Words and pics: Sian Sykes
I set myself a challenge to circumnavigate Anglesey, North Wales, on a paddle board. A 120km journey around the fascinating and rugged coastline. I did it to raise money for The North Wales Wildlife Trust and Surfers Against Sewage. My nain (grandmother in Welsh) loved wildlife, taking photographs and actively involving herself with the Wildlife Trust in Wales, so I’m continuing her legacy. I’m also a supporter of Surfers Against Sewage as they raise awareness about water pollution which I’m very passionate about.
Secondly, I did this because I wanted a challenge and to see if I could do it! Anglesey has a complex and challenging coastline and it’s all in the planning and strategy to get it right. I hatched the plan after completing the 3 Lakes Challenge. I was the first person to SUP unsupported of the three lakes in Wales, England and Scotland and I loved the challenge and adventure. That’s when I came up with the idea to SUP round the whole of Anglesey where I live.
In preparation I studied charts, tides and weather forecasts and decided to launch near to where I live and headed anti-clockwise around Anglesey. I paddled down the classic Menai Straits. It’s a narrow section of shallow tidal water, which separates the island from the mainland. The differential tides at each end cause very strong currents to flow in both directions at different times. This can create dangerous conditions. One of the most tricky areas of the Straits is known as the Swellies. Rocks near the surface cause local whirlpools. I loved every minute traveling through this section! It’s such a classic and iconic stretch to do and I always enjoy paddling there. There’s certainly a degree of risk but if you have the skills and confidence it can be fun.
For the first couple of days I struggled battling with strong winds and it made progress slow which frustrated me. I had a low moment when I couldn’t carry on as the wind was too strong, but I soon shook it off. The priority is being safe and able to say enough is enough and revise plans. It’s all about reading the weather correctly, understanding the tide, the conditions and to have a strategy. I always used the tide to my advantage and would be quite offshore rather than being stuck in an eddy. So, at times I was paddling 7km an hour.
During my trip, I carried a lot of safety kit on my board such as flares, first aid kit, spare (warm) clothes, head torch with spare batteries, water and food, VHF radio, mobile phone, two way radio so I could communicate with my support team, spare paddles, pump for my inflatable board, repair kit, leash around my ankle, leash for my paddle, map, compass, charts and more. I also communicated with the Coastguard too. My support came from a friend who joined me on some sections kayaking, carrying extra gear or driving a vehicle while monitoring my performance from the headland. Committing yourself to this type of adventure, you need to be well experienced, have the right gear and know how to use it and have a clear strategy.
I really enjoyed my experience being in the open sea; the solitude, the sound of the water, the reflections, feeling at peace, the sun on my face and that feeling of utter freedom, away from it all and being connected with nature. Watching birds fly over my head, fish jumping out of the water in front of my board and seeing beautiful jellyfish float past me. I loved seeing porpoise jumping in the tidal races – very magical!
The hardest part of the journey was crossing into Holyhead Harbour, a 7km open stretch. A big hard push was needed as the tide was just starting to change. I was tired after paddling 37km and it was the last bit of effort. Also, I had to time it around all the big Irish Ferries coming in and out.
The highlight was paddling the notorious tidal races at North Stacks, South Stacks, Penrhyn Mawr and Porth Lynas. These areas on Anglesey coastline have strong currents, tidal races and choppy conditions, however, the conditions were in my favour and I loved it, working hard on the board in complex waters.
I enjoyed the challenge, the excitement, discovering beautiful parts of the Anglesey coastline and seeing such wonderful marine life. I’m well and truly psyched for SUP and already hatching a plan for the next SUP challenge!