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A man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers

- Pink Floyd

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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

Aug 24, 2019

Rhiannan Reigns Supreme: Red Bull Cliff Diving

Rhiannan Iffland's perfect dive from the Mostar Bridge secures her fourth World Series win in a row.

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WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

It’s official, Rhiannan Iffland is the greatest living female cliff diver on the planet. Minutes ago, she soared from atop the world-famous Mostar Bridge in Bosnia and Herzegovina and landed over 21 meters below with a perfect score.

Undefeated in 2019, Rhiannan has won all seven stops on the Red Bull World Series this year, from El Nido, Palawan to the final stop in Bilbao, Spain. Although today’s competition was the second to last stop on tour, Rhiannan seized her grip on the King Kahekili trophy, her fourth in a row, with an even 1,000 points accumulated over each stop.

The Stari Most is a rebuilt 16th-century Ottoman bridge in the city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina that crosses the river Neretva and connects the two parts of the city.

In addition to her seven straight victories, Rhiannan also achieved the first-ever perfect score for a female athlete on her final dive today – four 10’s – which added up to the highest ever competition score for a female athlete.

“To finish on four tens, I’m still pinching myself,” Rhiannan shared in her post-dive interview with Red Bull.

Rhiannan comes up all smiles after she lands a dive on day one of competition.

With her first win at Mostar today, a UNESCO heritage site, Rhiannan can now claim dominance at every stop on tour.

Since entering her first Red Bull competition as a wild card in 2016, Rhiannan has been an absolute force. With this win, Rhiannan proved that she can perform when the pressure is on as well as when she’s earned a victory lap.

Read Next on TOJ: Film Review: Extreme Cliff Diving in The Outback

Rhiannan Iffland of Australia prepares to dive from the 21 meter platform in Raouche during the final competition day of the fifth stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Beirut, Lebanon on July 14, 2019.

“That wasn’t really running through my mind, the overall series win, but to finish it at the penultimate stop is really special. I came in here this weekend knowing that I’d have to be extra mentally strong and that was my game plan, to dive like I have been diving the rest of the year.”

Even though the first place trophy is all but locked up in her trophy case back home in Newcastle, New South Wales, Rhiannan still has a chance to attain the perfect season with another win at Bilbao on September 14th.

Rhiannan Iffland of Australia poses for a portrait in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina on August 2, 2019.

“Halfway through, I started to think about a clean sweep, an undefeated year and that’s now the goal, especially after coming here and achieving this. I think it’s looking pretty good so I’m going to train really hard in the upcoming weeks to Bilbao.”

Rhiannan Iffland dives from the 21 metre platform on Stari Most during the first competition day of the sixth stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina on August 23, 2019.

If you’d like to learn more about Rhiannan’s proud heritage as a native Australian, check out her Rainbow Dive documentary set in the outback.

To follow along with the career and training of such a dominant champion, check out Rhiannan’s social media.

Instagram: @rhiannan_iffland
Facebook: @rhiannanathlete

Photos courtesy of Red Bull

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