Posted on Leave a comment

Standup paddle the source of the Thames

SUP’ing the source of the Thames

Padldeboaridng the River Thames source
The Thames Head Inn is the best hint where to look for the source of the Thames!

If you’re into your river SUP adventures, this is one of the most ephemeral or difficult to complete challenges. For most of the year, it’s not possible to SUP England’s most famous river Thames from its source. That’s because for most of every year, and for all of some years, the water level is below ground.

So in the summer if you head to the famous Wadworths pub, the Thameshead Inn, you won’t see the River Thames.   In the very upper reaches of the Thames catchment, high up in the Cotswolds, the geology of the river is Cotswold chalk.  Which is in effect a big sponge.  And this sponge needs to become super saturated from prolonged rainfall before the river sits on the top of it. There are a number of signs in and around the Cotswolds that will let you know if the Thames is might be paddleable at its very source.  And right now, early Jan 2018, those signs are evident.  And one of the signs is the Thames being visible at the Thames Head Inn!

So to paddle the Thames at the source, what do you need to know?

Parking and access to SUP the source of the Thames

There is no confirmed right of navigation of the very headwaters of the Thames.  It is not part of the navigable Thames.  Therefore access is likely to be contested by the landowners.  McConks believes that there is a presumed right of access for navigation for all inland rivers, and that as long as you access the river from a public highway, and you remain on the water, rather than on the land, you are not breaking any laws. But this is based on long standing traditions, legislation and byelways, and recent access rights cases have not been tested in the English Courts.   So landowners might contest that you are breaking the law, and they might co

Padldeboarding the River Thames source
Shallow, sometime very fast moving waters are common when the Thames rises at its source

ntest this with dogs and guns and shouting, rather than pursuing through the courts. But mostly more by farmers shouting at you.  If you are willing to take this risk, please make sure you park on public property and cause no nuisance or damage wherever you launch from. And ensure that you respond calmly and non aggressively to any challenges.  And it might be a good idea to better understand the legal position and historic rights to be able to ‘discuss’ the matter with any landowners who challenge you.

In the interests of good relations, it might be better to start at Cricklade and paddleupstream as far you can get, rather than start at the source and paddle downstream.  The reason for saying this is that the landowners around Cricklade are more used to seeing water users on river that flows through their land.  But be aware, that the course of the Thames in the meadows around Cricklade might not be obvious when the river is out of bank, and that there are protected wildflower meadows. Any damage to these wildflower meadows is a criminal act under environmental legislation.

River safety

If the source of the Thames is above ground, the water will be fast flowing in places, and large sections of the Upper Thames are likely to be in flood and out of bank.  Obstructions, and fast flowing debris could be an issue. You needs to aware of what strainers are, how to spot them and avoid them, and as an absolute minimum you need to be wearing a buoyancy aid designed for river white water, and quick release leash, and a helmet.  You should consider whether a leash is a greater hazard than personal safety aid, and should also consider carrying a safety knife.  And you will be an experienced whitewater river paddler.

If any of this is new to you, you shouldn’t be attempting to paddle the source of the Thames without a qualified instructor.

And never paddle alone!

Kit choices

Padldeboaridng the River Thames source
Shallow waters need specialist river fins

You might not want to be using a brand new carbon paddle,  because your paddle might become an obstruction clearance aid!  So an indestructible plastic bladed paddle is recommended.

An inflatable SUP, designed for river touring, will move fastest, but an all round board (albeit with the right fins) might actually be more maneuverable around and over obstructions.

Standard depth fins are likely to keep catching the river bed in shallow sections.  You should consider getting specialist river fins. These are shallower than normal fins, but longer to keep surface area up and improve tracking, and have a strong rake to cut through and shed weeds.

Obviously a mobile phone, well protected from water, is important, but be aware that the Upper Thames is quite rural, so there will be extended sections without mobile coverage.

And remember what we said about personal safety kit.

So there are many obstacles and barriers to trying to standup paddle the Source of the Thames, including access,  lack of water, safety, and environmental legislation, which is why so few people have done it.  But if you do, please share some photos with us on facebook!

And happy SUP paddling!



Posted on Leave a comment

The four stages of Santa

So how do paddleboarding Father Christmas’s, Santa SUPs and festive elves fit into the four stages of life?

First, you believe in Santa

Secondly, you stop believing in Santa

Thirdly, you are Santa

And finally, you look like Santa.

We’re not sure what stage all of these Santas are at.  But they’ve certainly raised eyebrows and drawn lots of crowds across the UK.

