DOUGAL’S EPIC ADVENTURE SEEING THE WORLD FROM A SURFSKI
Listening to Dougal Glaisher casually detail his aptly named ‘Epic Adventure’, he almost convinces you that it’s just another Saturday morning session.
“Paddling up and down the same river for training gets a bit boring, so I thought it’d be cool to pack myself in my boat and see where I get to,” he tells The Paddler.
But where he has got to, is far beyond the imagination of most paddlers.
Loading up his V8 surfski, Dougal has paddled from Cherbourg in France’s west to – at the time of writing – Marseille in the Mediterranean.
That’s more around 2,000 kilometres.
And he has no plan to stop anytime soon.
“I’ve always known I wanted to do more travelling,” he says.
“I’ve done some cycle touring in the past, so I just thought I’d do it in the surfski this time.”
“I’m enjoying it, so I think i’ll carry on.
It’s hard to comprehend just how much distance he’s already covered.
If Dougal had stuck to his original itinerary, it would be a whole lot more.
“I quite enjoy starting a trip from my front door,” he explains.
“I was going to paddle across the Channel and head down France, but it just so happened the Great Britain Team was going over to France for the European Champs, so I just stuck my boat on the roof to avoid the boat traffic and went from there.”
The plan is simple in theory – to start paddling and simply see where he ends up.
Dougal usually opts for an Epic V12, but for this expedition, he arranged for a V8 to be modified with storage hatches at the front and back.
Inside is everything he needs: food, water, appliances, electronics, a tent and a sleeping bag.
At full capacity it weighs around 50 kilograms, so unsurprisingly, it took some getting used to.
“I think my body has adapted pretty well,” he says. “I made sure to build into it, because I had a bit of elbow pain in the first week.”
“I was a bit worried about sitting in a puddle for seven hours a day. But I’ve been rubbing coconut oil onto my bum and that’s kept the sores at bay,” he laughs.
A typically day will see Dougal paddle around 50 kilometres – some more, some less.
That usually means long hauls in the ski, but he says they “fly by” and aren’t the emotional rollercoaster that paddlers would expect.
“When there’s downwind on the sea or some waves, it’s quite easy,” Glaisher says.
“I’m not really thinking about anything. Surfski is just kind of meditative in that way, isn’t it?”
“The flat days are the hardest mentally because your mind doesn’t know where to go.
“But I’m quite enjoying that challenge, just seeing where my mind wanders.
Dougal’s kind of ‘go with the flow’ attitude has served him well on this adventure.
Most nights, he’s simply paddled into shore and set up camp.
“I get in quite tired, sometimes people see me sleeping on the beach and take a picture of me.” He laughs.
Each destination is unique, and the people he has met help bring the adventure to life.
Though it hasn’t always been easy getting back out into the ocean.
“One day along this stretch of coastline they call the ‘Wild Coast’ I just couldn’t get off the beach because the break was too big,” he recalls.
“I had to portage my boat for 10 kilometres to find somewhere I could get in.”
“That was a grueling day because it was on soft sand, so the trolley didn’t spin freely.
The most pressing hurdle Dougal has had to overcome is one he can’t avoid.
Two years ago, he was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic.
At first, it came as a shock. He knew little about it, and he knew little of how to manage it.
“There’s not a lot of people doing trips like this with Type 1,” he says.
“There’s a lot of factors that affect your blood sugars, like paddling all day.
“You have to make sure you don’t run too high or too low. Also, when you have to get off the water and eat to refuel, that’s challenging.
“It’s pretty tricky, but you have to forget about perfection and realise you have this disease and you’re not going to have perfect blood sugars and aim for the best you can… and just get on with it really.”
He isn’t just raising awareness; he’s also raising money.
‘Action 4 Diabetes’ supports children with Type 1 diabetes living in South East Asia, while he’s also supporting the Blue Marine Foundation, an ocean conservation group with a project in Lyme Bay, close to his home.
Dougal feels an obligation to help give back.
It’s an ideal at the very core of our sport. Both in our relationships as paddlers to the ocean, and also as paddlers to each other.
He’s been reminded of that numerous times on this trip.
“The generosity and hospitality has been awesome,” he says. “People have even invited me back to their homes.
“That goes for the paddling community too – I’ve stayed with five paddlers so far.
“It’s so nice seeing faces that I’ve seen at races and have never been able to chat to, like Benoit and Angie Le Roux.”
“It’s cool to see a bit into their lives and get to know them… they even joined me out on the water.”
That is the kind of experience that motivated Dougal to set off on this adventure in the first place – to see the world, his way.
He’s already crossed France in a way that few others have ever done before – across open ocean, through canals and now along the Mediterranean.
Heading towards Italy, he has no idea how far he’ll go.
“I’m paddling sustainably so I can keep going for a long time,” he says.
“I guess the money will probably run out at some point.”
When that will be, isn’t a concern.
For now, Dougal is just going with the flow.
“It’ always different to how you imagine it, but looking back, it’s been awesome.”
“At points during the day you have moments where you just think, ‘What am I doing paddling along this canal. What am I doing here?’
“But it definitely feels like I’m living life how I should be.”
You can also follow Dougal on instagram: @dougalsepicadventure