It’s 8am and lashing it down with rain on Lake Annecy, France. There is, someone says helpfully, a “70 per cent” chance of lightning. Which is fairly alarming as I’m in my swimming costume, paddle in hand, with 300 fellow competitors awaiting the start of the Dragon World Championships – an international stand up paddleboarding (SUP) competition.
I’ve never set foot on a board before, but stand-up paddleboarding is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. More than 900,000 Brits are expected to do it this summer, up 30 per cent from 2010 – no doubt spurred on by images of the likes of Pierce Brosnan and Kate Hudson paddling across the tranquil waters of some Instagrammable location or another.
Accessible and sociable, SUP is an ideal sport to try in middle age, says George Shillito, from Red Paddle Co, the SUP board brand. “It’s so good for you physically and mentally and we’ve seen that people use it to train to get fit, have fun, or because it’s so great to do with the whole family.”
Paddleboarding is as fun as surfing, but easier and friendlier, says Helen Trehoret, 39, editor of Total SUP magazine, who’s taking part in today’s competition. She lives in Brittany now and goes four times a week, after dropping her two children off at school. She describes it as “like exercising by accident” – and indeed, though celebrities like Hudson make it look effortless, a 20-minute stint on the board leaves me feeling as wobbly as a HIIT class.