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A Beginners Guide to Watersports in Scotland

Camusdarach Beach in Lochaber is a stunning place for sea kayaking

Camusdarach Beach near Arisaig is a stunning place for sea kayaking

Some visitors have a low opinion of Scotland’s weather. They say it’s ideal for farmers and ducks and us Scots shrug their judgements off with clichés such as ‘today’s rain is tomorrow’s whisky’ and ‘it’s what makes our country green and beautiful’.

However, our wonderful weather – it really doesn’t rain as often as some would have you think – also makes Scotland one of the best places in the world to enjoy watersports! And with Scotland’s Year of Coasts & Waters 2020 just around the corner, now’s the time to splash out and add some H2Oh-my-gosh excitement into your break. You don’t need lots of experience and equipment, as there are many businesses and instructors ready to ensure you have a fantastic time.

But what is there to do? Where can I try them out? When’s the best time to enjoy them? Fear not! There’s an amazing range of options to choose from, whether you’re looking to have fun with the kids, having a laugh with friends or want to push your individual limits. Read on and find out more.

First things first, we’d always recommend that beginner’s join an organised instructor-led experience. Instructors have all the equipment required, know the venues inside-out and are fully skilled in making your experience both safe and enjoyable. They can also advise on any age limits, what to bring with you and what you can expect from your experience. It’s also worth reading and heeding the RNLI’s fantastic advice on staying safe – on, in and around water.

1. Whitewater Rafting

Whitewater rafting on the River Findhorn, Moray Speyside

Whitewater rafting on the River Findhorn, Moray Speyside © Ace Adventures

Our most popular on (and sometimes in!) the water experience is whitewater rafting and you don’t need any experience to enjoy this watersport. It’s great for building confidence and best enjoyed with friends. Start off on the gentle waters of the River Tay in Perthshire or the River Spey further north, before progressing to faster whitewater on the Braan, Garry and Tummel in Perthshire, the Findhorn in Moray Speyside and the Orchy and Moriston in the Highlands.

Rivers like the Orchy, Moriston and Findhorn run higher and faster when fed by spring snow melt from the mountains or after heavy rainfall. Some rivers such as the Tummel and Garry are fed by hydro-dam releases and are often only available during the summer months. The rivers Tay, Spey and most parts of  the Findhorn offer great rafting year-round.

You’ll join a group of up to eight people in a river-guide-led session typically lasting 2 – 3 hours. Full instruction is given before setting off and wetsuits, buoyancy aids and helmets are provided. Wear swim gear or shorts, a t-shirt and trainers that will get wet and if you have a GoPro with a chest harness, take it!

2. Stand Up Paddle (SUP) Boarding

Family-fun paddleboarding at Loch Insh Watersports near Aviemore

Family-fun paddleboarding at Loch Insh Watersports near Aviemore © VisitScotland/Jakub Iwanicki

This relaxing activity is becoming increasingly popular and is ideal for beginners. It’s a great way to explore Scotland’s coast, lochs and slower-running rivers at your own pace and immerse yourself in the scenery.

There are many operators offering stand up paddleboarding including Galloway Activity Centre on Loch Ken near Castle Douglas, Loch Earn Watersports Centre near St Fillans, Willowgate Activity Centre in Perth or Loch Insh Outdoor Centre near Aviemore, where they even have jumbo SUP boards that will take up to 4 adults and 4 children! If you want to try SUPing along the coast head for Dunbar and Coast to Coast Surf School or paddleboard in the shadow of three iconic bridges at Port Edgar Watersports in South Queensferry.

Boards, paddles, wetsuits and buoyancy aids are all supplied, as is instruction and it’s possible to paddleboard all year round too.

3. Kayaking & canoeing

Sea kayaking by Kisimul Castle, Isle of Barra, Outer Hebrides

Sea kayaking by Kisimul Castle, Isle of Barra, Outer Hebrides

Kayaking and canoeing are a brilliant way to experience Scotland’s vast coastline and myriad rivers and lochs and see our scenery from a new perspective. And whilst the wobble of your craft might seem a bit daunting at first, initial nerves are soon reassuringly replaced with excitement.

A great place to start is in the gentle waters of Lochaber’s Arisaig Skerries with Rockhopper Scotland and Arisaig Sea Kayak Centre. Rocky, white-sandy islets provide shelter from crashing waves further out and it’s a great place for building confidence whilst admiring sea-level views of the Small Isles and getting up close to basking seals.

There are several operators that offer kayaking and canoeing experiences all over Scotland. Another great venue for beginners is the flat water basin at the amazing Pinkston Watersports in Glasgow – Scotland’s only artificial whitewater course.

4. Surf’s Up!

Surfing at Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire

Surfing at Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire © VisitScotland / Discover Fraserburgh / Damian Shields

Did you know that Scotland offers some of the best surfing and windsurfing spots in Europe? In the past Thurso has hosted the O’Neill Cold Water Classic for surfing and Tiree continues to host the Wave Classic for windsurfing – one of the longest-running adventure sports events in the world. But this is the realm of experienced boarders.

