1,000 islands – SUP boarding in Croatia

Words: Elaine Farquharson
Photos: Gutsygirls.co.uk

The Adriatic Sea contains an archipelago of 1,300 islands the majority of which lie along the Croatian coast, making this area a paddlers paradise for exploration and adventure.

This is the bluest and clearest of the seven seas in the Mediterranean. It connects up to the larger Ionian at the southern Straits of Otranto and has Italy to its west flank and Greece just to its south. These great nations, with their ancient history and mythology, have greatly influenced Croatian seafaring culture. However, it has its own identity and has remained unspoilt and less touristy than its wealthier neighbours.

The tidal range here is slight only maxing to 50cm height difference. The oceans do not govern the swells and surf but more from the wind. Surf is limited in Croatia compared to its neighbour in Italy, but the west shores can gain some great waves on southerly winds.

The climate here is oceanic and a gentler heat than other Mediterranean countries like Greece. It’s also less humid than other subtropical countries in a similar latitude. The average temperature in summer is around 30 degrees C with a water temperature of 24 degrees C. This makes things very pleasant and enjoyable for race training and touring. You actually want to fall off and its a fabulous place to learn all your freestyle tricks and footwork.

The water here behaves more like a vast open water lake. Paddling significantly benefits from the katabatic and anabatic air flows when the temperatures create pressure gradients between land and sea. It’s similar to Greece and other parts of the Mediterranean with its afternoon winds creating some great downwind runs. The bumps are clear and clean without interference from different hydrology or tidal flows, so it’s an ideal place to perfect and develop your open water playing without too much exposure.

Healthy respect
Talking about winds they’re generally very forgiving throughout the summer season, and mostly the sea is in a state of calm. However, this wouldn’t be the case during the winter with the notorious Bora (NE) and Jugo (SE) winds that create vast storms. All the island villagers show a healthy respect for such feats of mother nature. I was fortunate to let’s say to experience an out of season storm whilst I stayed out on the islands.

During the storm, the visibility is destroyed from heavy rainfall. Just seconds out in it soaks you to the skin like someone has poured a bucket of water over your head. The forked lightning is spectacular and outshines any bonfire night display I have ever watched. It’s great fun to see from the land to a tourist like me, not to be trifled without on the water that’s for sure. It is a sense of anxiety for the locals as the alarms sound, and everyone battens down the hatches. Luckily it passes quickly and is incredibly rare unless you go in winter.

Multi-day adventuring
The physical geography is beautiful with inlets and archipelagos of islands to paddle around, rock hop and explore. The opportunities for exploration and multi-day adventuring are endless. I think you could spend a lifetime here and still not have explored all the wonderful inlet, rock formations and grottos.
Due to the shorelines being rocky rather than sandy, the water is so clear and the visibility excellent. Snorkelling off the board is a must, and below the board waterline, there are hundreds of shoals of fish and spectacles to see. My favourite was the octopus or the cute black sea urchins that if you’re careful will slowly slither over your hand in the sheltered rocky shorelines.

Other animals to enjoy but be aware of as they will defend themselves if you challenge them are adder snakes in the vegetation, although rare best to be aware if you’re camping along the shorelines or into the more shrub-like areas. Also in the water, they have jellyfish that have a slightly worse sting to our common jelly’s, but I didn’t see any when I was there not even the large barrel jelly’s. Also weaver fish, anemones and those little black urchins can sting you if you happen to stand on one of them. To be honest, we had no problems just a little note to be aware of that’s all.

I was fortunate to join the fabulous gutsy girls under the ownership of visionary Natalie Poppy as an assistant guide on their holidays for adventurous women. The set up is truly unique as guests are housed in locals accommodation and traditional catering bespoke to the group. Dining at a small locals restaurant just for our party felt like a luxury where I was a guest in their house, it was lovely.

Food is heavenly
There were no expenses spared on the beautiful foods and wines and extracurricular activities outside of the paddling. Food is heavenly. Restaurants use the traditional Peka, a large metal dome dish covered in the embers and hot coals from an open fireplace to slow cook meats or seafood. The smokey flavours combined with freshly caught octopus or local meats are to die for. Plus their wines and hospitality give you a fabulous way to unwind after the adventures of a day of paddles.

I stayed on the island of Molat which is just west of Zardari. It is easy to get flights from the UK and catch a ferry from Zardar out to the islands. Ferries to Molat go twice a day. Its rural population of fewer than 200 people are split between three villages Molat, Zapuntel and Brgulje. The island is tranquil and unspoilt, and in Molat there is a cute harbourside, village centre and square next to an ancient church. The vegetation is filled with beautiful sprays of red and pink flowers with olive groves or pines. It all gives the air such sweet smells, which seem to attract beautiful hummingbird size moths to their nectar. It’s worth taking time to relax in this fabulous atmosphere to chill, and if you’re lucky, a little lizard may scurry by whilst you’re quiet.

The days consisted of exploring the islands with the help of equipment and guides from Malik adventures. Marco, the owner, has sourced a fabulous selection of high-end boards and paddles, enabling everyone to gain the best for the physical and technical levels of ability and make progressions during the weeks tours. The company also hire kayaks and bikes to enable you to get the most experience out of the islands. Our itinerary consisted of biking and paddling, with time to explore the inner islands with a hike up to a secluded church, which reveals views across the whole of the Dalmatian islands. Spectacular to see what you’ve paddled and where you have come from.

Amazing and inspiring ladies
The group of people I met was diverse in age groups, backgrounds and life experiences – what a fabulous opportunity to meet amazing and inspiring ladies and share an adventure with like-minded people. From a coaching point of view, the team had so many cross over skills, fitness and experiences; it was easy to coach such an enthusiastic bunch of ladies. This enabled us to cover a lot of mileage and take the group into more challenging conditions and will allow us to enjoy leisure time and play.

Croatia is a fabulous place to come and paddle in gentler waters, escape and enjoy warmth and tranquillity with lovely people and traditional cultures. The problem is once you go once it leaves you wanting to come back for more.

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