How many of you listened to Glossop’s ‘diversifying your activities’ talk about Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP'ing) at last year’s RYA Midlands Affiliated Clubs Conference and thought ‘We could do that’? Two clubs that did were Chelmarsh in Shropshire and Northamptonshire’s Cransley, and one year on both have enjoyed a significant club membership boost.

The two clubs have employed different ways to make SUP’ing work, but work it has, as Cransley have acquired 50 new people as part of family memberships, while Chelmarsh have delivered ‘introduction to paddleboarding’ courses to more than 200 people and had over 30 join as club members.

As Cransley’s Commodore, Nigel Austin, puts it, “It’s gone nuts!” So why did they do and how has it worked? Nigel, and Chelmarsh Vice Commodore, David Partridge, share what they’ve learned and their tips for making a success of SUP.

1. Recognise the opportunity

Both clubs agree the biggest benefit has been that SUP’ping has attracted sailing’s ‘missing demographic’. Cransley and Chelmarsh were facing the same conundrum as so many clubs; a dedicated but aging membership, greater demand for more social, flexible and less structured activity (including racing), difficulty in appealing to the 35-45 year-old age-group. SUP’ping has addressed all of these issues.

“That part of the jigsaw is now fitting perfectly,” Nigel says. Both clubs have paddleboarders who have since sailed and vice versa, while in other cases SUP’ing has been the driver to get partners or whole families on the water at the same time, whatever activity they are doing.

“We’ve had paddleboarders who have seen our juniors sailing and then got their kids interested in sailing courses,” David continues. “Sailing is something they never thought about as they didn’t know the club was here or they thought sailing was too expensive. Raising local awareness of sailing through promoting SUP has been big for us.”

A parade of paddleboarders cross the reservoir at Chelmarsh SC2. Get everyone on board

Not alienating their sailors was paramount to both clubs before there was a SUP board in sight.

“We sorted out people’s anxieties early on,” David says. Chelmarsh surveyed their membership and published a Club Development Plan that included SUP as part of their proposed diversification of water use. This then went before an AGM and EGM. The club also had to renegotiate a change in their lease with South Staffs Water and have continued to survey all members to ensure harmony is maintained.

Cransley, meanwhile, had been repeatedly approached by different groups and individuals asking to canoe or paddleboard on their water. Having heard Glossop’s Viki Packman buzzing about SUP’ing at the Midlands Conference, Nigel took it to a committee meeting, but on the proviso the club would agree a set of water use rules the paddleboarders would have to abide by, and then they would take it from there.

Both Nigel and David stress there has not been a cross word between their sailors and paddleboarders since sharing their waters.

3. Decide how you’re going to run it

Cransley had been approached by a group called 3L SUP's (Live Laugh Love), who promote the wellbeing benefits of being on the water amongst nature. The group now runs the club’s paddleboarding activities and hires out boards for £5 a session. There is also a 21ft board called ‘The Beast’, which can take 8-10 kids at a time. To support this, Cransley bought 15 paddles so club members could use the boards on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and are investing in SUP storage facilities.

Chelmarsh have gone another way, with David training as a SUP instructor himself. He described that course as “fantastic” as it included lots of very useful content on club management and safety, and he says it took him back to his dinghy instructor training. Thanks to a Sport England Small Grants award – with their application angled on opening up the reservoir to a different demographic – they bought 10 SUP boards to deliver courses.

Cransley members Andy and Sue paddleboarding at the club4. What’s your membership model going to look like?

Both clubs were adamant paddleboarders should be fully integrated into the club, not separate organisations just using the club facilities.

Anyone wishing to SUP at Cransley can attend up to four sessions before they have to become full sailing club members (a family membership is £135/year). Just as there is a fee for anyone who wants to keep their boat at the club the same applies to paddleboarders with their own boards. “We’re not going to differentiate between sailing or SUP members,” Nigel insists. “You’re a Cransley member and that’s it.”

Chelmarsh set up an associate membership so paddleboarders get full use of the club and water, but don’t participate in sailing. They can, and do, do sailing courses. David says there is now a real whole club ethos amongst the groups and they are seeing people using the club even when they aren’t SUP’ping or sailing.

5. Benefits for sailors

Because paddleboarders are part of the clubs, they contribute to club life, take on duties, volunteer and ensure the clubs can keep membership fees affordable. This helps share the volunteering load with sailors as well as the obvious cost benefits.

“Many of our SUP members are water safety experts and have helped do sailing safety, so there’s been positive crossover between the activities too,” David admits.

6. Bringing back the buzz

Any club that has an influx of 30-50 members in a few months is undoubtedly going to feel a boost. Add the fact the demographic and nature of paddleboarders are young, enthusiastic, active outdoor junkies, and suddenly you’ve got a club enjoying a new lease of life. Both clubs’ SUP sections have engaged, vibrant Facebook communities, with posts shared with and between the club’s main pages too.

Nigel concludes: “When it’s not windy enough to sail, you’ve got sailors out there paddleboarding, and when it’s too windy to SUP you’ve got the paddleboarders on the shore posting photos to social media about what a great time the sailors are having out there! It’s been phenomenal.”