Interview: Peter Tranter
Pics: Samantha and Steve Rutt
Sam has just paddled her way to a new world record ratified by Guinness World Records for the fastest crossing of the North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland. What further reason did we need to have a natter with Sam on the world of SUP?
Hiya Sam, you’re now embedded in UK SUP history, but how did you first become involved in SUP, and how many years have you been paddle boarding?
The first time I picked a paddle up was in Portugal back in 2015. We were supposed to be on a surfing holiday, but I had herniated a disc in my neck and had pretty bad nerve damage in my right arm, so surfing was out…desperate to get on the water; we booked a SUP lesson. We turned up it was on a small grubby estuary that ran off into the sea (we could see all the surfers having a ball!). Knowing what SUP conditions you should teach in now, there is no way our lesson should have gone ahead; it was so windy…our boards blew off down the beach, and we couldn’t stand up. It was awful, so that was it until the following year when I tried it again on the Norfolk coast and the ocean and fell in love with it
You’re an inspiration to many paddleboarders? Who do you get your inspiration from both at the start and now?
My inspiration comes from people who overcome adversity to achieve amazing things. It’s the fastest way to bring me to tears watching people do firsts like Ross Edgly and Brendon Price circumnavigating the UK (I cried watching both of them coming in at the end), Justine DuPont winning the XXL at the WSA, and Andrew Cotty coming back from a broken back to surf Nazare. I am also inspired by people overcoming adversity, especially my mother-in-law Ellen who battled breast cancer for 30 plus years but always put everyone first and always had a smile no matter what she was dealing with; that inspires me. Anyone who has been told they can’t, then they smash that ceiling and show the world they can…puts a fire in my belly to do and be more and challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone!
Tell us a little about how the North Channel crossing idea emerged.
You kindly documented my attempt to paddle the English Channel and back again in 2020. That was just a failure of a challenge for so many reasons…permission…covid…it felt like one problem after another. That’s when I decided I would have a go at paddling the east coast of the UK, and that felt like a failure as well as I just didn’t enjoy the unpredictability of the weather, meaning I couldn’t get out on the water. So after two weeks of bad weather and just under 100km covered, I headed home to Norfolk and did the Norfolk to Suffolk border on a SUP and running if I couldn’t paddle…I didn’t enjoy the multi-day challenges; something was missing that those two challenges didn’t satisfy! It’s a lesson in resilience, though, as I never gave up, never thought right well, that’s it, I’ve failed. I’m hanging my paddle up. I discovered what I do and don’t like, and I love crossing from point to point. So l was put in contact with a prone paddler called James Fletcher, who SUPJunkie had just covered a story on as he had crossed the North Channel, and it hadn’t been on my radar… a few calls later, and it was booked.
Were you surprised by how much you beat the previous SUP crossing record?
Very….it was bittersweet, though. Iain McCarthy, the current record holder, was fantastic support. We chatted a lot before with him offering great advice, and his hospitality when we arrived was off the chart. He organised our accommodation at the Salty Dog, which is a great hotel and even sponsored costs towards our hotel, so he is just one in a million so generous and has a fantastic club SUP Hub NI who were also so welcoming…I thought it would be tough to beat the 6 hours 30 minutes that Guinness had set, so coming in at 5 hours and 2 minutes was a shock. I asked my husband and boat crew if they had got it wrong, and they meant 6 hours and 2 minutes!
Was there any moment of the crossing that scared you, and if not – what would it take?
Ok, so those that know me know that I am not particularly fond of jellyfish, it is a slight phobia. I am happy in the water swimming with sharks as they tend to move out of your way and, on the whole, avoid humans more than they attack us. However, it breaks my heart at the bad press they get, especially as we are in their home. Most sharks will avoid human interaction, and the only way they can really tell what you are is to take a nibble…but jellyfish just bob along, paying no attention to who they are stinging and don’t move out of your way; it’s been a fear of mine for as long as I can remember. My worst encounter was a field of Portuguese Man of War in a Euro Tour race in France!
Aside from smashing the record – what do you believe was your highest achievement during the crossing?
Actually, getting on the water in the lead-up, I suffered from uncomfortable bouts of intense anxiety. While anxiety is expected, especially for something like this, the intensity kick starts my fight or flight response, so a few days before, all I wanted to do was quit and go home and hide under a blanket so that the feeling of anxiety would dissipate. Still, I know from previous experience that I can work through it and that once I get to the other side, it will be worth the uncomfortable feelings.
Besides the obvious board and paddle – what will be the first piece of equipment you pack for any long SUP paddle?
My Garmin, haha; while I don’t get hung up on stats, I am pretty geeky and love looking at them when I finish any training session. I also have the Garmin Fenix 7 now, which is an amazing bit of kit, especially for endurance SUP, as it has a built-in solar watch face, so it charges as you go.
Talk us through your new gear and what you’re riding these days.
I am fortunate enough to be an ambassador for Starboard here in the UK, so the kit they provide me with is not only award-winning but also something I trust to get the job done. I used my 23” inch wide Allstar but had thankfully been provided with a backup board by Andy Holland of Supslife, also a sponsor, that was 26” wide just in case conditions picked up, but the 23” was perfect. I team that with the Black Project Hydroflow X small blade as it is so kind to my body that I have zero shoulder aches, pains or muscle soreness after some long-distance training and the actual challenge.
Are you naturally competitive?
People often think I am competitive, and there is an element of competitiveness, but it’s usually with myself. Whether it’s a race or a challenge, I don’t like getting off the water thinking I didn’t give it my best shot or that something is left in the tank. It’s more about beating my own times or pushing to get faster rather than thinking, “Oh, I must beat that person,” it’s internal competitiveness, and I already think I want to go back and do it in a quicker time!
