I recently had the pleasure of chatting to Sam Rutt, Starboard Team Rider ahead of her English Channel crossing attempt on the 29th of May 2023, starting from Dover UK. She is not only attempting this solo but going for a record time. Sam who has been paddling since 2014 and hails from Norfolk where she runs her SUP business, Barefoot Ocean Athlete, can already say she is the first woman to cross the North Channel and holds the record for doing so in a time of 5h.2m.35s. Sam honestly has some inspirational words for paddlers of any level wishing to challenging themselves, you’ll want to set yourself new challenges after reading her advice! Sam is raising awareness through her crossing of the English Channel for PTSD UK, which is a charity close to her heart. As a great advocate for mental health I was really keen to know more about how Sam links sport and SUP with mental health benefits, to which she gives us some great insights.
As I caught up with Sam, she was in Spain getting some winter sun and training under her belt, doing so with her husband and two dogs. She is so modest and grounded, but her fire and consistency for SUP and personal challenges an inspiration to all paddlers. Enjoy!
Hi Sam, Welcome to TotalSUP it’s a pleasure to chat to you! Please could you introduce yourself to the readers?
Thank you so much for asking me to chat to you about my up coming journey, I am huge fan of TotalSUP so it’s a privilege, thank you. I started Stand Up Paddleboarding in 2014 after a neck injury but my first experience was on a river and not much fun, but as soon as I got on the ocean it all changed and I fell totally in love with the sport. I soon discovered racing, as I do love to push myself. I then changed careers setting up one of Norfolk’s first SUP Schools and Race Teams, then when covid hit I started my online coaching platform. I think its safe to say that SUP has changed my life from uttering the words to my husband it will be a cheap hobby ‘I will only need one board and one paddle’ to having quite a large collection of boards it really is at the core of who I am… I love the sport and the community around it and my time on the ocean is the best therapy for my mental health.
Sam, you are really an inspiration for what you have already achieved through the North Channel crossing, where does your drive for these long endurance challenges come from?
I think people see the big stuff you do like the North Channel but I started off really small. I have a need to know what I am capable of and no fear of failing so the two combined mean that setting myself challenges, and not just the big ones, is huge fun. My first ever challenge was to paddle 3km around a tiny lake, I was on a huge surf style SUP and when I made it round I felt so accomplished. I then wanted to paddle from one beach to the next 5km away, as I did this I could see in the distance the other side of the Wash estuary (26km across) not thinking I’d ever be able to do it I just paddled further and further each time until the pull to cross the Wash was too much and one night in the pub I said “I am going to be the first woman to cross it” it had already been crossed by Hunstanton’s retired local legend Martin who went across and back, and in 2018 I crossed Europe’s largest estuary unsupported, the feeling of achievement and seeing my friend Les and Lisa from Hunstanton Kayaks waving as we neared the shore had me hooked on crossings. The most notorious crossing has to be the English Channel so my sights were set, however, bad weather, restrictions and covid has stopped me being able to go for it until this year so I thought in the meantime I would do the North Channel.
You are doing your English Channel crossing this year in aid of PTSD UK, how close is this to your heart and can you share your insights on sport for mental health?
This charity is hugely important to me from supporting my own journey through PTSD but also family and friends who have suffered or are suffering with it, some are sadly no longer with us because of how it touched their lives. Raising awareness of the issue and the symptoms is a high priority for me as it wasn’t until 2019 I was diagnosed with it, although I was functioning in life there were areas where I thought, why doesn’t everyone respond this way? Thankfully I have had amazing support and have been able to understand the way my brain works, is just normal for someone with PTSD. Exercise and nature are two massively important areas that have helped and still do help me to deal with it. SUP has huge scope to help people with their mental health by being in and around nature, it creates focus for the brain on balancing and so on. One paddle stroke at a time is just the pause that some people need, a moment in time to just be, so it’s really important to me that people can access Stand Up Paddleboarding.
How are you currently preparing for the Channel crossing?
