Words: Tom Cawthorn
Pics: Christian Ferrary
Tom Cawthorn is an enthusiastic exponent of stand up paddling. What makes his story all the more interesting is his chosen location for paddling frolics. Read on to find out how SUP in Gibraltar has been developing under Tom’s watchful eye. Then keep going to find out a little more about Tom himself.
It is sunrise and the sea is a golden mirror, the sun a red orb on the eastern horizon. You inhale; the tang of salt in the air and the infinite expanse of blue are intoxicating. Above, the last of the night sky is peeling back towards the west. Behind, looms the iconic Rock of Gibraltar, a mass of limestone, an ancient guardian of the Strait. Underneath your board the water laps enticingly at your rails, below the waves lie a captivating, colourful landscape.
However, you are here to explore – to feel the motion of the waves, to work the currents and test the wind, and experience that ancient, rocky landscape that the Neanderthals used to call home. You catch your paddle and surge forward and for a while you are so caught in the breathtaking beauty of that sunrise that you almost forget the towering landmass behind you.
Once you have paddled over the reef you are out in open waters where the likelihood is that you will be accompanied by a school of dolphin or a lazy sunfish as you paddle. Gibraltar is a haven for marine wildlife, its university a centre for studying Mediterranean marine biology.
When you curve southbound you realise that you are seeing the Rock of Gibraltar much as the ancient Phoenicians would have seen it as they approached on their ships from the eastern Mediterranean: yawning caves, wild olive trees draped precariously over rocky promontories, swooping gulls and in the distance, scuttling over branches and stones, a troupe of wild Barbary Macaques.
Then the sea changes under you, as does the landscape. You are clipping the edge of the Strait. You can see the forbidding Jebel Musa, Gibraltar’s twin Pillar of Hercules, frowning from the northern tip of Africa and in the distance, the gaping mouth of the Atlantic. The face of Gibraltar changes here, its cliffs jagged from millennia of weathering, its four sea caves at Gorham’s Complex now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Your skills and strength may be put to the test as the currents change and the sea surges. If you happen to paddle towards the western side of Gibraltar – the more cosmopolitan, populated coast with its marinas and harbours – you may pause in the shelter of Camp Bay, dominated by an ancient fortress.
Gibraltar is one of the world’s hidden gems, no less for Stand Up Paddle enthusiasts and adventure seekers as it is for avid historians, bird-watchers, marine biologists and even workaholics craving a weekend away. A tiny city at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory yet it is utterly Mediterranean in its culture and, importantly, in its weather, making it a perfect year round destination for SUP.
Which is exactly what Tom Cawthorn thought a few years ago when he set up In2Adventures. “I used to come out to Sandy Bay with a couple of friends just to enjoy SUP and we found that there were other people wanting to join in. So we set up In2Adventures to provide the equipment and also to train people so that they could enjoy SUP safely.” What started as Sunday morning fun at Sandy Bay has since grown into providing adventure experiences on the Rock for locals, holidaymakers and for corporate clients.
“We organise team-building events based around SUP for companies, both local and from abroad,” Tom continues, “we work closely with Gibraltar’s Tourist Board and with local accommodation providers and can prepare bespoke packages for groups. We cater for family groups, a group of friends wanting a break from work, and as an incentive initiative for companies, wanting to offer their staff an unforgettable experience. We can arrange away-days, long adventure weekends and much more.” Activities do not stop at SUP, although this is growing in popularity: Tom’s team organises numerous other activities – beach fun days, jet boarding, and trips into Spain for more intense activities such as canyoning and via ferrata, or kite surfing on Spain’s magnificent Costa de la Luz.
In2Adventures bases its activities at Sandy Bay, one of Gibraltar’s prettiest beaches on the dramatic east side, with its backdrop of prehistoric sand slopes. These sand slopes, which are part of a UNESCO World Heritage are protected by armour walls and its’ edging of limestone cliffs that are scored with caves and caverns will no doubt fascinate anyone vaguely interested in geology. In fact, the whole of the Rock of Gibraltar is ‘pitted’ with caves, caverns and tunnels, most of the latter being man made to provide military defences to the city in days gone by. The caves tend to be the most stunning, for example, St Michael’s Cave is renowned worldwide for its spectacular stalagmite and stalactite formations, and once thought of as the entrance to Hades. Some of these can be seen from the sea, as Gibraltar’s SUP community knows very well.If your SUP around Europa Point still left you with a thirst for adventure, you could challenge yourself by taking a trek up the Mediterranean Steps, with its stunning views over the Strait. This nature trail will take you to the highest peak of the Rock, where you could sample the dizzying SkyWalk glass balcony or stroll across the gorge-spanning Windsor Bridge.
