Active 360 London Crossing and Big Ben Challenge: Paddling Through the Heart of London!

On the 23rd September Active 360 will host a SUP race that will pass right through the heart of London. The London Crossing race aims at providing an opportunity for experienced racers to paddle straight through the heart of London. Plus along with this unique race there will be a second event in the same day! The Big Ben Challenge, a challenge in which 200 paddlers will paddle a 20 KM return journey to Big Ben and back. These two events are organised as part of the Foreshore Festival aimed at shining a spotlight on the environment surrounding the river Thames.

TotalSUP talks to Paul Hyman from Active 360 on these two unique events that will draw paddlers to the Thames river, London.

Hi Paul, Why are you excited about these two events?

The London crossing and The Big Ben Challenge are 2 unique events in that they will paddle through a world city. The Big Ben Challenge route is from Putney to Big Ben, it starts at the same point as the famous Oxford vs. Cambridge Boat Race, passing iconic buildings such as Battersea Power Station and Westminster, with the Houses of Parliament and of course Big Ben.

Last years Big Ben race was quite a unique experience for everyone taking part  It followed a smaller pilot race in 2016, the race went really smoothly with a great competition and a nice vibe. Most of the racers were UK based but this year we have a more international field. That is exactly the way I want to take this race.  London welcoming the SUP world. I’m really excited about it and about the Big Ben Challenge because one in a chance for competition in an exciting urban arena. Whilst the other race is a hard, testing physical challenge which will take many people to the edge of their comfort zone.  The Thames is unpredictable and it can be windy and choppy at times.

This year with the Thames Barrier closed there will be just a weak flood (incoming tide) and the prevailing wind in London is from the west – so Challenge participants may have to work hard on the return leg    But the rewards are great as the Thames is such an interesting river, steeped in history.   We are very grateful to Tideway for making the Crossing and the Challenge possible as part of their work to create a legacy for the Tideway Tunnel.

At the beginning of both routes the river Thames is a relatively quiet stretch of river with fewer big boats sharing the space. The London Crossing route then becomes a complicated as the head towards Tower Bridge, more challenging waters will great the racers but it will be even more stunning!

The two events run at the same time as the Foreshore festival. A festival organised by Tideway (and also the sponsor of the race/challenge), Tideway is currently engaged in constructing the Tideway Tunnel a huge super sewer running beneath the Thames, a project that will make the Thames (already a relatively clean urban river) consistently cleaner. The Foreshore festival will be held at Putney Embankment with the aim of celebrating the fabulous environment of the Tidal Thames. Four-time world champion and three-time Olympic champion rower Andrew Triggs-Hodge will be present and very involved, Andrew is current employed by Tideway in charge of creating a legacy for the tunnel through sports participation in the area.

Can you describe the two events ?

The London Crossing, which is a race open to 30 experience SUP racers, it is the first time a SUP race has gone right through central London, taking the competitors on an iconic 15.5 KM stretch of the Thames, starting in Putney going on the Shadwell and then past Tower Bridge, a landmark everyone is familiar with. The racers will have to be experienced as the Thames possesses some strong currents.

The second event of the day is the Big Ben challenge, this is open to 200 plus experience and confident paddlers. The challenge is 20 KM paddle for Putney Embankment where the iconic Boat race starts, to Big Ben and back to Putney. A challenge open to all experienced paddlers that want to experience an exhilarating paddle on the Thames. It’s not a race but a serious challenge heading downriver with the flow of the river, on the ebb tide and back against a weak current (as the Thames barrier is closed). This makes the event safer but much tougher as participants are denied the help a normal flood tide would give on the home run.

Who can take part in the race?

For the London Crossing, it is open only to competent and experienced paddlers, the Thames, although only a river has strong current, and boat traffic. The paddlers will start at Putney, then finish at Shadwell, the final stretch of the race will be a bit more hectic!

For the Big Ben Challenge ideally you will have some sound paddle experience and will have had enough training before the event so that you can paddle 20 km in variable conditions. There is a potential for a strong head wind and for a distance you will paddle against a gentle current. The paddle should take you under four hours to complete.

How can people become involved?

If you don’t fancy paddling, we still need your help. A great event like this can not happen with the help of volunteers on or off the water. We need volunteers for all sorts of jobs from helping out at registration, marshaling, providing info and helping out at baggage points. If you are interested in helping just send us an email!

Will the paddlers be able to get easily into Putney?

Both the SUP events start from Putney Embankment, London (SW15). Ideally paddlers would car share or consider public transport if it is possible. The nearest tube stops are Putney and East Putney. Paddlers can offload their boards on the embankment. Parking is limited in the surrounding area and you may have to walk a good 15 minutes to get back to the Foreshore. For the London Crossing the finish is at Shadwell Basin, paddlers boards will be brought back by trailer and the paddlers will be brought back by mini cabs.

What happens if you don’t own your own SUP board?

There are a limited number of boards available, the sizes are 11’6”; 12’6” and 14’ these are available on a first come, first come basis and will cost 25 pounds to hire.

How can people register?

To register for the Big Ben Challenge, go to webscorer The entry fee is ÂŁ65

About the Author

Helen Trehoret

SUP, OC1, V6, Surfski ... and field hockey coaching, Helen is a busy British mother of two who lives in Bretagne, France with a passion for all things Ocean. Helen runs Barrachou SUP, a SUP tour company specialized in excursions around Bretagne and Scotland.

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