I am so lucky to have fellow Starboard Rider Larry Cain as my coach who is helping me prepare for the English Channel. Larry was also my coach for the North Channel, we work really well together and he keeps me on track (or tells me to recover) I am currently in Spain to train and staying right on the water so trying not to paddle is hard but I know that you need to have recovery even though the lure of the water is calling me 24hrs a day haha. Nothing runs smoothly though, so my first few weeks out here I was ill, I couldn’t even manage a 5km SUP, my heart rate was high my speed was shockingly slow for me but the last couple of weeks I have been back to my normal self. Trying to leave the training sessions you haven’t done can be hard. I feel I need to ‘make them all up’ but fitness doesn’t work like that so I am always looking forward not back. There will always be things cropping up that don’t go to plan and that’s ok its all part of the fun of the journey.
Which of the amazing Starboard collection are you currently using? Has this shape or model changed for you as you have gone from shorter distance racing into endurance paddling?
I am so lucky to have quite a collection of boards but for my challenge I am going to be using my trusty 14’ x 23’ Allstar. This board is just phenomenal, it has the stability I need on the ocean as you can be dealing with an awful lot of rolling side swell and chop on the English Channel. The Allstar is still so fast, so going for a world record I need a board that can perform and this board is my go to board for crossings like this as well as training at home. When I am racing which I am hoping to be back for later this year, I go to my 14’ x 21’ Sprint, that board is like a rocket and flies on the flatter water. Both models have their place in my quiver, choosing the right board for the conditions is so important and my theory is you can’t ever have too many Starboards in your collection!
I am very interested to know how you maintain focus during endurance events, what are some of your strategies?
For me and I don’t know if this happens to other people, but I have heard it being called the ‘Zone’ After about 5-6kms of a crossing I tend to zone out and very rarely remember all the km’s inbetween, my brain then kicks in towards the end, usually the last 5km when the shore is in sight. Not sure why it does that but I can’t really remember the middle part of the North Channel or the Wash. I have a hydration strategy and sometimes my husband will shout messages that he’s received from friends and family to keep me going if he sees my pace slow down, but to be honest I much prefer the silence, just the sound of my board on the water and zoning out haha! You don’t feel the blisters on your hands or the ache in your legs that way!
How about before such an event, what will the lead up to your Channel Crossing look like?
On the lead up to crossings, and in my previous racing days it used to be the same, I tend to follow a pattern… I don’t think too much about the challenge that much, so the enormity of what I am doing doesn’t affect me at all until a few days before. I know that the day, or days before, my anxiety will kick in and is really uncomfortable to the point I can’t sleep very well. My brain isn’t the most helpful in the lead up to a challenge and will delight in showing me flashing images of all the things that can go wrong or the ways that I can perish, could I get eaten by a shark? Get an allergic reaction to jelly fish sting? Or I’m unable to get on my board and I sink, you name it my brains thinks it! However, I am very aware that this is part of the process I will go through each time. I know it doesn’t last, and that part is just as important for me. Eventually the feeling of achieving my goal is much more rewarding so that enables me to deal with those uncomfortable feelings.
Do you have any advice for people who want to start out with endurance paddling?
Do it, have fun doing it, adventures are free and endurance paddling doesn’t have to be a long distance according to anyone else but you. If you have only ever paddled 1km then for you going 2km is endurance and you should try it. If you make 1.5km, guess what, that’s more than you have ever gone before and the sense of accomplishment is so rewarding! Also the big ‘F’….Failing, its time to ditch the mindset that failing is a negative thing. We need to fail, it’s fun to fail and we learn so much from it. It could be easy for me to think ekk the time for the English Channel is a tough one for me, what with only a few mins wiggle room, so what if I don’t do it in time? There is not one comment a person can make that will take away from what an awesome experience it will be, whether I succeed or not it’s my experience and I would much rather experience it and fail than let the fear of failure stop me even trying. Get out there explore, adventure, enjoy the water safely and set yourself mini goals and enjoy every moment of the experience!
Thank you so much Sam for great insights, we wish you the best of luck with your English Channel attempt!
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