And it looks like Father Christmas has been busy delivering McConks boards and paddles in the last twelve months.

Well done to Bath paddleboard centre, Bath SUP, Jay SUP Manning, SUPer Whale ,  Mid Cheshire SUP, Bartley SUP and B-ROW for getting so many Santas out on the water over the last two weekends!

If you’re stil struggling for Christmas present ideas, why not buy the gift of paddleboarding?  We’ve got lots of ideas, from experiences, to gift cards to accessories.  Check out our blog articles below


Aloha Birmingham??You have welcomed us with some challenging weather today ??, but hey we embrace the #yearroundstoke?❄️? Mahalo to B-Row: Rowing and Canoeing in Birmingham Bartley SUP Ben Julian Coaching for bringing these many Santas together? Check out the cutest #SUPpup ??Merry Christmas y’all ?⭐️? #coldwaterSUP #SantaSUP #jointheSUPtribe #sharetheSUPstoke

Geplaatst door SUPer Whale op zondag 17 december 2017

’tis the season to be merry – gift ideas – from £10 to £200, there is something in here for every paddler

Give a little pleasure for Christmas – why experiences make the best gifts, and how to choose the best experiences




Posted on Leave a comment

24 hour paddle – tall ships style

On 27th May, a small passion of paddleboarders (do you like our new collective noun for paddleboarders?) will set off from Gloucester Docks on a 24 hour paddle along the Sharpness Canal.  Paddling through dark the wee hours of the night is not everyone’s idea of fun.  And probably isn’t their idea of fun either – in fact they’re only doing it to raise money for charity, not to have a 24 hour board party!

It’s a well known fact that the more tired you are, the more your balance is affected, and the more likely you are to take a tumble into the water.  Which might be fun when the sun’s shining in the middle of a balmy summer’s day.  But it most certainly isn’t fun at 3am, on a cold, damp, drizzly May weekend.  So Alex Kell and his merry band of martyrs are hoping that the weather will be a little better.  And that they don’t get so tired that they fall off, and get cold and grumpy at 3am.

So at 3pm on the 27th May, they’ll set off from Gloucester Docks, home of SUP Gloucester, paddling on the Sharpness canal toward Sharpness.  At some point, less than  12 hours in to the paddle, they will turn around, and head back towards Gloucester Docks.  There’s high hopes of reaching Sharpness itself, but the challenge is staying awake for 24 hours on a SUP, rather than achieving a distance.  And ending up back in Gloucester Docks at 15:00 on Sunday 28th is the critical component, to arrive at the height of the Gloucester Tall Ships Festival 2017. 

And somewhere between Sharpness and Gloucester, the passion of paddleboarders will pick up some less committed stragglers, ostensibly joining in to support the closing stages of the paddle, but really just looking for an excuse to paddle close to tall ships.  Let’s be honest, if we were really looking to support them, we’d all be there through the darkest hours of the night, helping to keep morale up and keep them awake and humorous.

If you’re interested in joining Alex et al for some, or all of the paddle, contact him on twitter or facebook.  If you’d like to take part for all or some of the paddle, but haven’t got a board, try talking to Kev at SUP Gloucester, or give McConks a call.

The paddle is to celebrate 25 years of St. James’s Place Foundation and 25 years of The Pied Piper Appeal, both awesome UK charities that make a huge difference to kids that need our support.  So please come along and join Alex and crew, or, if you can’t make, please donate generously.



Posted on Leave a comment

Penbryn Sands – Ceredigion

Cardigan Bay is renowned for it’s marine life, it’s scenery and it’s beaches.  And quite rightly so.  Pretty much anywhere you choose to put in, you’ve got a chance of seeing seals and dolphins (Cardigan Bay was one of the first protected marine zones in the UK thanks to the Bottlenose Dolphin Community), and you will be blessed with slate cliffs, craggy outcrops, inlets, caves, hidden coves and stunning beaches.

The coast can be a little exposed on the prevailing westerly breeze, with an unforgiving wind chop testing your balance and rhythm.  But get it on the right day, there is no better place to explore.

Today was not the right day, but it also wasn’t a bad day.  A cool north easterly breeze kept things fresh on the beach, but thankfully it was only a light breeze.  Still, enough of a breeze for the odd white horse, and for a wind driven chop to contend with.

After having parked at the National Trust car park at Penbryn, and after avoiding the temptation for a cake and coffee at the lovely café, I carried the board the short distance through the stunning woodland walk to the beach.  Warning – this walk has a steep descent and ascent, and if struggling with a heavy board on your back, you can walk the beach road to avoid the traverse of the valley.  But you’ll miss a stunning walk and miss the lovely waterfall.

