On 5th May 2018, Sian Sykes became the first person to complete a solo-unsupported 1000km circumnavigation of Wales by stand up paddleboard, all while raising awareness about single-use plastics.
A first-person account.
I am in my late 30’s, recently divorced, I have no commitments. Everyone around me is settling down, having another child, for me, I am far removed from it. I am drawn to the attraction of a simple life, to get away from it all. I guess you can call me a free-spirited soul. I have a yearning to travel, seek adventure, and I am happy on my own. I am happiest outside, I have a deep connection with the outdoors. I thrive off all the wild elements it offers me. I get supercharged and feel invigorated to embrace the wild elements mother nature throws at me.
I fell in love with paddleboarding when I was first introduced to it by friends. I absolutely loved the experience it brought me, a freedom to journey without the faff, floating on water, a bird’s-eye view, the ability to get away from it all, to find inner peace and to connect with nature. To have absolute appreciation for what the great outdoors has to offer.
Stand up paddleboarding gives you the freedom to adventure and that’s what my recent trip brought me. I have just returned from an expedition around Wales (UK), a 1000km journey along rivers, canals, roads and the ocean. I did the trip solo and unsupported. I was on a path of pushing my comfort zones, testing my physical and mental ability to get on with it.
Before I set off, I spent a considerable amount of time preparing for the expedition, research, training, planning and exploring all potential risks and how to mitigate them. However, when the day came when I embarked on my expedition I had lots of unknown—where will I stay each night, what will I encounter, who will I meet along the way? I had a small amount of apprehension as a lone female traveller journeying through urban areas—will it be safe? However, every day was different and I never once felt threatened or indeed ever lonely. I enjoyed the solitude being on the water, it gave me the clarity to just focus on me and nothing else mattered. I so needed it too, it allowed me to escape from the day-to-day stress and the consumption of stuff. It all melted away and all I focused on was just me—get up, eat, check conditions, pack, paddle, set up camp, eat, plan for the next day, sleep and repeat. I loved the simplicity of it all. Just surviving from two 40L expedition duffle bags, far removed from clutter and unnecessary stuff.
During the expedition, I always had several options to choose from of possible places I would reach, depending on the weather and water conditions or how I was feeling. It was literally plans of potential A-Z options. I liked the unknown of where I would get to and what I would face once off the water. Every day was different and I enjoyed it. I went with the flow and adapted to the conditions of the water and what I encountered.
Video Credit: Eastwood Media
The only pressures I had were key moments to jump on the water to take advantage of a strong tide or I had to paddle like stink to pass MOD firing ranges or across busy shipping channels. The other pressure was to charge up devices. As I was travelling solo and unsupported, the coastguard requested for me to keep my VHF on whilst on the water, so I had to come onto land to charge them up. I picked 2 months where the weather is so changeable and this year particular it was overcast, it affected the opportunity to charge devices from solar panels. So I relied on the kindness of strangers to allow me to hook up and charge my VHF and mobile phone. It was also a good opportunity to chat to locals to gain further insight to the area and any potential tricky spots. However, a few people along the way would put their insecurities on me, with their worries of certain areas of complex water, but I reassured them I knew what I was doing, experienced and happy to do it solo and unsupported.
Some people were amazed I was doing the trip this style as it was almost unheard of to do it independently. It was all about the planning, timing and the right conditions to do it successfully. I was once offered a tow from a fishing boat, and I explained I was more than happy to paddle. And then when they mistakingly thought I was a nurse for my profession, they said they could do with being looked after. I just looked at them and thought to myself, do I look like the type of women who would make an ideal domesticated goddess to stay at home and look after a man whilst floating on a SUP in the middle of nowhere, not washed for a couple days, hands blistered? I smiled at them politely, I am glad I made this life choice, I couldn’t be happier. I waved goodbye to the friendly fisherman as they headed off in the distance and I continued on my journey alone.
I found as a female solo traveller, I would meet people who were intrigued with my expedition and I received several acts of kindness. I felt well and truly loved and encouraged on my personal journey around Wales. I was offered places to stay, to have a shower, and also provided with homemade cakes. I never thought the trip would be this good and I am so grateful to everyone. I didn’t feel alone. I was asked once if I ever cried during the trip. I just couldn’t relate to the question, I never had a down moment. A lot of people would say keep going, but I never considered the option of giving up. I always knew I would complete it, the only thing I just didn’t know was when.
The trip was an incredible experience, I have gained more confidence in myself, faith in my ability and the decisions I make. I trust my gut instinct and am not influenced by others. I feel I am at peace with myself and content in the present moment, enjoying the rich tapestry of a simple life in the outdoors.
ABOUT SIAN SYKES
Sian used to work in London in the fast-paced advertising industry, working up to 18-hour days. She decided to make a career change to have a better work-life balance and now runs a paddleboarding business in Wales. Sian is a regional rep for Surfers Against Sewage (an environmental charity) and she is passionate about raising awareness, educating and inspiring others to reduce their daily consumption of single-use plastics. Her trip around Wales was single-use plastic free, she collected plastic pollution along the way and inspired others to make a pledge against plastic.
Featured Image Credit: Eastwood Media.
Further details can be found at www.psychedpaddleboarding.com