Interview: SUPM Pics: John McFadzean
John McFadzean had a goal soon after he discovered SUP. With the possibilities of discovery endless, it became a target of John’s to SUP in as many different counties as possible. Quick as a flash, ‘SUP the World’ was born, and John continues his quest to discover and investigate different parts of the globe from his trusty SUP. We caught up with John to find out more.
Tell us when you first discovered SUP and why it appealed?
My SUP adventures began with a remarkable coincidence. My apartment looks out over Southport Marine Lake, and if you look out of my window on a clear day, you can see why I love living here. If you look to the right, you can see the fells of the Lake District in the distance and, in the foreground, the resort town of Blackpool with its famous Tower and rollercoaster. To the left are the mountains of north Wales. And in the foreground, the Marine Lake.
One Saturday in June 2014, I looked out of my window and saw something I had never seen before. There were three people out in the middle of the lake, each standing on some enlarged surfboard – using paddles to propel themselves across the surface of the water. “They must be crazy,” I remember thinking, “if they fall off, they are going to get wet!”
I didn’t give it a second thought until later that same day when I took my two youngest daughters to The Fitness Factory for their dancing class. And as I was signing them in, I saw a poster on the wall advertising lessons for: ‘Stand Up Paddleboarding.’
Amy, the dance studio owner, encouraged me to book a lesson. The next thing I knew, one rainy Monday evening, I had that very first SUP session with Lucy, an instructor from SUP North. The rest, as they say, is history.
When did you realise it was a plenty for adventure and discovery?
I fell in love with SUP immediately. And it’s a love affair that has grown and grown over the years. Initially, because of the sense of calm and serenity it gave me, and the fact that almost everyone I have met through SUP is generous and welcoming. Over the years, I have pushed myself further and further, taking on bigger and bigger challenges such as the Great Glen in Scotland. In September 2021, I paddled 360 km on the Danube from Passau in Germany to Bratislava in Slovakia over eight days. I still consider myself to be an ordinary paddler, though. I’m not the fastest or the most skilled. But I have a big dream.
How did ‘SUP the World’ come about?
My quest to SUP the World evolved rather than being born. My first few overseas paddles were just add-ons to existing trips. To Australia to attend a friend’s wedding. To Portugal to participate in a training course and on family holidays to Italy and France. Visiting a friend in Spain. Gradually the idea formed in my head that I might paddle in every country in the world. It’s a pretty big challenge, maybe I won’t even succeed, but I’m sure I will have fun finding out.
Which countries have you paddled?
I’ve paddled in 45 countries so far, which I think is pretty special, but I still have a long way to go. Albania, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, England, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Caledonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Scotland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Transnistria, Northern Cyprus, Turkey, Ukraine, Wales.
And which was your favourite and why?
I’ve been fortunate to paddle in so many unique places that I find it very difficult to answer that question. But if you were to put me on the spot, I think I would plump for Italy. I’ve had many SUP expeditions in Italy — from exploring the canals of Venice to a trip down the Tiber through central Rome and a windswept paddle along the River Arno at Florence. A mad-crazy one day trip along the Ligurian coast at the UNESCO Cultural Landscape of Cinque Terre. Lago di Como, Lago di Garda and countless other exquisite lakes in northern Italy. The fact that I love pizza, pasta and Italian wine is just a bonus!
If you could paddle anywhere, which spot would it be and why?
That’s probably the most challenging question of all. There are so many special places I would love to paddle, but there is never enough time or money. I would love to spend three or four months touring South America, trying to learn some Spanish whilst SUPing the 12 countries there. It would be even better to go during the UK winter and get some winter sunshine.
Where do you most want to tick off that you haven’t been to yet?
I’ve been told that Afghanistan is a beautiful country populated by beautiful people. There is a lake on the outskirts of Kabul called Qargha, which looks ripe for SUP. Right now might not be the best time to visit, but I hope to go there one day.
How do you think your local stacks up against further-flung SUP destinations?
I’ve had a wonderful time exploring some exotic and wondrous places, but I love paddling on Southport Marine Lake, my local lake. Less than five minutes’ walk from my home, it’s ideally situated and a lovely spot to paddle. I enjoy sharing the water with my many local SUP friends, and, living here, we are often blessed with some of the most exquisite sunsets imaginable. I love SUP-ing the world, but sometimes the saying is true, there’s no place like home.
Is it just adventure/touring SUP for you, or do other areas attract?
Adventure and touring are my favourites. I’m not a particularly fast paddler, but I can go all day and get up the following day and go again. I occasionally participate in SUP racing, but it’s more for the experience than for any expectation of a podium finish! I recently took part in the Paris Nautic — an eleven-kilometre race through the French capital. I finished in 511th place out of 1,000 paddlers, so there was no gold medal for me! But the chance to paddle the Seine through central Paris, passing the Eiffel Tour and Notre Dame, was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Who would you most like to share a SUP adventure with and why?
