SIAN SYKES has always had a passion for adventure, so much so that a job working in London just didn’t cut it and she left the big smoke to go and set up her own outdoor adventure company.
Sian’s latest adventure saw her set herself a stand up paddle challenge which would involve paddling the UK’s lakes Llyn Tegid (seven miles), Windermere (11 miles) loch awe (25 miles). On completion of the challenge we caught up with Sian to find out more about the challenge and some of the highlights and difficulties she faced while out on her board.
To find out more about paddleboarding and the activities and adventures on offer at Psyched Adventures go to www.psyched-adventures.com.
Tell us a little about your life and when did your passion for adventure begin?
I’ve always been passionate about adventures, I think it steamed from when I first went wild camping when I was six weeks old with my mother and since then I’ve been walking and camping.
I never knew when I was growing up you could make a career in the outdoors, so I ended up working in London in creative media, working long hours, some days 18 hours! I started to miss home and longed to be back by the sea, mountains and nature. That’s when I decided I wanted a better quality of life. I moved back home, retrained and gained my outdoor qualifications, now I run an outdoor business, Psyched Adventures (www.psyched-adventures.com). I guide people paddle boarding to beautiful places, here in the UK and abroad, linking the hiking to remote mountain lakes and sea journeys. Basically I love doing what I do now, it’s my real passion. I love inspiring others to get outside.
I’ve been lucky to lead expeditions abroad, Nepal, India, Peru, Mongolia, China and Morocco. The passion for the outdoors is deep within me, it makes me sparkle.
How long have you been active in the sport of stand up paddle and what have been some of your previous experiences of the pastime?
Its only been a recent thing, in the last couple of years. I was asked by my good friend Spike to join him and his team to stand up paddle across England and after that I was hooked and changed my business around it too! Since then I’ve got my qualifications in SUP, now ASI level 1 and 2 instructor. I was lucky enough to get these qualifications in Portugal. I have paddle boarded around Anglesey, in remote lakes of Snowdonia. I’ve even snuck in a few trips to Scotland, Paddleboarding around Mull and the coastline around Oban. I’m out paddle boarding pretty much most of the time.
What gave you the idea of the 3 Lakes Challenge SUP Solo and what did it involve?
I was researching online and I stumbled across Go Canoeing (www.gocanoeing.org.uk/go/index.cfm/challenges/challenge-routes/the-routes/three-lakes-challenge/) and the 3 Lakes Challenge. I thought it sounded like an amazing idea to do it on a SUP! As far as I’m aware no one has completed it all on a SUP.
In the past I’ve guided people on the National 3 Peaks in 24 hours, but I wanted to do something different, something for me.
The 3 Lakes challenge is paddling the UK’s lakes Llyn Tegid (7 miles), Windermere (11 miles) loch awe (25 miles). The combination of travelling over 380 miles on land and 43 miles on water.
I did ask some of my friends to join me, however they were all busy working as this time of year it’s our busiest, so that’s how it ended up being a solo and to be honest I really enjoyed having a bit of me time, no pressure and to make my own decisions.
I was lucky enough with conditions to do all three in three days.
What were some of the highlights of the challenge and what were some of the toughest moments?
Meeting my mother after Llyn Tegid for a picnic by the lakes, before she wished me bon voyage.
Chips and bottle of bubbly by lake Windermere whilst watching the sunset.
Enjoying the early morning starts, when it’s just me and my board. Seeing the reflections in the water, enjoying the stillness, the warmth from the sun and hearing the chatter from the birds.
Seeing a range of bird life, swans, geese, oyster catchers, cormorants, curlew, hearing the cuckoos and watching fish jump.
Enjoying the solitude and being connected with nature.
Launching the SUP at Kilchurn castle, stunning and an amazing stillness, warmth, reflections from a deep blue water.
Meeting really kind people along the way, breakfast with friends after Windermere at Lakeside, the people at the ferry from Lakeside to Waterhead, a lovely woman who runs a B&B at loch awe, the host at Torran Bay Hostel and the fishing men I met.
Realising I could push on to do loch awe in a day!
Completing all three lakes, solo!
Bobbing away listening to Chemical Brothers on loch awe.
It is recommended that you need to paddle with others for safety, but I had things in place, good emergency kit, had researched the routes thoroughly, had plenty of experience in all conditions and kept friends updated with progress.
However, it was the apprehension not knowing if the conditions would be good. It’s the wind you need to consider, you can paddle in hail, rain, cloud, sunshine but if the wind picks up, you aren’t going anywhere.
I factored three days for loch awe. It was the unknown. The weather was changing lots. I was conscious if I needed to bail out, I’d have to roll my board up and hitch a lift back to the start where my car was.
I didn’t want to put pressure on myself so I didn’t tell many people. I just wanted to see what I could do within the time I took off from my business.
There weren’t tough times really, the drive from Windermere to loch awe was long but beautiful so I was grateful for a good nights sleep in a B&B.
The night before I slept in my car at Waterhead, all folded up which didn’t help, I guess I had two hours sleep.
How did it feel to complete the challenge and was there anything in particular you were raising awareness or money for?
I would love to say I was raising awareness or doing for charity, but it was solely for me. To have time out, to reconnect with nature and to enjoy being on my own. I didn’t want to announce it to the world as I didn’t want to put added pressure onto myself to complete it if conditions were tough. I wanted to test if I could do it. As I don’t have much free time, I’m limited to what I could do, so I’m pleased during the time I allowed I completed all three!
It was day 3, on loch awe, I was making great progress, monitoring the weather, checking my route and timings… it was looking good. I knew the weather was going to turn late afternoon. However I was 6km away from Ford, the end of the lake. I decided to go for it! When I arrived I couldn’t believe I just paddled the whole length of loch awe in a day when I factored in a couple of days! It felt so good! I had all my camping kit strapped to my board but the midges were kicking in and more importantly I wanted to celebrate! So I walked into the Torran Bay Hostel, the host gave me a warm welcome! He had never seen a paddle boarder on loch awe, he at first thought I was coming into shore standing on a boat! He kindly gave me food, and a bottle of Scottish vodka to celebrate my success! I was tired but relieved I was treated to such good conditions! I slept so well! The next day I went for a SUP and then headed to the coast with a friend and paddle boarded around Isle of Seil, an island near Oban. Enjoyed being in the big swell!
Thank you to Origin Paddleboards, Aquapac and Palm Equipment.
What does the rest of the year have in store for you? Do you have any other challenges or projects in the pipeline?
I want to paddle board around Iona later this year as I love Mull so much and it’s rather special to me.
However only this week I have been asked if I’d be interested to join a team to paddle board the river Ganges in India, from source to the sea! Raising awareness about water pollution, so watch this space!