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Article wriiten by Julie, August 2019:
Young people have extra pressure, from social media and screens. They spend less time outdoors than they used to, suffer worse mental health than ever before, and everyone seems worried about them. I have seven happy nieces and nephews and hope they remain so as they get older. The eldest, Freya, has just turned thirteen. She’s artistic, loves a quiet life with the cats, is cautious rather than confident and has become a sweet, yet incredibly soporific teenager. She’d sleep all day if she could, but loves wild swimming. Could a paddleboarding taster session be a perfect birthday treat? Freya’s brother Jacob is almost 11, mad for sports and computer games, and the opposite of sleepy.
We gathered in Aberdyfi gardens to practise techniques on the grass. There were multiple distractions, a ring of curious tourists, flowers, traffic, and beating hot sun. Dave, an ex-personal trainer, having clocked Jacob’s excitable spirit, did an excellent job of quietly keeping his attention. But Freya’s the dreamy one, and I saw her focus drifting with the clouds – she was hot, and keen just to get in the sea.
Then we were in – paddling on our knees at first. Debbie showed us how to turn, and stop, and stay safe – a fast spring tide was emptying the estuary, but in the unlikely event of us straying from the calm bay, the current would apparently deliver us back to the beach. She tasked us with paddling to a yellow boat and executing a full turn. Freya was in her element now, with lovely weed drifting below sparkling water, and picturesque boats all about. But having not paid attention earlier, she was struggling. “I can’t do it Aunty Julie!” she cried, flapping her paddle in panic. Debbie, an ex-teacher, was soon at her side. She recognised a learner by doing, and Freya was soon pivoting with confidence.
And then it was time to stand up. One foot, one knee, at a time, stand, steady, paddle. We were wind and current-assited and it was easier than it looks to glide along at speed, granting a good sense of achievement. Everyone managed it, and the kids were beaming. There’s a good relationship here, between focus and pleasure, that requires mental and physical balance. We look out for submerged buoys whilst appreciating how beautifully the water glides over them, we feel the kiss of breeze, and the joy of cruising the current.
The hour goes too quickly, but has given us all an appetite for more. “I still love my X-box” says Jacob, “but paddleboarding’s much more funner than gaming.” I asked if they found it relaxing. “Definitely” they said, with Jacob adding it was the coaches that made him relaxed - he liked how they explained everything first so he felt like he knew how to do it. “I want to do it long distance” he says “going fast down the coast.”
Freya loved it too. “It was relaxing,” she said “but it was refreshing as well. Normally I’m really sleepy in the middle of the day, but today I didn’t get tired till 4.00.” Would she do it again? “Yes!” she says “Definitely. I’d like to try it when it’s really wavy - I want to go paddleboard-surfing!” Result.