Interested to know which summer sports activities thrived during the pandemic? We analysed the data and here are the results.
The past two summers have been different from any other any of us have experienced. We wanted to see how this impacted the types of sports we did to help release the stress of living through this worldwide pandemic, seeing as some of our normal sporting activities were prohibited by social distancing and health safety guidelines.
|Outdoor summer sports||Google trends +/-|
|Paddle boarding||+ 176%|
|Open water swimming||+ 64%|
|Hiking||+ 26 %|
|Rollerblading||+ 12 %|
|Running||+ 10 %|
|Road cycling||+ 9%|
|Mountain biking||+ 5%|
|Kitesurfing||- 18 %|
We used Google Trends to analyse the popularity of sports activities in the two summers before the pandemic compared to the two summers during the pandemic in order to determine the increase in popularity of each activity.
A quick review showed we have three standout winners. It seems this season all we wanted was to be one with the water, with paddleboarding and wild swimming taking the search results by storm. Results for paddleboard searches are up a whopping 176%, and open water swimming is up by 64% too. Skateboarding is sandwiched in between these two watersports with an increase of 112%.
It is also clear, regardless of the year or the season, we love adventure sports that get our adrenaline pumping. Mountain biking, hiking, and surfing remain popular as we spent more time exploring our own countries and holidaying locally.
Curious to know more? Right, let's get into it.
Paddleboarding or SUP (stand-up paddleboarding) saw a huge growth of 176% in 2020/21 compared to the previous period, and it’s easy to see why. Not only is it an enjoyable way to explore and spend time on the water, but it’s also great for fitness, balance, and core strength.
The origins of SUP are often attributed to ancient societies that used wooden boards and paddles to fish from, but it wasn’t born as a sport until 1939 when surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku was spotted paddling his surfboard.
Paddleboarding is a perfect activity to give a go this summer -- it is easy to learn and rental equipment is widely available in spots that are popular for the sport. You can pick up the basics quickly then get yourself out on the water to enjoy!
Wast Water in Cumbria is one of the best places in the UK to paddleboard. Found in a quiet corner of the Lake District, with mountains including Scafell Pike towering over the water, the views are hard to beat. You can do a 10km round trip starting and finishing in the North-East corner of the lake. On your way around make sure to stop at the North beach and walk to St Olaf’s -- one of England’s smallest Churches. Rental equipment, lessons, and tours are available.
Since it was announced that for the first time that Skateboarding would feature in the next Summer Olympics its popularity has soared, giving it a growth of 112%.
It is a great mode of transport and good for improving balance and core strength. There are different board options available depending on what you’re planning to do -- a cruiser or longboard is more suitable as a mode of transportation, whereas street skating requires a more agile and lightweight board. Whatever you decide to go for, as a beginner, look for a ‘complete’ board, which is a ready-made entry-level board, rather than buying all the components with the mind to assemble it yourself. Thick socks to protect your ankles from bumps and a pair of skate shoes will give you a good base to start from.
Once you’ve got your kit, find a quiet, flat area to get the hang of the basics then think about hiring a guide or having some lessons so that you’re starting with good technique. Once you feel comfortable heading to your local skate park, don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice from those with more experience. You’ll find other skateboarders are usually happy to lend a hand or offer tips.
Southbank on the banks of the River Thames in London is one of the most iconic skate parks in the World. It is over forty years old and is often cited as the birthplace of British skating. It is free to use and has various features including stairs and ledges. Skate videos are often filmed there and you might even find the odd skating icon hanging around if you’re lucky.
If you’re looking for a Summer activity that’s fun and challenging, with a wide range of health benefits, then look no further than open water swimming. It’s no wonder that it has a growth rate of 64%.
Rather than jumping into the nearest body of water, visit one of the swim centres up and down the country for your first taste of the open water. Most will offer wetsuit hire and coaching to get you started. Bear in mind that even confident swimmers will find it more difficult to swim in the open than a pool, as you’ll be affected by wind, tides and fatigue. As a benchmark, you should be able to swim twice the distance indoors without stopping as you may be able to in open water.
As well as being a great low-impact exercise, the health benefits of swimming in cold water are numerous and include boosts to mood, circulation, immune system and metabolism, and even better sleep.
In the UK one of the best places to try open water swimming is Capernwray Dive Centre, a former limestone quarry in Lancashire. The centre has some of the cleanest water in the country, and visibility is so good that you can spot some of the wrecks which have been sunk there -- including boats and light aircraft. The centre has good facilities and often organises swims and races.
Pulling on your walking boots and getting out into nature has to be one of the easiest and best ways to spend a day in summer, so it's no wonder then that hiking has seen an upshot of 26%. As well as mental health benefits, walking is great cardio, uses all your muscle groups with little risk of injury, and you don’t need to be super fit to enjoy it.
You won't need a huge amount of gear to get started -- most important, are a pair of comfortable boots or shoes, which can be lightweight or more robust depending on what you’re planning to do. Clothing wise, you’ll need good quality socks, a waterproof jacket and layers to put under it depending on weather, as well as a hat (either for sun protection or warmth). A practical rucksack is vital, in which you’ll need extra layers, sun cream, a first aid kit, penknife, water, snacks and a map.