Do you have a specific training regime, or is it simply about getting wet and putting the hours in?
I am a qualified personal trainer and will be a qualified strength and conditioning coach in the next few weeks. Understand the importance of periodising your training which allows for quality building with recovery factored in, along with understanding everything you’d need to work with an athlete at the highest level. So my training for this event has been specified for it, so there has been a lot of time putting the hours in, but it is always structured.
I am so fortunate to work with Larry Cain and love how he says it’s a team effort; he comes with years of fantastic knowledge but listens to my input and keeps me accountable. Having someone in your corner makes such a difference, and the ease of how this challenge felt goes to show that the training works. Now it’s time to focus back on my speed so I can get back to racing.
What would a typical food day be for you from breakfast to supper?
So over the years, I have discovered that my body works best fasted, so I usually get up to train and then eat breakfast, which today was a strawberry and cream protein smoothie with Beetroot Juice (blurgh!). Nuts as a snack or apple and peanut butter are delicious. Lunch was chicken tacos with salad, and dinner will be Harrisa Chicken with some pasta and veg. I love food; it’s one thing in life I enjoy, so I try and balance it; at weekends, we have a great place that does oven-fired pizza!
What is the most significant accomplishment in your career to date?
When I decided to do challenges, I also talked openly about my diagnosis of Complex PTSD and how it has affected me and how I navigate mental health and doing challenges. The messages that I have received to say it helped them or they live with someone going through a tough time, or inspired anyone to do something they might not do, would be the one thing I would feel is significant in terms of feeling like I have accomplished something.
In terms of an actual challenge, it was probably being the first woman to cross the wash with my poor husband in tow, unsupported as it made me feel like I could push myself out of my comfort zone. I loved how it made me feel getting to the other side; it just felt right. I had that same feeling about this challenge.
Do you have any thoughts on the future of the sport and concerns over safety within it?
I would desperately love to see more happening with the development of our sport so that there are clear pathways for talent spotting to support our current athletes. At the moment, we have some phenomenal racers who pay for everything and organise everything, and I have to say it’s not easy when they need to focus on their training. Many have full-time jobs; they represent us as a country and work hard to do that with little support or funding. I’d love to see the sup community get behind them and help inspire younger generations to get into the sport.
GBSUP is doing an amazing job in bringing about these changes and looking into the areas that need work, but again, they are all volunteers working for free with families and full-time jobs but doing it all so we can race! When it comes to safety, absolutely, I am so worried and think we need to have a gold standard qualification so that we can limit accidents and educate. Many people come under fire on social media for a million reasons, but at the end of the day, many people don’t know what they don’t know. I feel it’s our responsibility as a community to stop criticising and start educating positively, from instructors to manufacturers and everyone in between.
I’m into SUP and going on vacation; where would you recommend?
Finistere in France, have you seen how clear the water is? I have a good friend who runs Barrachou Paddle, and the location is mind-blowing. You have bays, surf, downwind, French wine and the food; yep, as soon as the SUP season is over, that’s where I am heading; it’s so close!
If you had to choose one last thing you wanted to achieve within SUP before giving it up, what would that be and why?
I would love to help bring more young talent into the race scene, specifically, more young ladies. We have many inspirational women racing and competing in the UK, but seeing the new youngsters coming through and dominating the international scene would be amazing!
Tell us one interesting, none SUP related fact that we might not know about you.
I am colour blind and found out when I went for a role within MI5 I passed all the tests (that surprised me!) but failed the medical.
Who would it be if you could paddle with anyone in the world, dead or alive?
My Nana she’s not with us, but I would love to show her what I have achieved!
Pick two celebrities to be your parents…
Duke Kahanamoku and Emmeline Pankhurst.
Which famous person would you like to see playing you in a film?
Margot Robbie, not because I remotely look anything like her, but she is stunning and funny, so if that’s how I will be remembered in history might as well make it unrealistic, haha.
Are you a bathroom/shower singer, and if so, what do you sing?
I am neither. I am that very enthusiastic car singer you see dancing in their car. I love most music, and a lot depends on my mood, but I often listen to beachy music, so surf and ocean-style songs.
Facebook, Instagram or Twitter?
Instagram (I like pictures).
An ideal night out for you is?
Sitting watching the sunset with dinner at the beach, I have a favourite private spot I love to go to.
What one luxury item would you take with you on a desert island?
What would I find in your fridge right now?
Just going to look…beetroot juice, feta cheese, and all the salad stuff; it’s honestly looking pretty healthy, well until I look at the top shelf where I have stashed my Russell and Atwell fresh chocolates… seriously moreish!
What would you prepare for us if we came to your house for dinner?
You are most welcome to come for dinner anytime.I love fresh pasta and local produce, so it would probably be some sort of seafood pasta dish with homemade pasta… there would be a lot of cheese and cream!
What’s the most boring question you are often asked?
When people find out I was a close protection officer before coaching SUP, I always get asked who was the biggest celebrity I looked after… it’s such an overrated job.
If you could be a superhero for one day, what superpower would you choose and why?
This is such a cool question. My superpower would be being able to choose any superpower… I can never make my mind up between what is cooler…being able to fly, breath underwater, or teleport to anywhere… so if I could choose any, then that means I wouldn’t have to decide!
Who are your SUP buddies?
Way too many to list… pretty much most of the race SUP community, anyone who loves the water and pushing themselves is my kind of person, and the whole of the Barefoot Race team and plan members who are all over the country.
Any final shout outs?
It has to be to my husband. He’s pretty amazing to put up with half the ideas I come up with… to be there when he sees me battling with my anxiety but still knowing and supporting that it’s something he knows I need to do; thank you!