Team Paddlefast Conquer Loch Awesome Endurance Paddleboard Challenge

Winding my way along the single-track road to Dalavich, almost two thirds down the Western shore of Loch Awe, I spotted a bright blue sign, ‘Loch Awesome – are we nearly there yet?’. This question came back to haunt us all on the first day of the challenge! The LochAwesome challenge is a 75km paddleboarding team challenge, a double-header if you will, of Loch Awe, over 2 days. The team element is key, it’s not a race, you all must get to the checkpoints and across the finish line together.

With entrants from all corners of the country, the first challenge for many was finding the wee village of Dalavich. I was greeted by a festival-like atmosphere of vans and tents, portaloos and the luxury of access to the village hall as a focal point for meals and impromptu yoga sessions.

My next challenge was to find, and in one case meet, my team-mates for the next couple of days. The Paddlefast team comprised 6 paddlers of varying paddleboarding experience. Derek, a former triathlete, has only been paddling a year, whereas Ollie (Saltwater SUP) stands at no 43 in the world rankings! Jaya, Nick, John and I made up the rest of the on-the-water team and Nick very kindly brought team photographer, Juliet (his wife) and team mascot Freya (Labrador).

Loch Awesome Day 1 – Northern Loop (Dalavich to Kilchurn Castle and back) 46km

A sense of anticipation and nerves was prevalent at breakfast, briefing, kit check and the start line until finally we were off! The wind slowly built until we had a reasonable tailwind helping us on the way to checkpoint 1 at Loch Awe Boats.

Thoughts of ‘what on earth have we signed up to?’ didn’t really kick in until we turned at Kilchurn Castle, when the lovely tailwind we had enjoyed on the way down, became a menacing headwind with waves on the way back. Our sub-10-minute kilometres quickly turned into 18 minutes, to 25 minutes, to 30 minutes as we struggled our way back to Checkpoint 3 at Loch Awe Boats.

Island-hopping as best we could, there was a 5km section of open water to go. There may have been a few choice words hurled at the wind, and I know I wasn’t the only one! That section was one of the most difficult I have encountered to date and the longest I have had to paddle on my knees for.

Here I must give a huge shout out to the Marshalls and the team at Loch Awe Boats who kindly took pity on the crazy paddlers, supplying sweet milky tea on request. If you know me well, you know I don’t drink tea or coffee, but I swear it was that cup of tea and a chat with my lovely teammates, which gave me the renewed courage and determination to continue (I freely admit I nearly called it quits!).

A scoot over to the opposite, leeward shore, head down and onwards. Then something brilliant happened, the wind dropped off, the waves evened out and disappeared, the sun came out and we were making decent progress again. ‘Walking on Sunshine’ came on the headphones and things were looking up.

Never have I been so happy to see a Red Bull arch – it’s just round the next headland, honest! We returned to Dalavich, crossed the finish line as a team, to tunes and cheers from those who had already finished and the onshore supporters. The final challenge of the day being to carry your board off the water – fortunately I had a little help.

Loch Awesome Day Two – Southern Loop (Dalavich to Torran Bay) 29km

Day two dawned clear and wind-free, much to the relief of all the paddlers! A few light zephyrs combined with general exhaustion from the day before meant that there was almost an unspoken agreement to ‘try this drafting lark’. We managed to keep that going for around 6km and made really good time. Team goals… check! The rest of the day stayed flat, and a wee tailwind most of the way back. The only drama was when the safety boat roared past and we went from paddling 6 abreast to completely scattered across the Loch (some surfed the wash, others turned towards it!).  We regrouped for a final draft session and came in to the Red Bull Arch with the tunes blaring, boogying away!

Initially I had been quite worried about my role as Captain, the responsibility of keeping everyone together, if something goes wrong, etc, etc (I am a worrier!). We had a strong bunch of characters making up the team and I must thank them for making the event so memorable. In no particular order:

A couple of choice phrases stick with me:
It’s just round the next headland (ha ha ha)
“It’s not a race”
Are you STILL singing?
Jaeger bomb anyone?

On a personal note

I would also like to thank Samantha Rutt of Barefoot Ocean Fitness for her training plan and support over the last year. Finally, my lovely family for putting up with my disappearing to paddle for hours at a time. They looked after the kids, they fed me when I got back and kept encouraging me on. I couldn’t have done it without you!

Fancy a go at endurance paddling?

If you are thinking of getting into endurance paddling, I would highly recommend a team challenge like this as your first foray into longer distance. You will get a feel for what conditions you can handle, what kit you will need, what snacks and hydration work for you, etc.

The next, similar team event (that I know of), is the Trent100 in July. Run by the same team, Helen, Dave and Casja of Saltwalk, the festival atmosphere prevails, and the fancy dress party is as well attended as the challenge. Everyone is made to feel welcome and included, especially supporters or four-legged team mascots.

Want to go one step further?

Why not sign up for the Great Glen Ultra? 92km over one or two days from Fort William up to Inverness. Usually run with the prevailing wind direction, in theory it’s one hell of a downwinder. Shore-based support is recommended for the Great Glen to assist with the shuttling of boards/paddlers.

Great Glen Information pages

Great Glen Entry Form

To find out more, drop us a line on 01324 861756 or via email [email protected]

(photo credits go to the LochAwesome Team (drone footage), Ollie William, Juliet Jessop, Angela Kerr).

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