Long term Circle One customer and highly experienced waterman, Brendon Prince above water founder aims to stand up paddle the circumference of mainland Britain in less that 90 days! Brendon who set up the Above Water charity, a charity who’s primary focus is water safety through education. Sending teachers who are also lifegaurds into schools to teach water safety and drowning prevention. In 2019, Above Water spoke to over 25,000 children, teachers and parents. All experiencing at least one hour of water safety and drowning prevention interactive instruction. In the same year over 4,500 children received a practical (in the sea) one hour session building water confidence, swimming technique and drowning prevention skills, spreading the water safety message is a core part of the journey, we caught up with Brendon to find out more about The Long Paddle 2021.
Wow what a journey to embark on! So tell us logistically how does it work?
Well i’ve actually just had my route confirmed. So i’m Starting in torbay ideally on 24th April, I say ideally because you’ve got to give yourself a date. But lets face it if the weather is horrendous for a week I wont start until i i’ve got a pretty good 2 week window. And then Following the tide and the weather i’ll be going clockwise around our fine mainland country. Mainland being England, Wales and Scotland without the islands. The way i’m identifying the different regions, i’m using the shipping forecast regions. So i’m starting in Portland/Torbay moving to Plymouth and going around the 14 regions clockwise. I’m actually doing it without boat support!
This is huge, there must be some world records involved in this journey?
If I complete I’ll actually be doing 3 records which are… The circumnavigation of mainland Britain, fastest from lands end to john o groats. And if I complete it, because it will be in the region of around 3500km, it will be the world record for the longest ever SUP journey. So will be “super cool”.
Super cool… you seem quite relaxed about it? How do you prepare both physically and mentally for something like this?
The physical preparation is straight forward really, I go through a programme which Im about 6 weeks into. To be able to continually to stand up paddle for 70-80km a day but also in the conditions. You know on a nice flat wind with tide, you’ll be flying for the 70km but on other days, 20mph head wind with chop it will be real drudgery. But actually the physical bit is fairly easy, it’s more the mental part of continually forcing your body to do repetition like that. At the minute one of the best ways of doing that is just forcing yourself to go out everyday no matter what the conditions are. And always twice a day, even if it’s only half an hour a time. It’s acclimatising the mind to get the board in the water and getting on the water for a little session off and then back on again. Just getting used to that pattern, so there’s no surprises really when we get to 24th April.
Ive also had some really good chats with Jordan Wiley, who was the lad who attempted the journey last year. And also Ross Edgley who swam around mainland Britain. Getting into Ross’ mind was fascinating and I took some really big pointers from him about how to combat that daily grind, which is fine for the first 10 days but as the novelty wears off and your body’s hurting and it’s bad weather and it’s cold, that is when the going gets tough.
How do you pick places/desitinations to land?
A combination of distance, a combination of expected weather patterns. They’re not all confirmed yet. For lots of different reasons, but i’ve got a rough idea, I need to be doing about 70-80km a day sometimes i’ll do that in one go, so 10 hour stints, but other days it will depend on tidal flow in that area, some areas you cannot go against the tidal flow. You’ve got to go with it, so i’ll be doing say 6 hours on 6 hours off type pattern. So it will vary where I am on the coast. But i’ve got to get the 70km in every day to get it done in my time frame. My time frame is 90 days
Beach to beach or harbour to harbour is how i’ll come in every day, so there’s a different element of knowing that you have got to get somewhere not just stop when you feel tired and the boat picks you up and then start at that GPS point the next day. Occasionally i’m sure there will be some touch and go moments trying to land on beaches with ridiculous swell rolling in. But we’ll cross those bridges when we get to them.
Do you envision any serious hurdles that you know you’re going to come up against?
Ive done quite a bit of repetition paddling and there are repetition ailments that you have. The main one is obviously in the shoulders. You’ve just got to keep stretching and keep moving everyday. When I am doing it April through to July, the sun is a big factor to be careful about. I don’t normally wear anything on my feet because I love the board feeling on my feel but my feet would be a mess, both from being wet all the time and because of the sun. So covering up in a way I wouldn’t normally cover up to make sure I am protected. So making sure the kit I am wearing doesn’t rub is important, I did a 4 day non stop paddle last year and because it was for water safety I had to wear specific equipement, it just rubbed slightly but was like a saw cutting through my skin after a couple of hours.
