Watersports are soaring in popularity, with more and more of us wanting to try something wet and wild. With summer in full swing, we take a look at the wealth of water activities available across the Shire region
Around 12.5 million people in the UK take part in some form of water sport activity every year. And while for many people this simply involves spending time at the beach, going for coastal walks or swimming outside, some of the more adventurous among us have been going further and getting wetter than ever before. Approximately 3.2 million people in the UK took part in a recreational boating activity in the last 12 months, for example, and 20 per cent of them did so at least six times throughout the year. Over the same time, around 1.4 million people went canoeing, and recent surveys have also found a massive growth in emerging watersports, such as paddleboarding and kitesurfing.
Dip a toe in
The Watersports Participation Survey is conducted annually by a consortium of leading marine bodies, including British Marine, Royal Yachting Association, Maritime & Coastguard Agency, Royal National Lifeboat Institution, British Canoeing and the Centre For Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science. Recent editions of the studies have found a huge increase in the numbers of younger people taking part in watersports, particularly among those aged between 16 and 34. These figures reflect an increase in participation that equates to a seven-year high, and the take-up of watersports activities is showing no signs of slowing.
In the Shire region, we are blessed with opportunities to dive in, with a dramatic and accessible coastline on our doorstep, as well as an abundance of rivers and lakes, not to mention some world-first technology being tamed in order to perfect participation. We round them up over the following pages.
Once our main way of exploring the world, sailing is enjoying a resurgence in local waters
It’s easy to see why sailing is one of the UK’s favourite pastimes. Not only are we an island nation, but we also have vast inland lakes and wide rivers, estuaries and broads that lend themselves to yachting. No nation has won more Olympic sailing gold medals than Great Britain. Team GB have scooped 25 golds and 54 medals in total since the sport was first introduced into Olympic competition in 1900. So if you fancy joining our most celebrated sportsmen and women, now is the time to get on board.
Across the Shire patch we have waters for every kind of sailor, but among the favourite spots are estuaries. These long, flat, reliable waters offer a safer start than ocean sailing, and can be generally predictable when it comes to weather and tides.
The Wirral peninsula has a great coast for sailing in and out of, and some of the Welsh shorelines offer similar sheltered conditions, while tucked between mainland Wales and Anglesey are plenty of other protected locations that are great for beginners.
One of the best spots to start is Plas Menai, the National Outdoor Centre For Wales, where regular clubs or week-long courses are designed to get you on to, and expert at sailing, the local waters. The five-day practical introduction course is a popular choice, providing all the basics and enabling you to be confident on the water.
The centre’s instructors will spend the week teaching you how to sail up, down and across the wind, turn the boat and even how to recover when you capsize. Armed with knowledge on rigging, launching, landing and some basic sailing theory, you’ll soon be itching to up your game and take your sailing to the next level. www.plasmenai.co.uk
Almost unheard of until a few years ago, coasteering is now one of the UK’s fastest growing watersports – and the Welsh coast is the perfect place to try it out
If your idea of a holiday means relaxing on the beach, coasteering probably isn’t for you. But if you fancy a bit of action on the water’s edge, it’s definitely worth giving a go.
One venue that has been providing coasteering experience sessions for 15 years – longer than most people have known that the sport existed – is Snowdonia Adventures, where we spoke to Mark Handforth.
‘If you’re visiting the stunning island of Anglesey and are seeking some water-based adventure along dramatic award-winning coastline and Blue Flag beaches, you won’t go wrong taking part in this must-try adventure,’ he says. ‘Coasteering is a journey along a dramatic coastline – sometimes you’re swimming in shallow water, other times you’re gently hopping from rock to rock, exploring rock pools, spotting seals and dolphins as you explore the water’s edge.
