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Get up, get fit and get out on the water

From sea kayaking to yacht cruising, water sports are booming in the UK. Whether it’s swimming or surfing, not much beats a stress-busting plunge in the sea. But what can you do where?

Water sports are one of the best ways to get fit

Stroll along any coastal stretch and you’re sure to see action on the water, roughly 17 million of us take part in some form of water sport. 

Little wonder more of us are enjoying water sports; take swimming, it strengthens lungs and heart, improves mental health and makes a great low-impact workout for all ages. And with the vast strides in year-round wetsuits and cosy changing robes, ocean swimming is increasingly popular as an all-weather sport. 

On the south coast, the triple town offer of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole is hard to beat, providing more than 30 different activities. 

With its shallow waters, Poole Harbour is the perfect place to get started, a string of water sports operators line Banks Road on the beautiful Sandbanks peninsula.  Learn to kayak, kitesurf or wakeboard, all equipment is easy to hire.  

If you’re experienced, paddleboard across to Brownsea Island or for a gentler pursuit, scour the Jurassic Coast on a catamaran, board a sunseeker or jetski, on your return there’s a superb choice of dining options with views across Poole Bay. 

For a more relaxed approach, hop on-board a City Cruises trip from Poole Quay. Spend a day at Swanage or take a 90-minute Harbour & Islands cruise touring Europe’s largest natural harbour. 

Either side of Boscombe Pier in Bournemouth, you’ll find seafront water sports operators, simply turn up and hire a SUP or surfboard and wet suit and paddle straight out.   

Often underrated, Christchurch offers six beaches. Hop on a ferry from Hengistbury Head to Mudeford Quay where you can hire SUP boards or head to quieter Highcliffe Beach with stunning Highcliffe Castle as a backdrop. 

Get up, get fit and get out on the water: How to explore England's Coast from the sea! Get up, get fit and get out on the water: How to explore England's Coast from the sea!
Get up, get fit and get out on the water: How to explore England's Coast from the sea!

Try white-water rafting, power boating or sea canoeing

Further east, Gosport makes a great water sports break. Boat, yacht, wind- or kite-surf and SUP hire are all on offer; head out on a fishing trip or learn to sail. 

Whether you want to get the adrenalin pumping on a jetski or cruise round the Solent on a summer boat trip, this south coast town attracts world-class sailors. 

Neighbouring Portsmouth meanwhile is holding the Formula Kite European Championships 19-24 September 2023. 

The exciting sport of kiteboarding will make its debut at the Olympics in Paris 2024. Come and see Europe’s best riders, vying for the title of European Champion and to qualify for the Olympics

Another top spot is West Sussex, blessed with long stretches of outstanding beaches, peaceful canals and rich coastal nature reserves.  With taster sessions for children from aged five, learn to canoe, kayak or SUP; you can also learn to oyster dive off West Sussex’ wrecks and reefs. 

Mulberry Marine Experiences is a Site of Special Scientific Interest at Selsey. Here you can swim, snorkel, freedive or scuba dive with all boat trips, training and equipment on hand, a great place to play in the sea. 

As the home to Cowes Week, one of the oldest sailing regattas in the world, the Isle of Wight needs little introduction for water sports fans. 

Kayakers and surfers should head to Compton, Freshwater and Brook beaches; depending on the weather conditions, Yaverland and Sandown Bay can be excellent for kayaking around the Bay or paddle up the River from Yarmouth to Freshwater while Ryde and Puckpool are great for beginners. 

As the experts know, spring and autumn offer the best chances of a good wind for wind- and kite-surfers; top recommendations include Ryde (out of season), Puckpool, Bembridge, Gurnard, Yaverland and Compton beaches. 

Whether you’re a complete novice or a pro, there’s never been a wider choice of water sports on the coast 

In Dover, for intrepid, strong sea swimmers there’s always the option of swimming the 22+ miles of the Channel, the world’s busiest passenger ferry crossing. However, at Dover Sea Sports Centre you can experience the excitement of sea sports while in the protected environment of Dover Harbour where you’re sheltered from strong winds. Take a Royal Yachting Association course, kayak, SUP, raft or hire a pedalo in its calm conditions. 

If you’ve ever aspired to be an Olympian, ride the rapids at the White Water Centre at Lee Valley in Essex, the purpose-built venue for the Olympics where Team GB won the canoe slalom in 2012.  

Maldon is popular for SUP or book a course at the Outdoor Centre at Bradwell-on-Sea, a leading provider of sailing and water sports but also archery, high-ropes and the Gladiator Challenge! But with 350 miles of coastline and great beaches, there’s no shortage of choice. 

Set on a lovely stretch of the Humber River, East Yorkshire, Welton Waters Adventure Centre offers a huge choice of sports including sailing, powerboating, windsurfing, kayaking and canoeing. 

Based in Filey, Bay Watersports is a mobile water sports operator that travels up and down the Yorkshire coastline, visiting Bridlington and Scarborough Bays. Options include coasteering, kayaking and SUP, dinghy sailing or raft building. 

Cayton Bay Scarborough is an excellent beach and home to some of the best beach break waves on the east coast. It’s also one of the few beaches in the area that can be surfed whatever the tide condition. The resort offers a number of surf operators, so hire your board and wetsuit or book a lesson and get out on that surf! 

Get up, get fit and get out on the water: How to explore England's Coast from the sea!
Get up, get fit and get out on the water: How to explore England's Coast from the sea! Get up, get fit and get out on the water: How to explore England's Coast from the sea!

While it is encouraging to see huge growth in the number of people participating in water sports, nothing is more important than safety. 

British Canoeing is the national governing body for paddlesports in the UK and upholds the highest safety standards. It has issued the following safety guidance

Canoeing & Kayaking

  • Buoyancy Aid / Personal Floatation Device to be visibly worn when next to/on any body of water and fitted correctly. 
  • Helmets must be fitted correctly and to be worn relevant to the activity such as white water
  • Surfing, paddling among rocks or in sea caves, during rescue practice, playing games including canoe polo where accidental contact may be made. 
  • Kayak/canoe to be suitable for the environment being paddled. 
  • Appropriate clothing and footwear to be worn for the conditions and environment 

Stand Up Paddleboarding/SUP 

  • Leash must be visibly worn in line with British Canoeing’s guidance. 
  • Correct leash must be visibly worn (coiled or straight), and in good condition. 
  • Correctly fitted Personal Floatation Device must be visibly worn next to and on any body of water.
  • Helmets must be fitted correctly and to be worn relevant to the SUP activity such as white water, paddling among rocks, playing games where accidental contact may be made. 
  • Appropriate clothing and footwear to be worn for the conditions/environment 
  • When paddling close to the shore/bank or in shallow water that paddlers are either knelt/sat or laying down

The RNLI’s key safety advice for taking an open water dip is:

  • Never swim alone – always go with someone else to a familiar spot
  • Always check the weather forecast, including tide information and wave height
  • If in doubt, stay out – there is always another day to go for a swim
  • Take plenty of warm clothes for before and after your dip, along with a hot drink to help you warm up again when you come out of the water
  • Wearing a wetsuit will help increase your buoyancy and reduce the chances of suffering cold water shock
  • Be seen – wear a brightly coloured swim cap and consider using a tow float
  • Acclimatise to the water temperature slowly – never jump straight in
  • Stay in your depth and know your limits
  • If you get into trouble remember FLOAT to live by leaning back in the water, extending your arms and legs, and resisting the urge to thrash around to gain control of your breathing
  • Take a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch
  • If you or someone else is in trouble call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard

For more information from the RNLI, visit their website here