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Polarbears And Paddleboards

An Interview with Phil Sayers by Orla O'Muiri

Polarbears & Paddleboards
Ideas for unique adventures to embark on are becoming increasingly difficult to unearth. However, we think we’ve come across such a one. A team of ten will attempt to Stand Up Paddleboard up the Sermilik Fjord in Greenland to reach the towering Helheim Glacier. A 100km journey that has never been attempted before. Sidetracked caught up with team member Phil Sayers to find out how they intend to pull off this feat.
Sidetracked: So how did you get involved in all of this?

Phil Sayers: Paul Hyman and Justin Miles originally came up with the concept of taking Paddleboarding to an extreme and remote location like the Arctic to prove how safe and accessible Stand Up Paddleboarding is. The idea for the project evolved over the following months and once they mentioned the project to me I knew that this was an adventure of a lifetime and immediately said that I would love to be a part of it. The expedition is an opportunity to visit one of the most stunning landscapes on the planet; the project also has the potential to help change lives through the charities we are supporting and introduce new people to this exciting new water sport that we are all so passionate about.

Have you been trying to replicate the conditions of Greenland in your training? E.g. going out on your board in speedos so you can get used to the cold?

The UK weather has come up trumps over the last few months for providing conditions similar to what we are expecting to find in Greenland. We anticipate the water temperature in August to be around freezing and the air temperature to be between 5-10 degrees, so the extended winter conditions have been ideal.

SUP is quite an exposed way of travelling, what gear will you be wearing in case you fall in to the water?

We are currently testing a variety of clothing and equipment to take on the expedition including; dry suits, base layers, wetsuits, wetsuit socks, dry boots and various gloves and mitts. The main factors that we need to consider are: keeping our feet warm as these will be in contact with the water for the majority of time; and selecting clothing that will prevent us becoming too hot while paddling, but at the same time ensuring we are protected in case we fall into the freezing water. The training and expedition will give us the opportunity to find out what water sports kit works well in cold conditions and if there is a need for developing new clothing and equipment to ensure people are able to paddle all year round. We will be working closely with manufacturers to help develop equipment specifically for the SUP market.

What is the protocol if you fall in?

We have a fantastic support team on the trip from a Norwegian polar guiding company called Newland – one member of the support team will be in a kayak and we also have a support boat. Hypothermia is obviously the biggest worry, but the safety boat will be equipped with emergency equipment, hot drinks, dry clothing and blankets to ensure the risks are minimised. Many of the team are qualified ASI SUP instructors and have trained in SUP rescue techniques; the majority of the team are also trained in first-aid.

I knew that this was an adventure of a lifetime and immediately said that I would love to be a part of it. The expedition is an opportunity to visit one of the most stunning landscapes on the planet.

What potential dangers are the team facing and what are your plans to deal with them?

Apart from the ice-cold water the Fjord will be littered with Icebergs, which we will have to navigate our way around on route. On land there is always the potential of coming into contact with Polar Bears. Newland are extremely well prepared and experienced on dealing with these types of situations so we will be in good hands. They will be looking after all relevant emergency communication equipment, e.g. satellite phone with recharging solar panel, a personal locator beacon and an advanced medical kit. We also have direct access to medical advice support in the UK and East Greenland if required.

What will you be using to navigate and also to make sure you start out where you left off each morning (moving ice)?

We will camp on the waters edge each night, so we won’t have to worry about floating back down the Fjord! To navigate we will be able to follow the shore bank as we move up the Fjord, so no specialist navigation equipment will be required. A GPS will mark the exact co-ordinates of our journey north up the fjord, and used to calculate the distance travelled.

You will be camping out on the ice at night. Have you a rota for someone on the look out, the cooking, the cleaning etc?

The camping on the edge of the fjord each night won’t be on snow/ice in August but on the land. The team will share the daily housework duties such as cooking and setting up camp and kit repair. We will take shifts at night on ‘polar bear watch’ to ensure they don’t get too close.

What will you be packing – any spare paddles?

We will be using the brand new inflatable paddleboards from Coreban so we will carry repair kits in case any minor repairs need to be done and we will also take one spare board. The paddles are from Quickblade, which are 3 piece paddles making them easy to transport. These can be taken apart to a total length of less than a metre and then re assembled for high performance full carbon paddling. The paddles are the lightest and strongest paddles available and we will be taking at least two spares. Most of the support, safety equipment and all of the food (pre-packed ready for the expedition to minimise packaging), will be freighted to Greenland direct from Norway. But the SUP specific kit will travel with us on the plane from the UK as we want to demonstrate how versatile paddleboarding can be.

Will you be using social media while on the trip? What device and when will you do it?

We will have a satellite phone with us as part of the usual safety backup in these extremely remote locations, we hope to use this as a modem to connect to an iPod or laptop for tweets and Facebook updates etc. We are also hoping to obtain a tracking device so people to follow our journey in real time.

Why was this particular route chosen?

The Sermilik Fjord is on the East coast of Greenland and at its head is the Helheim Glacier, which is part of the Greenland Icecap. The Sermilik Fjord is renowned for being one of the best locations for viewing icebergs on the whole of the east coast of Greenland and should prove to be a challenging test of paddling skills and stamina as we attempt to travel over 100Km in just 4 days.

What is going to keep your mind entertained and body enduring for 20km a day?

Most of the team will have iPods etc. with them so they can listen to music. One of the advantages of having a good size group and great bond in the team and that there is sure to be plenty of banter to keep morale high. The food is calculated according to total calorie consumption and also a balance of protein, fat and carbohydrate. This is a tried-and-tested model that Newland have used on many similar long-endurance expeditions in cold environments – a food programme designed by the Nobel prize winner in nutrition in Norway. It is also supplemented by Herbalife protein recovery shakes, as this is a critical part of any expedition of this nature.

Where do you hope to see the sport of Stand Up Paddleboarding going in the next few years?

SUP has so much potential as a sport, form of exercise and social activity that we are confident that it is only a matter of time before it becomes a mainstream sport in the UK. The fact that a total beginner can be out on the water, paddling and having fun after just a few of hours of tuition; but it will also constantly challenge you and allow you to develop your technique and learn new skills is what makes SUP unique. Unlike other water sports, SUP can be used for such a wide variety of activities like; yoga, white water paddling, surfing, flat water and downwind racing or simply going for a relaxing paddle with friends, so why wouldn’t you want to give it a go?

Why do you personally want to do this?

The Polar Bears & Paddleboards project is a unique challenge and once in a lifetime opportunity. We have the opportunity to work with charities and use SUP to raise money and awareness for their causes. We are going to be able to showcase the potential of SUP and introduce new people to the sport that we love and I have the opportunity to travel and explore an incredibly beautiful part of the world that is relatively unknown.


Keep track of the team as they set off on this incredible adventure through their website, or on Facebook and Twitter

Interview by Orla O’Muiri. SUP Photography by Phil Sayers. Greenland photography by Magnus Elander, Klaud Eskildsen and Greenland.com and used under the Creative Commons Licence.

We are going to be able to showcase the potential of SUP and introduce new people to the sport that we love and I have the opportunity to travel and explore an incredibly beautiful part of the world that is relatively unknown.

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