Paddleboarding In Slovenia | SUPing in Eastern Europe
We get to ride some of the most cutting edge paddleboards on the planet
Most people haven't got a clue about Slovenia. They'd struggle to point it out on a map, describe what the country looks like, name its capital city or even tell you if the food is any good.
Over the past couple of years, Mpora has been doing its best to address the shameful lack of knowledge about this awesome European state. We've been exploring Slovenia's unspoiled backcountry skiing, half killing ourselves on it's mountain bike trails and now we can add riding a stand up paddleboard (SUP) across its stunning waterways to the list.
Slovenia is a nation that almost seems like God designed it for paddleboarding. Picturesque Alpine lakes filled with crystal clear mountain water, sheltered salt marshes, never ending rivers and breathtaking Adriatic coastline all combine to make Slovenia a paddleboarding playground.
On top of this, Slovenia is home to Sipa Boards, an international gang of creative minds making some of the most cutting edge paddleboards in the world. Formed back in 2014, this tight knit independent crew have successfully crowd funded two separate projects that are helping to revolutionise paddleboarding. So when Sipa offered to let us play with all their latest toys in some beautiful Slovenian spots, our boardies and towels were packed so quick it would make your head spin.
Messing About On The River
Landing at Jože Pučnik airport we got a glimpse of just how verdant Slovenia is. Forest and fields stretched out in all directions with the airport looking like a small, grey island in the middle of a lush green sea. Our first stop was Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana. Roughly a tenth the size of London Ljubljana is one of Europe's smaller capitals but it still bustles with energy and life.
We wandered down cobbled streets past designer stores, boutique cafés and terracotta roofed town houses, enjoying the city's unique mix of both traditional and modern style. Ljubljana had everything you'd need from a big city but was still small enough to be welcoming and accessible. It was a chilled place with all the benefits of a modern capital minus the intensity and stress you get from somewhere like London or Paris.
After a phenomenal lunch at AS Aperitvo of salt crusted beef and soufflé that tasted like a tiny chocolate cloud, we headed down to Ljubljana's main river, the Ljubljanica. As we arrived the Sipa crew were already getting our boards ready, giving us our first chance to see their smart board designs in action.
Can Your SUP Do This??
Anyone that's paddleboarded recently knows that inflatable boards are the way forward. Offering the same rigidity, performance and size as a regular board, inflatables are much easier to store and transport then traditional models. The only downside is all the pumping to get your board ready, which can quickly become the most knackering part of a SUP trip.
The Sipa guys were fed up with this too so they launched their Air range, self-inflating boards which can pump themselves up faster than you can squeeze into a wetsuit. Powered by a removable and rechargeable battery, Air boards have a small magnetic switch to start their built in motor which gets you ready to ride in minutes.
Pushing out into the Ljubljanica on one of Sipa's All Rounder boards it felt comfy and smooth in the water. At 11ft by 3ft this was a sturdy beast that was stable enough to dive off if you wanted to. Because it's tough to tip it was easy to ride for a relative beginner like me and the built in storage lines meant I could stash my back pack or a decent amount of extra gear if I was going on a longer trip.
Soon I was cruising almost effortlessly through the Slovenian capital, listening to voices echoing down from the riverside cafés above. In the warm evening sun, swapping banter with the Sipa guys we paddled under ornate stone bridges and tried to spot the large, beaver like nutrias that called the Ljubljanica home.
Our chilled afternoon was a great first taste of what paddleboarding in Slovenia had to offer. Having worked up an appetite we headed back into town to Soba 102, a restaurant owned by singer Jan Plestenjak, Slovenia's answer to David Hasselhoff. After a traditional Slovenian dinner of stuffed chicken, cream cake and tasty local wine, we hit the sack, keen to see what our next day of paddleboarding in Slovenia would bring.
Paddleboarding In Slovenia - Too Pretty To Be Real?
On top of being one of the greenest countries in Europe, Slovenia is also one of the most mountainous. With an average elevation of 557m above sea level, you're never far from a decent hike and some inspiring views. This peak laden landscape filters rain water down through the mountains through underground karst rivers producing the crystal clear, drinkable water that fills the country's beautiful Alpine lakes.
Our second day paddleboarding in Slovenia saw us following the Sava river into the mountains north west of Ljubljana, searching for the picturesque Lake Bled. Nestled in the Julian Alps, just on the edge of the Triglaw National Park, Lake Bled looks like a page torn from a fairytale.
Mirror like water surrounds a small, forested island, with a white church tower rising through the trees. Overlooking the lake, perched high on a limestone cliff, Bled castle puts the final tick on any fairytale photographer's wish list. Honestly, it must be impossible to take a bad photo here.
In a setting this romantic it was tough not to imagine some damsel in distress, eagerly awaiting rescue from that high white tower, so with heroic knight fantasies in full flow, we made our way down to the edge of the lake ready to head out on our quest.
Strong gusts of wind foiled our first launch attempt, pushing the paddleboards back to shore and lifting some of the spare boards off the dock. We made a swift but incredibly courageous retreat to a sheltered corner of the lake and relaunched. I opted for the all rounder again, figuring that stability would be the right choice for choppier conditions.
