A security consultant has completed an epic 160 mile continuous kayak challenge down the River Thames and even claimed a world record. Joel Whittaker’s 31 hour challenge began in Lechlade in the Cotswolds and ended up in Teddington on the edge of London.
“I learnt to kayak with my dad who’s ex-military (as am I) and grew to love the adventures you can have,” said Joel. “Unlike many sports kayaking is surprisingly accessible; I once kayaked across the channel for charity with a disabled veteran who was way better at kayaking than I was!” he added. During his challenge Joel raised awareness for for a veteran’s mental health charity called Bravehound and for The Rivers Trust.
“Mental health issues are an issue for many military veterans. I’ve been there on operations and seen some of the damage that’s done due to the intensity of the conflicts – or sometimes even just long periods in hostile environments away from loved ones,” said Joel. “The Rivers Trust is an organisation campaigning for cleaner rivers. Our rivers are amazing and London has some of the best!
“As an avid river user it’s in my interest to make this resource as safe as possible; but I also see so many families swimming and paddle-boarding on the Thames I feel I have to highlight the pollution issue to help push for more legislation and make these fantastic rivers safer for us all,” he added. The challenge came with its fair share of problems when Joel lost his paddle in the middle of the night and had to fish it out of a weir with a life buoy and rope.
He also lost his rudder at the start which meant paddling into a strong wind with little control “was pretty hellish”. “I think I’d almost blanked that out! I had an amazing team who managed to find me a matching rudder by the time I’d reached Oxford,” said Joel. But he had some advice for any budding kayakers who may be inspired by his story. “Spend time on the water. Learn the routes intimately,” Joel said.
“Most long distance kayaks inland will require you to carry your kayak (portage) over locks – The River Thames has 47 – and they are mostly all horrible so practise on a few to see what your up against,” he added.