There are plenty of opportunities for beginners though. Several watersports centres, including the National Centre in Cumbrae off the Ayrshire coast, Elie Watersports in Fife and Loch Insh Outdoor Centre and Loch Morlich Watersports near Aviemore, to name just a few, offer windsurfing tuition.

If you prefer your board without a sail, then there’s great beginner surfing tuition along the East Lothian and Scottish Borders coast from St Vedas Surf School and Coast to Coast Surf School. Or head for the Outer Hebrides and learn to surf on Garry Beach on the Isle of Lewis with SurfLewis or Shawbost Beach on the west of the island with Hebridean Surf. It’s possible to surf and windsurf all year round, though the water temperatures in winter and early spring puts some folks off!

5. Hoist the sails!

Sailing on Loch Venachar, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park

Sailing on Loch Venachar, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park

With its breath-taking coastal scenery, quiet coves and numerous islands, there’s no question that Scotland offers some of the finest sailing experiences in the world. It’s also the ideal place to learn to sail. There are a number of Royal Yachting Association approved schools across Scotland, including the National Watersports Training Centre on the Isle of Cumbrae, that offer taster sessions and courses. Find out more about learning to sail.

6. Canyoning, Coasteering & Gorge Walking

Coasteering near Oban, Argyll & The Isles

Coasteering near Oban, Argyll & The Isles © VisitScotland/Wild AboutArgyll/Kieran Duncan

These wonderful watersports are definitely adventures for experienced thrill seekers, but they’re open to first-timers and families that are up for an adrenaline rush too.

Instructors are highly skilled and will guide you as you abseil down cliffs and through waterfalls, leap off rocky ledges into deep pools and swaying seas, or scramble over spray-covered rocks and slide down natural stone flumes.

Canyoning hotspots include Highland Perthshire, gorges in Lochaber – the Outdoor Capital of the UK, the Isle of Arran off the Ayrshire coast and the isles of Raasay and Skye in the Highlands.

For the thrills of coasteering, head for Adventure Carrick in South Ayrshire, Vertical Descents near Fort William or My Adventure in Edinburgh.

All equipment, including wetsuit, buoyancy aid and helmet are included – take swim gear or a t-shirt, shorts and trainers that will get wet. And if you’re lucky, you might also see some local wildlife along the way.

7. Wakeboarding & waterskiing

One of the fastest growing watersports is wakeboarding and there are a number of centres in Scotland that offer this. Wakeboarding, whether the rider is towed by boat or by cable, differs from waterskiing with its slower tow speed and is arguably a better option for beginners before they progress to water-skiing.

The national training centre at Town Hill Loch near Dunfermline in Fife offers tuition as does Foxlake in Dunbar and Dundee and Aberdeen Waterski & Wakeboard Club further north. In Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Loch Earn Watersports Centre, Loch Lomond Waterski Club and Loch Lomond Wakeboard will get you on the water having fun and in south-west Scotland head for Loch Ken Waterski School.

Glasgow Wake Park, Scotland’s first urban wakepark, can be found alongside Pinkston Watersports, making this a veritable watersports hotspot for beginners.

8. Try something a wee bit different!

If you’re looking for something a little more out of the ordinary, how about these?

Foxfall – Foxlake run two watersports centres in Dunbar and Dundee, where the focus is mainly on cable-run wakeboarding. If you want to try something different though, go for their Foxfall course featuring lots of challenging obstacles to overcome with no harness and a watery landing if you fall short!

River Tubing – it’s a simple concept really – after getting kitted out in a wet suit, buoyancy aid, helmet and some instruction, float down a gorge on a big inflatable rubber ‘doughnut’ with Nae Limits in Perthshire and Ace Adventures in Moray Speyside.

A school group river tubing with Nae Limits on the River Garry, Killiecrankie, Perthshire

A school group river tubing with Nae Limits on the River Garry, Killiecrankie, Perthshire

Waterballing – well it’s a watersport of sorts! Climb inside a giant inflatable ball filled with water and then hurtle down a Galloway hillside with Laggan Outdoors! It’s the closest you’ll come to being inside a washing machine!

Wobbly Waterpark – Galloway Activity Centre on Loch Ken run 1.5-hour sessions on their brilliant Wobbly Waterpark. Experienced instructors will show you how to overcome six inflatable challenges in the loch, which includes some big air off a giant air pillow and a splash into Loch Ken! They also have a 50-metre giant waterslide!

Wobbly waterpark fun at Galloway Activity Centre, Dumfries & Galloway

Wobbly waterpark fun at Galloway Activity Centre, Dumfries & Galloway

WOW Balling – similar to waterballing above, In Your Element offer a real WOW with Walk on Water balling on Loch Tay in Highland Perthshire. Willowgate Activity Centre in Perth run something similar, though they call it Aqua Zorbing. It’s almost like being a hamster on water!

These are just some of the options for beginners, but there are lots more watersports to try in Scotland. The future is also looking bright with Scotland’s first artificial surf park – Wavegarden Scotland, which will have the capacity to create up to 1,000 ocean-like waves per hour, due to open in 2021.

 

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