Two of the other members of our group were first time SUPers and they'd both gone for one of Sipa's powered Drive boards. These smart SUPs not only self inflate but also come with a jet propulsion system, capable of speeds up to 3.5 knots. A wireless controller built into the handle lets you adjust your speed, giving you an extra boost to your paddling.
Since day one on the Ljubljanica you could see how the powered boards helped beginners to build SUP confidence, giving them a steady forward speed so that they could concentrate on developing their balance. The Drive boards meant that with almost no experience our two newest paddleboarders were already prepared to try and tackle a fairly exposed and choppy lake. As the wind continued to push hard across the water a powered board was looking like a really good idea, but we soldiered on. This princess wasn't going to rescue herself.
Sadly the island turned out to be distinctly damsel free, but after a short potter around the church I really got to appreciate SUP as a way to explore new places. It took me seconds to land and launch my paddleboard from the island while hordes of tourists had to be shipped out and unloaded one by one from little ferry boats. I had the freedom to go at my own pace, exploring any stretch of shoreline that took my fancy but the other tourists were committed to a fixed ferry schedule. Paddling back with the wind in my hair, water lapping my toes and heart pumping I felt sure that I'd pick this way of travelling every time.
After a healthy slice of Bled's famous cream cake and some cracking lunch at a little spot called Danica Restaurant, we took a hike into the mountains to see a karst waterfall firsthand.
Bursting out of the rocks almost 200ft up, Slap Savica is an impressive sight. We followed the tumbling white water back down the mountain where it fed into the truly breathtaking Lake Bohinj. With the sun slipping gradually behind the mountains and sparkling across water that looked like liquid glass, this was one of the most chilled spots I've ever been in.
It was hard to leave Bohinj but we managed to drag ourselves to Vila Podvin for a dinner masquerading as modern art. Each dish looked too good to disturb with cutlery but we were glad that we did, especially for the dandelion soup. This stuff was so delicious that we won't look at soup or those little golden flowers the same way ever again.
For our last day in Slovenia we took a trip to the beach. Along most of Slovenia's short 46km coastline, white houses with terracotta roofs huddle together, framed by the deep blue sea. We drove through Portoroz, with it's pristine sandy beaches, explored the twisting lanes and alleys of Piran and munched exquisitely cooked seafood at RiziBizi.
What we'd really come to see though were the salt marshes at the edge of the Sečovlje Nature Park. Located right on Slovenia's border with Croatia the park is home to the Sečovlje salt flats where salt is produced using traditional methogs that date back 700 years. This quiet little spot is also the perfect place for launching SUPs into the Adriatic, but with reasonable onshore breeze and some pretty choppy conditions we decided to paddle alongside the marshes instead.
Photo: Lindsay Walsh
As it was our last day paddleboarding in Slovenia I had to try out Sipa's Drive system. Hopping back on one of the All Rounder boards I pushed out from the shore and thumbed the power button built into my paddle. With a quiet hum the compact, emission free motor kicked in and every stroke I made became easier.
Cruising past tall marsh grass and lines of moored boats I soon got the board up to top speed. With the added power my SUP was even easier to steer, carving through the water with every stroke. The onboard motor was powerful enough to keep the SUP moving even when I wasn't paddling, leaving me free to point the nose where I wanted to go and soak up my surroundings.
Pretty soon I was approached by a regular paddleboarder who'd heard about Sipa's powered boards but hadn't seen one in real life. We chatted over how easy it was to use and when we were done it took just a few strokes to open a lead on him and catch up with the rest of my group.
On the return leg I switched up to a Cruiser board. The streamlined shape of this model made it the fastest in the range, easily outpacing the other Drive boards we were paddling with. With it's lower profile the Cruiser took more balance than the comfy All Rounder I was used to, but the Drive system meant I could paddle less and concentrate more on my stability, so I soon got the hang of it.
Chatting to one of the Sipa crew I discovered that Sipa meant cuttlefish in Slovenian which seemed pretty fitting for the cruiser. It's sleeker lines, smooth style and quiet motor almost made it feel like you were riding a tame sea creature rather than a board.
Heading back to our launch site I was tempted to take a pop at some real sea SUPing. Running at top speed the drive system helped me get out against the onshore wind and choppy waves, saving me the energy I needed get back on the board every time I fell off. After my third or fourth dunking I turned the board back to shore and headed home. With the wind at my back and the drive system full on this was the fastest I'd ever gone on a paddleboard. Bouncing across the waves with sun shining off the water it was impossible to fight the giant, gleeful smile spreading across my face.
Later that night after a bracing walk round the Kamnik-Savinja Alps and another delicious serving of Slovenian cooking, that grin was still there. Sinking into bed at the Repnik Pension, surrounded by the majestic mountains I felt truly blessed to have experienced this beautiful country, and found myself already looking forward to another Slovenian adventure.
Looking to plan your own Slovenia trip? Then head to slovenia.info for everything you need to know about the country.
Wizz Air operates four weekly 2hr 20 min flights to Ljubljana on Tuesdays, Thur
If you want to get your hands on a Sipa SUP then check out Sipaboards.com.