Urgh, that sounds horrific! So speaking of equipment, how do you select the items you are going to use? Stand Up Paddle Board, Paddles etc.?
Haha, that’s the million dollar question, the board and paddle are two vital bits of kit. I am still going through the process of selecting. I’ve probably tried about 30 different paddles, I pretty much know in my mind, exactly the type of paddle I want, but it’s just finding it really. A combination of the thickness of the handle, the weight of the paddle and the paddle blade itself being right. The combination is to get it spot on. One of the conditions of the actual attempt is you have to have a paddle that anyone can buy off the shelf, it can’t be made for you. That makes it a little bit more complicated otherwise you could have a paddle made for you and it would be exactly what you are after. Boards… 14ft that’s the maximum standard length that I can go for. And then probably around 28-29 inch wide so that’s a few inches wider than a race stand up paddle board but not quite as wide as the average touring stand up paddle board because I need a balance between speed and stability. Theres nothing worse than a 10 hour paddle session where you’ve got an offshore or onshore (lets face it, most of the time it’s one of those things) which creates chop, side on chop for 10 hours on a board which is like a race board, made to be unstable to enable it to be fast. That twitchy action would wear you down in a couple of days rather than months. It needs to be stable enough but not too stable so then it’s slow.
Can you change equipment throughout ?
You can only change board or paddle if it breaks. And then if it does break you have to get the same thing again. With that kind of repetition carbon fibre paddles tend to start fraying and coming apart. It’s around 10x the use a paddle would normally go through. And you never know with boards, surfing in on a swell it’s quite easy to fold a board. So I will need a second one available.
How do you connect with local watermen/women, have you met some incredible people along the way?
Yes already getting loads of people contacting me, paddlers are a really friendly community. They also have vast amounts of knowledge, for example. There’s an amazing tidal rush race that goes around Portland head, there is a team who have already got in touch and said, we’ll take you round, we’ll come round with you. We know the best time. I know the water but I don’t know the different uniqueness of the different waters around our country. It’s so important to get help and guidance from these people because what on paper should happen isn’t always the case for these places where the tide is rushing through. I’ve gone around lands end enough to know that it should have been perfect but it wasn’t quite. But it’s knowing the variations of that, social media is a great one, just putting stuff out there. Lots of people getting in contact already.
As we get closer I get a more confirmed people map of Great Britain, so many people want to come and paddle with me. Come and do a couple of hours paddling, that sort of community and friendship on the water is so important. The more I do of that, the greater the message is put across. About water safety, mindfulness and mental health on the water. And also about understanding the effect that humans have on our water.
A couple of universities are in the process of sorting out some kit for my board, that will measure temperatures as I go and also water quality as I go, to get some information in one hit of our whole mainland Britain and what’s going on under the water. All these aspects, people are being enthused by and are contacting me and i’m sure i’ll gain some great friendships from this.
Are there any areas you see as particularly dangerous?
YES aha all of it! If I look at just the southwest part, you’ve got Portland, Lizard Point, Lands End, Severn Estuary before you then get to wales. Probably every 50-100 miles there’s something that you need to be switched on about. You really need to know the tides and the way the water flows, to hit it at the right time. Otherwise you’re either going to be flogging and not going anywhere or you’re going to be in serious trouble. In an area like the River Severn mouth you cant fight tidal ranges, some of up to 10 metres, you’ve got to time that crossing right. The normal pattern is to go Lundy and then across on a boat, I don’t have a boat so it means I have to go a bit further up hit it right so I can get at least half way across before the tide turns and I can flow with the tide along the Welsh coast.
So getting that right and knowing is key, phoning ahead so I have an admin team who is going to be phoning ahead, speaking with all the coastal watch organisations, the RNLI and the local harbour masters who are in charge of the region. Just incase there’s anything I might need to know that’s happening in the area. And there’s loads of for example firing ranges, both MOD firing ranges and private firing ranges that you cant cross whilst they are firing as you could be shot. Understanding that and timing that right is key.
How close are you to land throughout the journey?
