Solitude. We crave it. Perhaps some of us need it. Quality time spent on a paddleboard is often a perfect way to get absorbed in the bliss of motion and breath, taking time for one’s self and connecting with the great outdoors. Standup paddling can often get us there, and we come back better for it. Better for ourselves, our families, our work & life in general. Solitude in nature is the great recharger. In this article, KeNalu team rider Matt Button tells us of his summer adventure of seeking solitude in the midst of a teeming Cornwall summer in Great Britain.
His goal? To raise awareness about the harmful effects of marine plastics and how we can each, as paddlers, become stewards for where we are by participating in a quick, (but fun!) beach clean up in just a few minutes. Funny, witty, self-effacing and dry, Matt’s recounting of an adventure tale to a quiet place gets us all dreaming of paddling into the quiet, into the moment and just being on a board in the water. Connected.
Far From the Maddening Crowds
Every inch of Cornwall is filled with heated tourists. The beachside streets throng as the county sighs a heavy collective breath under the weight of peak season. Yet I have this moment of clarity to myself and thankfully the space in which to express it.
“This one idiot would test the boundaries of inexperience and over-ambition. Me.”
I am a couple of weeks into my solo, unsupported paddle the length of the Cornish coast. Each day I set out to navigate some of the most treacherous waters on the seas with less then two hours experience and almost no physical training. Each tired evening I made shore, wild camped, fished and foraged before sleeping under the stars. However, the British weather had so far made a mockery of my romantic nonsense. The Cornish peninsula has wrecked armadas and Land’s End is feared across the globe for its treacherous currents and violent storms; yet, this one idiot would test the boundaries of inexperience and over-ambition. Me. I think the word you’re looking for is “foolhardy”. You are not alone.
‘No!’ was the unequivocal response of the coastguard at Newlyn Harbour. The tinkling of rigging on masts, bilges being purged and catches being landed filled the awkward silence. They have no time for the likes of me, an amateur attempting another madcap, poorly planned coastal adventure. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution pull hundreds of half-wits out the sea every year, I might just be another statistic. A trawler’s engine gunned as it pulled away and I thanked the RNLI for their time. Storms thrash against the exposed granite cliffs and daily tides drag treacherous currents and whirlpools about the Land’s End snatching the breath from the underprepared and inexperienced alike.
Off shore storms and a perfect sunset
Yet this evening my world was full of sunshine. Ice creams and pastries were flying out of shops just as quickly as the gulls could steal them. The perfection of the amber afternoon hid the rabid storm offshore. Any attempt to round Land’s End had been very much vetoed by those who knew it best. There wasn’t even a whiff of the black storm and drang coming but I figured that if the coastguard crews had to risk their lives to pull me from the dangerous seas they were well within their rights to punch me in the face and throw me back.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have been wandering across a target range during a live fire naval exercise”
The sand is fine and my sole company is a pair of hesitant grey seals and the hundred million mackerel they’ve corralled into the bay. As the sun sets across the peninsular and the skies purple the sea boils with rainbowed fish and no one is here to enjoy it but me.
How is it possible to be sole king of such Edenic perfection on an August eve?
Well, you can only get here on a standup paddleboard (or kayak) or a very brave aerial launch from the cliffs hundreds of feet above.
There is very little serenity to be had in the Cornish tourism season, the schools are out the festivals are in full swing and the beaches a littered with surf schools, but what little there is, I have all of it. Consequently, there’s no-one to witness my greatest fishing achievement ever- five mackerel on a single line! The five flailing beauties are dispatched and cleaned in minutes, but to be honest it is actually easier than shooting fish in a barrel.
The mackerel sizzle over the driftwood fire and Venus shines.
I foraged a little seaweed for my meal and wild strawberries were a pleasant find. The belly is as full as the cove is now empty. The seals have followed the escaping shoals out into the ombré bay and left me with the overfed gulls.
Headwind and Hi Jinks
I’m a week or two into my paddle the length of the Cornish coast. Depending on who you ask, the distance between Plymouth and Bude is in the 200-300 mile range. Why is there a disparity? Well, it depends on courage or cowardice, experience vs. idiocy and, of course, the weather. Wide bays like St. Austell or Mount’s Bay can be, with a push from the elements, a massive short cut. A nasty headwind will see you hugging the coast for every ounce of shelter. So far, the latter had proved most common.
Nobody Said it Would be Easy
My hands were blistered and my feet cut. Both were bound in silvery duct tape in an effort to keep them dry on each day’s paddle. I’ve already been rescued from the nefarious clutches of the Ministry of Defense by a friend’s family… well …maybe, but they did make me climb a cliff with my board, paddles and kit, then port it all eleven miles along country roads to cover a staggering two miles sea gap.
To Build a Fire
Each evening, I would pull into an isolated cove, unpack my stove and make a fire. There is a stillness that comes with the ceremony of fire making. The slow collecting of suitable pieces, the sorting of sizes, the careful arrangement of tinder and kindling. The better the preparation the easier the flames will take, a metaphor for life as a whole.
Marine Plastics: a blight on the shoreline
Then, I would walk the length of the beach collecting any marine plastics that I would carry to the next town and dispose in the first bin I could find. Marine plastic has become a blight on all coastlines, but here in a tourist dependent country, the levels of disposable BBQ kits, broken buckets and spades and spent lolly wrappers is compete with fishing crates, lost wellies and ghost nets. A key part of my trip was to highlight through social media the work done by Tim Nunn and his Plastic Project and Martin Dorey’s Two Minute Beach Cleans. I’d hoped to do more, but unaided and unsupported, I landed each evening exhausted beyond words and the small personal collection was all I was able to do.
The Good and the Challenge
The better the preparation the easier the flames will take, a metaphor for life as a whole.
There will be good days and bad. Challenges will rise and fall hourly. The weather turns with the tides and currents ferociously funneled around the peninsula and between sea stacks. Navel maneuvers and crab fishing boats will make for bowel-watering company. Blisters will burst and start anew. Confidence will rise to be destroyed by hubris; cowardice will fester and fill my heart with poison. Panic threaten to destroy it all. Exultation will be crushed by the seas so black and angry and hateful then return with a fresh dawn and dolphins on molten silver, but for now as the last light takes the burnished copper from the bay and the driftwood fire splutters there is perfection and peace. A brief moment of satori.
–By Matt Button
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