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Sarah Blues | Paddle Her Way

Posted by Jess Davies

"Now I think back and can’t imagine my life without paddle boarding – it’s only been a year, but it’s transformed the way I feel about my body and my confidence."

At the beginning of 2020, as the lockdown was beginning to ease, I knew I needed to find a way to get out on the water safely. Paddle boarding is something that I’d always wanted to try but I thought that I was too big but with more free time than normal, I took the jump and bought a board. I found it incredibly challenging, but I was instantly hooked as I’d found a way to move my body that I loved.

''My anxiety floats away with it and allows me to be really present''

Time to get a lesson... remember endlessly falling and trying over and over to get on my feet – I was determined but put of getting a lesson as I was nervous that I’d be the worst, I wouldn’t be able to do it or just that I’d embarrassed myself. When I finally went to a lesson, it opened my eyes to the possibilities of SUP, the incredible community and that it was so much more than something I wanted to do on a sunny day at the beach.

I joined my local club, not only did I start to improve my skills, but I found this incredible, diverse, inclusive community who have become my cheer squad – both on and off the water. My fears of being judged forgotten, the summer began to draw to a close and I knew that I wasn’t ready to stop paddling. So, I set out to get the kit I needed to continue into the colder months but found very quickly, unlike the inclusive community I’d discovered, kit was exclusive. I found that most kit only went up to a UK16, the average size of a women in the UK and excluded so many women from the sport, including myself as a UK size 18 - 20.  

Paddle Boarding had made me realise that my body was strong and capable – changing it to do something I loved wasn’t an acceptable option, so instead I set about talking about it and so I started @PlusSizePaddler on Instagram. The more women I spoke too, the more I realised that this was one of the big barriers making women feel that the sport wasn’t accessible to them, and kit wasn’t just an issue for larger bodies but all women and so #PaddleKitHerWay was founded. 

Failing to get kit that fits, was making women fail to feel welcome in the sport before they even get on the water. In fact, 70% of women who responded to the survey said they couldn’t get women’s specific kit to fit them, highlighting that it’s not just a plus size problem – poor fitting kit, inconsistent sizing and lack of technical features. The stats showed the majority of respondents were a size 14/16 and in fact, there were more size 22/24 paddlers than 6/8 – 9% compared with 7%. I strongly believe now is the time to work with manufacturers to make kit as inclusive as the sport – everyone deserves to be able to paddle in safety and comfort – after all in a cold UK winter, you need kit to be safe and protect yourself from cold water shock!

The other barrier I came across was women telling me how they worry they can’t paddle because they’re too fat, unfit, or just don’t look right when in reality everybody and every body can paddle. Not only do women of all sizes deserve to feel included but also represented in advertising because if you can see it, it’s easier to believe you can do it. I didn’t see anyone who looked like me when I started – when I struggled to get back on, I couldn’t find anyone like me sharing tips, it made me wonder if this was the sport for me. I hope, to someone, I can be that person who they can identify with and reassures them that paddling IS for them. The more we see real paddlers in adverting, the more it represents the diverse paddling community that I’m proud to be a part of. 

Through my Instagram and #PaddleKitHerWay I want to empower women to get comfortable being uncomfortable, to embrace their bodies, feel confident on the water and enjoy paddle boarding in their own way. Ultimately, the hope is one day, when people think about learning to paddle board, they see images of someone like them, know they’re welcome and can get the kit they need easily.