ASI SUP Instructors paddle from Ireland to the UK

A group of 4 experienced paddlers, two of which are ASI SUP Instructors, took on the challenge of Stand Up Paddling from Ireland to the UK in aid of the RNLI charity, a feat never been done before. This is their story.

Peter, Stephen, Killian, and John from Ireland decided to take on the challenge back in 2016 and gave themselves a year to train. For Peter, the idea had been brewing for many years earlier as his uncle Liam had windsurfed from Dublin to Wales, UK back in the 1980’s and he wanted to replicate the 110km challenge on a Stand Up Paddle board.

Peter recruited Stephen, John and Killian who were all keen paddlers but 10km was about their distance limit. There was a good mix of experience in the group with Stephen and Peter being qualified ASI SUP instructors and as well as being very competent paddlers the other two lads had lots of experience in other sporting disciplines such as cycling, swimming and running.

Throughout the year they trained for the challenge. This involved SUP and fitness training, researching equipment and nutrition, learning about sea and weather conditions and creating a safety plan.

The training was challenging and involved paddling all year round in every condition that was thrown at them. Stephen says: “I'll never forget the morning when I went to get my booties off the washing line before a paddle and they were frozen solid and when we arrived on the beach the sand was coated with a layer of frost.” There was lots of running, swimming, cycling, and yoga to keep our fitness up to scratch.

The equipment testing involved lots of trial and error. They tested lots of different boards, paddles, backpacks, clothing and buoyancy aids until they found the combination that worked best for long distance paddles. They also had to plan and trial different food and drink options.

The last piece of the puzzle was planning their safety. Using the ASI's risk assessment template they worked closely with the RNLI and their support crew to make sure they covered every eventuality.

Working on the weather window on 5th August everything fell into place and they began their epic journey. Stephen tells it in his own words.

“It all started at 2:00am in the morning at Skerries lifeboat station when we walked away from the comfort of the lifeboat station and our well-wishers, pick up our boards and paddles and head off into the darkness with only the lights on the support boat to guide us.

“The relaxed banter that we were used to during our training paddles was replaced with a nervous edginess as the lumpy swell bounced off the sides of our boards.

“All of our thoughts and energy were focused on staying up and not ending up in the drink. As the sun rose it brought a little relief but the swell was still really challenging. We kept waiting for it to get easier and hoped that the downwinder conditions we planned for would kick in and we could relax a little but it never really happened.

“The swell took its first victim when Killian was hit by severe sea sickness after 5-6 hours. He was picked up by the support boat and we ploughed on. We started to get into a bit of a rhythm with the 3 of us sticking close together and breaking every couple of hours for a food and water top up.

“Despite the crew in the support boat giving us the moral support we needed, the conditions weren't letting up and soon Peter became the second victim. He was cramping up continuously, his knees were agony and were swelling badly.

“Myself and John were just numb when we saw him leaving us, we just didn't know what to say or imagine what he was going through. We knew we had to keep going but fatigue was starting to kick in.

Getting to Holyhead just didn't seem like an option now and we talked about setting a target of 75 km and just giving it our all to that point. Even though we stuck close together, chatting wasn't an option as we were concentrating so hard on watching the side swipes from the swells and trying to stay balanced. As well as feeling physically wiped out, the loneliness, monotony and static landscape were taking its toll on our minds.

“Our 75km target came and went and John seemed to find another gear and started to pull away from me. There were about another 5 hours to go and I just didn't have enough in the engine to keep going for that long. I was physically and mentally wrecked and just couldn't take anymore and made the decision to call it a day.

“But Stephen on the support boat wasn't having any of it. He got Peter up from his bed and between them they told me everything that I didn't want to hear but they weren't letting me give up. I still have no idea how they managed it but with lots of encouragement and a few Jaffa cakes, they got me through the next few hours of hell until the end seemed like a possibility again.

“As the South Stack finally started to get closer, I got the brilliant news that I had been hoping for when they confirmed that John had made it! A sense of pride, excitement, and relief swept through the entire team. That gave me the final nudge I needed and somehow, I dragged myself over the line about 45mins later.

“We both collapsed into the water as we finished and had to be pulled on to the support boats by the lads. I'll never forget the feeling as long as I live. Alan on the support boat made me the nicest cup of tea I've ever had and I sat there drinking it and reflecting on what had just happened. All I could think about was what everyone had done for each other over the last couple of weeks and in particular today. Nothing happened as we expected it to but the 11 (4 paddlers and 7 support crew) of us that set off from Skerries, Dublin almost 20 hours earlier had completed our challenge.

“I was so grateful that I had the chance to be part of it and to be surrounded by such an amazing group of people.”

An incredible feat and reflecting all he learned on the journey Stephen’s advice to anyone thinking of taking on such a challenge is: “Take the time to think about safety on the water and never get complacent. Think about what might go wrong and how you plan to react to  it. No matter how hard you plan, things never go exactly as you expected but it's still important to do it and to surround yourself with good people who will have your back when things go wrong which they inevitably will!!

Congratulations to the ASI SUP Instructors and experienced paddlers for attempting and completing such a challenging and dangerous journey.

 

 

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ASI (Academy of Surfing Instructors), is the worldwide peak body for Instructors and Coaches in the outdoor recreation and sport industry for surfing, stand up paddle and bodyboarding.
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