Loco At The Big Ben SUP Challenge 2017
Having spent the last 3 years working in London the pull of a 20k paddle along the Thames was irresistible. London is an amazing city, as a seafaring nation the Thames has been instrumental in shaping the capital. Many of it’s iconic buildings are neighbours to what for centuries has been the lifeblood of the City.
I’ve not been stand up paddle boarding long and had been looking for a challenge before the weather turned colder. This was just the thing, not too long but for me a major challenge. While my local places are on the river Hamble and in the Solent I’m no stranger to tides but was aware that the Thames has really strong currents. Walking over the bridges to and from Waterloo I always take a break from the ebb and flow of the commuters on cruise control to stop and watch the watercraft going by. So nervous about the tide and understanding the risk of pinning took to going out and getting some distance in pushing myself against the turn of the tide.
I also knew that my current board wasn’t going to give me the experience I was after. Before I knew the SUP bug had bitten me I had bought a cheap board from the internet not wanting to commit. It’s fine for short times on the local points but with the bug well and truly deep in my system and a strong case of buyer’s regret it was time to find a board to deal with the longer trips without feeling like I was going down the river on a trampoline. The Loco 14’ Motion Air is ideal, long great straight tracking, excellent gliding its going to be perfect for my plans over the next year. For the Thames made it really easy to steer around the moored barges and navigate the bridges with subtle corrections with really feeling like my effort was going into producing forward momentum.
Arriving early to check in found me with an hour to kill so while the organisers wrestled with the gazebo went to get some breakfast. Nerves in my stomach not helped by the map issued the day before with notes helpfully marked on the Google map with skull and cross-bones on the legend. A quick equipment check and time to check in then inflating the Motion air to be ready to go after the briefing.
The way down the river was focused on trying to meet the time I had set myself of completing the 10k challenge under 1 ½ hours. I have no real benchmark, 10k on local rivers had all be interrupted by weather or tide. So head was down and I was vaguely aware of passing some of the key bridges desperately trying to remember which arch to go through and largely just trying to hang onto the person in front as they slowly drifted away ahead and trying to dig a little deeper. The odd wobbly risk to glance behind to see who was coming up, not that I’d have been able to do anything about it!
Before I knew it we could see Vauxhall Bridge and what remains of my old office as it’s making way for yet more high rise flats so knew that the MI6 building and the rest point was just beyond so focused on pulling out the last 2 bridges to the finish line. To finally lift up my head and see the Houses and Parliament with the London eye ahead was amazing with a great atmosphere you can only get with the shared experience through something like this.
A run back against the tide heading to the rest beach and the turn met the racers coming through and each getting a good cheer from the challenge group. A special cheer reserved for Team Loco racer Phil as he came by.
A leisurely paddle back having achieved a time for the first half of under an hour far exceeding my hope, gave me a chance to fully appreciate the unique opportunity to paddle a section of the Thames normally restricted by the London Port Authority making this the largest group of it’s type east of Putney Bridge.
Seeing the amount of construction around Battersea and Chelsea we can see even in a year the landscape of the river is going to change again but that is what makes this a special river, seeing the old warehouses and industrial past meet the future and yet further amazed with the number of people who still call the river home with a variety of house boats of all shapes and sizes.
So I’ll be back, torn between the race but think the challenge may still be the way I go giving me a chance to fully take in all the river has to offer, at least on the way back!
Check out the video here