by Ali Findlay
on September 19, 2016
4 min read

As we round the corner a penguin hops off the pavement and toddles on to the tar road. He catches sight of the car and waddle-runs up on to the parallel pavement. I park the car and jog along after him to check he isn’t lost. I creep forward slowly and find him sitting with a penguin friend in a gap in a hedge, staring up at me expectantly.

african penguin close up

I’m in Simon’s Town and I’m about to go Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUPing) for the first time. It’s the end of autumn, heading into spring and the conditions are perfect; no wind, no rain, not too warm and not too cold. The ocean is flat, lulling slightly. The sun’s rays are filtering through the mist that’s lifting and there’s a white haze joining the ocean and sky where they meet at the horizon. We’re heading down to Water’s Edge beach, one of the most secluded (and most beautiful) beaches in Cape Town.

We pass dozens of the Boulders penguins as we stroll along the board walk down to the beach. The fuzzy youngsters and greyed out teenagers are a sure sign spring is here. They honk their penguin songs and tilt their heads, posing as I take portraits of them. We arrive at the virtually empty beach and get the SUP ready to take out on to the water. I wince in advance, expecting the ocean to be ankle-aching cold. As my toes enter the Atlantic I let out a pre-emptive squeal, but it’s surprisingly warm. I clamber on to the front of the board and sit with my knees crossed. My friend hops on the back. She’s going to paddle us around the bay a few times so that I can get a feel of the board. She stands up and paddles around effortlessly, the board hardly wobbling.

SUP on water in Cape Town

Now it’s my turn. I’m feeling out of my comfort zone, so I convince my friend to sit on the front, for moral support and encouragement. I kneel on the board and as soon as I stand up I begin to wobble uncontrollably from side to side. My friend laughs loudly as she jiggles quickly from left to right. It looks as though she’s on a vibrating plate. As I try to control my uncooperative legs, I remember that balance comes from the core. I tense my stomach and root my legs; the wobbling stops completely. Now I understand why people say that SUPing is a workout. I paddle us around the shallow part of the bay, but I’m not very good. My strokes aren’t smooth, I’m going extraordinarily slowly and I realise 5 minutes in that I’ve been holding the paddle the wrong way around. Not the best start.

After readjusting the paddle, I slowly circle around the bay. I seem to be getting the hang of it. Time to drop the moral support back at the beach and go it alone. I push the board through the shallow waves and clamber on, on to all fours. When I feel as though I’ve reached the calmest part of the bay I stand up. This time, I don’t wobble. I’m silently rather proud of myself as I paddle around the shallows. I would let out a whoop, but somehow it doesn’t seem appropriate. Instead, I slow my breathing and look out at the landscape in front of me.

To my right, a group of penguins are gathered on a rock in a mass of black and white cuteness. The white haze has melted to reveal the horizon — the sea and the sky are now separate entities. I can see mountains tinged with purple and buildings scattered along the coast, but the vast open ocean is what dominates my view. This is the ocean like I’ve never experienced it before — calm, unthreatening, still and peaceful. Sometimes it takes a new experience for you to open your eyes to the pure, natural beauty that surrounds you. Today a bulky SUP was the thing that enabled me to wake up and smell the ocean.

SUPing in Cape Town from above

For those interested in SUPing lessons and rentals are available from:

There are also plenty of surf shops dotted all over Cape Town, many of which have qualified SUPing instructors that can introduce you to the wonderful world of SUPing.

*All images by Luke Maximo Bell.