Words: Tez Plavenieks
Pics: Caroline Rigby, Stuart Fraser, Fi Plavenieks
You’ve perused various destinations, basing your decision on your tastes in SUP, chosen suitable accommodation for everyone, made sure it fits with the rest of your family’s wants and needs, and finally parted with hard earned readies. Smiling contently you visualise warm, sunny weather, gin clear water and nothing to do but paddle all day. But wait, what about stand up paddle kit…?
I’m no stranger to lugging equipment through airports and struggling with transport having arrived at my destination, already shivering at the thought of making the return journey. Throughout my life I’ve frequently travelled with surfboards, windsurf kit (during my time as a windsurf mag editor we regularly flew with 40+ boards, 20+ sails and associated accessories for testing purposes) and now SUP gear.
Whichever way you slice the cake, getting on a plane, having carted your kit through departures, checked in – after much scrutiny from curious airport staff and bystanders – and manhandled gear to your resort is never going to be as easy as hiring once on the ground. That said, the positives of having your own SUP and paddle normally do outweigh the downsides. (And yes, I acknowledge you have the inflatable option. But with waves calling I wanted a hard board).
The family and I decided to head back to Lanzarote this winter for some warm surf, flat water SUP fun, the odd bit of windsurfing, increased air temperatures and a change of scene. Having booked to stay in Costa Teguise, the only thing left to organise was SUP gear.
On paper, EasyJet are a stand up paddle boarder’s friend. The airline’s excess baggage charges are reasonable and transparent. Logging onto EasyJet’s website, it was quick and easy to reserve space for my sled. I took a versatile, short (ish) SUP that would cope with Atlantic juice while remaining applicable for flat water floats – thanks to Fatstick for loaning me their next generation 8.6ft Fish to test. McConks (a new name for UK SUP) provided a three piece carbon travel paddle, which fitted neatly into our regular luggage. (You can see the paddle review on SUPM’s website).
At £35 a pop (for each leg) EasyJet’s oversize baggage charge won’t break the bank. Heading to Gatwick I considered how other airlines will sting you a LOT more than that. It almost seemed too easy, I thought. I came down to Earth with a thump at EasyJet’s check in.
A shambles doesn’t even begin to describe the chaos that ensued. With my toddler daughter Molly in her buggy, two bags, a board and hand luggage, we became part of a thronging mass all trying to check in via self-service machines. Five flights, going to various destinations, were all congregating in one big, hot, sweaty mess. And capping it off were machines that refused to play nicely, only making things more complicated and stressful.
Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate technology can fail, but what I’d expect is efficient communication detailing what’s going on, how the situation can be swiftly remedied and, most importantly, where oversize luggage needs to be dropped. Instead rude officials, stressed passengers, an assortment of bikes, boards, skis, snowboards and baby paraphernalia were all shoving and shifting about the check in lounge as if at a football match. On two occasions my wife tried to get responses from a chap clad in an EasyJet bib. All I’ll say is he was less than helpful and I had to bite my tongue…
With literally minutes to spare, despite having arrived at Gatwick over two hours before our flight time, we made it onto the plane bound for Arecife. Following an uneventful flight, where our little one made friends with everyone in the vicinity, the flight touched down. At this point I became anxious. Following the debacle during departure, I half expected to see my SUP board in two pieces. That didn’t happen, however. In fact, one of suitcases and the board never materialised from the other side of the luggage carousel – surprise, surprise.
A further 45 minutes of queuing, in a now stifling hot airport, to report our missing belongings, followed. And we weren’t the only ones. There were a lot of disgruntled holidaymakers in the same boat. Expecting to be in our hotel, sipping a few cold beers by now, we finally managed to file the report and were told by a super helpful Spanish lady that our bags would hopefully arrive the following day. Mildly relieved, although not entirely convinced, we could only wait.
All’s well that ends well?
The following day our second case and stand up paddle board did indeed arrive at the hotel – and not in bits either, I might add. Miraculously there were only a couple of tiny hairline cracks on the tail. A few blobs of DingStick later and she was right as rain.
As a wave of relief washed over us, we then set about really enjoying our trip. During the next few days we made sojourns across to the north shore of Lanzarote and scored some awesome waves. Back in Costa Teguise the SUP was put to good use with my sister-in-law’s boyfriend nailing down those all-important SUP fundamentals. And when he wasn’t aboard, the wife getting stuck in, or her sister dabbling with a paddle, I was sweeping Molly around the shallows.
Having had a bumpy start, our trip turned into a goody and everyone had a thoroughly spiffing time. And then came the return journey…
Cutting a long story short, we had yet more issues courtesy of our friends at EasyJet. With modern technology such as it is, we’d already deduced that our return flight was going to be late. Instead of informing us officially, however, the airline staff herded everyone to the departure gate and had us waiting around for way longer than necessary. I appreciate sometimes these things happen. In this case French air traffic control were striking, which was knocking on to all inbound Lanzarote flights. What I couldn’t fathom is why this wasn’t communicated…
To add yet more confusion, our flight’s designated take off slot had been moved and we were going to be using a shorter runway. This meant that our plane now had too much weight to get airborne and so the cabin crew manager appealed for a handful of volunteers to stay an extra night. To some this may sound idyllic, but not with a very tired small person who badly needed to get home.
In the end we arrived nearly three hours late back in the UK but happy to have finally made it.
So was travelling with kit worth it?
There’s no denying that having personal gear to hand meant being able to score SUP sessions whenever the feeling arose or conditions turned on (most days then). Having versatile kit also meant flat water and wave venues were both fair game. When you hire equipment, often you are limited to using it at just one spot.
With a toddler in the mix, logistics were certainly harder this time around – made more challenging than it needed to be by lack of communication from the airline.
In the future we’ll think a lot harder about travelling with equipment. On balance, if the location offers it, then we’ll probably rent – but if there’s not that option then we’ll obviously suck it up, grit our teeth and prepare for battle.
Thanks must go to Fatstick SUP, McConks SUP and North Coast Wetsuits who all helped with this article.