A size 20 paddleboarder is riding on the crest of a wave after taking up the sport during lockdown and is now campaigning for people of all shapes and sizes to join her.
Determined to make wetsuit sizing more inclusive to encourage plus size women in particular to take up paddleboarding, for many years marketing manager Sarah Blues, 29, would watch people navigating waves with envy – fearing she was too big to join them.
But after being furloughed in the first lockdown and having moved back just before the pandemic from London to the Dorset seaside town where she grew up, she took the plunge and bought a paddleboard, saying: “It never really crossed my mind that it was something I could do. I assumed I would be too big for the board.”
She added: “I had moved back to Dorset with my partner before the pandemic and with everything shut down and nothing really to do, I thought, ‘What’s stopping me? What have I got to lose?’”
Sarah’s new passion for paddleboarding also had a knock-on effect on her self-esteem – boosting her confidence about her size 20 body.
She said: “I’m from Dorset originally and whenever I came back from London to visit my family, I’d watch all the paddleboarders out on the water and feel envious.”
She added: “As a plus size woman I think there is a tendency to hold off on things until you’re thinner.
“I was always thinking, ‘When I lose weight, I’m going to do this and that.’
“But if it never happens, you’re just missing out on life and when the pandemic struck, I just decided to go for it.”
According to Sarah, who lives with her partner, Steve 41, who works in security, buying a paddleboard was a liberating moment.
She said: “I just let go of all the hang ups I had about my body or what I thought an athletic body should look like.
“Previously, I was always on a diet and worrying about calories or taking exercise that I wasn’t enjoying.”
She added: “I think a big part of my decision to start paddleboarding was also a change in my mindset. I stopped dieting and started looking for a hobby where I could be active but that I could also enjoy.
“As a kid, you take part in sport and physical activities because you love them, and I wanted to feel like that again.
“I was trying to find something that would give me that feeling as an adult.”
Sarah started taking her paddleboard out by herself before joining a local group.
She said: “For the first two months, I was solo paddleboarding, so I was on the water on my own, or more realistically, I was under water, because I was constantly falling off my board!
“Then I met this wonderful community of people who all love the sport. They were so different to what I expected – all different ages, shapes, sizes and abilities.”
She added: “It was absolutely amazing. My only regret was not joining sooner.
“Steve was really supportive too. I think he probably wasn’t even surprised. He knows what I’m like when I put my mind to something!”
Now Sarah has started an Instagram page to document her experiences on the paddleboard and hopes that she can inspire other plus size women to take up the sport.
She said: “Paddleboarding had made me realise that my body was strong and capable.
“Completely changing my body before I started doing something I thought I’d love wasn’t an acceptable option.
“Instead, I stopped being self-conscious, started paddleboarding and started @PlusSizePaddler on Instagram.”
She added: “The more women I spoke to, the more I realised that size was a big barrier stopping them from trying the sport.
“One problem was that the kit they needed wasn’t readily available for women with larger bodies, so I founded #PaddleKitHerWay – a hashtag to get women talking.”
Determined to make a change, Sarah conducted a survey to find out what women thought of the kits available to them.
She said: “Failing to get kit that fitted was making women over a certain size feel unwelcome in the sport.
“An astonishing 70 per cent of women who responded to the survey said they couldn’t get specific kit for women to fit them.
“This highlighted that it’s not just a plus size problem – poor fitting kit for women in general, inconsistent sizing and lack of technical features are issues too.”
She added: “The stats showed the majority of respondents were a size 14/16 and, in fact, there were more size 22/24 paddlers than size 6/8 ones.
“I strongly believe now is the time to work with manufacturers to make kit as inclusive as the sport.
“Everyone deserves to be able to paddle in safety and comfort.”
But ill-fitting wetsuits are not the only problem for larger women, according to Sarah.
She said: “The other barrier I came across was women telling me how they worry they can’t paddle because they’re too fat, unfit, or just don’t look right, when in reality anybody and everybody can paddle.
“Not only do women of all sizes deserve to feel included, but they should also be represented in advertising for sports like paddleboarding, because if you can see someone who looks like you, it’s easier to believe you can do it, too.”
She added: “I didn’t see anyone who looked like me when I started and it made me wonder if this was the sport for me.
“Now I want to empower women to embrace their bodies, feel confident on the water and to enjoy paddleboarding in their own way.”
[MUST PAR] Sarah is working with Red Paddle Co to host events to get more women paddleboarding. For more information, visit: www.redpaddleco.com
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