On your first hiking trips, don’t start with a route that’s too long and challenging -- it’s important to build up as your fitness increases. Think about joining a local walking group -- it’s a great way to meet like-minded people and get ideas for new routes.
The UK is blessed with some fabulous hiking routes, one of which is the Brecon Beacons Four Waterfalls walk near Ystradfellte. This 4.5 mile circular route will take you through woods and meadows, passing limestone scenery and gorges as you follow the River Mellte. The walk takes you behind one of the four spectacular waterfalls and is easy enough to be tackled by anyone with an average fitness level.
Want an accessible summer sport that’s quick to learn and adrenaline-fueled? Then wakeboarding could be the answer. Its evolution rate was +19% and with wakeboarding centres up and down the country where you can get a taste for the sport, it's a great time to strap onto a board and give it a go.
You’ll need lessons to get you started off but you’ll find that you soon pick up the basics and it won't be long before you’ve got the hang of it. It’s a good idea to start off with rental equipment as setups can be expensive, but if you get to the point when you want your own board then look for a second-hand one to cut costs, or ask at rental shops as they might sell off last season's gear allowing you to grab a bargain.
You do need to invest in a decent wetsuit though as you’ll find cheap ones are uncomfortable and won't keep you as warm. Beginners to wakeboarding will find it tough on the arms and core but once you get your technique down it’s a great, fun workout.
In the UK, Sheffield Cable Waterski and Aqua Park is an ideal place to learn. Located in the scenic Rother Valley Country Park, it’s the biggest cable water park in the North of England. You’ll find a full-size cable system and great facilities. Courses for all abilities are available and there are a good selection of obstacles to tackle as you improve.
You might associate rollerblading with the 70s, but rest assured, it has an evolution rate of +12%, so is still popular today.
As well as being an enjoyable way to exercise, there are plenty of health benefits that come along with it. Rollerblading increases your heart rate, engages your core, uses and stretches muscles in your whole body and provides as much of a cardio workout as running with less stress on your joints.
Best of all you don’t need much equipment to get started -- just a pair of skates, a helmet and some knee, wrist, and elbow pads. Your skates don’t have to be expensive but they should support your ankles and feel firm around the feet.
Talking about safety, it's a good idea to learn how to fall safely to avoid injury, and if you’re skating in a crowded area be aware of those around you. Also, if the weather is wet, stay at home as surfaces will become slippery and hard to stop on.
Brighton seafront in the South of England stretches over ten miles with paths and promenades that are perfect for rollerblading. This Victorian seaside resort with its pebble beach and glittering water provides a perfect backdrop for skating, and there’s even a company based there that offers lessons if you’re starting from scratch or want to brush up on your skills.
You’d be hard pushed to find an easier sport to get into than running, and it’s the perfect activity to try in summer when the weather is better and the nights lighter. With this in mind, it’s clear to see why it has an evolution rate of 10%.
As well as the mental health benefits that come along with regular exercise, running is thought to have physical benefits too, including reducing the risk of some types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and high blood pressure.
It’s a cheap sport to take up as well, with your only real expense being a good pair of running trainers. It’s worth investing in having them properly fitted at a running shop where they will assess your gait and style in order to find a pair that will suit you. Doing this will avoid injury and discomfort.
If you’re brand new to running, following a plan is a good idea. This will slowly allow you to increase your fitness, without injuring yourself or becoming disheartened with your progress.
The UK has some great places to run -- one of them being Beachy Head in Sussex. You can take in the sea views, white chalk cliffs, lush woodland and shingle beaches while you rack up the kilometers. If you’re more experienced or want something to train for, consider the annual Beachy Head marathon. If that’s too optimistic there is also a half marathon or 10km option.
Road cycling has increased in popularity recently, with a jump of 9%. Although there is more equipment required to get started than some of the sports we’ve mentioned, once you get the bug it’s a fabulous way to explore and see new places.
Obviously, your biggest investment will be a road bike. You might want to look out for a second-hand one to get you started, but be aware that you could be faced with a hefty bill the first time you get it serviced. If you want to buy new, it’s worth visiting your local bike shop as they will be able to give advice on the best fit for you based on what you’re planning to do. Other than a bike, you’ll need a helmet, clipped shoes, lights (a legal requirement at night), lock, multitool, and water bottle. Invest in a puncture repair kit and practice with it, so you know what to do in the event of a flat tyre. Clothing wise you’ll need a pair of padded shorts, and a cycling jersey or breathable top. Consider joining a cycling club -- it’s a great way to meet other cyclists in your area and get to know good local routes.
Scotland has some of the best road cycling in the UK with the Assynt Achiltibuie Circular a particular standout. This 70-mile loop in the North West of the country will take you through stunning and wild coastal scenery in the Highlands, passing deserted lochs and beaches. It’s challenging but well worth it for the spectacular views.
Surfing is surely the ultimate summer sport. You might not consider the UK as a great surfing destination, but the estimated 500,000 regular surfers in the country certainly do. Those looking to join their ranks have given the sport an evolution rate of 8%.
