John Mcfadzean had a dream, a dream to paddle in every country of the world. What started as a casual conversation with strangers turned into a quest, a quest that has taken him some of the most beautiful countries in the world, and also to some of the most dangerous, all with his trusty Red Paddle SUP paddleboard! Read on about Scottish Paddler John’s journey from zero to hero, and his quest to paddle in every country in the world!
Introduction, who are you, How did you get into paddleboarding?
My name is John McFadzean, and I first got into stand up paddleboarding following a remarkable coincidence one Saturday in June 2014. I live in a third-floor apartment that overlooks Southport Marine Lake. One Saturday morning, looking out from my window, I saw something I’d never seen before. There were three people out in the middle of the lake, each standing on some sort of board and using a paddle to propel themselves across the water. I’d never seen anything like it. I thought they must be crazy!
Later that same day, I took my two youngest daughters to a local dance class. And there on the wall was a poster advertising ‘Stand up Paddleboarding — Lessons!’ My friend Amy who owned the dance studio, encouraged me to take a lesson and the rest is history. Like so many others before and after me, I immediately fell in love with SUP. Even though it rained heavily during that first lesson and I got wet.
Where did your idea to SUP the world come from?
I am on a lifetime quest to go stand up paddleboarding in every country in the world. A project I have called SUP the World. It’s an idea that evolved gradually. Not long after I began SUP, I headed to Australia to attend the wedding of a close friend. I was a little naive about watersports back then, so I wondered if you could do stand up paddleboarding in Australia.
It turns out you can! One of the many highlights of that three weeks in Australia was a paddle around Sydney Harbour. We didn’t go right up the Bridge and Opera House area. Still, I have some much cherished photographs of myself paddling with Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background.
The following year I was attending a training course in the Algarve in Portugal, and again, I wondered if I could SUP in Portugal. It turns out you can! The years after that I paddled in Italy and France during family holidays, and gradually, the seed began to germinate. At the time of writing, I have paddled in 45 different countries worldwide. According to the United Nations, there are 193 countries, so I still have some way to go.
Why do you red paddle. What are the advantages of the board. What is the most exciting feature. Why do you use it for your project?
When I first started paddling seven years ago, there weren’t as many SUP brands as there are nowadays. The first two boards I ever owned were Redpaddle boards: a 10’6 Ride and a 9’6 Allwater, both purchased second hand from a SUP school. Both boards were faithful servants to me in the years ahead, and I was very impressed with the quality of the equipment. When it came time to upgrade, I knew the right decision was to stick with Redpaddle.
At the moment, I own an 11’0 Sport and a 13’2 Voyager. I have recently been pushing myself to do longer distance paddles, including a few multi-day SUP and camp trips. The Voyager is absolutely perfect for that type of adventure as it has more than enough space on board to carry all the gear for a week away. The tracking and glide, as well as the stability, make it perfect for longer journeys. I love my Sport for shorter trips, messing around on my local lake etc. It’s lighter and easier to manoeuvre. And faster to inflate. I have had excellent customer service from Redpaddle over the years. It’s essential for me and my mission to have equipment that I know I can rely on. I have that trust in Redpaddle.
Are you actually sponsored by Red Paddle Co?
No I’m not. At this time I would prefer to maintain my independence so I haven’t asked Redpaddle for any kind of sponsorship. They’ve given me a few goodies over the years and they invited me to do a speech at one of their events which was nice. So I have good relationship with them but nothing formal.
Your adventures, what is country that blew you away the most? As in you had one expectation and then you arrived, and it was totally the opposite.
In 2019 I had this crazy idea to travel to the very top of Norway, to a town called Hammerfest which sits well within the Arctic circle in the land of the midnight sun. During the summer months, it doesn’t get dark here at all. I planned to paddle off the coast of Hammerfest, at midnight, on the Summer Solstice.
I had no idea what to expect. The weather forecast was looking rather unhelpful in the days leading up to my arrival. But in actual fact I was very fortunate with the weather. The forecast wind didn’t materialise. Although it was cloudy overhead, I could see the sun shining when I looked towards the north pole. And it genuinely didn’t get dark at all.
I was feeling nervous paddling on cold water, solo, and at midnight but all went well. There was only one disappointment. I assumed there would be some sort of summer solstice party. I envisioned crowds of people out celebrating. There was no one. I think the celebration was the following night. I was one day too early.
