‘When I came around Brownstown and saw the Metal Man, I’ve never seen anything so beautiful’
A THOUSAND miles and 37 days later, Jim Swift rightfully revelled in his triumphant homecoming to Tramore on Sunday, July 28.
Having completed his ‘Paddle Fada’ in aid of Waterford Hospice, the Gaelcholáiste Phort Láirge teacher happily told the Waterford News & Star that his circumnavigation of the island had gone “very much according to plan”.
He added: “Now it might be a bit unexciting to report that, but for me, the fact that everything pretty much went to schedule and seeing it through was one of the most satisfying parts of the whole project. As well as the training going well, I was happy that my level of (paddle boarding) experience showed in the preparation because it was no harder or easier than I anticipated. And actually, I’d planned to do this in about 35 days plus potential days missed off the water. I missed three days and got back after 37, so I was very happy with the planning altogether.”
Successfully circling the entire Irish coast on a paddle board (the first person ever to achieve the feat) entailed two years of preparation and, as Jim explained, it was far from plain sailing.
“During the first year, I had a bad back and I had some shoulder problems and different injuries so I spent a full year doing rehab but that actually gave me a great base then for the second year. So in the year just gone, I was training twice a day, getting about maybe four hours training in a day, five or six days a week.”
Challenge of a lifetime
Jim, who had previously swum the English Channel, possessed an unrelenting appetite when readying for the challenge of a lifetime.
“A typical day for me in the past 12 months would have been to be up at maybe five or six in the morning and get two hours of training done in the sitting room and you’re talking about a lot of boring exercises but very important ones – stretching, core exercises, strength-based weight training, really, yeah. And then in the afternoon, after I’d been to work, I’d put in two hours in the gym at Splashworld, then two hours out in Tramore Bay, whatever the weather conditions were – sure you just had to put up with whatever came your way out on the water.”
So why commit to this challenge? “Well, I’ve been paddle boarding for years and it’s such a small little sport. Unfortunately for me, I can’t find anyone to do the distance that I like to do. Even worldwide, to be honest, there are few people doing the distances I’m doing – and the ‘Paddle Fada’ was a very long paddle even by international standards.
“Most lads paddle boarding do 30 to 40 kilometres downwind in one session so they drive up the coast, whichever way the wind is blowing, they jump in the water and they paddle back to where they came from. Going upwind for days on end is just something that most people don’t have the patience for.
Promoting the sport
“I wanted to promote the sport, because difficult as it is, I think it’s a great sport and I’d love to get more people into it. So that was one thing.”
Jim continued: “Secondly, I wanted, just for myself, to do something epic. I swam the English Channel when I was 20 and then went through a series of injuries. I really didn’t want to look back and think that the biggest thing I ever did was when I was 20 so now I can look back and I’m really proud that the biggest thing I did was something that I did recently. Doing something that topped the Channel (swim) was personally very important. And then the other thing was that I wanted to raise some money for the Hospice but for no particular reason. I’ve never had any personal dealings with them but I really think that people that do that type of work, deserve to be well resourced. So that’s what was in the pot when it came to taking on something like this.”
Jim had a planned finishing location during each day of the challenge. “I always knew where I wanted to finish. And I had a contingency plan – safety is always the most important thing. If you want to get from ‘A’ all the way to ‘Z’, then you must know in advance that depending on how you feel, or how conditions improve or deteriorate that you can get out at a certain point or maybe you feel like you can get beyond a location you originally aimed for. Planning is vital: if you don’t plan, you’re potentially moments away from having an accident, so, for me, planning gives you great confidence. I found it a huge benefit to me all along the way.”
Peninsula to peninsula
Typically, Jim covered 50 kilometres daily and up to 70 when he’d a tailwind behind him. “When I was jumping from peninsula to peninsula in Kerry, for example, you can really only do one, maybe two of them a day. And when you’re paddling down a straighter stretch of coastline, let’s say Dublin, Wicklow or Wexford, there’s just an infinite number of places you can get out of the water at. So on days like that, you’ll only go as far as the tide will let you – tides change every six hours. My typical day would have seen me up at five, on the water for seven, paddling from seven until noon. Then I’d be off the water for two hours, it was important to get dry, get fed, and then plan out the next leg of the journey and that’s probably the one thing that did surprise me. I didn’t expect to be under pressure all the time. I was really busy every single second but for me, it was very welcome pressure. I love being busy!”
All along the route, Jim was accompanied by his father Jackie and brother Brian. “They were brilliant. They both did absolutely Trojan work. Whenever I was getting up, they were both up at the same time. The bowl of porridge was served up, and then they cleaned up the van when I set off on a paddle and then they’d have to find whatever place I said I’d meet them at, and it could be quite obscure at times, somewhere like Toor Pier (six kilometres from Mizen Head), the most remote place and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
“We didn’t always meet up with our watches synchronised or anything like that, but we always found each other, even after the occasional comedy of errors along the way. But when we did eventually meet at Toor, we set up camp, put on the stove and got some hot dinner into us, the two of us were just sitting on this cliff and this tiny, tiny car park thinking, jeez, this is just one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to and certainly one of the most remote. And that’s what the trip was like, you know, it was well organised. But you’re never going to organise it so much that there’s no adventure in it.”
Back on dry land
Arriving back to Tramore, Jim was as delighted to see his family as he was to complete the challenge. “To go 37 days without seeing them was very, very hard. I felt every day of it in that respect too. But when I came around Brownstown and saw the Metal Man, I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. It was just incredible. I just flew in over the last few kilometres and met up with some surfers and paddlers over the last kilometre from T-Bay to the Ladies Slip and that was fantastic.
“It was just overwhelming… and to get that kind of recognition from my peers, from the surfers I hang around with and for my friends and family to be on the Ladies Slip, it was definitely one of the greatest moments of my life.”
So is Jim Swift’s appetite whetted to take on another great challenge? “Absolutely. The mistake I made when I was younger was that I was seeking contentment. I thought when I swam the channel that I’d be satisfied by it and I wasn’t. And now I know not to look for that because you’re not going to find it: just continue doing the things you enjoy. I really enjoy training. I really enjoy the outdoors and the wilderness so you certainly haven’t heard the last of me!”
If you wish to donate to Jim’s efforts please visit https://give.everydayhero.com/ie/the-paddle-fada