The closure of gyms and reduced foreign travel has led to a boom in water sports on local beaches and inland waterways.
ut if you thought sea swimming was the new trendy aqua activity, think again.
Instead, paddle boarding and kayaking are just two of the latest crazes to hit our shores amid the pandemic.
Expert Jennifer Greenlees first discovered paddle boarding’s cold water appeal while living in the United States in 2007. Winning a raffle following a screening of Point Break meant her first board came from surf legend Darrick Doerner, who doubled for Patrick Swayze in the movie’s famous big wave final scene.
After being assured by a friend that paddle boarding was easier to pick up than surfing, when Jennifer returned home she started summer lessons alongside her yoga and massage business.
“That was 15 years ago, but what’s happening in Northern Ireland now is exactly what it was like back then with paddle boarding as the fastest growing new sport,” she explained.
“I was never sure it would take off in the same way over here because of our weather with colder conditions, and since our seas are known for being quite dangerous.
“In America everyone who lived by the sea had surf and paddle boards… it’s now like that here.
“With lockdown people had to make do with what they had and realised that, with a proper wetsuit on, they could go out in the water all-year round.”
Now, as the activity continues to grow in popularity here, the Portrush-based instructor is introducing paddle boarding to a new and growing fan base on the north coast.
Stand-up paddle boarding can burn up to 460 calories an hour, while also building leg and core strength.
“It’s a whole body workout while you’re out in nature alongside the relaxing sounds of the waves and where a seal might pop up in the water,” Jennifer said.
The craze also led to equipment retailers reporting record sales.
“Last summer when water sports resumed you couldn’t buy a paddle board anywhere,” she added.
“They were all out of stock with a three-month waiting list, and the surf shops in Portrush were also all sold out of wetsuits.”
While some people have spent their pandemic savings on their own water sports equipment, others have availed of rental options, often right in the heart of the city.
John Hubbucks from Mobile Team Adventure in Belfast offers canoeing and kayaking at Shaw’s Bridge and on Strangford Lough for people of all ages — and even for dogs. Kayaking can burn up to 500 calories an hour, while building upper-body strength.
“I’ve been trading since 2005 but I’ve never seen so many people on the water as I have recently,” he explained.
“It has gone mad but I think people have been taking to the water to get away from everything and everyone. They started to realise what is on their doorstep and just how much there is to do on the water all around us.”