Big Ben Challenge

Sat 23rd Sept 2017

These events are unique opportunities to race and paddle on the Thames in Central London. To date fewer than 20 people have raced there and perhaps fewer than 100 have paddled SUPs there, where you will be among the first. The Tidal Thames downriver of Putney is not a place for inexperienced SUP paddlers. There are strong tidal currents, a large tidal range and river traffic so everyone entering should be confident, experienced and able to paddle at times against currents of up to four knots. The event is planned around low tide to minimise risk and the need to paddle against the tide.

This event is sponsored by Tideway – the company building the Tideway Tunnel to protect the Thames from sewage pollution. Tideway will be running a Foreshore Festival at Putney and the theme of the event and racing will be to celebrate the fabulous and unique environment of the Tidal Thames, through recreation, environmental engagement and safety. There will be many stands and stalls at the event where you can buy food, learn about the river and much more. The Putney riverside area is a really lively part of London. As well as the many rowing, sailing and boating clubs historic pubs and nearby excellent cafes and restaurants, clubs and shops. It is also famous as the starting point of the annual Oxford versus Cambridge Boat Race.

Big Ben Race
This event is an elite level 20km race from Putney to Big Ben. Boards up to 14ft starting approx one-hour before low tide at Westminster Bridge. The race will take approx two hours – 2.30 minutes depending on your ability, wind conditions and the accuracy of tidal predictions. This event will be limited to around 20 racers and all should be experienced racers with tidal river or sea racing experience.

Entry fee £35 all events.

Minimum Prizes
All board types up to 14ft
1st – £300
2nd £150
3rd £75

Air boards up to12’6”
1st – £300
2nd £150
3rd £75

In both categories men and women will race together for the same prizes with men given a time handicap based on last year’s times and times of other races. Details to be provided before the race.

Start time (approx) 60 minutes before Low Water Westminster (predicted at 11.30am) You will need to be ready to go 90 minutes before the estimated start time (based on tide predictions) as the actual start time will be set on the day and will depend on actual river conditions – with wind speed and direction and fluvial flow taken into account. Staggered start times with female riders racing 12’6” and under starting first and other categories following on.

Big Ben Challenge
The Challenge event is a 10km fast paddle to Big Ben from Putney Everyone who completes the 10km and the return paddle to Putney at leisure speed will be entered into a prize draw for Starboard and Animal kit plus other prizes. We will, make the draw on the day within 90 minutes of finishing. We advise a short rest at the Lacks Dock Beach just before Vauxhall Bridge to let the flood tide pick up and help your return.

All size boards permitted. A fast paddle to Big Ben will be followed by a gentle 10km paddle back at the start of the flood tide. Participants will have options to exit the river at two rest points on the return leg. These will be on the beach at Lacks Dock and on the pontoon at the Cremorne Centre Chelsea. There can also be finish points by arrangement if there is strong headwind and some participants are exhausted.

Start time (approx) 80 minutes before LW Westminster

Big Ben Red Dragon 10km Race
Four teams of up to four riders on Red Dragon raceboards to race 10km to Big Ben – followed by a gentle 10km paddle back at the start of the flood tide. Mixed teams with at least one female rider in each team. One prize (red carbon glass paddle for each winning team member

Start time (approx 80 minutes before LW at Westminster)

How to enter
Please register your interest at and if you have enough experience to qualify we will send you a link to book your place and pay your entry fee.

Safety note
You will required by the Port of London Authority who have ultimate responsibility for all safety issues there to wear a buoyancy aid (PFD) or a self-inflating life jacket. The type fitted in a waist band is ideal for racers who would overheat in a standard PFD under race conditions. Leg leashes are not recommended on the Tidal Thames, particularly ankle leashes as you may need to release in a hurry if you become tangled around a buoy or mooring. We strongly recommend quick release waist leashes.

The event will be marshalled by paddlers with Thames Tideway experience and there will be two safety boats covering the race course.

In the unlikely event that wind or river conditions make the event unsafe to run we will reduce the distance or cancel.

Although its clay substrate makes it always look brown and dirty Thames is generally one of Europe’s cleanest urban rivers and it is full of fish and wildlife. We see seals and an occasional porpoise in the river. However, it can become polluted after heavy storms and we may need to cancel in the event of severe pollution.

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