The Stand Up Paddle Guide to Dorset, UK by Matthew Sephton


East Dorset is 93 miles (150 km) from London in the southwest of the UK. Dorset is such a diverse and beautiful English county that you’ll be spoilt for choice!  Rolling hillsides, dramatic cliffs, sweeping beaches, chocolate box villages, bustling towns, quiet countryside…. Dorset’s charms are there for all to see and discover! Watersports addict, Matthew Sephton, lived in Dorset for 10 years and opened a SUP school called Dorset SUP where he rents Red Paddle Co SUP boards.

Hello Matthew, can you introduce yourself and your history with Dorset?

I have lived in East Dorset for the last 10 years, I’ve been very lucky that I have nearly always lived on the South Coast of England. From the ages of 10 to 18 I went to Bembridge School, an amazing boarding school on the Eastern tip of the Isle of Wight, this is where I was first introduced to water sports by sailing in a Mirror Dinghy. Due to my job as Firefighter in the London Fire Brigade I moved to London for 12 years, I then returned to the Maritime City of Southampton. In 2000, myself and my French Friend Lionel Bondois were kite surfing pioneers, with a lot of crashes and pain we taught ourselves to kite surf using the Naish AR3.5 9m kite, the first production two-line inflatable kite and the Sky Pirate kiteboard. 2005 saw me finally settling in East Dorset. In 2013 I tried out one of the first Red Paddle Co iSUPs in the UK at a store in Poole Harbour, after that one demo, I was hooked. From that moment on I was paddling on my own, this time a pioneer of UK SUP. I am a Qualified Water Skills Academy (WSA) SUP Instructor and Adventure Guide, owner of the SUP School Dorset SUP based in Christchurch, Dorset and in September 2020 I set up the ‘Dorset SUP Stand Up Paddleboard Community Group’ which now has over 1358 members.

Can you talk about Dorset and the weather conditions throughout the year?

Dorset enjoys one of the most pleasant climates in the UK with warm temperatures and long sunny days regularly experienced over the spring and summer months.

If you’re looking for the best location for SUP and Wing Foiling in the UK, then head to Dorset! For surfable waves head to the beautiful, long, sandy beaches at Bournemouth and Boscombe. For flat water head to the beautiful River Avon and River Stour in Christchurch or the natural harbours of Poole and Christchurch. If you head to West Dorset you will be paddling where the dinosaurs roamed on our Jurassic Coast, go a little further to the golden sands and safe shallow waters of Weymouth, you won’t just be paddling on any water – these are Olympic waters! Weymouth & Portland played host to the sailing events at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games.

Dorset contains part of The Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is a jewel in the crown of the world’s natural places, it is England’s only natural World Heritage Site. The Jurassic Coast is a long stretch on the English Channel where the cliffs contain many fossils and rock formations that show millions of years of geological history. Two prominent natural landmarks are Durdle Door, an ancient stone arch, and the layered cliffs at nearby Lulworth Cove. On the coast are the towns of Poole, Christchurch and Bournemouth which make up the UK’s best beach with 11km of clean golden sands. Poole in the West contains the world’s second-largest large natural harbour, award-winning sandy beaches and the exclusive Sandbanks peninsula, where a record price paid for property currently stands at £8.1m. Christchurch in the East contains Christchurch Harbour with Mudeford Spit, which has the UK’s ‘most expensive’ beach hut at £330,000. To the East of Christchurch is The New Forest, the fifth-best national park in Europe. In the middle is the University town of Bournemouth, its beaches and popular nightlife has made it a popular destination for tourists, attracting over five million visitors annually. Dorset is very well connected to the rest of the UK with travel times to London by car and train is less than 2 hours.

What are the best spots for SUP race training, SUP surfing, and Downwinding?

We are so fortunate that we are spoilt for choice with hundreds of great SUP spots, here are my top:

For SUP training or just relaxing:

  • Number One is the four miles of beautiful beaches that line the sheltered waters of Studland Bay, standing tall at the southern end of Studland Bay is one of the most famous landmarks on the South Coast the towering chalk formations known as Old Harry Rock. This spot is ideal for all levels of SUPer, beach games, sandcastles, or simply relaxing.
  • Number Two is my local spot Christchurch Harbour and Mudeford Spit, it is a beautiful and popular destination, just like Studland Bay, another location perfect for families and all levels of SUPer and has spectacular views out to The Isle of Wight. At the Quay, you will find several places to eat and drink as well as areas to enjoy a picnic.
  • Number Three is the paddle from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door and Bat’s Head on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. You will be paddling past one of England’s natural wonders a coastline of outstanding geology revealing 185 million years of Earth’s history. This is not a paddle for novices. If you want a guided SUP adventure, you are very welcome to join me and

For Downwind:

I’m a relative newbie to downwinding so the only downwind I have found so far is in our neighbouring county of Hampshire. This Downwind run is a 10 mile (16km) run from Hurst Castle to Lepe Country Park
You start out from Keyhaven Harbour, pass Hurst Spit a one-mile-long (1.6 km) natural shingle bank to where there is a lighthouse and Hurst Castle then head North East for a 10 mile (16km) downwind SUP session along The Solent, a narrow strait that separates the Isle of Wight from England, this narrowing accelerates the prevailing South Westerly wind. I really do love downwinding and hoping to do many more downwinders in the future.

