ROGER CHANDLER has always had a passion for the sea and runs a specialist kayaking business on Anglesey, North Wales. More recently he’s got involved in the sport of stand up paddle, being inspired to give it a go by two of his friends. One of these friends was stand up paddle enthusiast Sian Sykes who we recently featured after she completed a challenge which saw her paddleboard the three longest natural lakes in England, Scotland and Wales.
After just six months paddleboarding Roger decided to take on the same challenge and this is his story. Read on to find out the highs and the lows as he shares his experience of the Three Lakes Stand Up Paddle Challenge.
When did you start SUPing and what made you give the sport a go?
I originally gave SUP a go about one-and-a-half years ago while on holiday in Salcombe, South Devon and to be honest I didn’t really get it! February this year I had provided a couple of days sea kayaking for Sian Sykes of www.psychedpaddleboarding.com and she was keen to take her paddleboard on to the Swellies, a particularly fast area of moving water, on the Menai Straits between Anglesey and the mainland. Despite a couple of falls early on, Sian started to get the eddy turns and understand the environment. It was great working with her, it looked like fun and I was inspired.
A few weeks later I was working with Jack Hewlett (older son of super friends Sean, Mandy and Charlie) on the British canoeing 3* performance award and during breaks Jack was out on his paddleboard. He made it look so easy and I was inspired again! I borrowed his board and stayed out on it for 50 minutes. A result! I loved the challenge and the ease of wearing a pair of board shorts and a rash vest. I could keep the board inflated or deflate and throw it into the boot. I also like the different perspective and higher view, it allows much more to be seen, both under and above the water.
Are you passionate about any others sports and had you taken on any other challenges previous to the one you have just completed?
I love being on the water and run a specialist sea kayaking business in Anglesey, North Wales (www.coastalspirit.com). I’m passionate about the sea and love my job.
In 2010 I sea kayaked around the island of Scilly, in 2013 around Ireland and have done a number of open crossings such as the Bristol Channel, the English Channel, out and back to the Isles of Scilly solo, Lundy Island, the Irish Sea from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire. Back in May this year I also sea kayaked around Mallorca and Menorca, with a crossing back from the latter – around 60km in ten hours, 40 minutes.
SUP allows me to still connect with the sea, from another perspective, and I love the work out it provides. The 3 Lakes has been my first proper SUP adventure.
Tell us about your recent challenge to paddleboard the three longest natural lakes of Wales, England and Scotland, solo, and what inspired you to do it?
I like a challenge and doing the three lakes in a canoe or sea kayak would have been easy, in comparison. It all started with a block of days off coming up in early October which I had been keeping free. I was keen to go back up to either Orkney or the Isle of Skye with my sea kayak, but the weather was really unsettled. Then I thought – ‘what about my Paddleboard?’. Could I do a trip on it? I was aware of the Three Lakes Challenge set up by Go Canoeing and Sian’s earlier paddleboard achievement and I wondered if my six months of paddleboarding would be enough? I’d done many long sea kayaking days and expeditions, but what would it be like on a paddleboard?
Llyn Tegid (Bala), Wales
I live just over one hour away from Llyn Tegid (Lake Bala) so I was keen to get there at first light, but the forecast had another idea. I was up at 5.30am and checked the weather forecast again. The wind was 12 to 17 mph and blowing down the lake. That meant a head wind! I arrived on the edge of the lake in rain, with the wind blowing down the lake, and it was cold, but it did look like I could sneak up the north shore most of the way to the far end. If I could manage that then I could use the tail wind for the return journey.
I went fairly lightly equipped, with a spare paddle, Kokatat storm jacket (which can go over the top of everything you have on to keep you warm), water in a hydration pack on my back, and a bum bag with camera, flare, personal locator beacon (PLB) and snacks. I wore my trusty salopettes and paddle jacket. It was exciting and committing to the decision felt good. I had decided that if after 30 minutes I wasn’t making any (or even much) progress at least the return journey would be a pleasure. I set myself a point on each bay, working towards the next headland and took a rest in each bay.
As I reached the far end of the lake the sun came out. I landed, had some food and then set off for the middle of the lake to make the most of the wind on the way back. Two hours 30 minutes later I had paddled Lake Bala! I changed out of my paddling clothes, had lunch and a mug of tea and then I was off for the Lake District to stay with my parents for the night.
Lake Windermere, England
I was up early and at my start point before light. I had more kit this time, with a change of clothes for the other end, my paddleboard kit bag to transport the board back on the steamboat, more food, and I was wearing my lighter Kokatat jacket.
