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Adventure Travel

May 15, 2018

Sian Sykes: 1000km Circumnavigation of Wales by Paddleboard

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.

WRITTEN BY

Sian Sykes

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.

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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

Image 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.

Image Credit: Eastwood Media

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. 

Sian is an ambassador for Starboard UK, Peak UK, Water Skills Academy and Aquapac.

Featured Image Credit: Eastwood Media.

Further details can be found at www.psychedpaddleboarding.com

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Athletes & Explorers

Dec 05, 2018

Stephanie Gilmore’s 7th WSL World Title and a Wave of Attention that is Bigger than the Men’s

Three months after announcing equal pay for men and women, the World Surf League celebrates Stephanie Gilmore’s 7th World Title.

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

On September 5th, 2018, the World Surf League announced plans for equal pay in men and women’s surf competitions in the 2019 season. This announcement was a huge step forward, not only for women’s surfing, but for women’s sport in general. The WSL had set the standard for equal pay in athletics.

Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) the WINNER of the 2018 Corona Open J-Bay at Supertubes, Jeffreys Bay, South Africa. Gilmore now wears the Jeep Leader Jersey after beating Lakey Peterson (USA) in the Final and takes over the Yellow Jersey from Peterson (USA). Photo: World Surf League.

This past year, the WSL had received negative feedback after a photo went viral of the Billabong Ballito Pro Junior Series male champion being paid twice as much as the female champion. Most social media users were upset with the pay disparity at the event, commenting on the photo as “blatant inequality” and “archaic discrimination”. However, some social media users argued in favor of the unequal payout. They argued that men’s athletics are viewed in the media more than women’s athletics, therefore bringing in more revenue, and justifying the pay disparity. A social media user commented on the Billabong Junior Series surf photo saying, “Surfing, like most sports is a predominantly male sport. More people watch the men’s surfing, more men surf than women.”

THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG?

Many people would ask, do more people watch men’s surfing because it is actually more interesting? Or, do more people watch men’s surfing because that is what the media has always streamed, and thus, audiences are more accustomed to watching the men’s style as opposed to the women’s? Valeria Perasso at BBC News puts it well, “audiences will not get excited about women’s sport as it gets minimal exposure in the media, and the media would justify the lack of coverage by saying that female athletics do not generate enough audience engagement.” The same is true with other sports as well. Managing Director of the Women on Boards advocacy group, Fiona Hathorn, says, “Had our culture been used to seeing women rather than men playing rugby or football for generations, we would find the idea of men playing sports rather novel.”

NO LONGER A RELEVANT QUESTION?

If you head over to Google, use their News Search and type in “WSL Surf World Championship”, “2018 Surfing World Championship”, “Surf World Title WSL”, or anything along those lines, an article on Stephanie Gilmore and her 7th world title will be the first article to pop up. Every time. This means, not only are women now starting to get the pay they rightly deserve, but they are starting to get the media attention that goes along with it.

It was just last week, that Stephanie Gilmore won her 7th world championship title, proving to the world that women’s surfing deserves just as much attention, respect, and prize money as men’s surfing. She is now tied with Layne Beachley for the women’s world record of most surfing world titles.

With all this being said about the inequality between women’s and men’s athletics, the second half of 2018 has been a major year for progression of equality in women’s surfing. Women are now getting paid the same as men, and with Gilmore’s 7th world title win, she is also getting the same media attention as the men.

Hats off to Sophie Goldschmidt, the World Surf League’s new (and first female) CEO for pushing for equality!

Cover Photo: World Surf League

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