‘Then, for a little adrenaline, there are the jumps – small ones at first to build confidence and a safe style, all the time being coached by your qualified and highly experienced coasteering guide. Then if you want to go for the big plunges, there as some amazing deep-water jumps from several metres! ‘If you want to explore amazing scenery, crystal-clear water, amazing marine life and have brilliant fun, coasteering is an amazing way to improve your wellbeing in a breathtaking and completely different environment then join us!’ www.snowdonia-adventures.co.uk
Jump right in
Mark’s enthusiasm for the sport is echoed by Greg Cain from Anglesey Outdoors, where coasteering has quickly become the favourite sport on offer. ‘Coasteering is perhaps the most exhilarating and adrenaline-packed day out,’ he says. ‘It combines the best of rock- and water-based activities, and is all about making your way around the sea cliffs, seeking out the most fun things along the way, such as jumping into the water, scrambling about on the rocks, swimming across zawns [gaps in the cliff], exploring sea caves, getting swirled about in waves, climbing tough walls and falling into deep water and loads of other great stuff.
‘Coasteering is often the highlight of people’s holidays to north Wales and shouldn’t be missed. It’s definitely the wettest activity, but we make sure everyone is kitted out and the cold won’t get in the way of having a brilliant time.
‘Nobody has to jump from a height they don’t want to – you can swim past a challenge if it’s not for you – but you’ll have more fun giving things a go. We take waterproof cameras with us on any activity, so we can capture all the action and share it with you afterwards.’ www.snowdonia-adventures.co.uk
Britain’s fastest-growing watersport is accessible to everyone everywhere – not just on the coast – and is definitely one to try this summer
Paddleboarding originated in Hawaii as an off-shoot of surfing and uses the participant’s balance and strength to power an over-sized surfboard around lakes, large rivers and canals. It’s a great beginner watersport – you can kneel on the board until you gain confidence, and unless you try it in wild conditions you can make sure you stay upright more often than not.
As the water really does need to be flat calm for paddleboarding, lakes and reservoirs make the perfect setting for a session. The sport combines elements of kayaking and surfing, and despite being a low-impact sport it works nearly every muscle in your body and is particularly good for strengthening your core muscles.
As you progress, you can do paddleboarding in many ways – as a solo serene way of gliding around the water, as a group race around a set course, on a safari using the boards to access hard-to-reach waterways or even as a community event by joining one of the paddleboard clean-up operations running on canals.
Leading the way
A great place to start is Stand Up Paddle Board UK, based in Corwen, Denbighshire, which was one of the early pioneers of the sport and is now a leading paddleboard instructional provider. The business was launched in 2011 by Anthony and Lianne after an inspiring trip to California. Now they not only introduce newcomers to paddleboarding, but have become specialists in white-water paddleboarding too and host a festival dedicated to this more extreme version of the sport every year.
They also host relaxed evening paddles in Llangollen and special sessions designed to let dog owners take their furry friends out on the water. There’s a stand up session for everyone! www.standuppaddleboarduk.com
In Shropshire, SUP Shrewsbury offers stand-up paddleboarding sessions. The club has aligned with Shire Canoes to widen its watersports provision, and with paddleboarding at its heart the same great range of options are on offer for beginners and experts alike. Launching from the canoe ramp in Frankwell, the club offers lessons as well as casual sessions and hire options, plus a huge range of parties suitable for all occasions. ‘Stand-up paddleboarding is fun by nature, so you only have to add good company and a whole host of silly challenges into the mix and you’re left with a barrel of laughs for all ages,’ says a company spokesperson. ‘A unique session can be boosted by the introduction of our Mega SUP. This eight-person paddleboard may be the strangest thing you’ve ever seen, but it won’t leave you disappointed.’ It’s great for a mates’ day out or even a stag or hen party with a difference! www.shirecanoes.com
Swap sails and serenity for full-on action by crashing through the rapids in a rigid inflatable boat
If you’re a full-on thrill-seeker, white-water rafting is for you. Pop on your life jacket and helmet, jump into a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) with your friends and head straight out into trouble! Whether you want to cannon down a river in full flow or head for the falls themselves, there are plenty of organisations ready to take you to your limits. Best enjoyed in a group, this activity isn’t for the faint-hearted and probably best for those over the age of 12, depending on the location, but it is guaranteed to get the adrenaline flowing!
