WE RECENTLY featured Sian Sykes’ 3 Lakes Stand Up Paddle challenge and are delighted to have her back on the site to talk about her latest stand up paddle challenge.
Due to her love for the area and all the marine life it boasts, Sian decided to stand up paddle around the coastline of Anglesey and she did so to raise money for The North Wales Wildlife Trust and Surfers Against Sewage, two charities she is very passionate about.
Shortly after completing the challenge Sian talked to us about the highlights of the adventure as well as some of the toughest tests it presented. Read on to learn more about her increasing passion for the sport and where she feels it could take her in the future.
To find out more about paddleboarding and the activities and adventures on offer at Psyched Paddleboarding go to www.psychedpaddleboarding.com.
How long was it after your Three Lakes challenge that you decided you were in need of a new stand up paddle challenge?
I came up with the idea of Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) Anglesey just before I joined a group of friends paddleboarding the length of England. I joined them from Bath to Reading. I loved the freedom and sense of adventure, I was hooked and it reconfirmed I love to SUP!
Then earlier this year I did a SUP solo of the 3 Lakes Challenge, first person to do it on a SUP. Each time I was pushing my SUP challenges up a notch. After the 3 Lakes Challenged, I finalised plans to SUP the whole of Anglesey where I live! So it was 3 months roughly since my last challenge!
How did you come up with the idea for the challenge around Anglesey and could you tell us what it involved?
I think Anglesey has such a wonderful coastline with fascinating marine life. I have paddled some sections but never the whole of Anglesey!
I did it to raise money to The North Wales Wildlife Trust and Surfers Against Sewage. Both I’m very passionate about. My Nain (Grandmother in welsh) loved wildlife, taking photographs and actively involved with the Wildlife Trust in Wales, so I’m continuing her legacy. I’m also a supporter of Surfers Against Sewage as they raise awareness about water pollution which I’m very passionate about.
Secondly I did it because I wanted a challenge to see if I could do it! Anglesey has complex and challenging coastline and it’s all in the planning and strategy to get it right!
It was roughly 120km around Anglesey and it took five days to complete it. When I first started the adventure, the winds had picked up and I had to change my strategy, so I journeyed from Newborough beach, in a anti clockwise direction to take advantage of the wind and tide on my side. I paddled through the Menai Straits! It’s a narrow section of shallow tidal water, which separates the island of Anglesey from the mainland of Wales. The differential tides at the two ends of the Straits cause very strong currents to flow in both directions through the Straits at different times, creating tricky conditions.
One of the most challenging parts of the Straits is known as the Swellies. Here rocks near the surface cause local whirlpools. I loved every minute travelling through this section! It’s such a classic and iconic stretch to do and I always enjoy paddling there.
I continued in an anti clockwise direction of the island, journeying around the coastline, exploring more areas of the island I have never been to, lots of beautiful hidden coves. It is a truly beautiful place to paddle.
What were some of the highlights of the challenge and what were some of the toughest moments?
I loved the special moment seeing my first porpoise off Anglesey! It was heading along in a tidal race. I’ve never seen one along the coastline of Anglesey so it was wonderful to sight them around six locations along my journey and it brought back fond memories of when my Nain and I would go to Criccieth and see them off the headland. I also enjoyed stopping for a quick snack break and having inquisitive seals joining me, coming up close to my paddleboard, magical!
Another absolute highlight was stand up paddleboarding the tidal races at North Stacks, South Stacks, Penrhyn Mawr and Porth Lynas. I love the challenge, the excitement and working hard on the board in complex conditions.
It was great to see the iconic Skerries! I’ve heard about the ship wrecks around the Skerries (an island) and I loved finally seeing it, I was amazed! It suddenly hit home what I have achieved, paddleboarding around such a fascinating and challenging coastline.
The challenging parts of stand up paddleboarding the Anglesey coastline was the apprehension about paddling around the classic North Stacks, South Stacks and Penrhyn Mawr. Notorious for its strong currents and tidal races and choppy conditions. However I loved this and the conditions was in my favour!
A tough moment on my challenge was dealing with strong winds! When you are on a stand up paddleboard, you are easily affected by the wind, for the first couple of days, I struggled battling with the wind and it made progress slow and it frustrated me when I was so limited to time off to do this challenge and I put added pressure as I wanted to really do it. I had a low moment when I couldn’t carry on as the wind was far too strong, but I soon shook it off. It’s all about being safe, reading the weather correctly, understanding the tide, the conditions and to have a strategy, the priority is being able to say enough is enough and revise and adapt plans. Its about being able to be flexibile and deal with real life ever changing conditions.
The hardest part was crossing into Holyhead harbour, a 7km open crossing and a big hard push with the tide just starting to change. I was tired after paddling 37km and it was the last push. Also I had to time it around all the Irish Ferries coming in and out of the harbour!
What’s the phrase you most often find yourself saying when you’re struggling and needing to motivate yourself?
There was only one time I had to really dig deep, near the end of my challenge when I was tired and the tide had changed, I just thought I can do this, I can really do this…I got my head down and powered through…if i didn’t I knew I would be pushed out with the tide, and that wasn’t an option! On the challenges like this your have to be committed, strong and driven but be able to read the conditions and make constant assessment of the conditions, being safe was the number one priority for me.
What is it about stand up paddle that makes you tick and how far do you think you can go in the sport? What do you think you can go on to achieve?
I loved being in the open sea, the solitude, the sound of the water, the reflections, feeling at peace, the sun on my face and that feeling of utter freedom, away from it all and being reconnected with nature. Watching birds fly over my head, fish jump out of the water in front of my board and watching beautiful jelly fish float past me, totally magical. It is such a lovely feeling being free. Stand up paddleboarding keeps me sparkling, I enjoy all elements from paddling on remote mountain lakes, calm seas and paddling on big swells. I get a real kick from it and I just love going on a journey and being so close to the water, I am a total water baby! I am very driven and I love adventures, so I am wanting to really push myself, see what I can physically and mentally cope with and do some more firsts too. I like the sense of adventure! I would love to do some source to sea linking my love of journeying.
Will you take a well-deserved rest now or do you have anything else planned for the rest of the year?
I am constantly thinking of exciting adventures, so watch this space 🙂