SINGAPORE: When Cheng Si’Jia first started stand-up paddling in Singapore about four years ago, she was one of a small but dedicated number of people pursuing the activity here.
Since then, the sport, which is usually known as paddleboarding, has seen more participants climb on board, especially in the last 18 months.
“Right now, the sport is still growing in Singapore. We’re getting more people to get to know about it,” said Cheng.
Loosely described as a cross between surfing, canoeing and rafting with a bit of windsurfing thrown in, she explained that paddleboarding is a fun leisure activity. “(It’s) a little bit like surfing, but there’s a lot more standing up to be done,” said the 25-year-old nursing undergraduate.
For her, the appeal of the sport lies in the fact that she can take to the water in almost all conditions: “Unlike windsurfing, where you rely on wind strength and wind movement, for stand-up paddling you can go out at any time - but not during the rainy days of course! That’s what I like most about the sport – you can head out no matter the weather condition.”
It is also a sport which is quite easy to pursue overseas, as its global popularity continues to grow. Cheng has been able to take to the water in places like Bali and Kumano in Japan.
“In Bali, you can do stand-up paddling as the waters are really flat like in Singapore,” she said. “But further out, you can catch the waves and I really like that part. The downside however, is that in Jimbaran there are reefs at the bottom so you’ve got to be careful.”
Exploring your surroundings is an added attraction on top of the fitness benefits: “In Kumano, you’re surrounded by mountains to your left and right, and also the Pacific Ocean where the view is amazing. Then when you come out of the bay, there is a cave formation where you can go when there is low tide where you can do a bit of exploring.”
With more people taking up paddleboarding in Singapore, a group of local enthusiasts decided the sport needed some structure and oversight. As a result, the Stand Up Paddle Association of Singapore (SUPAS) was formed last year. It held its first official race in February at Seletar Reservoir.
Comprising just 10 regular paddlers and 30 committee members in early 2016, the community has now grown to more than 100 members. Seven clubs and professional partners form the core of SUPAS, such as East Coast Paddlers, Aloha Sea Sports Centre and Adventure Paddlers Ohana.
“We began to come together to form this association last year so that everyone can know that there is paddleboarding in Singapore for leisure and competitive as well,” said Cheng, on the sidelines of Round 2 of the national championships held at Ohana Beach House in April.
A SPORT THAT’S “DOUBLING ALMOST EVERY YEAR”
As an established sea sports provider in Singapore, Outer Quadrant co-founder Azharudin Ismail began offering paddleboarding classes in 2009 after finding that kite-surfing had limited traction here due to inconsistent winds.
“There were not many stand-up paddle activities back then in Singapore. We then decided to pursue it by bring the activity to the country and to market it here,” said the former kite-surfer. “However, we had to get certified first and so we went to Australia to get licensed as an instructor. We then came back and started small classes to introduce the sport to the Singapore market.”
He added: “Back then, nobody had heard of stand-up paddling. People think it’s quite silly, as it’s a giant, oversized board where you’d stand on it and then paddle.”
“But as the years went by, the sport started gaining traction and it is already popular worldwide.”
Aside from teaching the activity, his company also sells inflatable paddleboards.
“Initially, we wanted to sell hardboards, but we felt that it wasn’t practical enough to actually sell or run classes as we’d have problems with storage,” he said. “These boards are not short as the smaller ones are about 9 feet long while regular ones are about 11 feet long. Storage and transportation will be an issue – you can’t bring it around in a van, as you’d need a lorry.”
“IT'S LIKE LEARNING TO WALK AGAIN”
Having picked up the sport through his cousin over a year ago, 20-year-old Jon Lo now paddleboards for fitness. “It’s really a fun activity, and a cool way to be out with nature. It’s also good as a fitness activity and it’s nice to also socialize with other paddlers as well,” said Lo.
He added: “Pasir Ris Beach is quite a good place to paddle board, so too is Tanah Merah near NSRCC. East Coast is great and Sentosa is awesome. For myself I paddleboard around the island, but mainly near Tanah Merah itself.”
Although some training is required before one can get started, Lo said that the activity is quite simple to learn with a few lessons. “In paddleboarding – compared to kayaking and canoeing – it’s all about standing up. Your centre of gravity just takes some effort for it to balance."
It is the physical benefits of paddleboarding that won Lo over during his early days in the sport. "Some of its benefits include an improved sense of balance, muscular power and endurance as well as cardiovascular and strength," he said. "Standing on a board that flows with the motion of water constantly activates many small muscles in your thighs, glutes and lower back."
He added: "This is a great sport for those who have had bad ankles, knees and hip issues, as it's probably the most fun way to strengthen and rehabilitate weak muscles."
Mastering the basics take some effort even with prior water-sport experience, according to Lo. "Even if you’re a good kayaker or canoeist, getting up to a stand-up paddle board is still somewhat of a challenge,” said the fitness enthusiast.
“It’s like learning to walk again, but once you get it, it’s like second nature."