Paddleboarding – Islay Styles

IN

Katie Smith in our communications team takes the new Gill Marine jacket for a test drive.

KS: Exploring Islay is always an adventure.

The views change from rolling farmland to dramatic coastal cliffs, dense forest to benign sandy bays. Being able to spot occasional wildlife like eagles, stags and otters reminds you that you that there’s still a slice of wilderness to be had. The weather is another wild force to contend with. Brutal Atlantic winds, sweeping in from what feels like all sides, will blow the cobwebs away, and if you aren’t careful, blow you off your feet.

I head out one Saturday with a friend to try out my latest lockdown purchase, a stand-up paddleboard. Having explored most of Islay on foot in the two years that I’ve lived here, discovering the coastline will be a nice way to get a new perspective. We choose Knock Bay, just past the three distilleries path in the South East of the island. The bay is shallow, secluded, and has little rocky islands, covered in seals, to paddle around – the perfect spot. The sun is splitting the sky when we head out, but I pack for all weather-in the blink of an eye, the clouds can roll in and the rain can appear.

Once the boards are pumped up, it’s time to hit the water. The last time I was on a SUP was four years ago, in Malta, the gentle breeze cooling on a hot day and the warm Mediterranean waiting to catch you if you lose your balance. At Knock Bay, a fresh off-shore wind forces you to concentrate on not falling and I’m glad of my extra layers. But after I’ve found my feet, gliding through the water is meditative. A buzzard calls overhead, the seals sing on the rocks and the sheep frolic on a nearby hillside. Bucolic bliss.

Like most people, the pandemic has made me re-evaluate my relationship with nature – it’s been a sanctuary in these strange and difficult times. As mid-winter approaches, I worry that the fading light and rising winds will force me indoors and this will be lost. But with the right gear to protect me from the elements, the only thing holding me back is me.

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Katie wears our new all-weather jacket, a collaboration with off-shore specialists, Gill

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