It might be tempting to grab a board and hit the waves, but it’s recommended to start your surfing career with some lessons to avoid picking up bad habits. There are lots of different skills to learn and patience is key -- don’t expect to be able to do it immediately. When hiring equipment, be honest about your ability. You need a bigger, more buoyant board to learn on, and it's important to have the right gear to help you progress. Invest in a decent wetsuit if you’re going to be surfing regularly in the UK as the waters are cold.
Although surfing is great fun, remember that the sea is dangerous and conditions can change quickly. Check out Magic Seaweed for information on the surf conditions, tides, sunrise and sunset times, as well as beach information like riptides. It also gives hints and tips on where to park, where the best breaks are, and plenty of other stuff to help you get the most from your time in the water.
Portrush in Northern Ireland is one of the best surf spots in the UK. Although a little chilly, this seaside resort town has a well-established scene and some award-winning surf schools. The picturesque mile-long peninsula provides consistent waves and there's plenty of beachfront cafes to warm up in afterwards.
Windsurfing is an exhilarating and dynamic sport that can be picked up and enjoyed quickly. And with 7723 miles of coastline around the UK it’s no wonder it saw an increase of of 6%.
Although the basics of windsurfing are fairly easy to grasp, you will need tuition before you hit the water. As well as controlling the board and sail you’ll need to understand wind direction and some sailing theory otherwise you’ll find it a frustrating experience.
Luckily there are plenty of windsurfing clubs up and down the country where you can hire equipment and take lessons. Once you’re up on the board the sport is great for core and upper body strength as well as balance, not to mention the mood-boosting benefits of being on the water.
If you’re looking to learn in the UK then West Wales Wind in Pembrokeshire is a great place to start. Inside a National Park and known as one of the sunniest places in Wales, the area has a wide, sheltered bay with shallow water -- perfect for beginners. With mild winters, and superb year-round wind conditions, you’d be hard pushed to find a better place to start your windsurfing adventure.
Mountain biking is considered by some to be the most fun you can have on two wheels. It is also brilliant cardio and adrenaline-pumping, so unsurprisingly, its evolution rate is 5%.
Mountain bikes differ from road and commuter bikes in that they are more solid and sturdy in order to handle rough terrain. They also have wider tyres and a lower gear range for tackling hills, suspension to deal with bumps and drops, and heavy-duty disc brakes to all for sudden stopping.
A mountain bike could be an expensive start-up cost for a new hobby, so consider hiring one to get the feel of it or look for second-hand. Other than a bike you’ll need a helmet and gloves. There are bike centres around the country where you can hire equipment and ride trails graded by difficulty, and the UK has lenient access laws, meaning that there is a huge amount of terrain that can be explored by bike.
If you’re looking for miles of trails to get your teeth into then look no further than Dalby Forest in North Yorkshire. As one of the biggest trail centres in the UK, Dalby has a huge amount of terrain of varying difficulty through 8000 acres of beautiful woodland filled with wildlife. The centre has good facilities including bike hire and organises various events throughout the year.
Canoeing is an excellent way to be out on the water and spend some time in nature whilst getting some exercise. It has seen an evolution rate of -4% possibly due to the growth in popularity of other water sports during this period.
The canoe has been used as a method of transport for thousands of years, but today there are lots of different types of canoe or kayak that are suitable for different things.
Buying a boat is a big investment, so to get started this summer, try a taster or beginner course at a canoeing club where you’ll be shown the basics of how to paddle properly and what to do if you capsize. From there you look at getting your own equipment or becoming a club member.
Other than your boat you’ll need a paddle (the type will depend on the boat you’re using), a life jacket and potentially a helmet. Canoeing is a great core and upper body workout, but bear in mind that if you’re new to it start with short sessions to build strength up as you may be using new muscles.
The River Fal in Cornwall is a beautiful place for a canoeing trip within the UK. The area has a long maritime history, and the river itself leads into a tidal estuary with a unique system of waterways and diverse landscapes. There are small creeks and inlets which are perfect for exploring and plenty of picnic spots to moor up at.
Despite an evolution rate of -18%, kitesurfing remains a popular summer sport for those looking for a way to get blood pumping and adrenaline going.
Despite what you might think, you don’t need a high level of fitness to have a go, as the harness takes a lot of the pull of the kite, but you will need to be comfortable in open water. Due to the extreme nature of the sport, it is essential that you have some lessons to get you started. If you don’t know how to control the powerful kite you could put yourself and others in danger, plus equipment is expensive so you’ll want to rent it while you're learning.
Other than the kite and board you’ll need a wetsuit (depending on where you’re learning!), helmet, boots and a buoyancy aid.
The South-East coast of the UK has some great kitesurfing spots, one of which is New Hunstanton in Norfolk. It's a great, safe environment for beginners as the sand bar provides flat water and the prevailing south-westerly wind provides stable and predictable conditions. The local kitesurfing club offers lessons and equipment hire and the beach even played host to the 2015 British Kitesurfing Championships.