Stand-up paddle boarding (SUP-ing) in the Cairngorms

Stand-up paddle boards (SUPs) are becoming increasingly popular in the Park.

We explore why and how you can take your first steps onto a SUP.

SUP-ing is a really accessible sport and an amazing way to travel through the spectacular landscape of the Cairngorms. Whilst the basics can be mastered quickly there are some things to keep you, and the environment you are exploring, safe.

The beauty of SUP-ing in the Cairngorms is that we have plenty of experts on hand to help you on your supping journey.

There are numerous places in the Cairngorms, such as Loch Insh Outdoor Centre and Loch Morlich Watersports, where you can hire a SUP and try it out in a supervised environment.  If you want to go out on a journey, companies such as Active Outdoor Pursuits , Glenmore Lodge or Full on Adventure at Rothiemurchus and Strathspey SUP, run instructor-led SUP days to keep you safe and help you learn how to SUP responsibly.

Strathspey SUP is run by expert and enthusiast Emy McLeod. She offers rentals, coaching and social SUP meet-ups, and believes there’s nowhere like the Cairngorms to get your paddle on. We caught up with Emy to find out why she is such a passionate sup-er.

“You’ve got the Cairngorm mountain range in the background,” she says. “And so much variety in our lochs. It’s so peaceful. You can come here and quickly become at one with nature and be taken away from the mundane, and the normality of life. I just love the sense of awe you get paddle boarding.”

Here are some of Emy’s top tips for having a great day out SUP-ing in the Cairngorms, while also respecting and protecting our stunning natural playground:

Get a lesson at the start to ensure you’ve grasped the essentials

Paddleboarding lesson at Loch Insh Outdoor Centre

You’ll enjoy your SUP-ing much more if you feel you know what you’re doing. Loch Insh Outdoor Centre and Loch Morlich Watersports Centre are perfect places to start your SUP adventure!

Then, once you have more confidence, why not book a guide for a personal session?

After that you’ll be ready to set sail on your own but remember always to look out for signs about wildlife breeding, or algae present in a loch. Some lochs have had to close to watersports this summer due to disturbance to wildlife.

Respect and protect, please, while you enjoy paddleboarding

With more people heading to water to paddle board and enjoy other water sports, NatureScot has reported that some of the protected wildfowl, like golden eye, in our lochs in the Cairngorms have been disturbed.

This can lead to the devastating situation where ducklings are separated from their parents and die. Please remember that these wonderful, wild spaces are first and foremost nature reserves and so, if a loch is particularly busy, we’d urge you to find an alternative.

We have some incredible access rights in Scotland, they come with responsibilities too. Please make sure you adhere to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, please see

People and nature share our National Park and its waters, take care not to disturb the wildlife and look out for any local guidance and signs.

The UK wide British Stand-Up Paddle Association has also produced some specific guidance on wildlife disturbance.

You can also check out HM CoastGuard advice here and RNLI SUP-specific advice here.

If you’re a beginner, or nervous, start on a loch

Lochs are the perfect starter environments because they are not as affected by tides, waves or currents as rivers, or the sea, so you can get familiar with the standing position and finding your balance more easily. A wavy sea or flowing river is a very different beast!

Loch Insh and Loch Morlich are particularly suited to starting our on your paddle boarding journey. They have facilities and equipment on-hand. There are many other SUP-tastic lochs in the Cairngorms, too.

Even the dog can come too, especially on a loch where you don’t usually have waves to contend with! Image: Lorna Adam.

Go first thing in the morning, or late in the evening when the sun is setting

Emy McLeod, founder & coach, Strathspey SUP

This is a particularly magical time to paddle board because of the sense of quiet, and the light.

When you’ve got your confidence, river trips are great fun

Rivers can be fun with a bit more experience

There are some wonderful trips you can do by paddle board in the Cairngorms if you want to make a day of it and cover some ground. Loch Insh to Aviemore on the River Spey, for example, is a popular trip.

The River Dee is a favourite for more experienced paddlers, as it can incorporate more bare knuckled white water rapids.

Beware of nesting birds

Don’t paddle anywhere near nests as you could cause damage and force birds to flee their young. The Cairngorms is home to many rare species that nest here, like the Osprey, which settles between April and August.

Also beware of anglers and, if you do see them when paddle boarding, avoid their nets, give them a wide berth and keep the noise down.

Wear a buoyancy aid, or some kind of personal floatation device

Beginner starting kneeling on board, wearing flotation device, Loch Insh

Paddle boarding is definitely a relaxing sport where the intention is not to plunge in – however this does sometimes happen and it’s good to be prepared! As well as a floatation device, it’s a good idea to ensure you have a leash attaching your board to your body. Also, remember that, even in the height of summer, water in the Cairngorms can be cold and, particularly if you are SUP-ing for an extended period, wear a wetsuit.

If there’s a predominant path down to the water, use it

This prevents land erosion by focusing any erosion on one area, rather than the whole.

Wash your board inbetween use

Remember to wash your board

This isn’t just for cleanliness reasons but because, if you don’t, you could inadvertently transfer bacteria or algae from one water environment to another.

Socialise on your SUP!

SUP-ing is a lot of fun, especially in company. In fact, it is recommended that you ever SUP alone and, if you do, ensure someone knows exactly where you are and how long you plan to be out. Additionally, it’s a good idea to bring a mobile phone (SUP-ers often carry these on their board in waterproof pouches) just in case you get in hot (or, rather, cold) water and need help.

Strathspey SUP runs regular social meet-ups, which are free and open to anyone who has done paddle boarding before and knows how to self-rescue (get back on the board if you fall off). Usually a group meets and paddles for a couple of hours, before retreating to a favourite cafe for refreshments! Equipment can also be hired for this.

Follow Strathspey SUP’s Facebook page for updates on socials here. Numbers for this, and coaching sessions, are currently limited due to Covid and tend to book up quickly as a result. Rental booking in advance is essential.

photo credits: Emy McLeod & featured image Loch Morlich Watersports

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