THE KING’S CHALLENGE: EMILY KING
For the first part of her King’s Challenge, Emily King along with Charlie Head, paddled around the Isle of Wight, which took 17 painstaking hours to complete. As if that accomplishment was not enough, Emily then proceeded to cycle around the island the following morning, followed by a marathon on the final day. John Carter caught up with Emily to discover how it all panned out.
Photos: John Carter and Pete Box
Tell us about your background and why you enjoy these types of challenges?
12 years ago, I had an accident leaving me with post-traumatic stress, SUP has been an integral part of my recovery. From the first moment I stood on a SUP board I fell in love with the sport, through training, SUP surfing and white-water SUP, I have competed in the UK’s elite competitions. It has helped me regain my confidence and mental health, throughout I have been able to find a strength that has led me to compete and become one of our most decorated paddlers in the UK.
Taking on personal challenges allows me to continue to grow and inspire myself in other ways, also I can connect with different people who perhaps are not interested in racing, but still wish to express themselves through the sport, we are lucky that SUP has such great diversity.
I first met Charlie Head three years ago, when he invited a small group of paddlers to paddle around the Isle of Wight over a three-day period. Straight away Charlie and myself became good friends, and throughout our careers, over the last few years, we have looked for opportunities to work and paddle together.
I contacted Charlie last November and asked if he would support me in this challenge, he agreed straight away – inspiring me to reach my goal.
How and why did you get involved in the Kings challenge to Paddle around the Isle of Wight?
When I paddled around the island in previous years it played such a big part in my recovery, I knew I wanted to reach out and help the island in a way it had helped me, so the IOW Youth Trust was an obvious choice to support and raise money for. The challenge was planned to take place over three consecutive days, with day one being the round the island SUP, which we would both do together, and then day two and three were planned to be the cycle around, followed by a marathon across the island!
What equipment did you use?
My chosen board for the paddle was a Neptune 14‘21” ocean race board, it is extremely quick and has good glide. Being a small light paddler gives me the ability to move around to trim and pump the board whilst remaining stable, I train on open ocean, so am used to chunky conditions.
Charlie’s board was very stable with lots of space to stow kit. Charlie had to do a lot more work with his paddle stroke, his board is very wide and had an optimum speed that board could travel at, whereas I can trim my race board to catch the water’s energy and glide, we joked that I was in the sports car, whilst he was in the Land Rover. I definitely had the advantage when it came to speed!
Did the journey around the island take much longer than anticipated? If so, why?
My paddling Is faster than Charlie’s, but the basic principles of adventure paddling are that it is important to stay together at all times. Knowing the conditions, I was happy for it to be a slow steady paddle, I had two more days of cycling and running around the island! So, I was happy to remain at a slow and steady pace. Charlie now wants me to do the Paddle alone, so he can see how fast I can go around the island!
What were the highs and lows of the Paddle?
I have loved every minute of the 17-hour paddle. Time becomes irrelevant as you are constantly checking to make sure that you feel okay, and that you are able to keep your body and paddling rhythms synchronised!
Five hours can feel like minutes, and 15 minutes can feel like five hours if you are not relaxed and working well. It is important to stay present in every moment! Watching the sunset over the Solent, whilst the massive ships came through was spectacular. People waving us on whilst en-route truly inspired us, whilst spending one-on-one time together, understanding each other and our life journeys and experiences was inspiring and comic! It is not often you get a chance in adult life to really connect with someone on such a deep level.
What was it like to paddle around the iconic Needles Lighthouse?
It was fabulous! I was so excited! You feel so small and privileged. The water was very turbulent, and the wind was blowing strongly when we crossed a reef under the lighthouse – the waves were all over the place, as was the tidal flow. The cross chop knocked me in twice, which is testament to just how tough the conditions were at that point as it was the only time on the paddle I fell in. I felt quite glad to have had my sense of pride put in order! I do not like falling in, but it reminds me to remain humble and respect the sea. The sea baptised me and renewed my strength for the next two hours of paddling on one side!
What other parts of the coastline did you enjoy?
The whole island was truly spectacular! Each time you turn a corner, there is another stunning vista in front of you, and being so far out at times makes you feel so small and insignificant that you wonder how it might have felt in years gone by for sailors and adventurous small boats, who used to work these waters on a daily basis.
How much training did you both do and what was the ideal forecast you were looking for?
I have been training for this year’s UK racing season, doing plenty of cross training on my bike and running for my endurance and cycle leg of the King’s Challenge. I like training, so I did not find it hard to make the time or find the motivation to get out there.