I go headland to headland, the shortest route is always headland to headland. With the exception of a few places that it’s too far to go headland to headland because you have a tidal turn. Out there you have got the best effects of the tides with you but you’ve also got the worst effect of it being against you. So you have got days where you will have to come right in to get away from that tidal flow, so you can still move in the direction you want to move. That balance of making sure you get to that headland before the tide turns or whatever your destination is at that particular point. You are constantly measuring that, I am not just paddling for 10 hours, it just doesn’t work like that, I am watching the weather, the local weather, whatever the national weather is doing it has nothing to do with the local weather. As you know from surfing, the effect of nice sunny days, brilliant, but nice sunny days change and this creates chop, it’s being on top of that all the time. Paddling occasionally at night, because you can have some of the best conditions flat perfect conditions at night, and it is making the most of those especially if you that the next day it’s not going to be particularly favourable for paddling.
So you could be paddling at night and using the day as a rest day?
Yes exactly that, it’s about be totally flexible to the conditions and the environment. Otherwise you’ve got no chance of doing it in 90 days. It would take more like 200 days.
How do you fuel such a journey? What how does it work with your food and diet?
I will have a land crew, so i’ll have 2 people at any 1 time, in a land based vehicle that for most of our country they just need to meet me at different points to give me food and a sleeping bag and done. In other parts of the country 1 of them will actually need to be watching me, there are some places in Scotland that have 50-60km with no way of getting out, because of cliffs, there’s no beaches, so you’ve got to paddle the distance, it’s about having someone close in radio contact, so they are always aware of where I am, how I am, it’s all good and keeping the constant comms. That is imperative without boat support, if you are doing it (trying to do it) as fast as I am you need to have that support on land.
You obviously need to take on 10x the calories you normally would. Food that sits well on the stomach, its ability to be digested at the same time as physical activity, so nothing too complicated, I eat lots of peanut butter power ball, which are easy to digest and have huge amounts of what I need to keep me going. Staying away from sugars and consuming lots of liquid. Just making sure I am constantly fuelled. This is hugely important, theres nothing worse than getting a calorie deficit 10 miles in with 4 hours to go. I can take little nibbles but cant take too much with you. Kind of like when you go for a surf and you can feel it, it really affects your performance. Especially when it’s cold.
So the big question… Why do something like this!?
Pushing the message of water safety, it’s great to have a world record, that would be awesome! But actually that’s not why I am doing it. That’s kind of the cherry on the cake really, it’s my world of water safety and how I have been promoting it into schools, this is going to be one of the best ways of interacting with schools and give them something tangible to follow and support. At the same time learn about coastal water safety but also inland water safety and that is why I am doing it.
On all of my channels at the minute I am often speaking to converted people that follow me for whatever reason, this journey is about speaking to people I wouldn’t normally be able to speak to, to share messages of water safety and I hope that something like this will do just that.
The amount of media interest and interviews I am doing already, I am already 100x more of an impact, getting that water safety message out whether through my charity, the RNLI or Surf life saving GB. Getting people to understand that these organisations have got loads of information and one of the most exciting things that will hopefully become a legacy from this, is having an app on your phone to help educate people.
An interactive app, that you can play as a child or as an adult. Say you are visiting Croyde, so you go to the Croyde section and play the app that’s suitable to Croyde. So it lets you know about the rips, or what happens at low tide. It’s gamified to engage users, you play a little game and learn about water safety…. there’s nothing like that on planet earth, to help people understand water. That’s what i’m trying to achieve. Half of the money raised is to create the interactive online platform.
A little about Brendon.
Brendon Prince Above Water founder was involved in trying to save the lives of three surfers who got into trouble in big waves. As an off-duty Lifeguard, he did everything he could, both in and out of the water, but all three lost their lives in front of their families that day. In Brendon’s mind, not a day passes without seeing the wife of one of the drown surfers pleading with him to bring her husband back.
Brendon made a commitment that day to do whatever was needed to stop accidental drowning in the UK. Accidental drowning is a catastrophic event for the family and the local community but in so many cases could have been avoided through an understanding of water safety and drowning prevention techniques. We are an island nation but most of our inhabitants know very little about water safety or how to stay alive in a potential drowning situation.
In the autumn of 2017, Brendon set up the Above Water charity: Water safety through education. Sending teachers who are also lifeguards into schools to teach water safety and drowning prevention. In 2019, Above Water spoke to over 25,000 children, teachers and parents. All experiencing at least one hour of water safety and drowning prevention interactive instruction. In the same year over 4,500 children received a practical (in the sea) one hour session building water confidence, swimming technique and drowning prevention skills.
You can follow Brendons journey here
Find out more about Above Water here