YOU can now experience the serenity of Snowdonia from a whole new perspective… with a moonlit paddleboard tour under cover of darkness.
Nighttime Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) expeditions are the brainchild of Sian Sykes, one of the UK’s leading SUP instructors and ambassador for the Water Skills Academy (WSA).
Since launching the dark ventures this summer, she’s seen interest snowball – so much so that she’ll be running tours throughout winter, no matter how far the mercury plummets.
And Sian, 38, says that if you want to gaze at a snow-covered Snowdon, backlit by the moon and stars, there’s no better way than from the ink-black waters nearby.
Speaking ahead of the London Boat Show, Sian – an ambassador for ‘Starboard’ paddleboards which will be showcased by The SUP Company at the event – explains: “It sounds like a bizarre concept, but it was born from my own love of paddleboarding by night.
“I’ve been out on the lakes of Snowdonia in the dark, looking up at the snow-covered mountains, and it’s a profoundly beautiful experience.
“While paddling off the coast of Anglesey, I’ve been lucky enough to see the sea lit up with phosphorescence – an incredible, magical light show caused by the disturbance of plankton.
“And I wanted to share these wonderful moments with other people.
“Typically, we meet up as a group and we head out on a slow-paced journey. It’s about reconnecting with nature and opening-up your senses.
“We tend to see people putting on their headtorches straight away, because they’re slightly nervous of the darkness.
“But once your eyes adjust to the ambient light, the torches are turned off and you become immersed in the experience.
“Everything pauses. You can hear owls, you’ll see bats flying overhead, and if you’re lucky you’ll see the mountains silhouetted above you.
“We also watched a meteorite shower recently. A large group of us paddled out, lay down on our boards and watched the shooting stars. It was better than any fireworks display and it was truly magical.
“It’s my hope that I can facilitate moments which will linger in the memory forever.”
Sian, and her Psyched Paddleboarding outfit, are ideally placed.
In 2015 North Wales’ Snowdonia was awarded ‘Dark Sky’ status by the International Dark Sky Institute, one of less than a dozen locations worldwide and praised for its lack of light pollution.
And venues for her night paddles include Llyn Padarn, Llyn Dinas and Llyn Geirionydd – lakes famed for their natural beauty.
Sian – how’s often accompanied by her 11-year-old rescue cocker spaniel, Ruby during the day – also runs night sessions in sheltered inlets off the coast of Anglesey.
While temperatures may be chilly, participants are kitted out in wetsuits, fleeces and jackets as well as neoprene gloves and boots.
Anyone looking to join a two-hour-long night SUP excursion needs to have paddleboarded before while also capable of swimming 50m in clothing.
But a lightless SUP ride can warm the cockles, too.
Sian reveals: “We often paddle to a beach, get off our boards and then sit and enjoy hot chocolate and cake. Either that, or I can brew-up from my paddleboard and we can do it on the water, floating on the boards whilst nursing a hot drink.
“I think people should embrace the cold, and we obviously have safety procedures in place.
“I love the adrenaline of being outside, feeling windswept, and with rosy-red cheeks, but your eyes are sparkling and you’re grinning from ear to ear.”
While Sian, originally from Llangollen, North Wales, is also keen kayaker, mountaineer and climber, it’s SUP that’s taken over her life.
She launched Psyched Paddleboarding three years ago, having given up her role as project director for an advertising firm in London.
Sian was part of the first team to cross England on a paddleboard, she was then the first person to ever SUP, solo, the three British lakes: Llyn Tegid, Lake Windermere and Loch Awe in three days, all unsupported.
In August last year Sian was also the first person to circumnavigate Anglesey – a 75 mile journey spanning five days.
And she’s riding the wave of SUP being the UK’s fastest-growing watersport, with participation levels rising year on year since exploding onto the scene in 2010.
If SUP by night doesn’t appeal, Sian also runs standard daytime trips, too, sometimes even to remote, wild lakes which require a hefty walk-in to reach.
Sian says: “The reason why SUP is so popular is that it’s so accessible. People of all ages, and all shapes and sizes, can do it, and you can do paddleboarding yoga, you can do it on the sea, you can surf, you can tour, you can whitewater on the river.
“Or you can just pootle around! It’s about the journey. Unlike a kayak, you don’t have to worry about being enclosed in a spray deck.
“And since launching, this has been my busiest year by far.
“For me, paddle boarding melts away stress. I’ve had individuals recovering from cancer, depression, anxiety, the lot – and couples simply wanting some exciting yet relaxing quality time together.
“I’d like to think paddle boarding may even have prevented a few divorces!
“A lot of my clients are also female, and I think they’re drawn to me because I’m female too.
“With a man, they’d perhaps be less likely to say, ‘I’m nervous.’ I like to think I offer something different.”
Sian’s now also looking to see in the New Year from the comfort of her board – as she leads a special midnight group session on Menai Strait, near Beaumaris, Anglesey, in a few weeks’ time.
Howard Pridding, CEO of industry body British Marine and spokesperson for the London Boat Show, said: “We estimate that around 14.3 million people in the UK participate in water-based leisure activities.
“And Stand Up Paddleboarding is proving particularly appealing because it’s so accessible. Not only is it beginner-friendly, it’s also not heavily-dependant on the whims of the Great British weather.”
** Back for its 64th year, the London Boat Show returns in January celebrating everything you can do and enjoy on the water. Bringing a world of inspiration and on-water experiences visitors will be treated to five days of the very latest in the watersports world. It will feature plenty of opportunities for visitors to master their SUP skills for free, including a watersports activity pool, a 27m long dedicated SUP river and Paddleboard beach clinics.
The SUP Company will also feature a range of paddleboards for sale, with prices beginning at around £499.
For more details, and to book tickets, head to www.londonboatshow.com
** To book a SUP session with Sian, with prices starting at £35 per person for one hour on the water, head to www.psychedpaddleboarding.com
Pictures: James Chapman