You paddled in Syria, what was that like? The people, the landscape, the food, the atmosphere
In June 2019, I found myself wild camping by the side of the River Torne in Finland when I met two young men from Dusseldorf in Germany. They were on a hiking trip through the area. We were in the middle of nowhere, the only human beings for miles around. When I explained my quest to SUP the World, they began to pepper me with questions.
‘What about countries with no lakes?’
‘What about countries with no rivers?’
‘What about dangerous countries?’
‘What about North Korea?’
‘What about Syria?’
And it made me think. ‘Why can’t I go to Syria?’ ‘What’s stopping me?’
It took a lot of planning to organise the trip, and I had to arrange for permission for a visa in advance. But these things are indeed possible if you put your mind to it.
I must admit I was nervous in the shared taxi from Beirut to Damascus, more so because I had lost my phone. We have all seen so much negative news about Syria over the last ten years that I really didn’t know what to expect. But, in truth, I was very safe the entire time I was there. I was accompanied by an expert tour guide and, at times, also a driver. We never left the government-controlled areas.
One of my highlights was a walking tour of Damascus. There is so much history here. The ancient Al-Buzuriyah Souq was fascinating. I don’t think I will ever forget the multiple smells of the many varied spices on sale within. Inside the Ummayyad Mosque is a shrine that is said to house the head of John the Baptist. We visited the Church of St Paul. And on my final night in Damascus, I found the Christian Quarter and treated myself to a few drinks (with alcohol) in the bars there.
The biggest highlight of the course, was the one-hour paddle at the Island of Arwad, a short paddle for which I had to obtain the permission of the security services. It may seem like a long way to go for a one hour paddle, but it meant a lot to me to add another country to my list. Especially a country that many people felt would be impossible.
We did pass some bombed-out buildings, just concrete shells remaining, which saddened me greatly. Arabs are famous for their hospitality and all of the Syrian people I met were welcoming and friendly. Without any exception. Although very few spoke any English, we got by with gestures and sign language. And smiles. A lot of smiles. Everyone who spoke English asked me to tell the outside world that Syria is a safe country. That it’s not like we see on the news. I can only hope for peace and prosperity for these beautiful people.I spent four days and three nights in this beautiful country, and it really wasn’t long enough. Perhaps I will return one day.
What are your top 3 destinations and why?
It’s incredibly difficult to choose a top three as I have been privileged to visit and paddle so many wondrous places. But here goes:
Certainly, the most exceptional experience I have had on a SUP board anywhere in the world was paddling the canals of Venice in 2016. I think Venice is such an iconic location, and of course, the first thing that springs to mind when someone says ‘Venice’ is ‘canals!’ – perfect for a paddleboarder. The Venetian waterways are busy, and it’s essential to know the rules of the road, as it were. That’s why we booked a guided tour with a local SUP company.
Being Scottish, I surely have to include a Scottish destination in my top three. Maybe I’m biased, but Scotland is the most beautiful country in the world. I recently completed a 92 km multi-day trip from Fort William on the west coast to Inverness on the east, A route known as the Great Glen Canoe Trail. It was especially pleasing to finish the journey this year, having been defeated by the wind on my previous attempt in 2020. There is a section of the canal here, just north of Laggan, which is the prettiest place I have seen from my SUP board.
I’m not an early riser, so I’m more likely to do a sunset SUP than a sunrise SUP. But one experience I did get up early for was a paddle on the beach at Larnaca, in Cyprus, just as the sun was rising. I didn’t actually paddle anywhere. I just sat back on my board and waited for the day to begin. Although I got off the sea slightly too early that morning, the most spectacular oranges and yellows arrived as I was packing away.
How do you travel with your SUP board? Any recommendations?
In the early days of my SUP the World quest, I was let down on a few occasions by local suppliers. They were canceling trips at the last minute or supplying sub-standard equipment, that kind of thing.
So now, as long as it is practical, I take my own board with me. It is easy to fly with an iSUP in a rucksack as it comes in below the 23 kg limit most airlines have for hold luggage. One of the most significant benefits of inflatable paddleboards is the ease of transport. I just keep everything inside my rucksack, wrapped up as best I can. For example, a wetsuit is a good thing to wrap around your paddle.
TotalSUP: Thank you John and good luck on your SUP the World quest !