As I set off there was a gentle breeze against me. I hoped that’s what it would remain – gentle. I soon found my rhythm as I moved along the East shore. A couple of hours later, I watched the steam ferry heading for the top of the lake and I squinted into the distance. This was my end point and I could just make it out. A few yachts were out but the breeze, I was pleased to say, had dropped right off. A glassy glaze had been left behind on the surface of the water.
Four hours 12 minutes later I paddled into bustling Ambleside. I quickly looked at my watch and I had 20 minutes to catch the steam ferry back or get the one after that at 1pm. I went for the latter as it allowed me to change my clothes, pack my paddleboard away, have a big mug of tea and some hot food.
Loch Awe, Scotland
I had now paddled 18 miles or about 30km and I was wondering how the 40km of Loch Awe would go. I had maintained an average of 4.5 km per hour on the other lakes, so with breaks the best I could hope for was around ten hours. As I drove North towards Scotland I had phoned ahead to stay at the Torran Bay Hostel. As the winds had an Easterly then SE component I was planning to paddle South to North. This also meant I was going to stay right by the water’s edge.
My plan was to be up early again and paddling at first light. This would give me 12 hours of daylight which hopefully would allow for any setbacks. The only new bit of kit I had added was a hooped bivi bag. If necessary, my intention was to put my change of clothes on, sleep on top of my board (on the land!) and have the bivi bag to keep me dry. I had enough snacks, but I chose to leave the stove, sleeping mat and bag behind. I wanted the thought of a bad night’s sleep to spur me on.
I left the jetty with the mist drifting in and as daylight arrived I soon realised it was actually fog. It felt like I was really paddling into the unknown. It was cold and there was a dampness in the air. I had around 100m to 150m visibility and a very gentle breeze and swell towards me. All I could do was keep the shore in sight and as soon as I saw a glimpse of headland I would set a course for it. Focusing on my technique helped to settle my mind. Three hours later the sunshine began to break through and the fog was slowly burnt off. I felt the sunshine on my back and then a change in the breeze. I headed away from the shore and aimed for headlands further away now that I had the breeze on my back. I had been slower than expected, as the fog had made me keep much closer to the shore, so I had some time to make up. I wasn’t going to bivi out!
I headed off more to the centre of the loch and towards the Black Islands, with the breeze just to the right of me. My shoulders were feeling sore now but the NE end of the loch came into sight and this spurred me on. It was a beautiful afternoon and the mountains and the water looked stunning. I was very pleased to be out there on the water.
I paddled towards the bridge in magic light and on a super-silky surface. Nine hours 40 minutes was my time and I was really chuffed. I changed and deflated my board, packing it all away and carried it to the car park. I was staying a second night in Torran Bay Hostel, and once back went straight for a shower to get that hot water on my well-exercised shoulders!
How successful was your attempt and could you tell us about some of the highs and lows of the experience?
I was really chuffed about paddleboarding the 43 miles, solo and unsupported in three days and 16 hours and 22 minutes. A particular high was completing Lake Bala, as the forecast had been touch and go and deciding to start despite the weather had been the right decision. When the fog was burnt off from Loch Awe was amazing and feeling the sunshine on my back. A low was about 30 minitues into Loch Awe and relaising the mist was actually fog and I had to manage my negative internal dialogue to keep focused and then one hour later when the gentle breeze and very small swell was still against me and my speed was slow due to having to keep into the shore.
What’s next? Do you have any other challenges in the pipeline for 2017 and beyond?
YES – I want to use my broad sea kayaking experience and knowledge to repeat some of my smaller previous adventures, plus new ones. This winter will see lots of biking to get those legs stronger, improvement on my forward paddling technique and a new faster board with a Mac Conks 12.8 explorer. So watch this space!
What advice would you give to those who want to give paddleboarding a go? How easy is it to get involved in the sport and find others to share the experience with?
Ideally give it a go on a calm day and even then expect to fall off, its all part of the fun. Many watersports centres inland and coastal have paddleboards and run short courses. Do some research and check reviews. I would suggest doing a course, partly because I didn’t and initially I didn’t get it! I feel if I had done a course, it would have been a better introduction and I’m sure I would have got into SUP quicker.
If you already SUPing then consider the Three Lakes your self and have a look at http://www.gocanoeing.org.uk/go/index.cfm/challenges/challenge-routes/the-routes/three-lakes-challenge/.