Fastest descent of the navigable non-tidal section
of the River Thames on a tandem paddleboard
Thames Tandem SUP
A year before paddleboarder and professor Mark Horne had paddleboarded solo from Lechlade to Teddington in just 62hrs 4mins. This is 129miles with over 40 portages around the locks.
Smash one record. Set another.
My friend Andy Bartlett and I wondered whether this time could be beaten. And whether the time could be beaten on a tandem stand-up paddleboard (SUP). After getting kind support from Red Paddleboards, we undertook several weeks of training. Luckily both of us were very experienced paddleboarders. Shortly before I undertook the Ganges by SUP, Andy had descended the entire Danube in the same manner.
At 4am in the morning one still summer morning in 2018 we launched our Red tandem paddleboard from the campsite at Lechlade. We paddled hard through sleepy Gloucestershire and then on into Oxfordshire. At each lock we had to portage the paddleboard around – lifting it out and rolling it around on a pair of wheels. While one of us did this the other got a witness signature from the Lock keeper or an innocent bystander. We would need these signatures, plus tracker data and photos of us along the route to prove to Guinness that we actually completed this journey.
After the first day we finished about 10pm having had very little rest throughout the day. We demolished a mountain of pasta each and went to our tents. We fell asleep nearly before our heads even hit our pillows.
The next day we again rose about 3am and were on the water shortly after 4am. We paddled on and on down the meandering Thames. We challenged each other with geography trivia questions to while away the hours. We still had a long way to go and dozens more locks to portage around. Carrying your paddleboard and gear around locks is not easy or fun, but when it is entitled ‘Portage, v. /pɔːtɪdʒ/’ it sounds far more exotic compared to ‘carrying all your heavy stuff around the obstruction’. Luckily Andy had fitted wheels to the top of the board and we simply rolled the 15ft long tandem board along upside down at each lock.
Once again we paddled until 10pm as the light was fading along with our energy levels. We tucked into a campside and after more pasta we put our heads down for a 3hr ‘power-nap’. The end was close and we wanted to beat Mark’s record.
Paddling on the next morning we were gunning it. We’d be going for over 50hrs now and were looking forward to the end and the celebratory pint. Friends appeared on the banks near Hampton Court and cycled or ran along the banks following us for what was home ‘straight’.
Eventually we pulled into the bank at the Teddington Lock. We stopped the clock at 59hrs 10mins. We had smashed it! We’d shaved nearly 3 hours off Mark’s time. He had done it on a single paddleboard, whereas we were on a tandem paddleboard. We were not looking to steal his record – he is the fastest to have completed this journey on a single SUP at the time of writing.
However we hope to get the Guinness Record for the fastest descent of the navigable non-tidal Thames by SUP and also fastest descent of that route by tandem SUP. We are awaiting Guinness’s conclusion on both of these.
In the meantime I’d like to thank those friends who put in the hours to support our Thames Tandem SUP, especially Jo Bradshaw, Chris Millar, Rebecca Hazel and Carly Fillis. Massive thank you to Red for providing the board and other equipment to make it all possible. And finally I’d like to thank Andy – great team mate, we had zero arguments throughout.
What you need for a feat like this?
An achievable goal, one that Guinness recognises as record-worthy
Training plan, to test out your fitness, your gear and the functioning of your team
Support team, to provide food and camaraderie throughout the long hours.
Sponsor (optional). Red kindly provide the 15ft long tandem paddleboard for the journey
Witness form, tracker data, and evidence photos of the journey for Guiness
Some get up and go!