With the cold wind and chop, it wasn’t a day for a McConks family paddle – as comfortable as the boys are in the water, a swim today in the cold waters could have put them off for a while – so I set off on a solo paddle on the McC0nks 10’8 Go Anywhere, with a single fin setup and bamboo/carbon paddle.

Heading off into the wind (always recommended – that way you know you can always get back when tired!) I set off for what looked like a pleasant bay on Google maps.  Hugging the coastline to hunt for seals, I couldn’t help but wish I was on the McConks Go Explore.  The Go Anywhere was coping admirably, but the longer and narrower Go Explore would have managed the 2 foot windchop and headwind with more aplomb.

As I rounded the first headland, I focussed on technique and balance to keep driving forward – short strokes, bent knees, stroke, glide, repeat, and decided to keep going past the first sandy bay – I hadn’t earned a rest yet.  Up ahead in the distance I could see the outcrop at the end of Morfa Bay, and could also see what looked like seals hauled out.  Scared of missing the seals, I upped the cadence and got a sweat on.  This was a good workout, and a welcome and effective way to burn off the usual indulgences of a holiday (good food and good beer) and easter chocolates.

As I approached the bay, the seals gradually turned into lichen encrusted seal head shaped rocks.   But to offset the disappointment, I found a sea cave in the rocky headland to explore.  Hearing the waves crash through the cave, I could tell it had an opening into open water, but could not yet tell whether it would be possible to paddle all the way through the headland.  Dropping to my knees to save brain cells, I paddled into a small  cavern.  And although I could see the channel through to open water, the channel was too small to paddle.  There only one way around this; ditching the McConks by tying the leash to a handy rocky outcrop, I dived into the (icy) water and swam through the cave and into open water.  After scanning the horizon for dolphins or seals unsuccessfully again I swam around the headland and back to the board to head back to Penbryn.

The downwind run was more challenging than expected.   Although some of the peaks on the windchop were two foot or so, they weren’t rideable.  And they were unpredictable.  At least on the upwind run, you could see the peaks and power into them or adjust for them.  Heading downwind the waves were faster than me, and so it was a veritable roller coaster of a ride as peaks of different height past under and across me.

What’s so amazing about the Ceredigion coast is that it was the Easter holidays, I was out on the water for an hour or so, and I didn’t see a single person whilst paddling, not on land nor on the water.   The last time I paddled on the south coast I must have paddled past two dozen paddlers, and the scene is the same in Devon and Cornwall.  Call me anti-social, but I love the fact that you can still get away from the crowds in Ceredigon.  And getting away from the crowds also means you are that much more likely to stumble across the Dolphins and Seals of Cardigan Bay.

The only footprints are mine and the local wildlife. Skinny dip with abandon!

Sea caves. Explore. You’d be a fool not to.





















Posted on Leave a comment

The hard work starts now for the #MalteseSUPproject

The #MalteseSUPproject had had a great day today, covering the best part of 15km despite heavy seas and strong winds.

They’ve just reached the South East tip of Malta, making camp overnight in a rather rocky and brutalist industrial landscape at Marsallox.  It took getting up at sunrise and paddling til mid afternoon to cover 15km, so progress is slower than the team would like due to the swell and wind conditions.

14954431_10100328978243992_946376304_o 14964163_10100329025020252_1910221654_o

Launching and landing in particular  has been a challenge today with onshore winds and heavy seas causing concern.  And whilst inflatable SUP are much more resilient than hard boards to knocks on rocks, reefs and shorebreaks, you can’t take too many hits on sharp rocky shores before something gives.   This will be an increasing problem for the team over the next couple of as they’re entering the high cliff rocky shore section, so places to land and make camp will be few and far between. Tomorrow will almost certainly be another  long day of paddling to find somewhere accessible enough to stop.

Good luck team!




Posted on 1 Comment

Inspirational Canoe Wales superwomen sets off on epic adventure to Standup Paddleboard (SUP) around Malta

Sonja Jones, a Multiple Sclerosis sufferer and Board Member for Canoe Wales, sets off today on a mission to circumnavigate the three islands of Malta as part of a team of four. With winds reaching 30 knots right now, and waves currently several feet high, this isn’t just a quiet paddle in the warm waters of the Mediterranean.

