“I inherited my love of boats from my father and late grandfather, with childhood summers spent on Lake Chemong in Ontario, Canada, where Grandpa would take me and my brother and sisters out on the 50-year-old, red-cedar canoe he had lovingly restored. All our boats were made of wood, even the speedboat. To this day, I have an enduring love of wooden boats. A classic Riva would be my dream.
I first saw someone paddleboarding in California about 10 years ago and was immediately captivated as there was such elegance to the idea of standing on water. It looked so peaceful and tranquil. I finally had my first go in southern Spain soon after and was hooked from then on.
In 2017, I took part in the Round the Island boat race, circumnavigating the Isle of Wight. One of our crew, Harry Robinson, by trade a boat-builder, mentioned that his company, Lignum, also made bespoke surfboards. I asked him whether he could also make paddleboards because I wanted one that was handmade, a piece of art in effect. It needed to have a teak deck in keeping with my love of vintage boats, such as the Thames slipper launches that were such a feature of river life in the 1930s. I added the proviso that I also wanted to be able to take my children and my black Labrador, Storm, out on excursions.
As Storm is almost always by my feet, the boat had to have some extra depth and buoyancy to take her 30kg weight. Lignum made the hull out of western red cedar grown on Duchy land in the southwest of England – it is lighter in colour with larger growth rings than its North American counterpart. The shaft is spruce and the blade is redwood, both sourced from Dartmoor National Park. Tom Stockwell of Stockwell Surfboards then coated the timber in a layer of glass fibre and eco resin, creating a watertight shell to protect the timber from the elements. Harry estimates that it took 150 man hours to create the finished design – one that also meets the EcoBoard Gold Level standard, I am proud to say.
Since taking possession of my Clipper Class board, I have enjoyed many hours paddling on the Thames at Henley, where my in-laws live. However, one of my most memorable trips was paddleboarding along the coast of Cornwall with Storm. She sat, paws hanging over the side, while seals came along to investigate what we were doing. It was absolute bliss. I am convinced she loves paddleboarding as much as I do, because when your senses are on maximum, it feels as though man, dog and boat become one. With Storm at the bow end, nothing compares to the feeling of contentment and freedom that paddling brings.
However, I like to say the board is really only borrowed from my children: Ludo, nine, and Iona, eight. Both have great balance and often join me on excursions. Once they are committed, I will commission some smaller boards so we can all enjoy it together. Maybe they will be gold medal champions when the Olympics finally recognise it as a sport!”