In spring 2017, half way through walking the length of Britain, I stayed with Sean Conway after having been on crutches for a week with tendonitis. While at that point my focus was on getting to the end of the walk, his world first length of Britain triathlon was bouncing around in my head. As I finished the walk looking out over the balmy Cornish sea I wondered if I could do a water based adventure too.
The main problem with this idea is my fear of the sea. It's not so much the vastness of it all that bothers me, more the massive unknown. I've never surfed or been into water sports. I don't know anything about tides or waves or what lies beneath. Both my parents and I nearly drowned when we were younger so I've never viewed the sea as an inviting adventure playground.
As such I knew right off the bat that swimming it was out of the question, particularly after Sean's tales of jelly fish! But as I looked into it more I saw that no one had ever stand up paddle boarded it before. The idea of being the first really appealed - there would be no time to beat, I could just paddle at my own pace, dealing with my fear as I went and simply getting to the end would be enough.
Due to my inexperience, I needed 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 was due to start all I had was my photographer Liam Morrell. I didn’t have a skipper. In fact, I didn’t even have my support boat sorted for the whole trip yet, or the funds to buy one.
Despite this 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). 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. After these first two days Liam stepped up to skipper us the rest of the way, having only had 2 days prior experience on a yacht, and we had some wonderful people come and joins us to help along the way.
Starting before I was ready was my main lesson on this adventure - inexperienced, lacking crew, funds and equipment I set out anyway and made it to the end. But as many of you know, the paddle didn't quite turn out the way I'd hoped. Cal Major, ranked 3rd in the UK women's SUP league, set out just two weeks after me to fight for the title of first person to SUP LEJOG. Going via a different route, self supported and on a hard board, her journey was very different to mine and in the end she made it to John O'Groats 1 week before me. Other than sports days at school, I'd never raced anyone before and it was a whole new experience that taught me a lot about why I adventure, my own abilities and how having support helps and hinders progress.
I may not have been the first person to SUP LEJOG over all, but I was the first person to do it on an inflatable board, something which I doubt will be beaten anytime soon, given how much more efficient it is on a hard board. 81 days after setting off I paddled into John O'Groats to complete SUP Britain and in the process become the first woman to complete a length of Britain triathlon. Along the way I also become the first woman to SUP across the Irish Sea. I couldn't be more proud of taking on such a scary adventure and coming out smiling.
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