Paul Hyman, Paddleboarding environmentalist
Profile by Bridget Osborne
Paul Hyman, who runs Active 360, the paddleboarding outfit at Kew Bridge, has a kind of quiet serenity himself. Weatherbeaten and wiry, he has the look of someone who has spent his life on the water. Add a few dreadlocks and a bit of kohl around the eyes and he’d fit in perfectly with the crew of Pirates of the Caribbean. He’s already got the Bristol accent. ‘Arrrgh me hearties!’ would just trip off the tongue.
He likes nothing better than to take himself off to some far flung beauty spot and enjoy the challenges of the water. I talked to him in August after he’d just come back from a trip to the Hebrides on the tall ship Lady of Avenal, sailing around the Hebridean islands with an enthusiastic group of paddleboarders using the ship as their base. He’s already planning trips to Myanmar in January and Sardinia in April.
A flotilla of Father Christmases
I first encountered paddleboarders en masse when I noticed a flotilla of Father Christmases floating down the Thames. Typical of Paul’s sense of fun, his idea of a paddleboarders’ Christmas do is to dress up and go downriver on the tide, stop for a pint or two at the Ship below Chiswick Bridge and come back on the turn. You’d think it would be hard to muster a group of people prepared to go out on the river on a bitter winter’s day, but not a bit of it, there were loads of them.
The idea of course is not to fall in. And to be fair you don’t often see that happen. It looks quite easy, and he says it is, but the trick is to know the river. Active 360 takes beginners out to teach them how to do it and gradually allows people more freedom once they have gauged the person’s level of skill. Paul took The Chiswick Calendar’s reporter Sadiya Chowdhury out for a first lesson to show us how easy it is.
Paul got into water sports while training to be a teacher in Portsmouth. Sea kayaking was his first passion. He set up the Chiswick Pier canoe club after he moved here in 1997 and after a period as Head of Sport and Leisure for the London Borough of Ealing, started Active 360 paddleboarding in one of the arches at Kew Bridge in 2011.
Probably his most famous client is Bill Bailey, who lives just south of the river, but local MP Ruth Cadbury also takes to the water and does an impressive turn, usually to promote one of their shared environmental campaigns to clean up the river.
River of Trash
Paul is at the centre of the campaign to clean up the River Thames, urging pubs to stop using plastic straws and single use plastic beakers because every day he sees the ‘River of Trash’ which results. 65% rubbish taken out of the Thames is food and drink packaging. Re-usable plastic cups – solid polycarbonate cups or slightly flexible polypropylene cups – cost 50p-80p each, as opposed to the 2p cost of the throw-away kind, but the cost in damage to the environment, with sea creatures dying of hunger because their stomachs are full of plastic trash and the chemical compounds entering the food chain, has become a huge issue, highlighted by Sir David Attenborough in the Blue Planet series.
The In the Drink campaign suggests that customers pay an extra £1 deposit for a reusable plastic cup on first purchase of a drink, bring it back to the bar for a refill (or receive a fresh cup) and have their deposit returned on final return. Straws aren’t necessary, unless you are a small child or have a particular difficulty drinking, in which case paper straws do the job just as well. You can read more about the campaign here.
Paul organizes paddleboarding clean up sessions on the Thames and in London’s canals, which he tells me have become popular with City types ticking the Corporate Social Responsibility box. He also organises Eco tours and local history tours by paddleboard. (Did you know that bits of African Queen were filmed on the river at Brentford with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn?)
For experienced paddleboarders he organises races. The London Crossing, a race from Kew to Lime House in 90 minutes, is an elite race for serious paddleboarders, which attracts contestants from all over Europe, and the Big Ben Challenge race (on 23 September in 2018) is a three and a half hour race from Putney down to Big Ben and back.
Active 360 is a member of The Chiswick Calendar Club Card scheme
They offer 10% off paddleboarding lessons and classes to holders of our Club Card. You can also try out paddleboarding for free at Tidefest, a celebration of the river which takes place each year in September at Strand on the Green. Tidefest offers an opportunity to try out a range of river sports, take boat trips, go mudlarking with an expert or hear about the archaeological history of Chiswick and Brentford’s riverside. You can read more about it here.
And says Paul, every time you go to an event – a festival or just a night out – and you see single use plastic (easily identifiable because the beakers are squigy; it’s impossible to carry several together in your hands) take a picture on your phone and shame the organisers / venue on social media.