Tomorrow sees Norfolk Paddle Board’s inaugural Santa Paddle, to raise money for Norfolk and Waveney Mind and spread some festive cheer. Founder Lee Tayler explains why he’s swapped a sit down office job for a stand up paddle business
These days, Lee’s mantra is ‘Live, Breathe, Paddle’. Quite a lifestyle change considering at the start of this year he’d only been out on a paddle board a couple of times! In the New Year Lee was chief operating officer of a software company called Pupil Asset which was in the process of being sold. ‘I was working a lot of hours,’ recalls Lee.
‘I was in an office here in Norwich and I was the guy taking the company through the journey.’ He adds: Before that I was a commercial bank manager.’ In other words, another corporate role. ‘I realised it wasn’t for me.’
Then lockdown happened. ‘I quite enjoyed lockdown, actually, and spending less money. It re-grounded men and allowed me to breathe. I always tell people silence is my favourite sound – it’s so beautiful.
‘When lockdown eased and we could go out I really wanted to have a go at paddle boarding. I remembered we’ve got this amazing river going through Norwich – I walked past it every day – and I thought I’d buy a paddle board.’
However, when Lee looked into it, he realised they were a ‘little on the expensive side.’ Redpaddle Co SUP’s were selling out fast but when he found out that nine were arriving in the UK, to replenish stocks, he had a brainwave: ‘I’ll buy them all, with every penny of savings I had.’
The result is Norfolk Paddle Boards, a rental service based in Norwich, which opened for business in the summer. ‘It just went absolutely crazy for two solid months,’ says Lee. From July 17 to September 17, 480 people had taken to the water.
A taster day at Wensum Park sold out in 24 hours, and Lee says that 95 per cent of people rebook. ‘People who’ve never been out on the water are addicted after the first time.’ He can understand why: ‘You can work all day and they you can be on the water within 15/20 minutes, glide away from the edge and it’s that silence again.’
What about falling in? ‘I always say it’s the driest water sport going. If you can stand, you can stand on a paddle board. The best thing they can do is breathe and glide effortlessly across the water.’
And he adds: ‘You are using bits of your body you didn’t know existed and you are exploring parts of the river you can’t get to. This is the closest you will get to walking on water.
‘I love the feedback. People come back that night and don’t stop talking. They just have the best time. They are smiling and laughing and they will always remember the first time they went paddle boarding. Everyone wants to get back out on the water. The eldest person I had out was 89 and he absolutely loved it. It’s been a weird year for people and some people have really taken to paddle boarding.’
It’s also been an opportunity for parents and children to have some one on one time together, out on the water, ‘without mobile phones, laptops computers and TVs. Even though we’ve been living on top of each other we’ve lost touch with who we are because we’ve all been as one,’ says Lee. And you can even take dogs! ‘I’ve had quite a few, from Labradors to Frenchies.’
This year has really made him appreciate what’s right here on our doorstep. ‘In Norfolk we have the most amazing waterways weaving through our county. Seeing a kingfisher in the centre of Norwich going back and forth among the trees and diving in the water is just incredible.’
Lee makes a personal point. ‘What Covid has enabled me to do is slow down and appreciate what we’ve got. I’m passionate about health and wellbeing. I’m an anxious person, but I know when I’m on that river, after that first breath I take, it doesn’t matter what went on in the day.’
He admits to having fallen off ‘a couple of times’, but says: ‘I’m not going to be mucking about so much in the winter. I’ll probably take a flask of soup or tea.’
As we approach the end of the year, things have obviously slowed down a bit, but for Lee there’s a lot going on behind the scenes in preparation for spring next year. ‘We have recently launched our new website with a new booking page and shop and members area.
Describing the new Paddle Hub, he says: ‘Our memberships give customers a plethora of benefits, from free hires, discounts on hires when they run out, discounts with local businesses and discounts in our online shop – plus more.’
And he adds: ‘We have been selling some awesome bespoke Christmas cards, designed by local artist Caitlin Jenkin. And we have launched a clothing range, with designs again from Caitlin and other local artist, Josh Smith (@the_w0rld_on_a_string). ‘I really want to promote a community of people,’ he says.
And tomorrow (December 5, 2020) sees the inaugural Santa Paddle, which will see around 20 Santas paddling past Carrow Road, Riverside and Fye Bridge/Friars Quay. Lee says: ‘It’s just a bit of fun and we will raise some money for a local charity.’ Norfolk & Waveney Mind, in fact.
And he adds: ‘I’m looking forward to a Christmas day paddle.’ He then has ‘massive plans’ for next year, including quadrupling his fleet, working with local companies and offering lessons. ‘I’m preparing for a crazy, busy spring.’
‘It’s been a totally life changing year.’ Spending his life savings on something he’d only done a couple of times before may seem ‘random’, but, like many of us, Lee concludes: ‘2020 has made me think. I’m an ambitious person. I love working with people, the great outdoors, fresh air and the Norfolk countryside. It’s wonderful.’