For many adventurers, the idea for major expeditions starts from a tiny seed. From there, it grows into reality through training, sponsorship, and finally, choosing a cause to align with your mission. But Brendon Prince’s story is unusual because it was the message that came first, before his mission to become the first paddleboarder to circumnavigate Great Britain.
Man circumnavigates Great Britain by SUP
A self-proclaimed “water safety crusader,” the 48-year-old standup paddleboarder has been campaigning for greater water safety in Britain for 30 years. His message took on new gravity in 2014 when he tried to rescue a group of swimmers as an off-duty lifeguard. Three drowned. The event prompted him to leave his job as an outdoor education teacher and found a charity, Above Water, to develop a gamified water safety app for schools. Raising the money to do so would require something attention-grabbing.
“I thought, if I paddle around Britain, more people will want to speak with me, and I can share the water safety message with more platforms,” he says.
After training for four months—where he paddled for up to 300 kilometers at a time—Prince departed in April 2021, heading clockwise.
By the numbers
$27,000 USD — Raised for water safety
14 — Number of times Prince fell in
75 km — Longest day
1.5 km — Shortest day
10.25 hours — Average time on the water daily
525 — Number of “French Francies” sponge cakes consumed
119 — Days spent paddling
4,000 kms — Total distance paddled
2 records broken — Longest SUP journey and fastest paddle around Wales
2 records set — First person to paddleboard around Britain, and first person to paddleboard from Land’s End to John O’Groats by the coast
Setting off on an epic paddle
Each night, he spent hours planning his following day, although some things couldn’t be predicted. Scotland’s mountains create their own weather and on one occasion, he spent six hours just trying to hold his position. A surprise encounter with orcas caused him to fall off his board. But, he says, it was the human elements that were most difficult to contend with: Huge tankers and shipping lanes; harbor walls running three kilometers out into the sea; and military zones, where artillery would hit the water in front of him or submarines would come up from below—despite Prince receiving prior clearances.
“Whenever you’re doing something that hasn’t been done before, there’s no road map for it,” says Prince. His biggest challenge, though, was spending up to 16 hours a day alone on his board. “The mind can be a dangerous thing,” he says.
Then, 141 days after departing, he arrived back at Torquay, where his legs started to wobble.
Setting records and furthering the cause
“I’ve bottled up the moment my foot touched the sand, and I’ll open the bottle for a dose every now and then,” says the father-of-three. While Guinness World Records is still confirming, Prince is expected to have broken two records and set two more. In addition to being the first person to paddleboard around Britain, he had also completed the longest journey by SUP, as recognized by Guinness.
Others have attempted the feat before Prince. He says it wasn’t his physical strength or stamina that allowed him to complete the trip—it was that his message always took priority over breaking any records.
“With every paddle stroke, I thought, ‘If I can stop a family from going through the catastrophe of their loved ones dying, that’s my motivation,’” he says. “If I’ve helped a child make the right choice near water, then it’s a success.”
This article was first published in the Early Summer 2022 issue of Paddling Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.
Circumnavigation, a documentary about Brendon Prince’s expedition, was released in March 2022. | Feature photo: Will Reddaway/WR Photography