Three years ago, I saw a photograph on social media of Mohamed Salah on a SUP board. I messaged him through Twitter to invite him to come through to Southport Marine Lake to paddle with me. I haven’t heard back from him. Not yet anyway. Perhaps he’s been too busy winning the Premier League and the Champions League and the World Club Championship with Liverpool and generally becoming the best player in the world of football. If you’re reading this, Mo, the offer is still open.
What’s your favourite gear to date?
I own two Red Paddleboards, an 11’0 Sport and a 13’2 Voyager. Between them, they take care of most of my SUP needs. I prefer to take my board with me when I travel. I often paddle alone and sometimes in far-out locations, so I need to have equipment that I can rely on.
I’ve recently purchased a Prolimit SUP suit which I hope will keep me warm and dry, primarily through the winter months. Having a decent winter kit is vital for confidence, safety, and comfort.
For me, social media is a big part of SUP. I love to take quality photographs of my adventures and log my trips with a tracking app. I didn’t quite realise how much I relied on my mobile phone until I dropped it into the Danube during a multi-day adventure in 2021! A mobile phone inside a waterproof case also provides an important safety function.
How’s COVID impacted your journeys?
Any thoughts of international travel came to a sudden halt for us all in early 2020. I found those first few months of lockdown challenging to deal with, especially in terms of mental health. However, COVID travel restrictions gave me time to explore closer to home. During July, August and September of that year, I became the first paddler to SUP around the perimeter of all twelve SUP-able lakes in the English Lake District.* I haven’t ventured too far from home in the last two years, mainly because of travel restrictions. But I have managed to revisit a few favourite European countries.
In 2020, we were allowed to SUP on 12 lakes. Sadly paddling has recently been banned SUP on Thirlmere and Ennerdale. We are hoping to have this decision reversed, but there are only ten SUP-able lakes at this time.
Are you getting back to travelling to SUP, though? Or still on hold?
I paddled in Italy in 2020 and Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Slovakia in 2021. As well as Scotland, England and Wales. So life hasn’t been entirely on hold. I’m just taking things as they come at the moment. I don’t plan to venture too far afield just yet. I describe my challenge as a lifetime quest to SUP in every country in the world. Hopefully, I still have a good few years of that lifetime left in me.
Any other paddling plans in the pipeline?
I hope to share some fun by organising a few SUP tours and adventures in 2022. In the UK and Europe. I am also working on a book (two books) that I hope to publish in 2022.
Got any specific SUP goals for 2022?
The world of COVID we have lived through recently has made it difficult to plan too far ahead. But on the other hand, I don’t want to sit indoors waiting to see what will or will not happen. If you lived your life like that, you would never do anything. I have one or two exciting overseas adventures up my sleeve, but I don’t want to say too much at this stage.
Final thoughts on SUP?
In the UK, the popularity of SUP has exploded in the last two or three years. It’s terrific to see so many new people coming into our sport and enjoying the physical and mental health benefits. But I believe that SUP needs to do as much as we can to educate people to enjoy the activity in safety.
Thanks and praise?
So many people have helped me out over the years – it’s not practical to name them all – you know who you are – online and the real world. Those who paddled with me on some of my trips and showed me their country:
I’m thinking of the crazy gang at Surf Agency in Aarhus, Denmark. Martin and Marina took me around the Malmo canal system, and Chris Jones of SUP My Race fame also paddled with me in Sweden. Andris Green gave me a bed for the night in Latvia and a guided tour of Riga. Sergiu Iliescu of SUP Moldova paddled with me in Chisinau and gave me a massive bag of shiny red apples from his garden. Alain from SUP Rosport in Luxembourg allowed me to launch from his pontoon and had a beer with me after my paddle along the River Sauer. Roberto Discesa and everyone else who made me so welcome in Rome. And many others.
Also, I seem to bump into Allison and Alistair from Northwest Paddleboards in random parts of the world.
I can’t forget the kindness of strangers:
- The German couple hiking in Austria who allowed me to use their mobile after dropping my phone into the Danube.
- The Indonesian guy in Vienna who helped carry my gear up a steep hill.
- The driver who stopped to help me when my car broke down on a remote and freezing mountainside in Albania.
- The early morning jogger who volunteered to pump up my board on the beach in Larnaca.
- A fisherman at the harbour’s side in Beirut who helped translate a conversation from Arabic to English.
- The French man who picked me up hitchhiking at the side of the road in New Caledonia
- A young man in Austria who helped carry my fully laden board over a tricky portage.
- Lawrie, a taxi driver from Mallaig in Scotland who rearranged his schedule to save me from a long walk.
And I mustn’t forget Radwan and Wassim who looked after me so well during my 2019 visit to Syria.
But really, I must thank Lucy Pearce for that first sup lesson back in 2014 and all the support I have had from Lucy and Alan at SUP North since that rainy beginning.