The Ideal forecast would have had a little more flow with the tide and the wind behind us, but due to having the responsibility of doing three parts, finding the perfect weather and tidal window was very tricky, so we took the best conditions we could get within our time window.
Was it logistically difficult to manage a paddle around the island?
There is always a lot of planning, but if you plan well and have a good support team, you can be safe and relax. Without our great team, none of this would’ve been possible. Charlie and I are both trained and experienced adventure guides, so we felt very confident and able to complete this project. We took everything that we needed. It was imperative that we were able to operate in a safe and self-sufficient way. Our kit included comms, trackers, food, water and safety gear.
Did you enjoy the whole journey or were there parts where it was just hard going?
State of mind is everything! if you have a positive attitude and are grateful for every experience and moment, every situation passes and you are able to stay relaxed and in control. The glass must be half full, not half empty, a powerful life lesson I adhere to.
My good old fashioned packed lunch of crisps and a sandwich gave sustenance to both the body and mind, it is important to have a bit of comfort food!!
How did it feel when you finally rounded Culver Cliffs and still had such a long way to go?
I never thought about it like that. Every moment is a precious moment on an adventure, especially as not many people have the opportunity to be on such a challenge. It looked like the conditions were nice and calm coming back down the Solent at least!
How was it when you had to start paddling in the dark?
We transitioned from day to night with such a stunning sunset, paddling in the dark brought its own beauty! I love how it changes your senses and you become more at one with your environment, it is like you become invisible! This is a skill that must be practiced and the right gear must be carried – especially in such a busy waterway as the Solent.
How did it feel when you finally completed the mission after 17 hours of Paddling?
It was a wonderful welcome of fairy lights and shadowy figures dancing in the dark, the team were calling and whooping us in! I felt so joyous! My feet were cold and I had land sickness as soon as I set foot on solid ground again! Walking in a straight line was very amusing and a cup of tea never tasted so good! As I said earlier, time becomes irrelevant. I was happy, safe and focused for what was still to come. People were congratulating us, I felt very humble and enjoyed sharing stories from both perspectives of crew and paddlers, it was not long before we were heading for a short, but much needed sleep.
How did it feel to have to wake up and immediately go around the island on a bike?
I woke up in the morning naturally and had a quick shower. I was excited for the challenge that lay ahead. When you do different activities, your brain uses different areas – making it much easier to not feel the fatigue – both mentally and physically. I ate well! The weather was glorious and I headed off to explore another aspect of this wonderful place on my bike.
Running 30-miles on the third day on this very hilly island cross country was a very big challenge, having put in the training, and with the right state of mind, support from friends, family and crew, I found this to be another 8-hours of adventure discovery and resilience. It gave me plenty of time to reflect on all that I had achieved.
How did it feel when you finished the whole three days?
I loved crossing my finishing line, where my husband and 6-year-old son, along with all my crew, were waiting with stories of people who had seen and spoken to me along the way, listening to the messages that people had been putting on my social media, I felt so jubilant – it was extraordinary. I really do not think that I have ever felt like I could do something more! It was a perfect moment.
The people and scenery inspired me so much. I am in ore of what you can get the human body to do with the right mindset and training! We really are resilient, and we give ourselves such a hard time, if we are kind and enable ourselves and others, we can achieve anything.
What did you talk about for 17 hours and how was Charlie as a partner on this journey?
Both Charlie and I are very comfortable working in close quarters and with space between us, both mentally and physically in terms of how close we were on our boards. We had a good mix of periods of silence, and reflection, whilst other times were full of laughter and stories. We also talked a lot about our mental health experiences and how we would like to grow as humans in the future, and what we can do to help enable others to overcome their mental health and challenges. We also both spent a lot of time thinking and looking at the natural world around us, whilst talking about what that means to us. We never spoke an angry word and the time flew by, true friendship and respect, an adventure to never forget!
‘Navigating the Isle of Wight by Paddle and particularly SUP is an exciting combination of problem-solving and a great navigational challenge. So many different combinations of elements to consider. On this particular weekend, we had perfect wind conditions but sacrificed having the ideal tide conditions. It’s a very rare thing to have both of these elements working together perfectly. The five/six-hour tidal ebb or flood gives you a short window to complete 30 miles of the south coast or the Solent depending on your direction of travel to make it to the opposite point of the Island before the tide turns to take you back the other way leaving you not much room for error if your battling either the wind or the tide in either direction. It was beautiful crystal waters except for rounding the needles and paddling over to Ventnor we had a cross-shore northeasterly wind and quite slow tides it didn’t aid us much in our speed.’