SUP: Blue, grey, blue – sightless SUPing in Mallorca with Dean Dunbar

Words and pics: Dean Dunbar

When I first told SUPM’s editor I was heading off to Mallorca with my SUP, he said this could make a good travel piece. I told him that if I couldn’t find a sighted guide to paddle with, the article would read: “Launched my SUP from the jetty, paddled out to the edge of the bay, turned around and paddled back. Repeat 25 times.” I told him that, without a sighted guide, that is likely to be all I would be doing. He then suggested that an article about how different my SUPing is to others may make a good article instead. So, here goes…

I was first introduced to SUP by my great mate Carl Sawyer in 2011. At the end of 2013, Carl and I discussed a couple of possible SUP adventures, and by April 2014 I had bought my first SUP. Carl had taken me out for a couple of sessions on the sea, and the guys from Wilderness SUP had taken me out for a couple of river trips. In most of the activities I do, I need a sighted guide, and SUP seemed to be the same.

On the sea Carl needed to tell me when waves were about to hit me, as I couldn’t see them, and also had to tell me when I was drifting too far out to sea. On rivers I needed to be told about obstacles such as overhanging branches, shallows, and floating debris. Then when I started training on lochs, I realised that I could do this on my own.

My first big test was when I paddled the full length of Loch Tay, solo. To make sure I kept going in the right direction I had to stick close to the shore. This meant I would have to go in and out of every little nook and cranny along the way. Instead of the recorded 23.5km length of Loch Tay, straight down the middle, I ended up paddling almost 30km, but I had done it on my own.

One of my big sight problems is that I cannot judge distances. During a training paddle on Loch Tay I had been determined to stay within 5-10 metres of the shore, but later was told by a couple of kayakers that I was actually over 100 metres out. This issue followed me out on the sea, and was the main reason I was looking for a sighted guide to join me on my trip to Mallorca.

Dean Dunbar sightless SUP in Mallorca

I have done some sea SUPing without a guide, but this is pretty stressful. Instead of using my eyes, I tend to rely more on my ears. I listen to waves crashing off the shore and try to then keep the volume of the waves as constant as possible. The general rule is the louder the waves are, the closer to the shore I am, and the quieter they are, the further out I am. This works to a point but, as you know, waves do not all come in one size. Every now and then a bigger wave will crash against the shore, and I start to panic thinking I’m too close. Or a couple of smaller waves hit the shore, with less noise, and all of a sudden I think I’ve drifted out to sea and must head back in!

Whilst trying to listen to wave noise I’m also trying to feel what the water is doing below me, by the way the board moves. Am I on the front of a wave, or the back, and am I over a trough or in one?  It all makes for an interesting paddle (that’s one way to describe it! – Ed). On Scottish lochs I may be ‘Captain Pugwash’ but out at sea I’m definitely ‘Roger the Cabin Boy’.

Unfortunately, after following several helpful leads from friends on Facebook, when I arrived on Mallorca, I had no guide. (Apparently the water is still too cold for the locals in April. They should try paddling in Scotland during mid-winter!). Not to worry, I had my back up plan – walkie talkie radios.

I had been to the same place last year, and had memorised the general layout of the bay. The first half was very sheltered, but the second was more open to the elements. When I’d paddled there last year I had hired a big Red Paddle Fatboy board, around 32-34 inches across. Even on such a wide SUP I had fallen in the water several times. This year I had brought my own 12.6ft Red Paddle Race board, which is only 28”, so I was expecting to swim a lot.

On my first day the water was pretty flat so I decided to go for a paddle down the coast. Keeping the cliffs on my right I followed the shore line. What a difference. In Scotland I paddle with a view of three horizontal stripes – normally grey, black and grey. These represent the water, the hills and the sky. In Mallorca I was looking at blue, grey and blue – the grey cliffs sandwiched between a glorious blue sea and blue sky.

My wife Rhona had found several viewing points along the way and, when it looked like I was heading off course, she would call me on the walkie-talkie and put me right. That day I did a 10km paddle and loved every minute of it.

Dean Dunbar SUP rest stop Mallorca

For the rest of the week the weather wasn’t so good, so I was restricted to paddling around the bay, with the odd wee venture out. I didn’t get to do as much exploring as I’d hoped, but it was great fun trying to read the water, and stay dry.  Which, remarkably, I did! SUP is proving to be a great sport for me and I’m really grateful Carl introduced me to it. Thanks mate!

Also thank you to my sponsors Red Paddle and Palm Equipment Europe, who are both sponsoring our ‘SUP it and See 3’ film later this year. (Check out Youtube for ‘SUP it and See’ and ‘SUP it and See 2: Board Scilly’).





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