WALES, United Kingdom - Sian Sykes, a U.K. paddler just accomplished a first in SUP. She just completed the first circumnavigation of an island in Wales, United Kingdom, and she’s written all about it! Check out her experience and story from her latest adventure.
Words by Sian Sykes
I set myself a SUP challenge to circumnavigate Anglesey Island in North Wales. It was a 120km journey around the fascinating and complex coastline. As a background, I live on Anglesey and I think it has such a wonderful coastline with fascinating marine life. I have paddled some sections but never the whole of Anglesey! I did it to raise money to The North Wales Wildlife Trust & Surfers Against Sewage, both of which I am very passionate about. 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 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 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 had planned to do this after I joined a group of friends that were paddle boarding the length of England so I joined them from Bath to Reading. After this I then did the 3 Lake Challenge and was the first SUP solo paddler of 3 lakes in Wales, England and Scotland and I loved the challenge and adventure! That's when I hatched the plan to SUP the whole of Anglesey where I live!
Pictured: Sian Sykes.
The biggest preparation for this trip was the planning of tides and understanding the weather. When analyzing the weather forecast I had planned to start at Rhoscolyn and journey around the island clockwise, however, on the day I was set to paddle the weather had changed drastically so I had to revise plans and discover places where it was sheltered and the tides were on my side.
I launched near to where I live, Newborough Beach, and headed counter-clockwise around Anglesey, I paddled down the classic Menai Straits! It's a narrow section of shallow tidal water, which separates the island of Anglesey from the mainland of Wales. The differential tides at the two ends of the Straits cause very strong currents to flow in both directions through the Straits at different times, creating dangerous conditions. One of the most dangerous areas of the Straits is known as the Swellies. Here, rocks near the surface cause over-falls and 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.
Sian Sykes pushing through in not ideal weather conditions. | Photo via: Sian Sykes
When you’re on a stand up paddle board (SUP), you are easily affected by the wind and for the first couple of days I struggled battling with the wind and it made progress slow which frustrated me when I was so limited to time off to do this challenge. I had a low moment when I couldn't carry on as the wind was too strong, but I soon shook it off.
It's all about reading the weather correctly, understanding the tide, the conditions and to have a strategy. The priority is being able to say enough is enough and revise plans. 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.
I was also always apprehensive about paddling around the classic North Stacks, South Stacks and Penrhyn Mawr. These areas are notorious for their strong currents and tidal races and choppy conditions however, I loved this and the conditions was in my favor! The hardest part was crossing into Holyhead harbor, a 7km open crossing and a big hard push with the tide just starting to change. I was tired after paddling 37km and it was the last push. Also, I had to time it around all the Irish Ferries coming in and out of the harbor!
The highlights for me on this adventure were that I loved 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 reconnected with nature. Watching birds fly over my head, fish jumping out of the water in front of my board and watching beautiful jelly fish float past me. I loved seeing my first porpoise! I've never seen one along the coastline so it was wonderful to sight them around six locations along the Anglesey coastline.
Sian Sykes, enjoying the sights during her 5-day trip around Anglesey. | Photos via: Sian Sykes
I also loved paddling the tidal races at North Stacks, South Stacks, Penrhyn Mawr and Porth Lynas. I love the challenge, the excitement and working hard on the board in complex conditions. And, how could I not mention seeing the iconic Skerries! I've heard about the ship wrecks around the Skerries (an island) and I loved finally seeing it, I was amazed! It suddenly hit home what I have achieved, paddle boarding around such a fascinating and challenging coastline.
During my circumnavigation of Anglesey, I carried a lot of safety tools on my board such as a flare, first aid kit, spare warm clothes, head torch with spare batteries, water and food, VHF radio, mobile phone, 2 way radio so I could communicate with my support team, spare paddles, pump for the inflatable board, repair kit, leash around my ankle which connects to my board, leash for my paddle, map, compass and charts and more. I also communicated with the Coastguard too. I also had support from a friend who joined me on some sections kayaking, carrying extra gear or they would be in a support vehicle 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.
Sian Sykes has a quiet moment of rest during her expedition. | Photo via: Sian Sykes
After I completed the challenge I was tired after fighting with the tide but I was overjoyed that I was able to complete it in five days. My parents met me at the end with a cake and a bottle of bubbly and we celebrated my success of being the first person to stand up paddle board around Anglesey. I was proud of my achievement and it was lovely to stop and take note of everything that just happened. For my next adventure I'm scheming plans…I am wanting to do an exciting expedition abroad, SUP Source to Sea, so watch this space!