Top 10 Expeditions of 2021: #6: SUP around Britain

Over 141 days, Brendon Prince circumnavigated mainland Britain by stand-up paddleboard. He covered 4,203km, took over 8 million strokes, and tackled 7-metre waves. The 48-year-old became the first person to SUP around Britain, completed the first known SUP from Lands End to John O’Groats via the coast, and made the longest ever SUP journey.

He began his journey in Torquay, in southwest England. He paddled up the west coast, around Scotland, and then down the east coast back to Torquay. Prince told ExplorersWeb that his favorite sections were between Kintyre and Oban in Scotland because of its beauty, and the beaches in Northumberland and Norfolk because of the wildlife.

He particularly enjoyed seeing British landmarks as he paddled. “Blackpool Tower, the bridges in Newcastle, paddling past Dover Harbour: They’re exciting because they’re big landmarks,” he recalled. “I love nature and I love natural coastline. But let’s face it, once you’ve seen a limestone cliff, they all look pretty similar.”

Photo: thelongpaddle2021

 

No support boat

Prince undertook this circumnavigation in part to emphasize water safety. He was previously a lifeguard on the Devon coast. Five years ago, he had to drag three people from the water on the North Cornish coast, and none survived.

“It made me think that what I was doing wasn’t enough,” said Prince. “I wanted to do more to prevent drowning and most importantly, to educate people.”

Prince wanted to prove that his project could be done safely, without a support boat.  He did have a support vehicle on land, which was valuable for logistics and as a backup when he landed on the trickier beaches. But once he was on the water, Prince was completely by himself.

Sometimes, he made only 10km for 10 hours of paddling

Bad weather plagued him throughout the journey.

“I had 22 days [when I was] not on the water at all and I had another 30 days where I did under 10km in a day, even though I was paddling all day,” he said.

“One day I started paddling at seven in the morning and a guy was walking his dog. It got to about five that night, and the same guy came out to walk his dog again. He stopped and he shouted, ‘I can’t believe you are still paddling.’ I had only covered about six kilometres the whole day.”

The northwest coast was particularly challenging.  The man-made sea defenses in the area deflected the power of the sea, and the rebounding waves forced him to stay farther out to sea.

Photo: thelongpaddle2021

 

Longest day: 78km

He had initially thought that he could complete the journey in 90 days if the weather was good. And he is still certain that is a good estimate. The weather just wasn’t on his side. But despite the lost time and the short days, he averaged 10 hours and 40km a day on his board. On his longest day, he made 78km in 17 hours of paddling.

The bad weather brought big waves and swells. He became better at reading the weather and as his hours at sea accrued, so did his level of expertise.

“I’m not the paddler I was when I started,” Prince said. “Unless I had a 40 mile-an-hour wind in my face, I paddled. By the end of it, I was just going out and getting on with it. Big seas just don’t really worry me in a way that perhaps they did six months ago.”

Prince planned his route carefully and started in the areas that he had regularly paddled. He had done 100km paddles around Cornwall and Devon previously. He knew that crossing the Severn, Scotland, and the northwest coast would be the hardest sections. Starting in the south meant that by the time he reached these cruxes, he had hundreds more hours of experience under his belt.

Photo: thelongpaddle2021

 

Careful planning

By the time he got to Scotland, the big waves did not faze him at all.

“I was surfing down every wave that came through,” he said. “There was a seven-metre swell, with the wind at the top of the wave and then no wind in the trough. It’s great fun.”

A one- to two-metre chop was more dangerous because it continuously threw him from the board. On two occasions, Scotland winds rolling off the mountains caught him off guard. He solved this by heading further out to sea.

Over the 141 days, the physicality took its toll. Prince switched between six different paddle strokes to “keep my body fresh”. Although he ate 10,000 calories a day, he lost 13kg. The changes to his body became very evident.

“Regardless of how much you eat, your body reshapes itself,” he said. “I lost a lot of bulk because I didn’t need strength, I needed stamina. I lost a lot from my legs. By the end, they were useless for walking up steps or going for a run.”

Photo: thelongpaddle2021

 

The aftermath

The effort even affected his hands. By the end of the four-and-a-half months, they were like claws.

“I couldn’t really open and close my hands because they were wrapped around a paddle for so many days,” he recalled. “Only now have my hands got back to a level where I can open a jar.”

Later, his wife was upset that he kept the state of his hands a secret. “But if you articulate it, it’s real and it brings you down. And that is something I couldn’t afford.”

Prince took great pride in his unwavering positivity. Every day, he made a conscious effort to keep a smile on his face and power through. “Never moaning gets you through anything,” he said.

Photo: thelongpaddle2021

Rebecca is a freelance writer and science teacher based in the UK. She is a keen traveler and has been lucky enough to backpack her way around parts of Africa, South America, and Asia. With a background in marine biology, she is interested in everything to do with the oceans. Her areas of expertise include open water sports, marine wildlife and adventure travel.

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