Most white-water rafting locations have to wait for the right weather to provide the required conditions. But here in the Shire patch, there is a venue that can predict when the rivers will be perfect. The National White Water Centre, based in Bala in the heart of Snowdonia National Park, was opened in 1995 and takes advantage of the Llyn Celyn reservoir, which was created in the 1960s by flooding existing villages. The release of the reservoir’s waters through a controlled dam into the River Tryweryn provides a white-water rafting experience like no other. The National White Water Centre opens for its white-water adventures on any day the Llyn Celyn reservoir is releasing, offering on average 200 days a year of reliable and impressive rafting each year. Participants can enjoy everything from a two-hour session crashing down the Upper Tryweryn’s natural, Welsh mountain white-water rapids, with enough time to usually fit in four exciting and challenging runs of the one-mile section, to a more laidback taster session or a family friendly four-mile safari. There are plenty of options available, but one certainty – you’re going to get wet on this adventure! www.nationalwhitewatercentre.co.uk
Ever since the Beach Boys made surfing sound so appealing back in the 1960s, our coastal locations have been visited by California dreamers hoping to catch a wave – and it’s easy to see why
Surfing is a fantastic sport for body and the mind. In addition to the physical benefits, such as strengthening your core stability, shoulders and back, many people find riding the waves helps to reduce stress and improve mental wellbeing. The north Wales coastline is home to many great spots for surfers, but even inland we have access to some world-class – and world-first – surfing options.
Adventure Parc Snowdonia in Conwy – formerly known as Surf Snowdonia – is an inland pioneering venue created on the site of a former aluminium rolling and casting works which closed in 2007. Recycling was a major part of the build, with vast amounts of material reused and 100 years of industrial waste cleaned up in the process.
The result is a 300-metre inland surf lagoon that delivers the longest man-made surfable waves on the planet. The two-metre high waves peel for a massive 150 metres, which on water that moves at around six metres per second adds up to an exhilarating ride of just over 20 seconds every single minute. The amazing technology involved means the lagoon can simultaneously produce 2m, 1.2m and 70cm waves, offering different areas of the lagoon to suit all abilities. The set-up is particularly well-suited to beginners, because missing a wave isn’t such an issue when another one will be along in a minute.You can go for a try-out or sign up for a course – accommodation is also available if you want to make a break of it. adventureparcsnowdonia.co.uk
Windsurfing & kitesurfing
If you want to combine the skill and exhilaration of surfing with a little wind power, have a go at one of these action-packed options
Whether you aspire to ride big waves, compete in a race, sail freestyle or just surf for fun, there are plenty of places to try windsurfing locally. West Kirby Marine Lake on the Wirral offers excellent facilities, reasonable prices and expert training from Wirral Sailing Centre. Beginners are welcome, but the lake has also been the location of many speed windsurfing records, as the natural wind tunnel of the Wirral peninsula makes it a perfect spot to try your hand at the sport. www.wirralleisure.co.uk/wirral-sailing-centre
Let’s go fly a kite
If you have the arm strength for it, you may want to try kitesurfing. The sport takes place on open areas of water, which can be shallow or deep, flat or bumpy, in winds between eight and 50 knots. The idea is to fly the kite to produce enough power to pull yourself along the surface of the water, and then use the surf, waves or your body to take off in all manner of fancy jumps, swoops and tricks.
Kitesurfers are a common sight along much of the British coast, but one spot where they’re particularly prominent is around Rhosneigr on Anglesey, where two sandy bays divided by a rocky outcrop offer options to take to the water in almost any wind direction.
Funsport on Beach Terrace is a great place to dip your toe in the water, with everything from full courses to individual introduction lessons – with all the kit available to hire too. www.funsportonline.co.uk