The rise & fall of SUP boarding in the Swartvlei Estuary

Posted by Welcome Lishivha on 17 April 2018

For the April issue of Getaway, I explored Knysna and it’s surrounding areas on a fun-filled trip that involved a stop at the Swartvlei Estuary for a stand-up paddleboarding session with Garden Route Trail.

I was on assignment to explore the rejuvenation in the area a year after it suffered one of the worst fire disasters in the country. To my delight, I discovered that it is blossoming again and the forests, estuaries and generous locals are as ready as ever to welcome visitors.

I explored the Eden District by immersing myself in Knysna’s forests on a hiking trail, went on a tour exploring Knysna’s township life, hopped on a Segway along the promenade, slept on the lagoon in a houseboat and of course, spent time in the surrounding lagoons, including on a stand-up paddle (SUP) boarding on the Swartvlei Estuary with Garden Route Trail.

The SUP boarding session started off with a quick briefing by Mark Dixon after I was kitted with a life vest. As a novice swimmer, it was important for me to have a life vest on. Although I’d initially underestimated this, I was so grateful when I kept falling off the board (see below) and struggled to get back on my feet.

The life vest makes a ton of a difference when you lose balance and take the plunge. Photograph by Gareth Van Nelson.

For the first few minutes, I started off by paddling on my knees. Although it was much easier to balance this way, I doubt this part still counts as “stand-up” paddleboarding. I could’ve paddled on my tummy if the knee paddling proved to be difficult, but I couldn’t dispel the mental image of me looking like a seal on the board.

Ready. Steady. Go! Photographs by Gareth Van Nelson.

After manoeuvring around the estuary like a hobbit, I decided it was time to get on to my feet. And then this happened.

As if getting up on my feet wasn’t hard enough, staying on my feet proved to be a whole new challenge. All those enticing pictures of folks SUP boarding allured me to this estuary with the idea that it was a walk in the park. It was anything but…

Eventually, I found my balance – all that falling had been worth the time and the effort. With each plunge I took, the scaredy-cat in me wished I had been warned about the resilience of one’s character to rise after each fall.

“It’s the closest you’ll get to Aladdin’s magic carpet,” remarked Mark Dixon from Garden Route Trails when he noted the giddy smile on my face.

The smile’s not so giddy here, but finally finding the balance my balance made all the falling worthwhile. Photograph by Gareth Van Nelson.

Do it

Go stand-up paddleboarding on the Swartvlei Estuary near Sedgefield or on the Knysna Lagoon (tides permitting – it can get choppy on the water) with Garden Route Trail. They can tailor an excursion based on your interests and skill level.
Cost: A three-hour outing costs from R1200 per person, including champagne breakfast.

Do you have any SUP boarding hacks that I should keep in mind when I try it again?


Read our full Knysna feature in the April 2018 issue of Getaway magazine.

Get this issue →

Our April issue features 7 of our favourite campsites in Kruger, a winding exploration of a rejuvenating Eden we like to call Knysna, an affordable cultural exploration of Mauritius and much more.

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