Our StorySUP Bristol is the award winning home of stand up paddleboarding in Bristol. Between the team we've paddled on four continents, from the raging whitewater of the White Nile to New Zealand's tranquil fjords. We're highly qualified and passionate about sharing our love for the water; both on Bristol's historic Floating Harbour and beyond.
fo”Our story dates back to 2008 when founders Tim and Kate, both paddlers, met in Bristol. Tim had moved to Bristol after uni to work at paddlesport manufacturer, Palm Equipment. Kate was working in youth participation for the National Trust.
On the weekends they explored the city, often by water, loving the vibrancy of the harbour. They’d take friends out on the harbour in canoes and were always being asked “that looks cool – how can I do that”?
It didn’t seem easy to get into paddling. Joining a club would involve commitment and there didn’t seem to be many intro courses around. Then you might have to learn to roll, and get wet and cold. You’d need a canoe and a roofrack, and somewhere to store it…
There must be an easier way – a nascent idea was born.
A few years later, whilst cycling in New Zealand they discovered SUP, and fell in love with the ease and accessibility of the sport, the new perspective it gave them, and the sheer joy and simplicity of paddling standing up. They came home and excitedly wrote SUP Bristol’s first business plan on A1 paper in felt tip pen.
They went to meet with Red Paddle Co, then still a small business themselves. It turned out they shared a frustration with the various challenges of getting people on the water and their excitement that SUP was going to be the answer to many of them.
“Imagine a board you can store under the stairs, and you can fit in the car boot – or even on your back. And what happens if you fall in? You just get back on again!”
Kate picks up the story:
“We started with six boards including four Starboard Big Easy’s (now consigned to severn bore duties only) and a Red Paddle Ride inflatable that’s still going strong today.
At the time there was no SUP governing body and not a lot of safety guidance. The paddlesport governing body, British Canoeing, ignored it as a flash in the pan. (Fast forward to 2023 and they’re now governing body for SUP too – how things have changed!)
We worked with the harbour master to build an understanding of paddleboarding and persuade the council we really did know what we were doing, and that we were going to be safe.
Risk assessments and operating documents were written and we were working on our website when we had a call from a reporter from Bristol Post who had heard we were starting a paddleboarding business. We of course offered to take him out for a paddle and, amazingly, he wrote a two page article for the paper. He loved it, despite falling in! A couple of all-nighters later and and the website was launched and ready to take bookings in time for when the article came out. It was just the kickstart we needed and we’re forever grateful for whoever tipped the journo off!
The summer of 2014 was a busy one fitting SUP around our full time jobs. We started with just five sessions a week and our first stag do was a group of two, one of which was a family member (the rest were too hungover). Our first corporate session was for Hart’s Bakery, and we’re grateful to Laura and team for putting their faith in such a new business – and for part payment in bread. It was humble beginnings!
After an an incredible but busy summer of delivering sessions around full time jobs we headed off for the winter kayaking, rafting and hiking in Nepal. On return we realised we needed a team so started recruiting. Our first recruit, Nick, still works with us 9 years later. Over the next couple of years we gradually dialled down other work whilst turning the dial to 11 on SUP.
2015 was just our second season but looking back we achieved so much. We started our RNLI charity race, raised money for the earthquake in Nepal, started delivering instructor training, ran a charity paddle at the harbour festival, developed a membership offer, partnered with Sweaty Betty on SUP Yoga and started to work with under 18s and charities to further diversify who can access the water. We also ran events for This Mum Runs, and organised a charity Santa SUP; one of the first in the UK.
In 2016 Tim was offered the chance to head to China for a month to train up sailing instructors to UK SUP standards. He jumped at the chance to go full time on the business which gave us the capacity to develop our corporate offer, launch more collaborations – including our SUP yoga colab with Trika Yoga which is still going strong – and run many trips to help people discover the incredible British coastline by SUP. We helped Bristol University set up a SUP club and trained up more instructors to join the team. Bee joined us as a fresher and is still involved now – though with a MA in History under her belt these days.
Since then we’ve run trips to Norway, delivered training in Ireland and Thailand and introduced tens of thousands of people to the joy of stand up paddleboading whilst weathering the storm that was Covid.
We now run 12 members sessions a week and we’re on the water 7 days a week. We deliver hugely popular ‘SUP Fundamentals’ and ‘Sea Skills’ courses, aimed at upskilling our paddlers, and we raise £9,000 a year for Frank Water’s work to provide fresh water in Nepal and India through our SUP event, Stand up for Safe Water.
Incredibly we’ve also started our biggest adventure yet, welcoming two amazing kids to the fold.
Our crew on the water has grown too and we now employ an incredible full time team during the season to give us a little more time with our young family on evenings and weekends. In 2021 we were excited to finally tip the balance towards a mostly female crew and we’re now focussing on ways to further diversify our staff team and membership.
Our mission has always remained the same; to make it easy to get on the water.”
We look forward to seeing you on the water
Kate, Tim and the SUP Bristol crew x
Join us for a truly unique way to experience Bristol. You’ll float in the shadow of Brunel’s ss Great Britain, paddle alongside the famous Matthew, and wave at passing hot air balloonists. Our love for paddlesport shows in every session we run, from supporting your first strokes to enabling adventures further afield. We’re proud to be ranked #1 outdoor activity in Bristol on Tripadvisor and awarded silver at the 2017/18 South West Tourism Awards.
We’re a leading provider of stand up paddleboarding coach education, a Water Skills Academy Centre of Excellence, and in the winter season you’ll find us all over the UK training the next generation of SUP instructors.
We are fully qualified AALA approved, licensed and insured (£5m public liability). Copies of our insurance certificates, operating procedures and risk assessments are available on our website here.
Find out more about our team or get started and join us on the water.
Award winning adventures
2022 Tripadvisor #1 Activity and Tour in Bristol
2020-22 Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice
2016/17 South West Tourism Awards
Active and Sporting Experience, Silver
2016/17 Bristol, Bath and Somerset Tourism Awards,
Tourism Activity, Sport and Experience, Silver
2016/17 Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence