top of page

Paddle Into 2021 Challenge-Creating an outdoor exercise habit and raising ££ for Alzheimers Research

In this time should the worth of a venture be measured in the number of selfies taken while doing it?

Winter has often been a tricky time for me. Work coaching whitewater kayaking generally takes me reasonably well up to the new year. Then, as the really cold months hit there is generally a lull where I'm forced to sit down, reflect and plan for the next season. In that time, and much to my girlfriend's exasperation, it is normal for me to go through several phases: such as as fidget phase, where all I want to do is go out and adventure but there is nobody to play with so I get increasingly frustrated; Sloth phase where I think about the things I could productively do, make a list of them and then browse social media for hours and go to bed unhappy that I've not done anything; Mad fantasy phase, where I decide I must have got it all wrong somewhere and consider jacking it all in to become a fireman/ physio/teacher/paramedic/world-wide kayak and travel bum; Finally, I settle back into reality phase, in which I get some reasonably good stuff done, remember that I have the best job and lifestyle in the world and get ready for the new season.

Going through these phases is arduous and stressful, and the increased periods of self-entertainment during the 2020 Pandemic meant something had to change. The best way I've found to shortcut the phases is to get outside and have an adventure on my own. 'So why don't I just do that straight away?' you may ask. Well, it all boils down to motivation and perceived effort and reward. My motivation to do something generally has very little to do with whether I recognise it to be the best thing for me to do. Also, my perception of how much effort it will take to go on an adventure and how good it might be is very OFF when I'm in the midst of one of the other phases... To the extent that I can trick myself into thinking going for a flat paddle alone isn't worth it, or that going for a bike ride would be too much like hard work. The further I am from reality phase, the more warped my perceptions of effort and reward are and the harder it is to find the motivation to get out there. So in November this year, in a desperate attempt to nip it in the bud, I decided to create the Paddle Into 2021 Challenge.

The challenge was this: Paddle at least 150 kilometers before the end of the year, and to do so by paddling 50 consecutive days until the 31st of January. This neatly aligned with the Alzheimer's Research UK's Rowing For Research Campaign which appeared to me through targeted advertising on social media at the exact right moment. To level with you as a full time paddlesports coach I do work on the water, but in the winter this often only equates to about 1 in 3 days, and by doing this I guaranteed myself no days off the water. My commitment to the challenge and to those who donated would hold me to my word and keep me going back to the water day after day right into the new year. Here's a few highlights:

I astonished myself by people's generosity towards a great cause!

Although the challenge was initially its own incentive, as I went through the first couple of weeks I was humbled and spurred on by the generosity shown by those who donated to Alzheimer's Research UK. My Grandpa passed away last year at the age of 93, having struggled with dementia for several years. His difficulties affected his ability to cope and process in his decline, and horribly worsened the situation for those closest to him causing untold grief and heartache. This organisation were a great support to my family, and through their work have the capacity to provide relief for thousands of others. When I started the challenge I set a modest fundraising target of £300, which I was amazed to find had been met by the end of the second week of paddling! With a final fundraising sum of £618, I feel very proud to have contributed towards such an important initiative and can only express massive thanks to those who supported me with their donations and encouragements.

This was a great excuse to really get into Stand Up Paddleboarding

I've known how to SUP for a good number of years, but as a whitewater obsessive and someone who works on the water, this discipline of paddlesport has never had enough of my time for me to feel really comfortable enough to call myself a real paddleboarder. When faced with a huge amount of flat water to paddle over a 50 day period, I knew this was the time. It turns out if you want to really enjoy paddling on flat, calm water, the humble paddleboard really is where its at. Every day that I didn't work in my kayak I made sure to get out on the board. I explored my local canals, made a few really inspiring trips to the lakes of Snowdonia, and increased my appreciation to my local section of the River Dee in Chester tenfold. I really am lucky to be situated where I am.

With a few long runs being out on the SUP every day I felt myself get stronger and more comfortable moving around on the board. This meant that recently I found myself in the perfect position to take advantage of some big tides to try to teach myself to SUP Surf. Learning new motor skills gives an amazing feeling and its been really great to feel myself progressing as a paddler this winter when I'd worried it might be a really slow period of decline.


It wasn't always a fairytale mission. Especially as the days grew shorter and colder, sometimes motivation to get out was hard to come by. When you've just finished a 6 day working week coaching whitewater skills on rivers away from home, the last thing you want to do when you get back is jump on the river immediately. A couple of times this led to some real last minute dashes to the river just in time for sunset, having whiled away the day doing other jobs and putting off what I knew I had to do.

Sometimes I didn't make it in time for sunset at all! Thanks to Olivia for being a great adventure buddy on this one.

The Covid-19 Pandemic also caused real issues. As December chugged along, the Christmas meltdown began with infections soaring, government going back and forth with Christmas restriction plans, and public anxiety growing, it also became harder to justify any festive movement at all. In the end my partner and I cancelled our plans to go to London to visit my family and instead headed to North Wales where we had always been in a support bubble with her Mum. The severity of restrictions in place there meant I had no choice but to press pause on my challenge, much as it pained me to do so. I found the first few days off the water were very difficult, but when we were eventually able to get home I was back at it as soon as possible. Having done a good amount of over-paddling in the first half of the challenge I was delighted to still be able to meet my target of 150 kilometres by December 31st, and vowed to make up for the lost days by going for lots of paddles in January.

A real personal success

The Paddle Into 2021 challenge was something new for me. It gave me a reason to push myself physically, and to set up a better mental space for myself around getting out in the world on my own. If I hadn't been committed to this I'd have talked myself out of so many of these amazing micro-adventures, and now that I've done it enough I have found it noticeably easier to decide to do something positive for myself. My ideas of how much effort it takes to get out there and how rewarding it will be don't feel warped any more. Even 30 minutes in a day doing something you really love is worth making time for. I've also been amazed by the generosity of those who have sponsored my efforts with donations towards Alzheimer's Research. I've never done a charity challenge before and didn't think it was something I would particularly go for, but the feeling of having contributed in some way is really positive. I'd like to thank everyone supported me and who donated to my fund-raising page, which is still open and accessible at I'd also like to thank NRS Equipment for their support and great quality gear, and those friends and customers who got out on the water with me during this challenge.

Written by Jamie Greenhalgh

Jamie is the owner of Dee River Kayaking and Paddle365 Coaching.

123 views0 comments


bottom of page