On the odd occasion here in Ireland, you'll get three magical things happening all at once. One, the wind dies off to nothing but the lightest breeze. Two, The swell drops to the smallest of rises. Three, The sun comes out. When this happens there is only one place to be, on a stand up paddle board exploring this phenomenal stretch of coast line.
When I first got on a stand up paddle board I was expecting to fall off immediately, that my balance wouldn't be good enough, I wouldn't be fit enough, that I would be cold, etc. I'm game to try most things, so when I finally did get onto an SUP I was pleasantly surprised to find it stable, comfortable and easy to paddle. It is excellent exercise but it doesn't feel that way at all. It's like going for a gentle stroll through the most beautiful landscape you can imagine and coming back with a six pack. OK, I exaggerate, but you get the idea. On the Dingle Peninsula, that stunning landscape is red sandstone rock formations and sea caves that'll blow you away. The natural beauty is truly staggering, it's like nowhere else on Earth.
It takes roughly 10 minutes to get your sea legs when you first get on an SUP. We always start our tours with a short instructional talk and safety briefing. While Ed is going through the ins and outs of the sport, I can see the new comers get more and more nervous as he goes along describing various potential scenarios. As one paddler put it 'There's a lot more things to be aware of than I'm comfortable with.' Rest assured, this is an easy, fun activity. It's not dangerous or hard core in the least. The only reason it's an adventure sport is the places it can take you.
I've seen so many people, nervous of the water at the beginning, get onto one of our boards and be completely transformed by the end of the journey. Loving every second of it and completely unwilling to get out of the water. Believe me, falling in is half the fun.
By the time we've paddled out along the cliffs everyone is generally feeling confident on their board. That's when we start to find the caves. As you paddle in and the light dims, your senses heighten. It's eerie, exciting and just a touch frightening, but in a good way. Some of the caves are so huge you can't see the back, but you can hear the small waves crashing in the depths, the odd water droplet falling from the rocks high above your head. I'd recommend whooping as you paddle in just in case you encounter a loan seal or otter. It's completely exhilarating, entering a land so alien. Some caves you can paddle all the way through, some recede back for hundreds of metres into the mountain side becoming nothing but sound while some are too small to enter at all.
There is something extraordinarily satisfying about paddling through a rock bridge that opens out into another secret cove. Darkness opening once again to light, the sea anemones and other shell fish scattered throughout, the feeling of the swell reeling underneath you and the sound of the waves. It feels like you are the first person to ever find this place. Like you are a daring explorer on the verge of discovering something big when it explodes out into a place of complete tranquility.
Stand up paddle boarding allows us to experience our wonderful planet in a truly unique way. It's one thing to drive around Slea Head and see the stunning views. It's another to paddle along at the base of the cliffs being a part of the landscape all the while seeing how the road was constructed, where it was built out on the side of the mountain and where it was carved in. SUP boarding gives the paddler the chance to become one with the wild. To become a part of the world we usually only ever see as a bystander. I've always had a keen interest in exploring and adventure and SUP has given me the perfect tool with which to do so.