Paddling the Scottish West Coast wilderness

Ben Longhurst Waterskills Academy standup paddle scotland banner
Ben Longhurst Waterskills Academy standup paddle scotland banner
Global Partner

Here, at Standup Journal online, we love nothing more than hearing about your adventure trips.  Getting stoked to paddle new places, different countries, discovering the fjords is what this great sport is all about.  We hope you keep sharing your journeys with us like this one from The Waterskills Academy on a standup paddling tour through the Scottish West Coast wilderness in the Mallaig region.

Stand up Paddling Scotland:  Planning the adventure

A month out and we are watching a low-pressure system tracking across the north Atlantic. Behind it a high-pressure system looked promising. When planning journeys 12 months in advance, there is one thing that cannot be guessed – the weather! All of our equipment, food, safety systems and back up plans are set ready for every eventuality in case of a change of weather.

As standup paddlers we are challenged by wind probably more than anything else. A short paddle of a couple of hours or maybe a day paddling into wind can be challenging, but accomplished. A four-day adventure to a remote environment with ever changing conditions demands that, as guides, we prepare for all eventualities – the comfort and safety of our clients is paramount.

Waterskills Academy Scottish West Coast
Vistas beyond solitude. Taking your paddleboard on a true adventure along the Scottish west coast may be the recharge your whole system has needed. Photo by: Sarah Longhurst

Paddling in Knoydart:  a wilderness area on the West Coast of Scotland

Boards inflated, shuttle completed, food issued, sun cream on, we sat on the banks of a crystal clear loch – only a light breeze providing a slight change to its texture. Welcome to the West Coast of Scotland, our No.1 Favorite Place in the world! For the next 4 days we were to travel into one of the remotest places in the UK. After months of planning we began our pre-trip brief. Checks completed, questions answered and some laughs to send us on our way we dipped our paddles into the fresh water and began a very special journey.

“We ate a filling meal around our open fire and sipped a wee dram before wandering off to the comfort of our sleeping bags!”

Heading east into the shadow of the islands we were treated to glass like water, sunshine and silence! We realize we are actually here, taking in the true beauty of stunning surroundings and the realization that after all of our traveling, we are actually here on the water. Proceeding through the islands, we met a head wind and chop exactly as we had predicted. Day One was forecasted to be the biggest challenge.  So, hopping and skirting our way along the shore, seeking sheltered areas to take brief stops, we slowly made our way along the loch.

Disconnecting into the wilderness

The feeling of being totally free from the bustle of everyday life is something to be cherished. Relying on our guiding skills and understanding of the remote environment, we decided early to make camp on a sheltered beach for our first night. As the sun slid into the west and with our tents set, we ate a filling meal around our open fire and sipped a wee dram before wandering off to the comfort of our sleeping bags!

“As the sun rose beyond the beach, the air slowly warmed the land and we wrapped our hands around coffee mugs welcoming the first brew of the day. “

Early the next morning, the stoves roared to life slowly heating cold, clear, highland loch water for coffee. When guiding groups, we often find that the early morning and late night times are the best times to reflect, plan, think and soak up the wilderness. As the sun rose beyond the beach, the air slowly warmed the land and we wrapped our hands around coffee mugs welcoming the first brew of the day.  The silence was now broken only by new friends greeting one another as they appeared from tents.  Eventually, the silence settled in again and we all stared across the loch to distant Munros.

Waterskills Academy Scottish west coast
The group breaks for coffee and sits in silence taking in the beauty of a pristine morning along the Scottish coast. Photo by: Sarah Longhurst

Leave No Trace:  a lesson in passing through and leaving the treasure unharmed

The group was excited a few hours later as we stood on the beach ready for launch into the slight breeze drifting down the loch. We were now in the groove, boards settling under our feet and rhythms found as paddles graced the water.  The true majesty of where we are paddling threatened to overwhelm us! By being thrown back into basics and realizing that mobile phones really don’t have a signal in that wilderness, we realized that being considerate about everything we do matters.

“Soaked in the grandeur of being surrounded by mountains with eagles soaring overhead, we launched again with a renewed sense of adventure.”

Being considerate in this environment is an education, following ‘Leave no Trace’ principals. This is now no longer a You Tube video or a conversation we to avoid, but a practice to really leave no trace of our presence as we passed. We glided deeper into the wilderness, occasionally passing a small empty croft or a stalking lodge, but there were no roads, no stress, no hustle and bustle and no signal – perfect!

Waterskilly Academy Scottish west coast
Explore your world and take in the beauty of raw nature on this Waterskills Academy adventure tour in Scotland. Photo by: Sarah Longhurst

Entering the heart of Scotland’s wilderness

We entered into a small sheltered bay and readied ourselves to leave our fresh water paradise. After a kilometer on foot and some great teamwork, we arrive in a sea loch. Soaked in the grandeur of being surrounded by mountains with eagles soaring overhead, we launched again with a renewed sense of adventure. Lifted by the tide, we floated ever deeper into the wilderness that waited our arrival.

“Our silence told the true story of being immersed in the wild nature around us.”

Setting camp early afternoon allowed us to relax, air our kits and explore the coast. We swam and got totally lost in the beauty that surrounded us only occasionally broken by someone pointing out a porpoise cruising past or an eagle soaring overhead.

Preparing a fresh supper is easy when you have picked the freshest mussels, chopped the garlic and added white wine. Accompanied with freshly baked bread, a true wild feast was enjoyed by all! The crackle of the sea soaked logs, laughter and a dram drifted into the evening air as we were treated to a fine sunset and glorious moon rise.

