I love the enchanting sea. The sun sparkling across the water, the swooping bird’s eye view from your paddleboard, watching the elegant jellyfish float by, fish leaping out of the water and those special moments when it’s just you and your board watching porpoise leaping out of the water. Wales is an incredible place, a host for the great outdoors and adventures to be had.

Wales has a stunning coastline - it’s like a giant playground waiting to be discovered, but planning both mentally and physically is key. I am going to share with you my thoughts and considerations before heading out on the sea.

A woman standing in the sea holding a paddleboard.

Sian Sykes with her paddleboard

Planning and preparation

With all my trips, I invest time and effort in the planning and preparation phase. I study maps to identify a route. I look for potential risks, note the launching and exiting points, as well as escape routes along the way. I add weather information and, if appropriate, tidal information to help me as a guide when I'm on the water. It's always better to go with an experienced guide. 

Ability

Match your coastal adventure with your skill and experience level. Don’t go to a notoriously rough and windy place with limited landings if you have no experience of these conditions. Always paddle on the side of caution - remember it's about having a lovely day on the water.

Kit

Having the right kit and knowing how to use it will make all the difference to you having a fun, safe day. Please don’t be that person who has all the gear but no idea how to use it! Thoroughly test your kit and feel confident in it so that in an emergency you won’t panic. Most importantly, make sure you use a leash correctly attached to your board (coiled unless in surf) and a well-fitted buoyancy aid. Use my list below to ensure you have the the appropriate gear for the conditions.

  • Leash (attached correctly from your body to the board - coiled unless in surf)
  • Board (suitable for the activity and you, volume, length and width)
  • Paddle (the right size for you)
  • Weather forecast
  • Buoyancy Aid (well fitting buoyancy aid with an emergency whistle)
  • Windproof jacket (can always be kept in the rucksack until needed, don’t leave home without it)
  • Insulating layer (a thin fleece or gillet depending on the time of year)
  • Breathable base layer if paddling in summer (avoid cotton t-shirts)
  • Wetsuit (depending on the time of year a wetsuit long john or full suit can be great)
  • Safety bag / dry bag (with a method of attaching to the deck)
  • Footwear (sandals, trainers, wet shoes anything that helps you walk across rough banks, beaches)
  • Watch (or any reliable method of telling the time)
  • First aid kit
  • Mobile phone in a dry bag (a zip lock freezer bag works as a cheap option)
  • Map and compass (even if you use GPS)
  • Torch or head torch
  • Sun cream
  • Sunglasses
  • Bottled water (keep yourself hydrated)
  • Flask of hot drink (depending on time of year)
  • High energy snacks (to give an energy boost when tired)
  • Any necessary medication (with spares)
  • Spare warm clothing
  • Survival bag (just in case)
  • Emergency contact details

Weather

I study the recent and predicted weather forecast to understand what the sea state is. It helps to build a picture in my mind what to expect when you get there, for example if there is any swell or surf. Consider the wind direction and strength; can you take advantage of the wind on your tail? Remember not to go out on an offshore wind, where the wind is blowing from the land out to sea.

Tides

Understand and research if there is any tidal flow which you should use or avoid as this can make or break your trip. The tide can be very strong at certain locations and times of the tide cycle. The flow rate during a spring tide is at its most severe. These occur fortnightly and coincide with the two days after full and new moons. Make sure you feel familiar with tide times before heading out on the sea.

Communication

How are you going to communicate with the emergency services if the need arises? Contact the Coastguard to notify them of your plan. They would rather know about your trip beforehand, rather than dealing with calls from worried public thinking you are drifting out to sea unintentionally. I often refer to them as my 'guardians of the sea'.

Fuel

At sea, the key thing is to keep hydrated and to have a stash of snacks on you so if you start to feel like you are lagging, you can have a super boost of energy from them.

Rescues

Are you fully skilled with self or peer rescues? Are you familiar with basic first aid? It is all about minimising the need for calling out the rescue services and being able to be independent and self-sufficient when embarking on adventures.

Marine Code of Conduct

Please be familiar with the Marine Code of Conduct. Wales is fortunate to have such wonderful marine life. However, marine mammals and other wildlife can get disturbed. Contrary to belief, although paddleboards don’t have an engine, they can cause just as much disturbance to marine mammals as a motorised vessel. Be fully clued up with the code of conduct before setting off onto the sea. 

Leave no trace

I am proud Wales is such a beautiful country and we need to do our utmost to protect it. So please consider the environment and how you leave it. Let’s be ocean ambassadors to help preserve for the next generation.

Take your litter away with you and allow time to do a mini beach clean too! Please do your bit and help the environment.

A woman carrying a paddleboard on a beach with a sunset behind.

Sian Sykes and her paddleboard at Llanddwyn, Anglesey

I love the enchanting sea. The sun sparkling across the water, the swooping bird’s eye view from your paddleboard, watching the elegant jellyfish float by, fish leaping out of the water and those special moments when it’s just you and your board watching porpoise leaping out of the water."