What’s the local watersports community like in Dorset?

The SUP scene in Dorset is experiencing phenomenal growth with SUP sales increasing by 400% in 2020. There are large established Water sports Companies that have been around since the 1980s that do every type of water sport. These include SUP, windsurfing, kite surfing, sailing and are beginning to incorporate forms of foiling, SUP, wing, kite and windsurf foiling to new Start-Up SUP schools such as my SUP school Dorset SUP.
Downwinding is only a small scene here, I have started downwinding at a location in our neighbouring county of Hampshire. In Bournemouth we have BaySUP, probably the UK’s largest & most active Stand Up Paddle Board Clubs, who host weekly race training sessions, The Frostbite Series of races and time trials, this year due to coronavirus the races are virtual Time Trials, entry I free.  Our community is getting big and growing fast, not a day goes by without seeing someone SUPing on our rivers, harbours and on the ocean. We have recreational paddlers, SUP racing club paddlers, SUP Surfing scene where many of our SUP surfers ride the best SUPs and SUP foils by Hypr Hawaii UK and a small but growing wing foiling scene. We now have lots of SUP Facebook groups such as Dorset SUP Stand Up Paddle Board Community that share their experiences, photos, and routes. The community group also have a recreational social paddle, a group of like-minded mixed ability SUPers that meet at the weekend and evenings for a paddle with coffee after a café, Après SUP!

What are the main SUP events in the area?

Every year BaySUP hosts one of the six events in the GBSUP National race Series and Tour at Sandbanks, Dorset. This year on Saturday 26th June 2021 ‘Ocean Race 1 – Battle of the Bay’ the first of the three Ocean Series Races at Sandbanks, Poole.

Where would you rent your SUP gear or take classes?

We have so many places to rent SUP equipment in Dorset, I cannot mention them all. Here are my recommendations: You can rent from me when you join one of my Dorset SUP Group Social Paddles in Christchurch, I have a collection of different kinds of 2021 Red Paddle Co. SUPs (Ride 10’6, Ride 10’8, Sport 11’3, Compact 11’ and the Voyager 13’2) if you want to rent a hardboard I have the Starboard Generation.

If you want to SUP in the ocean, I recommend Shaka Surf in Branksome, Poole and SurfSteps in Boscombe, Bournemouth. If you want flat water head to The Watersports Academy in Poole Harbour and The New Forest Paddle Sport Company in Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire.

To take classes, there are lots of SUP schools in Dorset, once again we are spoilt for choice. You can learn with myself at Dorset SUP or The SUP School in Christchurch. If you want to learn in Poole Harbour, I recommend Poole Harbour Watersports or The Watersports Academy. If you want to learn in the ocean from the golden sands of Poole go to Shaka Surf and Bournemouth head to Surfsteps. And if you’re in the New Forest head to The New Forest Paddle Sport Company in Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire.

And as a tourist, what things to do and places to see would you recommend in and around Dorset?

Of course, there is much more to Dorset and our neighbouring Counties than perfect SUP conditions. Dorset is often found in the top five most popular destination for UK holidays, so there are hundreds of places to visit and see. These are my Top Two:

  • My first recommendation is The New Forest, it is only 10 minutes from Christchurch. Step back in time and discover the charm and natural beauty of this unique destination. The New Forest became a national park in 2005 and was once a royal hunting ground for William the Conqueror. It covers an area of 566 square kilometres and is made up of vast tracts of unspoilt woodland, heathland and river valleys. Today, deer, ponies and cattle continue to roam free in its ancient heaths and woodland. Clear rivers and shady groves provide tranquillity and a car-free haven for walking, cycling and horse riding.
  • My second recommendation is the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, it is in our neighbouring county of Hampshire and only 60 minutes from Christchurch. Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is the UK’s premier destination for naval history. It’s a must-see for anyone visiting the South of England. A visit to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard takes you on a journey through time, allowing you to step onboard world-famous ships. Climb on-board majestic warships, explore heroic submarines including Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson’s World Famous flagship HMS Victory, and the world-renowned Mary Rose Museum.
  • To enjoy Dorset with family, check out the best activities with kids in Dorset!

If you want to visit Dorset and arrange a no stress paddle trip, send me a message and we’ll help you arrange the perfect SUP trip!

For more information about Red Paddle Co

To follow Matthew Sephton and Dorset SUP

About the Author

Laura Desmit

A student in an engineering school and also passionate about water sports, Laura is first a swimmer and discovered Stand Up Paddle in 2019, she was hooked. Today she mixes boardsports (surfing, SUP, canoe) with her passion for swimming by doing SwimRun.

To follow Laura:

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