Waterskills Academy Scottish West Coast
Paddling by day, camping by night along the Scottish west coast and enjoying the time with friends and fellow adventurers is a dream the Waterskills Academy makes come alive. Photo by: Sarah Longhurst

Silence and Sea Life

As we once again slid out onto the water, with our boards creating small ripples on the glassy loch. We were again lifted out toward the distant ocean, gliding silently with the clouds covering the Munros landing like linen as they draped over and slid down to the distant shoreline.

Paddling down the shoreline and passed small islands, our group was aware that the only creatures watching us were seals and otters who were probably wondering what funny craft were floating through their gardens! Sure enough and with a quick whisper, we all stood transfixed as two otters played straight ahead and seals appeared to our left. As we slowly glided along passed making as little noise as possible. Our silence told the true story of being immersed in the wild nature around us.

People, Cars and WiFi

We arrived later that afternoon to a sandy bay under the gaze of one of Scotland’s iconic munros where we saw people for the first time in three days – a strange feeling that we were suddenly sharing our space with others. That evening, in the sun and the village with no roads, we shared our stories over cold beer and fresh seafood with the villagers.

Waterskills Academy Scottish west coast
Returning to civilization may be the hardest part of the journey. Photo by: Sarah Longhurst

All too quickly the final day had arrived as we boarded our small wooden boat to take us back to busier times, shops, roads and … yes, to WiFi. To guide in wilderness areas is an honor and a privilege as we get to share in our knowledge, experience and wonder with others.  It was with handshakes, lots of hugs and smiles that we said farewell to our group and all agreed to look forward to the next journey.


Written by:  Ben Longhurst, Co-Director of the Waterskills Academy

The Waterskills Academy is hosting two more Sup Adventure trips in 2017!  They are headed to Nepal on October 22-November 1st and to Norway in September.

You can find out more about these standup paddling excursion tours by visiting their website at or emailing the crew at


About the Waterskills Academy:

Chris Rea and Ben Longhurst are Directors of the Waterskills Academy, a leading worldwide Sup coach training organization.  They were joined by Jon Kivelle, a WSA Adventure Guide to guide this Scotland expedition.

Ben’s love of all things water started as a competitive swimmer, a junior member of county squads, soon moving into surf lifesaving, competing at regional and national levels, taking part in the World Championships in 1994. He has always loved surfing and has again competed at various levels on short and long boards. In the 80’s he became hooked on paddle sports and its various disciplines including white water, open canoe and sea. Whilst coaching paddle sports, Ben led several kayaking expeditions to Nepal and Siberia and made a successful crossing of the English Channel in a folding kayak. He holds a BA (hons) in Sport and Human Movement studies and various British Canoe Union coaching awards as well as qualifications in climbing, surfing and mountaineering.  Stand Up Paddling was a natural progression for Ben as it is the joining 2 of his favorite sports.  He currently works as manager at Cardiff International White Water with a drive to develop Stand Up Paddleboarding.

Chris launched Harlyn Surf School in 1994 which has gone on to be a multi-activity ocean sports centre and has been a market leader for many years. Chris created the business template that many have gone on to replicate. The market is ever changing and Harlyn Surf School itself has to adapt its own business model to move with the times. Coasteering, Sit-on-top Kayaking and Stand Up Paddleboarding have become hugely popular and Chris’s operational experience and knowledge is invaluable in these areas. Chris is a SLSGB lifeguard trainer and has been providing watersports instructor and lifeguard training courses for 15 years in UK and Europe. He has trained over 800 individuals and many of them have gone on to set up their own schools and centres or work as professional beach lifeguards. Chris has over 35 years worldwide surfing experience and discovered Stand Up Paddling over 7 years ago which led Chris to set up one of the first Sup schools in the UK.

Jon’s Kivelle’s love of the outdoors started while serving as a member of the Parachute Regiment. On leaving, he started working as an outdoor instructor for PBB. Jon has now been working in the outdoor industry based in South Wales for the past 17 years as the Manager of PBB Outdoor Education Centre. He has recently discovered Stand Up Paddling and has fully embraced the sport taking part in all aspects including surfing, white water, racing, adventure touring, expeditions and travel. Jon comes from varied adventure background where he holds a range of instructor qualifications. Jon has been responsible for coaching and leading expeditions in paddlesports in various locations such as Canada, Spain, France and all over the British Isles. As well as holding Sup instructor qualifications, Jon also holds instructor qualifications in climbing, mountaineering, caving, MTB and is also an Air Experience Tandem Paragliding Instructor.

Previous articleSonni Honscheid goes global with ‘Art You can Ride’ from Starboard!
Next articleIntroducing the Fanatic Sup Bamboo Carbon 50 Adjustable
Evelyn O'Doherty, editor & publisher of the new Standup Journal 2.0 is a former school teacher gone rogue. She left her career as a teacher in order to spend more time near or on the water after learning to surf turned her life around (upsidedown?). She is a year-round surfer and paddler living on the eastern tip of Long Island in NY who is a certified SUP instructor, seasoned SUP racer and avid longboard surfer. Evelyn was hired as Online Editor to Standup Journal in 2016. Her passion for the project quickly led to her success and eventually taking over the mag herself in Oct. 2018. Today, as editor, publisher and chief bottle washer at Standup Journal, Evelyn keeps her toes wet writing, traveling, paddling, surfing, and learning to foil. You can find her most days paddling out on Gardiner's Bay or surfing Ditch Plains in Montauk, NY.