If there’s a sport that captures this year’s zeitgeist, it’s standup paddle boarding (SUP). Everyone has been keen to get in on the act, with Orlando Bloom paddleboarding naked, Bill Bailey appearing in the Guardian discussing his love of SUP on the Thames, and even Countryfile and Waitrose magazine featuring SUP.   And there are a number of reasons why SUP is the fastest growing watersport in the UK and the world right now:

  1. It’s accessible. Anyone; young, old, able, less abled are able to get on a board and paddle.
  2. All you need is water. Unlike most other board sports, you can SUP 24/7.  Admittedly some conditions are better than others; sun drenched waters and light winds are particularly appealing.  But SUP is independent of waves or wind.  Although there are speciality boards for racing, or for expeditions, or for surfing, or for riding river rapids, a single all-purpose board can do all of this reasonably well.  And you can SUP anywhere; river, lake, sea or canal.  So there will always be somewhere to SUP within a few miles.

So to demonstrate just how accessible SUP is, four watersports enthusiasts have just set off on an epic expedition to circumnavigate the three islands of Malta. One of the four, Sonja Jones, has Multiple Sclerosis, and is using the expedition as a way of retraining her body in her daily battles with her condition.

Georgina Maxwell, Sonja Jones, Chris Brain and Matt Haydock
Georgina Maxwell, Sonja Jones, Chris Brain and Matt Haydock

The other expedition partners are Chris Brain, Georgina Maxwell and Matt Haydock, all of whom are outdoor activities and watersports instructors with many years of experience of training others to respect and enjoy the water environment safely. The other experience they share, or rather lack of experience, is that none of them have ever been on a SUP expedition.


McConksUK, one of the expeditions sponsors, will be sharing regular updates of the team’s progress on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram using #MalteseSUPProject.  Follow @McConksUK to make sure you get updates in your timeline.

Andy McConkey, Director of McConks said:

“Paddling the Mediterranean in November isn’t as easy as people might imagine, and is possibly more difficult than the team themselves realise. A full circumnavigation would be a challenge for experienced SUP riders.  If this team can achieve it, it really demonstrates how accessible SUP   Fingers crossed for a safe trip!”


Notes to Editor

The Team

Georgina Maxwell, is an experienced waterperson and outdoors instructor. She has been found on grade 4 and 5 whitewater all over Europe. But these days she prefers to concentrate on developing others in the moving water environment and the mountains, whether that be schoolage children or the military.

George is using a bespoke McConks inflatable paddleboard designed for the expedition. You can r

McConks 12'8 iSUP
McConsk Go Explore iSUP: made for adventure

You can read more about George’s training and to get live updates on progress on her blog

Sonja Jones is a Board Member responsible for inclusiveness and safeguarding at Canoe Wales, the national governing body for paddle sport in Wales. Canoe Wales:

  • Represent the interests of our club and individual members
  • Advocate on behalf of the interests of the sport in Wales
  • Provide coaching and development programmes from local to international level
  • Stage national and international competitions.

Sonia took up kayaking, as you will see in this documentary, as a fun and exciting way to rehabilitate and work her way to freedom and strength.

From this seed of rehabilitation, has grown a life long passion for adventure kayaking and promoting the sport itself far and wide. In order to help spread the message of how awesomely inclusive and varied the sport is she’s now the Safeguarding and Inclusion Director for Canoe Wales, as well as a regular feature writer for The Paddler International Magazine.

Sonia believes paddle sport to be one of the most social, adventurous, exciting, inclusive, accessible, and exhilarating sports in this world and I intend to spend my life working towards inspiring others to get on the water, no matter their perceived abilities or backgrounds.

Chris Brain has worked in the outdoors for over 10 years coaching and guiding and delivering professional development courses.  Chris specialises in paddlesport and is able to deliver a range of personal skills, leadership, safety and rescue courses.  As a provider of the Rescue and Emergency Care (REC) range of first aid courses, Chris seamlessly integrates his knowledge and experience of the outdoors into these courses, giving his clients fun, engaging and useful training.   Chris also has a vast experience in working with young people with challenging behaviour and is highly skilled in the area of youth development. With over 500 days spent away with clients on residential experiences Chris has a huge amount of knowledge and experience in this field.

Matt Haydock has been lucky enough to not only paddle in some amazing places; but also develop and inspire others through the amazing experiences paddlesports can provide.  Having spent the last few years working with schools which share a strong ethos for outdoor learning, he now works as a freelance instructor based in Aviemore, getting out on the water as much as possible, be that with friends or coaching others.


The team would like to thank the following sponsors:


Red Paddle Co


VE paddles


Immersion research


Glenmore Lodge


Go kayaking North West



Andy McConkey on 07595 646603 or for further information