Starboard UK Rider Samantha Rutt is ready for the North Channel Crossing

Have we entered a new era of adventure SUP? Have the COVID-19 lockdowns ironically unlocked something that drives SUP riders to embark on extreme paddle challenges and push the limits even further? TotalSUP caught up with Samantha Rutt,  Starboard UK Team Rider, SUP Coach, athlete, sports advocate and Founder of Barefoot SUP, on the eve of her attempt to cross the North Channel on a paddleboard.

Hi Sam, welcome to TotalSUP! You’re one of the most recognised female SUP athletes in the UK, actively involved in the SUP scene as a GBSUP and Paddle Logger Ambassador…But how did it start? How did you get into the sport of stand-up paddleboarding?

Growing up I wasn’t fortunate enough and had little opportunity to be exposed to watersports. The nearest I got to the ocean was a trip to Blackpool but even that brown sea water had something that drew me in. I took up surfing in my mid-twenties and I remember thinking how amazing it looked and one lesson in I was totally hooked!

Unfortunately in 2014 I suffered a blown disc in my neck doing MMA and damaged the nerve that my right arm needed to function properly, getting back in the waves was a big no go and we had an upcoming surfing holiday in Portugal booked. Absolutely fed up and wanting to get on the water I booked me and my husband a SUP lesson and it was just awful! Our boards were blown off down the beach, we couldn’t get on the sea just a stretch of a brown overgrown estuary and we had a really grumpy surf instructor not happy about teaching when he could be surfing, so that was it…

I was put off….until I tried again! This time in the UK on a flat calm day on the sea and was hooked (again)…at the time I remember telling my husband ‘this is going to be a cheap hobby you only need one board and a paddle’ Ha ha, I lied!

Could you tell us more about the challenge itself?

So the challenge forms one of the Ocean Seven which is one of the crossings that the swimmers do with 6 others dotted around the world and is known as the North Channel and is a specific channel that runs between Northern Ireland and Scotland and sits between the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea.

The distance in a straight line is 35km but sadly for me due to the tidal movement you do quite a bit more and I was advised to train for 45km, so the actual distance will be a surprise to me on the day.

I have the priority for the weather window from the 29th June to the 2nd July and will be crossing with Infinity Channel Swimming who are providing the boat and will be supported by my poor husband who always wonders how I get myself into challenges like this, I also have the privilege of support from Iain McCarthy of SUP Hub NI (SUP HUB Stand Up Paddleboarding School Bangor, Northern Ireland) who has been amazing and was the first person (and World Record holder) to cross the channel.

What are your motivations behind it? What’s so appealing about the extreme?

It’s funny I don’t really consider it extreme maybe that’s why I book these things, haha, but my main motivation is that I don’t want fear to limit my experiences in life. I was diagnosed with complex PTSD a couple years ago so as part of that my body can suddenly switch into fight or flight mode just doing normal day to day stuff…which is pretty annoying as I know that it’s irrational and out of context and I don’t want to let that govern my life.

Fear is something that holds a lot of people back ‘fear of failing’ ‘fear of the unknown’ ‘fear of looking stupid’ so many things that can hold us back in life and I don’t want it to hold me back. I hope to show other people that anything is possible and that fear is just an emotion that you can work to overcome… In all honestly I am probably more frightened of not living my life to the fullest and experiencing as much as I can perhaps that and inspiring others to get out there and live life without fear is what motivates me.


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How have you been preparing for it?

I am very lucky to have the experience and help of Larry Cain from Paddle Monster helping me while I am a Coach myself and could put a plan together… Coaches need coaches too! He has been massive support and helped keeping me not only on track but also with accountability… You know for those session the rain and wind aren’t great but knowing someone is in your corner helps you get out the front door…plus I can’t complain about the cold when he shows me pictures of his frozen lake!

I have been prepping for this since about October last year…Lots of time on the water. I was always pretty fortunate that I had the ocean to learn on, so being on the ocean feels like second nature to me.


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Facing the elements… What could be the biggest challenges in your opinion? Is there anything that you are particularly concerned about?

The biggest challenge for me could be the conditions. I have heard some stories about how choppy it can get with side swell, unpredictable wind and two oceans meeting along that channel, so dealing with side ways pushing can be tough.

Honestly the thing that worries me the most and please don’t laugh but it’s the jelly fish they honestly terrify me…I have freedived with sharks…paddled with pods of dolphins in the wild but put a bobbing jelly fish anywhere near me and the panic is real…I once put my knee through a brand new board because I didn’t want to fall onto one!

Could you tell us about your collaboration with Starboard?

I have been so lucky to have been with Starboard since 2017. The team has been so supportive and always go above and beyond to help me. I had tried every board pretty much on the market but the performance of the equipment and the research and development that goes into each of their boards is top class. That’s why it’s not a shock you see so many of these boards on the start line at races.

The other thing that I absolutely love is how durable Starboard boards are, as I mentioned above I put my knee through another board… I can honestly say my boards take a lot of clumsiness from me and survive. I use Starboard quiver for adventure, race and in my school for new paddlers to learn on.

What’s your Starboard set up for this challenge?

I am being creative with my board selection for this challenge and I am initially planning on starting on an Starboard Allstar 14’x 23’ in the flatter water. People often look at the Allstar as a race board but it’s such a great choice for me for touring, adventures and endurance challenges as well as being a phenomenal race board.

Once I am out in the open ocean I have an Allstar 14’ x 26’ as a back up board should the conditions get big and choppy. It’s super stable and that is something that is really important as the more stable the board is the more power I can put down on the paddle and the more efficient I can be.

Adventure SUP… Do you think we have entered an era of endurance SUP where the limits of what’s possible will be pushed even further?

I do think we have possibly entered a new era in SUP endurance and we already have some amazingly inspirational endurance and adventure pioneers who have left huge footsteps to follow in and who have been pushing the boundaries around the world for years…

Way back in 2012 fellow Starboard paddler Bart de Zwart paddled from the UK to Holland unsupported, Seychelle and her amazing 24 hour world record and closer to home Brendon Prince and his circumnavigation around the UK (got to also mention Casper Steinfath‘s recent Denmark adventure).

With the boom in the SUP community in the last few years and the opportunities for adventure I can only see it growing…the other thing I am keen to share is that adventure SUP doesn’t have to be huge distance or months away from home. You can grab a friend, a board and find a new route near you that’s never been done before. Find somewhere to camp, challenge your fears to get out and explore –  Micro adventures are amazing and your life will be all the richer for it.

Thank you very much for your time and good luck with this incredible endeavour – Stay safe and have an epic adventure!

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Follow Samantha Rutt on Instagram via Samantha Rutt Ocean Adventure or Barefoot Ocean Athlete – SUP Performance

About the Author

Anna Nadolna

Anna is the Founder of SUPer Whale, a Cambridge(UK!)-based emerging watersports brand and a stand-up paddleboarding community. She is a certified SUP Flat Water Instructor accredited by International Surfing Association (ISA). Anna is also a digital marketing, storytelling aficionado and a growth hacking enthusiast.

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