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Scottish paddleboarder completes her first endurance race and raises more than £4,000

by Stephanie Melrose 28 May 2019 10:21 BST
Emma Hepplewhite during the Norfolk Broads Paddle © Sailingfast

Emma Hepplewhite, owner of Paddlefast based in Central Scotland, completed her first endurance stand up paddleboard (SUP) race raising a total of £4,200 for two special causes. The Wave Project Scotland will receive £2,600 and the Forth Valley Chorus will receive £1,600.

The 38-year-old mother of two was one of 33 paddlers (one of 11 females) competing in the two-day race and completed the 70 km course in a total of 12 hours 46 minutes 22 seconds.

The Norfolk Broads Ultra, part of the UK Paddle Endurance Series, is a flat-water paddle challenge that takes competitors a total distance of 70 km on the canals and rivers of the Norfolk Broads. Completed over two days, day one is 40km and day 2 is 30km. There is also the option to complete the full distance in one day. The race can be done solo, as a team or as a relay and race categories include SUP, canoe, kayak, surfski, OC1 and prone.

It typically takes competitors between 8 and 15 hours to complete the race over two days with checkpoints every 10km.

"It was definitely tough, one of the toughest things I've done, but the thought of the funds I had raised and the people it would help, kept me going, along with my aunt's flapjacks and the vision of a hot bath at the end of the day," said Emma Hepplewhite, competitor and owner of Paddlefast.

"I only decided to take part in the race in January, so I didn't get the longest time to train. Given this and the fact it was my first endurance race I'm pleased to have finished. The event was really well organised and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone else looking for a new challenge." Emma trained along the Union canal between the Falkirk Wheel and Fountainbridge in Edinburgh. Her longest training paddle was 24km and she completed it four times, each time taking about 4hrs. Her main goal was to sustain a speed of 6km per hour to meet the race requirements for the check points and cut off times.

Having never attempted a race like this before, Emma discovered a few challenges during training that she hadn't expected.

"Similar to marathon runners and cyclists, endurance paddleboarders have to be prepared for a fair bit of chafing. I discovered that my hips were the area most prone to chafing due to the rucksack sitting on top of my waistband and rubbing as I paddled," she explained.

"During one of my training sessions I encountered some rather aggressive swans. They were particularly defensive due to the time of year. I also became the subject of a few rescue attempts by an over-enthusiastic retriever. She launched herself at me trying to save me which came as a bit of a surprise as I had my headphones in. Besides that, my only other training challenge was juggling childcare."

During the race, staying hydrated, keeping energy levels up and spirits high were the main challenges.

"You'd be surprised how difficult it is to breath and drink at the same time as paddling. Drinking from a hydration rucksack while continuing to paddle, required a bit of engineering to get the tube in the right place. Then there was the issue of drinking without losing tempo paddling while avoiding choking. It definitely requires some practice," Emma explained.

"My amazing playlist got me through some really low points. I had asked people for song suggestions and was able to see the funny side when songs like 'I'm Still Standing' (Elton John) and 'Sit Down' (James) came on during the race." The race hasn't put Emma off paddleboarding or racing, in fact she was back on the water within 48 hours of the race and even started to consider her next challenge, which is a far cry from paddleboarding.

"My next challenge will be a musical one. While the Great Glen challenge is on my doorstep and I'm tempted, I'm hoping to be in New Orleans that weekend competing in the finals with Forth Valley Chorus. So maybe in 2020!"

Alison Young from The Wave Project Scotland said: "We were delighted to learn that Emma was undertaking this mammoth paddle to raise funds for our charity. The Wave Project relies heavily on funding and we are so grateful to Emma for this donation which will allow us to continue to provide surf therapy in Scotland. This month we have welcomed 24 new surfers 'on board' and their time in the water with a surf mentor is literally life changing, boosting self-esteem and happiness and building resilience. Thank you Emma."

The Forth Valley Chorus management team commented: "We are in awe of Emma's wonderful paddle boarding feat and delighted that she chose to help raise funds for both the Wave Project and the Forth Valley Chorus international fund. Emma has been a valued singer in the tenor section for 10 years and she knows the hard work it takes for the chorus of our size (over 100) to organise and fund the International trips which put Forth Valley on the map in a cappella singing circles. This September, Forth Valley Chorus will be representing the UK and the Netherlands in New Orleans, Louisiana and are pinning hopes on breaking into the hallowed Top 10 among over 600 Sweet Adeline's International choruses around the globe. Emma's fundraising helps add to the target which will make registration and hotel costs a little easier to bear for the singers. Thank you Emma and congratulations!"

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