John Hibbard & Anthony Cooper are the first two stand up paddlers to take part in, and complete the 125 mile Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race. Its a huge achievement in terms of stamina and a fantastic first for the two SUPers. John tells us all about it.
We made it! We took on the Devizes to Westminster Paddle Race and tamed it – 125 miles standing up. Here’s my story…
We crossed the line a little after 8.30am to huge cheers from the crowd. No one could quite believe that we planned to paddle all the way to Westminster standing up! 99% off people had never seen anything like it.
I tried not to focus on the full mileage and just split each day into 8 mile segments. Every 8 miles we would meet up with Gill our support for a refill of our camelbaks and a restock of energy gels and bars.
Concentrating on 8 miles at a time was a great way to have something manageable to focus on. Day one was going well and despite having a lot of locks to portage around I was feeling strong.
We were met with a constant wave of questions from spectators along the route. Mainly these were:
- Are you going all the way to Westminster like that?
- What is that called?
- Why are you standing up?
- How much can I get one of those for?
Mostly we were met with positive questions, but some people were total doubters, asking us what we thought we were doing and telling us we’d never make it the whole way, especially not on the tidal part of the Thames! We were written off on many occasions. My response was to laugh at them and tell him they didn’t know who they were dealing with!!
Most people’s comments though were really positive and supportive.
- “You’re our favourite”
- “That looks so cool”
- Etc, etc
The last ten miles of day one was pretty tough going, but we knew we had barely broken the back of the race distance so just buried those thoughts and pushed on to Newbury and the end of Day 1.
I crossed the line after 32 miles of paddling in about 8 hrs and 15 minutes. Coops followed me in about 20-25 minutes behind.
We ate a lot that night and went to bed early!
We started at about 7am about 5 minutes apart and were pleased to now have some good river flow behind us. Reading came and went in a flash and spirits were high. The constant questions and pictures from spectators followed us along the route and it was a great way to pass the time!
The first 20 miles were easy, but by 21/22 miles I was really starting to feel it. Miles 22-30 were hell! I hit a really low point. I had stopped eating and grew progressively more tired and almost depressed about the job in hand. My speed dropped from an average of 5 mph down to 3.9 – 4 mph. I seemed to hit the wall. I was feeling dizzy and very low on energy and motivation. By mile 29 I managed to force down a couple of carb gels and drink some carb water. By mile 30 things were looking up. My speed increased and although I wasn’t feeling 100% fresh I made good time to the finish and crossed the line in 2hrs 45mins after about 37 miles of paddling . Coops came in about 30 minutes behind me.
Again we ate a lot that night and went to bed early ready for another early start.
My body was aching a fair bit, but by our start time I was feeling better. We set off about 5 minutes apart and made great time on the first 15 or so miles. My low point today came at around 18 miles, but only lasted until about 25 miles. After that I seemed to really perk up and lifted my paddle rate on the way to Marlow. We were now on the Thames and the boat traffic was increasing. Most boats passed wide and slow but at least one Chav Gin palace did it’s best to kick up a wake. I was swamped by one such boat’s wake just outside Marlow and had to pay full attention to stay upright. Thankfully the bailers on my board made short work of the flood.
By mile 30 I was feeling really good and put the hammer down to try and up my time. Originally I wanted to finish the whole race in 30 hours, but it was now looking like I might finish in about 28 hrs.
By the finish line at Teddington I was out of breath having pinned it for the last 5 or so miles. After 36 miles of paddling I crossed the line in about 7hrs 40 mins. Coops was about 30 mins behind be after having a similar day to me.
We were so happy to make it this far. All that lay ahead of us now was the Tidal Thames. Just as we were leaving the Day 4 finish site we met a Frenchman who basically told us we wouldn’t make. He told us he was a surfer and that there was no chance we’d be able to stand up all the way to Westminster. Apparently the water is way too rough and we there was no way we would do it. We were pretty livid and could not understand how this guy had the cheek to tell us that we wouldn’t make it. We knew we were going to make it and had no plans to sit down or worse still give up. We hadn’t paddled 107 miles to not finish the last 17 miles. We laughed at him and walked away as he continued to tell us it was an impossible task!
After we got over the put down from our French friend we tucked into a big feed and went to bed early.
4.30am is not my favourite time of day to get out of bed, but we were scheduled for a 6am start so up we got!
We were on the water at first light and still people were trying to write us off saying we wouldn’t make it! I mean, dudes, do we look like we don’t know what we are doing???
We started at 6.05am and made exceptionally good time with a strong outgoing tide pushing us to the finish. I was up to about 8mph at times and the excitement was building as we made our way to Westminster. Each Bridge was lined with spectators cheering us on. I passed a few single kayakers who were literally on their last ounce of energy, struggling to stay upright they were literally just drifting with the tide. I saw a junior double crew capsize about 1 mile from the finish, which must have been gutting for them. I hope they managed to get going again and cross the line.
The first sign of the finish line was the towering London Eye Ferris wheel and a turn or so later Westminster Bridge and the houses of Parliament came into few. Westminster Bridge was packed with spectators and they roared as I crossed the line, as they did for Coops who followed me in about 10 mins later.
We’d done it, silenced all doubters and paddled standing up all the way from Devizes to Westminster in London. 125 miles from start to finish.
I’d completed the course in 26 hours and 6 minutes and Coops did it in 27 Hrs 32 minutes.
A huge thanks to the organisers and their event team for allowing us to enter and for making it a great weekend. Thanks to the hundreds of spectators along the route who cheered us on and congratulated us at the end of each day. Thanks to the people that sent emails, text messages and Twitters to wish us luck. A big thank you to Gill our support who never failed to meet us at the planned stops and put up with my stress when wanting her to fill my camelback faster!
It feels so good to have finished the race and to be the first Stand Up Paddlers to complete the DW. Hopefully our times are a respectable target for anyone following in our footsteps. The organisers were wary of letting us enter originally, but hopefully we have shown that SUP is a safe and fun way to do the DW. We were no trouble to them at all. We finished quicker than they could have imagined and were quick and hassle free at portages. It’s my hope that we can make a case for a larger SUP entry next year. Don’t hold your breath, but I hope that more SUP paddlers can be allowed in next year.
Although I encounted some hard times during the race it was generally a great experience and one that will stay with me for a long time. Paddling a 4 mile race won’t feel the same again!
Thanks to my sponsors Starboard SUP, Fat Face and Go Fast for getting me through this race. I used the Starboard K15 and Coops used the Starboard Point 14’8"