Will the real Bill Bailey please stand up
in Bali and we tried out paddle boarding, but of course I got on a race board and it was impossible.”
Undeterred by the failure, he decided to keep going. “I persevered, and then I came back here and thought, this is something I’d like to try more of. I just bought a board and I went off on trips on the river, lakes and canals and I really loved it. I got completely hooked on it.” Bailey fell in love with its simplicity and freedom – and the eerie naturalness of standing upright on the water, which he claims has long cultural precedent.
“I just think it’s an ancient thing. When you’re on the board and you’re on water it always feels like it’s an old thing that humans have done. I always thought this was some fanciful notion and then a few years ago I was in Tasmania, down in the south in Melaleuca, an old Aboriginal settlement. We were taken along these walkways to this beautiful lagoon that looked like a mirror and there on the side of the bank was what looked like an ancient paddle board. It was the same size and dimensions and length as this board but it was made out of bark. They stood on them and used a paddle, 40,000 years ago.”
It’s sometimes hard with Bailey to know whether you’re having your leg pulled, but he insists that his tale of neolithic Australasian paddle boarders is genuine. Yet even if the pastime has a millennia-old pedigree, on the Thames it’s the rowers who behave like the rightful aristocracy.
As we paddle upriver towards Kew, we have to give way to the eights, fours and scullers who are exercising an ancient privilege to row on the wrong side of the river, known as “working the slacks”. We manage to weave between the crews of rowers without incident. Bailey is surprisingly quick and I find myself struggling to keep up with him. He has been an enthusiastic and intrepid traveller throughout his