It’s 8:30pm on Friday 20 April and I’m sat having dinner with Liam, my SUP Britain photographer. We’re in the onsite restaurant of our St Ives campsite feeling slightly out of place. Dressed as you’d expect for an adventure we look a tad disheveled, in what is a much nicer restaurant than we expected. Plus, we’ve brought all our tech in to see if we can sneakily charge everything ready for the morning.
Tomorrow is the first day of good weather for weeks. It is THE day. The start of another adventure. And the nerves are building. While Liam scoffs down a huge steak, I can barely stomach my carbonara, which he ends up finishing. I’m far more nervous than normal. Not least because I’m scared of the sea.
SUP Britain for me is my biggest challenge yet. I’m not a water baby. I’ve never surfed and have virtually no experience in the sea. Having only stand up paddle boarded on the sea 3 times before this day, the idea of being out there for months with so many unknowns, paddling from Lands End to John O’Groats in an attempt to set 3 new world records, fills me with nausea inducing anxiety.
There’s also another reason I’m nervous. Due to my inexperience, I need a support team. Preferably a support boat with skipper and photographer; to make sure I don’t die, and to capture the moment in case I do. But with less than 24 hours before I’m due to start I don’t yet have a skipper. In fact, I don’t even have my support boat sorted for the whole trip yet, or the funds to buy one.
Am I crazy? I thought the idea of a woman with little SUP experience taking on the world’s fastest growing water sport to achieve a world first would be a hell of a marketing opportunity. For a company with similar values around pushing potential, dreaming big and supporting women to believe in themselves, surely this is something they’d be keen to support. While I managed to secure some awesome kit sponsors and generate some great publicity, I couldn't find a title sponsor.
As my start date drew closer people kept asking me “aren’t you worried it won’t all come together in time?”, “at what point will you give up and call it off?”. But I never had any intention of calling it off. I wanted desperately to do this, despite my fear, paddling inexperience and lack of funds/skipper/boat. I figured, if I kept believing it was possible, I will keep making all those small actions that will eventually bring what I need to make it happen. The potential “what if” was too big not to continue.
I had to go now. I had to make a start and make sure that it would all come together along the way, to make it past the start line and 800 miles up the coast to the finish.
Two weeks later and Liam and I are back at St Ives. I set off on my SUP on 21st April from Lands End with a locally hired support boat and skipper (which cost an insane amount of money so I couldn’t do this for more than that first weekend). I managed to paddle round 20 miles in those first two days. Since then I secured a personal loan to make the expedition happen and bought a 32ft sailing yacht as my support boat, despite not knowing a thing about boats or sailing.
And what about the skipper? Well, I quickly realised on meeting Liam, my photographer, that his experience as a SUP instructor would be invaluable in helping hone my paddling technique. And it turned out his experience as a powerboat and dingy instructor meant it wasn’t too much of a leap for him to learn to sail my support boat in just a day.
From 6 May onwards Liam skippered my support boat and recorded my adventure. Over the proceeding weeks my confidence on the water grew and we made progress up the coast, enjoying incredible scenery and paddling in some amazing weather. On 31 June I become the first women in history to SUP across the Irish Sea, sharing my story on BBC Breakfast, and continued on to John O’Groats, becoming the first person to SUP the length of Britain on an inflatable board. Plus, added to my previous walk and cycle, I'm now the first woman in history to complete a length of Britain triathlon.
It feels incredible to think what I’ve achieved, when there were so many moments at which I could have ducked out. And no one would have blamed me. It looked impossible. It looked like it wasn’t going to work. But I’ve learnt that there’s always a way forward, and I certainly don’t need to be ready in order to start. If I really believe in something, anything is possible.