Wake Up to watersports in Royal Docks
Wake up to a fast-growing sport that’s taking London by storm – adrenaline junkies are taking life by the horns and flying high above the water at WakeUp Docklands
The water in Royal Victoria Dock is a lot warmer than one might think.
I know, because I’m floating in it, wetsuit and helmet suitably donned, waiting for an electric cable to swing round and pick me up.
I’m at WakeUp Docklands trying to wakeboard – a sport that sees a rider skim over the water on what is effectively an adapted snowboard, pulled either by boat or, in this case, a cable.
The club has been at Royal Victoria Beach since 2012, part of a bid by then-mayor Boris Johnson to inject life into Royal Docks ahead of the Olympics, but has recently been taken over by Rider Ltd.
Its founder, Jon Byrne, has been riding at the club since 2012 and praises the community of like-minded members as its selling point – a legacy he is keen to continue now he’s at the helm.
“I went through a big change when I found this place,” said the 36-year-old.
“It was after a couple of redundancies that happened in very quick succession when I really started spending a lot more time in the docks and coaching.
“I decided very consciously I didn’t want to go back to my digital career and that if I could have any purpose in what I was doing, it had to be coaching people and sharing these sports and activities that we love.
“What I find here is that people can have fantastic careers and be in other industries across London and the UK but there is the commonality that we all absolutely love these board sports.
“And we’ve started growing a small community over the last few years that is really supportive and engaging.”
He explained: “I haven’t found anything outside of a ski season that has this kind of community vibe to it.
“After a long day in the office and you’ve been slogging it out on the transport network to get here and you turn up and see people riding and everyone smiling and enjoying the water and the sunshine, it doesn’t feel like you’re in London.
“It’s a little oasis.”
I haven’t found anything outside of a ski season that has this kind of community vibe to it Jon Byrne, WakeUp Docklands
Even on the greying afternoon we attend, WakeUp Docklands makes you feel like you are somewhere else entirely.
Lucky, because that’s exactly what Jon is trying to achieve.
“The idea for Rider Ltd was to start it as a brand rather than a company more than anything because we wanted to get people into these types of rider sports,” he said.
“The reason being is that you see the transformational health benefits of people who are out on the water – they become animated, they’re not concentrating on their day-to-day worries.
“It’s a fantastic way to reconnect with yourself.”
Despite benefiting hugely from Wharfers and City-goers keen to escape the corporate landscape, Jon said WakeUp Docklands was still, for some, very much a hidden gem.
“We’re visible from the Emirates Air Line that lands here from The O2, so we’re being seen by people who don’t necessarily expect to see wakeboarding,” he said.
“Normally, if you’re going to go waterskiing or wakeboarding, you think, ‘I’m going to go to the lake today’ – it’s a premeditated activity.
“Whereas we benefit from a lot of foot traffic going to the Excel centre and also London City Airport so we’re exposing the sport to a range of people who wouldn’t normally see it.
“Every day we get people come by and say they never knew this existed. They want to get involved – it’s great.”
Tempted? With the club now open for the season and plans for an outdoor bar set to be completed by June, summer is the perfect time to play.
“I would say to those who have seen it and are maybe tentative about trying it, you don’t need to be the world’s strongest swimmer, you don’t need to be the world’s strongest person.
“Although it’s a physical sport, the more you can relax with wakeboarding, the more you’ll find there is a rhythm and a flow to it that is really quite something.
“Of all the board sports, I would say cable wakeboarding specifically like we have here at WakeUp is probably the most accessible and it’s also the one with the quickest progression trajectory.
“If you don’t try it, you’ll never know how much fun it is.”
Jon Byrne, founder of WakeUp Docklands, says the sport has a great vibe
Jon Byrne takes a flying leap, demonstrating how cable wakeboarding can be a huge leap of faith