Top spots to Stand Up Paddleboard in Cornwall
PUBLISHED: 14:24 22 September 2020
Champion Stand Up Paddlboarder Ginnie Betts shares her tips for first time SUP
Having grown up in Cornwall – where the ocean was a part of her life – mum-of-three Dr Ginnie Betts is now an international Stand Up Paddle-Board (SUP) racer and motivational speaker. Returning to Cornwall in 2009, she now lives in Penzance and is fully embracing a renewed sense of freedom within her life by the sea. “The coast is where I go to recalibrate, reenergise and rebalance,” says Ginnie. “The science points to a series of biochemical transactions that take place where sea and air intersect. Paddle training on the surface of the ocean places you in the centre of that intersection and your body and mind can’t help but be affected. It calms me and challenges me at the same time.” Moving back home to Cornwall, Ginnie experienced the initial urban-rural culture shock, though this was soon replaced by a sense of life flowing back to her.
“I started to feel alive again, with a stronger sense of self, the more time I spent outdoors on the coast and in the water. Trends, fashions, finance all fade when you’re in relationship with the ocean – it satiates in a way nothing else can. Everything else subsides in importance.”
For Ginnie, SUP is a way of weaving ‘micro adventure’ into the everyday; with an office job and three boys to run after, she craves the escapism the ocean and her paddleboard have to offer.
“I need adventure built into that domestic dynamic. I think most women do – let’s face it, domestic life can be dreary, and we need to stay in touch with ourselves.”
Ginnie discovered leisure paddling when she was 39, four years after returning to Cornwall. A couple of years later in 2015, a leg of the Eurotour Sup racing competition came to Carbis Bay and she went to watch.
“I was completely mesmerised by the strength and skill of the paddlers, especially the women. The races were so exciting and the energy and vibe that this international community of paddlers bought with them was quite something.”
Just three-and-a-half-years later, Ginnie represented Team GB at the World Championships. “My GB teammate is my greatest competitor here in the UK, but she is also someone I respect greatly. I also have a female coach, based in Florida – she sets my programmes and we communicate online. She’s a brilliant mixture of someone who takes no prisoners, yet is so encouraging at the same time.” says Ginnie.
Ginnie is incredibly grateful for her kit sponsors SIC Maui UK and Black Project and acknowledges that SUP has taught her some great lessons in life, such as resilience, along with shaping her into a more confident and content person.
“There is an expression in SUP racing that says ‘get comfortable being uncomfortable’. Racing hurts, it demands so much from your body, mind, muscles and respiratory system. I have learnt to push through, dig deep, and reap the rewards on the other side.
“As for confidence building, it’s a special thing to have found something I know I will love doing for the rest of my life; SUP gave me back my self-esteem and helped remind me of my self worth,” she adds
Ginnie has been lucky enough to paddle in several countries, but admits to being completely West Cornwall-biased when it comes to championing the best SUP spots in the UK. “We have access to north, south and west coasts, as well as beautiful estuaries. We also have a body of water for every weather condition and training requirement – it really is the best place to paddle, the coastline is stunning, and you can always find solitude.”
An advocate and prime example of the positive mental health benefits related to being on the ocean, during a SUP session, Ginnie normally feels energised, single-minded, focussed and in awe at the surrounding beauty.
“Occasionally however, I feel exhausted, tired and a bit apathetic, yet regardless of my mood, the feeling afterwards is the same: joyful, rested and calm. I also do some of my best thinking out at sea; often thoughts that were troubling me at the beginning of the paddle are resolved, or a solution is found by the time I make it back to shore.”
As a motivational speaker, Ginnie has been invited to speak about her journey to the world championships several times.
“It always seems to move people, maybe because women of my age, at a similar stage in life can relate. What seems to touch people most is my recovery after being rejected from my training group in 2017,” recalls Ginnie.
It was during this time, of self doubt, low confidence and self esteem, that Ginnie wondered whether she could continue her journey with paddle boarding; an experience with a bottlenose dolphin convinced her otherwise. “I realised that I needed to forgive certain individuals in order to continue my SUP journey. I muttered under my breath, ‘I forgive you’ before taking my first few strokes in the ocean.”
Immediately after beginning her paddle, a bottlenose dolphin lurched out of the water right next to Ginnie’s board, accompanying her for an entire 40-minutes. “I nearly fell off, I was so startled – he was diving and surfacing next to me, swimming so close underneath that I could see his eyes looking up at me. It was the most exhilarating encounter ever.”
Once at work, Ginnie contacted the Cornwall Wildlife Trust who referred her to a local marine network that document such sightings. “As I described the event, they said ‘oh that sounds like Pierre’, They went on to tell me that Pierre was a juvenile dolphin who sought out human stimulus and interaction, because he had been rejected from his pod; I never saw him again, but he did what he needed to do that day,” explains Ginnie.
On her days’ off, Ginnie enjoys coastal paddling and ‘Down-winding’ with her partner, Matt. “This is where you get out on stormy days and ride the swell from point A to point B with the wind behind you.”
Longer term, Ginnie’s aim is to equip others to access the therapeutic benefits of the water. So how does an international SUP racing mum-of-three go about fitting in time to paddle around the daily demands that come with motherhood and a day-job? “If I don’t get up early and get the training done at the crack of dawn, it doesn’t happen. That appears to be getting harder not easier! But it is always, worth it; I love heading off to work with the tell-tale signs of sand still stuck to my toes, inside my work shoes.”
A mum to three boys – Jacob, 14, Benjamin, 11 and Elijah, eight – Ginnie recognises that having kids means she can’t be that single-minded, self-focused athlete that you need to be to get to the top. “I have represented my country; I did a few international races and achieved pretty decent results, but that’s not sustainable in the longer term. I can’t keep improving without sacrificing more time than I’m prepared to give up with my children.”
For all those mothers out there looking to take up SUP, yet feeling they won’t have the time or the ability, Ginnie has some wise words of advice. “Get out there and carve out a space for yourself, take that time for your nurturing. Do not feel guilty or let others make you feel guilty – a happy mum = a happy family. Arrange a childcare pool with like-minded friends to help each other to grab some freedom!”
GINNIE’S FAVOURITE SPOTS FOR SUP IN CORNWALL
This is my training ground and I know its moods and seasons – it always offers a challenge and sometimes the reward of a glassy, windless-sunrise paddle around St Michael’s Mount. There is no better way to start the day.
Cornwall’s most beautiful beach is even more awe-inspiring when you paddle out to Logan’s Rock. It’s like a natural cathedral rising out from the sea, with the most stunning views along the rugged coastline.
St Ives Bay
A paddler’s paradise offering calm sheltered paddling in protected bays like Carbis Bay or brilliant long waves to surf my race-board on at Hayle Estuary.
This is where I go to improve my race-board surfing – It can be daunting when the swell is big, but has the best sunsets ever. I love sitting on my board at the end of a session watching the sky turn crimson.
GINNIE’S ADVICE FOR SUP NOVICES
Invest in a good mentor – find an experienced coach to help you learn the correct technique. This should be someone who makes you feel empowered, not put down.
Join an online community such as ‘Paddlemonster’ or ‘SUP sisterhood’; sometimes women offer support and explain things in a way that just makes more sense.
Try not to worry too much about having the best equipment to start with, as this will come in time.
Its important to fall in love with the ocean; its energy and its movement, learn to navigate that.
Be brave, but be safe – learn about conditions and self-rescue, seek advice, but also learn to trust your own instincts.
This feature first appeared in Cornwall Life. See our latest subscription offers here.