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Wild and a long way to go! / Paddling the West Coast of Ireland

Oona Tibbetts paddling The Wild Atlantic Way

The Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland is the longest defined coastal driving route in the world, and is just as the name suggests… wild! With a rugged rocky coastline, rough Atlantic seas and unpredictable winds the west coast of Ireland is by no means an easy place to paddle. But passionate paddleboarder and owner of ‘Wild SUP Tours’ Oona Tibbetts has set herself the challenge of stand up paddleboarding the full length of the beautiful Wild Atlantic Way this summer.

On May 1, 2019, Oona launched from Kinsale Harbour in Co. Cork, the start of the Wild Atlantic Way, and began paddling North. She will be hugging the coastline and paddling approx 2,100 km (1,305 miles), averaging 30 km (19 miles) per day. Oona hopes to complete the journey in three months, but knows full well that this might not be achievable!  

Oona is writing a regular blog and also sharing with SUPboarder her paddling experiences throughout her expedition. Hear what Oona has to say about her preparation, her kit and her first experiences below…

Paddling Ireland’s west coast is the first real SUP expedition that I have ever attempted. As such, I had a serious case of ignorance is bliss as I prepared for my voyage. I knew I needed expert advice. I sought out other paddlers who have accomplished such endeavors and was encouraged by their responses. Armed with this new information, I proceeded to plot out the coastline, procure the gear I needed and watch it all come together at the 11th hour. I actually bought my VHF radio and PLB on my way to the launch site!

“I had a serious case of ignorance is bliss as I prepared for my voyage.”

When I was imagining this journey, I saw myself paddling one of the best touring boards on the market. In the end, I launched on an 11’ BIC Tough Tec board that I had borrowed from my Dingle based SUP tour business, Wild SUP Tours. I completed the first 330km of the journey on this beginner board and probably could have finished it. BIC, however, believed in what I was doing and was willing to help me do it. I get to continue my expedition on the BIC Earth Nova Scotia! With 14’ length, 28” width and 315L of volume, this board is built for such voyages and it also happens to be one of the most beautiful boards I have ever paddled.

Early in my SUP career, I came across a closing down sale from Mara Surf, one of the only Irish watersports manufacturers, and treated myself by upgraded my aluminium paddle to a carbon fiber paddle. Years later, I am still using that same paddle. I wish Mara Surf were still in business.

I am attempting to paddle this coastline in an effort to highlight the beauty surrounding us on planet Earth. Through doing so, I am hoping to inspire people to start taking real action against climate change and plastic pollution. I want to help people fall in love with this amazing place so that they, in turn, want to care for it.

The SUP industry is sadly not very ecologically friendly. Which seems odd, since the sport is all about getting out into nature. For this expedition, it was hugely important to me that the equipment I use be addressing this issue. That is what the BIC Earth line is all about, making high end equipment with as little environmental impact as possible. There are other companies out there working towards this goal as well and I feel it is important that we as paddlers support this effort.

“I want to help people fall in love with this amazing place so that they, in turn, want to care for it.”

Loaded on the front and back of my board are two 60L dry bags holding camping gear, a change of clothes, safety equipment, and enough food and water to last a few days. I have been wearing a 4/3mm wetsuit from Sola that has proven warm enough to deal with the wind chill, cool enough that I don’t over heat and as comfortable as a wetsuit can be. I wear a bum bag style inflatable type 3 life jacket, with PLB and VHF radio clipped onto the belt. I carry, in a small bag to my front, my mobile phone, the reception off the west coast of Ireland has been surprisingly good, and an Origin protein bar to eat if I need a blast of energy but don’t have time to stop.

Over the last few weeks of paddling I have figured out how to pack my gear bags to maintain the optimal tracking of my board. I have found easy to reach places to store all necessary safety equipment without impairing my ability to paddle. There has been a fair amount of trial and error involved but, as I travel up the coast, I am becoming more and more confident in my abilities as an expedition paddler.

“The ocean is boss, the water will always win, but you can have the time of your life if you plan properly, stay informed and respect the water.”

One thing I have learned is that you don’t need to be an expert paddler to attempt such a journey. You can learn such skills on the water while doing it. But you also can’t approach such things lightly. The ocean is boss, the water will always win, but you can have the time of your life if you plan properly, stay informed and respect the water.

You can follow my expedition at https://www.wildsuptours.com/oonagoeswild or on Instagram @oonagoeswild and on Twitter @wildsuptours. I regularly update the Wild SUP Tours Facebook page with stories from the journey as well. You can support the voyage by donating to https://www.mightycause.com/story/Oonagoeswild.

All paddlers are welcome to join me out on the water for a spell as I paddle up the Wild Atlantic Way!

Thanks for reading and I hope to inspire you too to get out on the water and explore this beautiful planet from a different perspective.

Words – Oona Tibbetts

Big thumbs up from the SUPboarder Team Oona. We know just how rough and rugged the West Coast of Ireland can be and what tricky paddling it’s going to be. We’re enjoying following your progress Oona. Safe paddling. 

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