Gibraltar enjoys a warm and friendly culture. It is a mixed community where many languages are spoken and visitors made to feel welcome. Gibraltarians love to eat out and have fun, hence the many restaurants and bars dotted around the city, marinas and beaches. There are clubs for partygoers and casinos for those who enjoy a little flutter after the adrenalin rush of a day of adventure and exertion. Alternatively, sample a sunset evening paddle, which can be particularly spectacular.
However, Gibraltar has far more to offer than the calm beauty of Sandy Bay. Jutting out as it does into the Strait of Gibraltar, where the Atlantic Ocean rushes into the Mediterranean basin, the weather can sometimes be challenging and the currents mean that the sea is not always calm. Local paddlers have laughingly compared paddling around Europa Point to ‘trying to dance after a few shots of tequila’! Conquering those waters, while rewarding, can sometimes be challenging, which is why Tom and James Gracia are fully certified instructors that have logged countless hours in the water: the safety and wellbeing of their paddlers,
One of the joys of Gibraltar is its diminutive size. With a land area of 6.5 square kilometres, nothing is far. So wherever you might decide to stay (there are plenty of hotels and self-catering accommodation) nothing is more than a brief drive or a short walk from the sea. Moored in Gibraltar’s Ocean Village Marina, The Sunborn Gibraltar is the perfect hotel from which to explore this historic peninsula. And if you fly into Gibraltar International Airport, your hotel will only be a short drive away. In fact, if you happen to fly in from London Gatwick Airport, you could arrange to arrive on the lunchtime flight and you could be on your board before afternoon tea! There are also flights from London Heathrow, Manchester, Luton and Bristol, and from Tangier and Casablanca in neighbouring Morocco. Furthermore, because you can hire all your equipment from In2Adventures, you will not need to go to the trouble of flying your kit out with you.
In2adventure’s SUP experiences are for anyone and everyone, whatever age or level of expertise – or even no expertise at all! The local SUP community is friendly, welcoming and growing all the time. You can enjoy an In2Adventure paddle even if you’ve never been on a board before and take it as tough or as easy as you like. In fact, while your group grapples with challenges further offshore, you might just want to lie back on your board in sheltered waters, watch the migrating birds of prey swooping over the sea, listen to the breaking of the waves on the shore and relax, floating in the shadow of the world’s most famous Rock that is Gibraltar.
Tom Cawthorn Q&A –
Where do you hail from originally?
When and how did you get into SUP?
I started paddling in 2011, borrowing a mate’s board and finding myself with a big smile on my face. I recognised that the paddling conditions In Gib are totally unique.
Is it just flat water paddling or do you indulge in other areas?
Flat water touring is amazing, especially when you bump into a pod of dolphins or catch a glimpse of an Egyptian Vulture migrating across the straights from Africa. We get small winter waves on the east side or when the south westerly wind picks up downwinding keeps us out of trouble.
How long has Gibraltar been home?
18 years. It was never the masterplan but it’s a really friendly, quirky place with a great community spirit.
Why here – what appeals?
Gibraltar is a brilliant location for exploring the Southern Iberian Peninsula and Morocco. The climate is great for all year-round outdoor adventures. Everything in Gibraltar is so close; you can be trekking in the Upper Rock Nature Reserve one minute, then having a cold beer in a chilled beach bar the next.
How does stand up fit into your daily routine?
In the summer I paddle most days. I love the calm of the early morning, the peace and tranquillity of a sunrise SUP. I teach SUP to mixed ability groups during the day, back in time for the school run and if it’s a good day, end with a group sunset safari.
Give us three things that excite you about stand up?
1. Every paddle is unique… the unpredictable weather conditions or the possibility of paddling with dolphins, sunfish or even a pod of whales.
2. Teaching people that don’t have confidence or are nervous, get on the water to stand up and smile.
3. Most inclusive watersport I have been involved in – it’s an expanding sport and there are so many new boundaries to push and explore.
Thoughts on SUP in general?
I love the fact paddle boarding is totally inclusive for all ages and all athletic abilities. There are so many different disciplines to discover: racing, yoga, downwinding, touring or just hanging out on the boards with your mates putting the world to rights.
Thanks, and praise?
We have an awesome group of local SUPers in Gib, everyone is friendly and really keen to help new and visiting paddlers. I’m really gratefully to BSUPA for the accessibility of their courses and especially Simon Bassett who’s experience has helped add some structure to my unconventional ideas.
For more SUP information get in touch with the team at www.in2adventures.com
Log on to www.visitgibraltar.gi for information on this fabulous destination.