Founder of trailblazing sports company Active 360, Paul Hyman pioneered the use of stand-up paddleboards on London’s urban waterways back in 2011. These days, his company’s SUP school, yoga sessions and events are a common sight on Paddington’s Grand Union Canal.
Formerly a canoe coach, Paul knows London’s rivers and canals inside-out. It was whilst looking for new ways to make use of the capital’s underused waterways that he spotted the potential of paddleboarding.
“I’d seen it in places like Watergate Bay, so I thought of it as a surf sport,” he says. “Then I saw a canoe coach using a paddleboard, and the penny dropped: this was a really versatile sport that would work in London.”
The sport quickly took off, with Londoners taking to the water to experience their city in an entirely new way. “Watching people’s reactions is always exciting,” says Paul. “A lot of people spend their days in the office or on the tube. On a paddleboard you get to appreciate the environment, the wildlife and the weather.”
Each location the company operates out of offers something different. The Lee River’s clean waters and linear route suit yoga and racing, while the Thames is an exciting, untamed wilderness. In contrast, Paddington’s Grand Union Canal is sheltered and calm.
“Paddington’s very sociable,” says Paul. “People are always calling us over to chat. To get out on this historic canal and give it new purpose is great.”
Environmental awareness is an important aspect of the company’s work. Active 360 regularly host ‘clean ups’ with the Canal and River Trust and local businesses, where participants get free paddleboarding in exchange for helping clean up the canal. Beyond Paddington, the company also participates in the international clean up movement – this year saw Paul travel to eastern India’s Chilika Lake.
“It’s huge and absolutely stunning, but there’s a litter problem and no infrastructure to deal with it,” he says. “As well as cleaning up, we’re raising awareness of how rubbish is degrading the environment.”
For Active 360, innovation is driven by the environments the company uses. “Most of the equipment out there is designed for surf,” Paul explains. “We needed something that worked better on urban rivers, so we designed an inflatable expedition board that’s very stable, with a patented luggage system. It’s the board we’ve always wanted.”
In line with its commitment to environmental awareness, the company is also exploring how to create boards using sustainable bamboo as the primary material. For Active 360, the relationship with Paddington’s community is mutually beneficial.
“We help people to appreciate the environment and improve their fitness. Visitors like seeing us, and we bring in business – people are hungry when we’ve finished with them, and they head straight into local cafés.”
“Paddington’s becoming more and more like the Southbank; somewhere people come to enjoy eating and drinking, performances, events and things to do. We’re the things to do.”