Sian's favourite SUP spots around Wales

Here are Sian's favourite places to paddleboard around Wales – but please note these tours are for people with extensive experience. These tours would need to be taken under the guidance of an experienced tutor or guide. There are a number of companies around Wales and it’s possible to complete an online course with iSUP Smart Course.

Newborough and Ynys Llanddwyn, Anglesey

Newborough is one of the largest and finest dune systems in Britain with breath-taking views of Snowdonia and the Llŷn Peninsula. This is a stunning location to paddleboard with a good carpark and toilet facilities. The beach itself is quite shallow, leaving a vast expanse of beach as the tide recedes, so top tip is to time when to head out otherwise it is a long walk carrying your paddleboard.

Once on the water you can paddle over to explore Ynys Llanddwyn which is rich in legends. Llanddwyn means 'The church of St Dwynwen', the Welsh patron saint of lovers. It is a wonderful island to explore by paddleboard with plenty of rock hopping. Be aware that round the tip of the island it can be rough in certain conditions. After a day’s paddle, I recommend popping to The Codmother to get some chips to eat on the beach whilst watching the sun set.

A white lighthouse with a woman with a paddleboard walking up a path.
Image of the lighthouse on a rock in the sea.

The dramatic beauty of Ynys Llanddwyn, Anglesey

Menai Strait, North Wales

This is probably the most iconic and classic stretch of UK coastline. It's roughly 16 miles long, from Abermenai Point to Beaumaris. It is the sea channel that separates Anglesey from mainland Wales. The Strait varies in width from about 300m to three quarters of a mile. It is a great place to SUP to see Caernarfon Castle, Plas Newydd House & Gardens, and journey underneath the spectacular and impressive Britannia Bridge and Menai Bridge and explore the little cluster of islands.

A woman on a paddleboard with the Menai Suspension Bridge in the background.

Sian Sykes on the Menai Strait, with the Menai Suspension Bridge in the background.

Between the two bridges is the most technical section of the Menai Strait called the Swellies. Even Admiral Lord Nelson who trained his cadets here called it 'one of the most treacherous stretches of sea in the world'. It's my favourite place to paddleboard, as every day is different and great for training to test your moving water skills, technical prowess, water reading skills, strength, speed, balance, and determination against one of the UK’s most demanding and technical tidal flows. You will need to be an experienced paddler to understand tides and have moving water skills. The friendliest time to journey is on slack water.

After enjoying the Menai Strait pop to Dylan’s for a bite to eat or to the Green Olive Café for a post paddle treat.

Paddleboarding along the Menai Strait, North Wales, with Psyched Paddleboarding

Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire

Barafundle Bay is certainly one of my favourite beaches in Pembrokeshire. It has been described as the jewel in the crown of Pembrokeshire with its idyllic golden sand and sparkling crystal-clear water. You almost feel you are in the Mediterranean as it is surrounded by trees and dunes.

Barafundle Bay has a lovely romantic charm about it with its secluded location. It's nestled between cliffs and is only accessible on foot via the Wales Coast Path or by watercraft. So it's a perfect place to explore on a paddleboard. The best place to launch is from Stackpole Quay then paddling round to Barafundle.

Please be aware this is an exposed stretch of coastline and tides can be strong. If the wind is against the tide it can be choppy, especially around headlands. You are limited with escape options, so choose to paddle on a silky smooth sea and enjoy.

Barafundle beach from above.

Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire

Worm’s Head

This is such an iconic and dramatic feature of the Welsh coastline. The name Worm's Head is derived from an Old English word for 'dragon', and legend has it that the Vikings believed the island to be a sleeping dragon! Worm’s Head is a 3km (1.8miles) headland that stretches out to sea from the south west corner of the Gower Peninsula. During your paddling exploring the distinctive rock feature you may be treated to seeing grey seals and common bottlenose dolphins.

Be aware the tidal rise is the second highest in the world! The location is exposed to wind and tide so can provide a challenging trip with surf and swell. Chat to the useful lovely volunteers at National Coastguard Institution Worm's Head to get local intel.

Rhossili & Worm's Head 'Helvetia' wreck beneith the sunset at Gower Peninsula.

Rhossili Bay and Worm's Head, Gower, West Wales

Sian's top tips

  • Remember to warm up before you paddle
  • Make sure you take a good lip protector, polarised sunglasses, and sun cream; the sun – sea reflection is powerful!
  • Be prepared to be adaptable
  • Listen to your gut
  • Be courteous to other crafts by giving them a wide berth 

Remember...

Stand up paddleboarding is inherently a potentially dangerous sport and with this considered, you should take appropriate precautions before undertaking any of the trips.

Exploring the outdoors is fantastic fun and provides great opportunities for adventurous activities, but please read up on the risks and make sure you are prepared.

Check out Sian’s company Psyched Paddleboarding for SUP experiences, training courses, and kit.

Always paddle on the side of caution - remember it's about having a lovely day on the water."

A person paddleboarding on the sea with a sunset behind.

Sian Sykes paddleboarding into the sunset

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