Adventure addict and SunGod ambassador, Fiona Quinn shows us how with minimal SUP experience, she managed to set a World Record.
"The main problem with this idea was my fear of the sea.”
Not much of a swimmer? Neither is Fiona Quinn. This apparently did not stop her from becoming the first woman to complete a length of Britain triathlon - yes she did it 3 times! After cycling and walking the length of the UK, the final phase of this incredible undertaking was an 874 mile ‘paddle’ from Lands End to John O'Groats. A journey which took her across the entire length of the Irish sea – another first for woman-kind! Fiona, who swapped her 9-5 job in favour of adventure back in 2010, tells us how it all came together…
1. How much preparation is involved for a challenge like this?
Getting to the start line of an adventure is usually the hardest part and SUP Britain was no exception. To start with, I’m not a water baby. I’ve never surfed and have virtually no experience on the sea. Having only stand up paddle boarded on the sea 3 times before I set off, the idea of being out there for months with so many unknowns, paddling from Lands End to John O’Groats in an attempt to set a new world record, filled me with nausea inducing anxiety as I sat waiting to start on that first day. I'd spent 5 months preparing for this expedition, trying to find core sponsors, finding crew and getting kit sorted and when it came down to the wire I didn't have everything I needed. Despite this, I decided to start anyway - often we can get bogged down with needing to be "ready" but I figured if I just made a start and kept pushing to find what I needed, everything would fall into place and it did!
2. Why did you decide to paddle board instead of Swim?
To be frank, the idea of being in the water just scared me too much! I thought I could cope with being on the water rather than in it and I liked the idea of doing a world first! Two weeks before I started, I took on British Canoeing's 'Three Lakes Challenge'. Paddling the length of the longest lakes in Wales (Lake Bala), England (Lake Windermere) and Scotland (Loch Awe), I put my new inflatable SUP board, waterproof bags and clothing through their paces and also ended up getting a bit of practice dealing with strong gusty winds in Scotland!
3. How much did fitness play a part in your success?
I have a general base level of fitness simply from getting out on my bike fairly regularly but I'm not big into fitness. I don't go to the gym or do any kind of training regime. The real thing that is essential for an endurance adventure, I think more so than physical fitness, is your mindset. It's amazing how the body adapts but if you don't believe you can do it or you don't have the mental stamina to endure through pain and sleep deprivation, you'll struggle to make it to the end.
4. What was the most difficult part of SUP Britain?
The most surprising aspect for me was the loneliness. Throughout all my previous expeditions, I have met so many people along the way which is what I really love about adventure. With SUP Britain, being both supported and on the water meant I didn't meet many people at all.
5. What was your biggest fear or concern?
I've always been pretty scared of the sea. Both of my parents and I nearly drowned when we were young and so I've never seen the sea as an adventure playground. As such, the idea of being out there at the mercy of the waves for so long, was really daunting. I guess I'm pretty determined though, once I get an idea in my head I tend to push through the fear to get the job done. Plus, it's funny when you do push through, it is never as bad as it seems!
6. How Important were your support team?
They were invaluable. Due to my inexperience on the sea it wouldn't have been safe for me to attempt this unsupported and neither would I have been comfortable doing so, particularly with the Irish Sea crossing. From my photographer, coach and skipper Liam, to second skipper John and the deckhands, they all kept me safe and cheered me on. They were incredible!
7. What was the highlight of SUP Britain?
That's a funny question for me because the most memorable day was the worst. As I was making my way up the west coast of Scotland I was caught out near the notorious Corryvreckan whirlpool – the third largest in the world. My support boat had left me for just 90 minutes to change crew, when I found myself unable to fight the surging tide. Terrified, I was slowly pulled towards the whirlpool, which is on record as being able to pull a person 262m down to the sea bed. The sense of relief was overwhelming as my crew raced back just in time to pluck me from the waters! Paddling into John O’Groats at the finish line was also incredible!
8. Did you ever doubt yourself?
Never. When I start on something there's no question of not finishing. I might have to adapt how I get to the end but I'm going to get there. I don't think you can set out on something as big as this with any doubts. Failure is never an option for me.
9. What was the most valuable lesson you learned from SUP Britain?
Never give up. I started SUP Britain without a skipper, support boat or the funds to buy one. I was often asked at what point I would give up but I knew this was my one shot. I had to make it happen and eventually I did. It's just a matter of positive thinking, perseverance and time. Anything is possible if you believe it so.
10. Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone looking to escape the shackles of society and head out adventuring?
If you look at any challenge as a whole it can be incredibly daunting but if you break it down, eventually you'll get to the end. It's incredibly liberating when you realise that's all it is - it makes any big challenge seem incredibly simple. The same approach applies when planning and organising too. Just keep plugging away and you'll get there in the end!
So there you have it. An extraordinary tale of adventure and trepidation from a seemingly ordinary woman. This adventure is stand alone proof that no challenge is too complex and no obstacle too large if you have a little grit, determination and willpower. At SunGod that's what we're all about, stepping away from the ordinary and diving headfirst into the next adventure. Check out a teaser from SUP Britain here: