River Spey SUP in a Single Day
On the 3rd November 2022 Jim Miller set off early in the morning undertaking a 150km Spey Descent from Newtonmore down to Spey bay. There is nothing too unusual in Spey descents with them being done multiple times a year by many people. But this one was unusual, as he was paddling the entire thing in a single day on his own on a SUP. Something that has not been done before to the best of our knowledge. We caught up with him to ask him some questions surrounding the experience after he successfully completed the paddle.
What motivated you to want to do this?
For the last 6 months or so it had been a thought in the back of mind that myself and a couple of friends would give it a go. After looking at the weather the day before with the amount of rainfall the challenge was going to be possible. Combine that with a cloudy night (so not too cold) and a beautiful sunny day the next day little more could be asked for… I quickly sorted plans for the end and tried to wrangle a couple of mates but alas none were available so I decided to go it alone given the conditions were favourable I did not want to miss the opportunity to try. In terms of what motivated me I suppose the thought of pushing myself to see if I could do it!
What interests you most about SUP?
I love every single thing about the sport at the moment whether that is white water, coastal or open water. But the fact it is constantly developing is still awesome. Having gone out and paddled grade 4/+ dam release rivers in Spain this year I know loads of other people who have started to push the white water scene since seeing the photos. And if something I can do or say can inspire others into trying the sport then that is in a word AWESOME! Seeing someone excel and enjoy a sport is one of the greatest things ever.
What was the best bit?
Probably watching the sunrise and sunset’s – finishing literally as the sun went down was handy. But having my parents and great friend Jim Gibson come down to say hi and cheer me on was an amazing feeling as well.
What was the hardest part?
It sounds crazy but probably my feet! Alas I could only find one of my good neoprene socks so I ended up using an older pair which are not as comfortable or warm so standing for 12 and a half hours without as comfortable feet as I could have had was a thought in the back of my head the whole way.
Do you think it can be done quicker than 12:31?
Definitely! I already have a friend who has asked if I would be willing to do it again with them next time. I used a touring board (a red voyager 13,2) but if I had used a racing board then I could have gone quicker, but that would be a catch 22 as it would also not be as stable in the moving water… If I hadn’t stopped to go to the toilet a few times (I refuse outright to do this in a wetsuit – horrible!), if I had taken my lightest paddle (not possible due to a car at the end not a van – it would not have fitted as it is single piece as opposed to multiple parts) and if I had not taken as much kit (I didn’t want to do this given the 4am paddling if something had gone wrong in the night I would have wanted all my safety kit to keep me warm. So yes, it is doable quicker but certain sacrifices would have had to be made none of which could be taken lightly (by me). But if all the above was considered I think maybe cutting a couple of hours off would be doable for a fitter paddler than I.
Well… The Findhorn descent is on the cards for this/next month so that will be pretty epic! And I have a trusty paddling partner coming over from Ireland for a week in December where our wish list consists only of river sections and rivers that have yet to be supped at all so watch this space!
What word of encouragement would you give to someone wanting to try this?
If you want to have an epic but tiring day then do it – you won’t regret it and if you beat the time then I tip my hat to you!
Brief Breakdown of the Trip
The Spey descent can be done from multiple different start points but Newtonmore is one of the most common ones and also one of the highest points possible to start the paddle from. The river winds it’s way down from the Hills near Fort Augustus through the glens passing Newtonmore, Aviemore and Aberlour as some of the more well-known villages/towns on route. It includes rapids of up to and including grade 2+ and is well known for its famous Whisky’s, Salmon fishing and of course paddling.
He set his alarm for 03:00 in the morning and quickly had breakfast and some much-needed coffee before heading off to the get in. All in all he was on the water at 04:15 – a chilly early morning start… The first 3 hours and 15minutes was paddled by headtorch while travelling down the river to the sounds of the birds (in particular around the Insh Marshes) and the occasional early morning driver on the roads in view. Passing Aviemore at sunrise around 07:30 in the morning was a stunning experience. The river then calms down quite a bit between Aviemore and Grantown where the flow is not as strong, so more paddling is required. After Grantown the river speeds up again winding its way down past Aberlour, Rothes and Fochabers before reaching the sea at Spey Bay. A usual descent time is around 4-5 days so doing it in a day is quite unusual to say the least!