Taking on the Tarn: Patrick Cruywagen’s Journey to the 2024 TaWaRa

In the realm of adventure seekers, Patrick Cruywagen stands as a beacon of exploration and endurance. With a background that intertwines military service and journalism, Patrick’s journey has taken him across continents, from gorilla trekking to covering events like the Dakar Rally. An avid runner and outdoor enthusiast, he found a new passion in stand-up paddleboarding during the COVID lockdown, quickly becoming enamored with its blend of physical challenge and serene exploration. Armed with Red Paddle Co.’s latest SUP race board, the Sport 14+, Patrick prepares to tackle on June 8/9 the Tarn Water Race —an 80 km SUP odyssey down the picturesque Tarn River Gorge in France— with determination and a sense of adventure. With anticipation mounting, he shares insights into the challenges and exhilaration that await on the Tarn’s rapids and stretches of open water. Photos by Chris Teagles.

Hello Pat! Let’s get acquainted! Can you provide some background on your involvement in sports and SUP racing?

Hi there Mathieu! I was born in South Africa just over 50 years ago, and after spending seven years in the military, I started to work as a travel and motoring journalist. A decade ago, I moved to the UK to edit a Land Rover magazine, and I’m lucky that my work has taken me worldwide on various assignments. Some of the most memorable of these include driving across Australia’s Simpson Desert during a flood, gorilla trekking in Rwanda, and covering events like the Land Rover G4 Challenge in Thailand and Laos and the crazy Dakar Rally in South America.

I’ve always enjoyed exercise, and I once took part in a 250km run across the Kalahari Desert and surprised myself by finishing in 3rd place. I’ve run over 50 marathons, but lately, I have tried to see if I can run with more control and discipline, like an old diesel Land Rover Defender and not like a Ferrari that has run out of gas. So, I try to pace my effort and finish strong. Easier said than done of course.

Towards the end of the COVID lockdown, I purchased a Red Paddle Co. Voyager paddle board. It was hard to find one because they were in such high demand at the time, as everyone wanted outdoor gear.

I also ride road and mountain bikes, but as I live near some pretty awesome rivers, I wanted to try paddle boarding and was hooked immediately.  I then started paddling further and further away from where I live.

Can you share your sporting journey on a stand up paddle board thus far?

I love camping and exploring and, until recently, drove a fully-kitted Land Rover Defender. I wanted a board that would give me the same adventure possibilities on the water, so I went with the Red Paddle Co Voyager. It can easily carry two waterproof bags with your camping gear and food. That is my kind of paddling.

I love exploring new bits of the river, and the world looks very different from the water. Being on the water also has massive mental health benefits; the water is calming and very good for you. I don’t see paddle boarding as a sport; I do it for the health benefits of exploring and adventuring, and I love a physical challenge. You won’t see me paddling around buoys on a small enclosed lake.

What triggered your liking for ultra-long distance paddles?

Not long after my paddle boarding journey started, a friend and I set off from Bedford on our boards and decided to try to paddle to the coast, which is about 140 km away. We had rain and strong headwinds on the 2nd day and only got off the water at 11 pm. We were both broken, but the following day, we took on the final 40km to the coast and managed to finish without any problems. This gave me the confidence to take on the Trent 100 event that same year.

I will not lie and say it was easy, but the one thing that comes with age is that you get wiser. I know long training paddles will help you when taking on ultra-distance paddling events. It’s a no-brainer, really: train hard and race easy. I recently moved to Northampton and as the River Nene flows the town, I have started to think about paddling from here to the coast. Anybody want to join me?

How does the unique setting of the Tarn River Gorge contribute to the appeal of the Tarn Water Race for paddlers like yourself?

I remember seeing video footage of the Tarn event a few years ago, and I knew immediately that I had to come and do it. The setting is so beautiful, and I want to paddle in that gorge and experience it myself. Unfortunately, I usually work at an event in Germany when the Tarn event is on, but this year, I have taken leave and am coming. I am a little scared, but sometimes, fear is a good or positive thing.

What elements of the Tarn Water Race are particularly exhilarating or challenging?

I have spent 11 hours on my board before, but I have never done 80km on a paddle board in a day. That will be the big test for me. Yesterday I paddled on a fast-flowing and flooded river, and you really have to concentrate much more. I suspect it will be the same on the Tarn.

Also, talking on rapids while on a paddle board will be something new; I have done grade 5 rapids on the Nile and Zambezi Rivers, but not on a paddle board. I will give the Tarn, the rapids, and the distance the respect it deserves. Always respect the water or it will humble you.

You’ll use Red Paddle Co’s latest SUP race board, the Sport 14′ +. Could you share your experiences with it thus far? How does it compare with the Voyager?

I have probably done about ten paddles with the Sport 14”+ now, and the first time I got on it, I struggled with the length and width. That is normal because the old Voyager is all that I have ever used. Plus, I thought it was the perfect board for me.

Now I have changed my mind, especially after the technical water I paddled on yesterday with the Sport. I felt a connection develop with the board, and with that my confidence with the new board grew too. Plus, it’s much quicker than my Voyager. Or maybe my technique and fitness have improved? I think it’s a combination of all three, really.

What distinguishes the Sport 14′ + model as optimal for tackling the 80 kilometers of the Tarn Water Race?

I paddle for fun, and you will never see me on a hard board challenging for line honours. I am a social paddler who likes a challenge and who wants to travel to places. I love that my 14-foot board packs up small and can easily join me on these adventures. Also, the Sport 14” + model will more than perform adequately in races, long-distance events, and touring. I’ve upgraded my adventure by changing boards, and I now have a board that probably better suits the type of paddling I want to do in the future. It’s a real all-round board.

Good luck or rather, as we traditionally say in French: “Merde.” I leave you the last word.

The time now is for long training paddles, strength work, and trying to simulate Tarn-type conditions in training. I want to arrive in France prepared for a full day of adventure on the Tarn. Doing the Tarn event will be a dream come true for me. Like winning the Rugby World Cup for the Springboks.

The paddle-boarding world needs more events like the Tarn. I have exchanged emails with the organiser, and he seems to be a real character. I can’t wait to meet him and enjoy one of the most beautiful gorges in the world. See you at the Tarn.

To join Patrick on the start line of the Tarn Water Race, go to:

To find out more about the Sport+ range at Red, visit the
Red Paddle Co website

To follow Patrick on Instagram:

About the Author

Mathieu Astier

Mathieu is the hyper-active founder of TotalSUP and a multilingual online marketing veteran with more than 20 years of experience working for top international internet companies. His love-at-first-sight for Stand Up Paddling in 2013 led him to build one of the leading online media dedicated to SUP in English and French and to turn his family lifestyle towards the ocean.

To follow Mathieu: