x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Stand up and paddle your way to fitness at Yas Island

According to its fans, stand-up paddling has many health benefits. Christopher Lord gets his sea legs and gives the activity a go.

Stand-up paddling is offered free of charge at Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National
Stand-up paddling is offered free of charge at Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National

It all looks so easy, and so very dull. Having come across stand-up paddling before, I've previously written it off as a lethargic-looking pastime - the refuge of failed surfers and frustrated gondoliers.

But stand-up paddling, or SUP to its adherents, is about far more, according to Taimeir Abd El Razek, the co-founder of UAE Stand Up Paddle, who gives me pointers on the pontoon of Yas Marina. "You become really fit with this," he says, "because everything is moving in your body."

Yas Marina has opened up a section off its pontoon to paddlers and is offering free use of the boards and an introduction to the technique from certified instructors every Thursday evening.

The mechanics of paddle boarding involve standing up on a surf board and using an elongated oar to softly strike your way through the water. Everything goes at a gentle pace: I slowly drift away from the pontoon on my knees, waiting for a moment of gusto to wrangle myself to my feet.

At first, thrashing away at the water to get far enough away from the edge and fighting the marina's slow tide is pure frustration. Ricocheting off the sides and struggled attempts to stand is leaving me red-faced and, eventually, off the board and into the salty water. Meanwhile, a child glides past me serenely.

After some helpful coaxing from the instructors ("No part of this is about power!" Abd El Razek hollers, seeing me stab fruitlessly with the oar) I'm away from the banks and into open water. Gingerly, my knees wobble me to my feet - the key here is to fix your eyes on where you want to go. Look down and you are liable to tumble off the board. Thinking too much about the process will only spell the same fate. Every flicker of doubt registers in a disconcerting sway of the board.

But once you relax into the steady movements, SUP demands only a meditative focus. Regular movements, eyes fixed on your wonderful surroundings and making sure to keep shaky knees bent mean you don't go fast, but it's a fine (free) way to round off the week drenched in the lights of Yas Hotel reflecting off the water.

"SUP has a lot of health benefits in terms of losing weight and managing cholesterol," says Abd El Razek, once I've tottered back to the water's edge. "In the US, doctors are using SUP to help people with depression. It improves your mental balance as much as your balance in general."

Its origins, he says, don't lie in Hawaii as some mistakenly presume. "I think that's been a bit of propaganda on the part of the US because many civilisations have made use of SUP in different applications.

"The Polynesians were using SUP to go from one island to another, collect food and surf back home. In Italy, they've been paddling for years, while the Egyptians used a similar style to transport stone along the Nile."

Today, the paddleboard's most common purpose is chasing the best waves - a battle that can leave surfers in the wake of the more nimble, oar-bearing paddleboarder.

"It's a completely green activity and everyone from five to 500 years old can do it," says Abd El Razek. "I can even take my dog paddling."

Standup Paddling at Yas Marina on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, takes place from 5pm-5.45pm, 5.45pm-6.30pm and 6.30pm-7.15pm every Thursday. Use of the boards, an intro to the sport and a complimentary drink at Stars 'N' Bars at Yas Marina are freebut bookings are required. Call 800 MARINAS or email yassup@uaesup.com

clord@thenational.ae