bergin. He’s spent his career around extreme sports including surfing, kite-surfing and snowboarding (and looks the every bit the part).
He tells me the Docks’ flat, calm water makes for perfect conditions for the sports I’m about to inaugurate – and the surroundings aren’t too shabby either.
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The centre was actually established here three years ago but the growing buzz surrounding paddleboarding is a much more recent phenomenon.
As for wakeboarding, Jason explains: “There’s been a surge in interest in wakeboarding because of the hot, dry, windless summers that we have been having recently.
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“The conditions are super slow and the kite-surfers can’t go riding so they are coming and doing more wakeboarding.”
For the uninitiated, wakeboarding is much like jet-skiing though instead of two planks strapped to your feet there’s just the one board (it floats – I actually asked out of fear that it would anchor me to my doom).
You move through the water by being pulled along, either by boat or, as at Wake Up, using a motor-driven cable.
It demands a little more athleticism than paddleboarding, which can be undertaken by people of all ages Jason assures me.
Here you are essentially standing up on a large surfboard and use a long paddle to steer and drive you along. Think a cross between surfing and punting and you’ve more or less got it.
We start with wakeboarding. Helmet and impact jacket on, I run through the basics in my head waiting in the water for the cable to pull me up – stand up smoothly, keep your arms straight, don’t pull back.
I’m up first time, but it’s a short-lived ecstasy and before I can grimace a smile I’m drinking the water. But with some helpful advice from my two instructors – Jasmine is controlling the speed of the rope and helpfully motors it back to me when we separate – I start to learn from my mistakes.
Before my 20 minutes on the water are up I have completed a few full runs standing up. Maybe not looking great, but standing up all the same. It’s an exhilarating feeling and quickly becomes addictive.
Next we move on to paddleboarding. It looks like a doddle from a distance, but in reality I found it far more demanding. With nothing to pull you along you’re relying entirely on your own core to keep your balance and create efficient paddle strokes.
Once a bit more stable and confident we move out across the Docks.
I can’t think of anywhere better to be doing it for the first time. London beats a pulse around us but on the water it is serene – save for me losing my balance and falling in on occasion.
It occurs to me how at odds it is with the stereotypical image of water sports on the coast. “The challenge is changing that mindset,” Jason, 36, tells me.
“Even though we are in an urban location, we can do water sports. In London particularly we have locations like this where you have a huge expanse of water that’s regularly tested so you know it’s clean.”
In fact it’s so good, he says he is hoping to get the first national and international paddleboarding tournaments to take place right here in Newham.
If you want to try your hand at wakeboarding or paddleboarding (or both) sessions costs from £20 and typically include all equipment hire.
The season runs until November – weather permitting – and starts up again around April/May. Visit wakeupdocklands.com to find out more or call 020 7055 3855 to book.