2015 ICF World Championships Slalom

Touring & Expedition

Stand up expedition to one of the world’s largest glaciers: the Helheim Glacier

Nick Harding | @nickhdg | Sportscene - August 2013, 9 stand up paddlers will navigate Greenland's iceberg-littered Sermilijk Fjord on route to the Helheim Glacier becoming the first explorers to ever undertake such a paddleboard feat.

Sportscene recently published a feature about Paul Hyman who is helping to evolve the London SUP scene. At a hush-hush venue in Central London we caught up with him again and this time he brought along his team of 'paddler-explorers' known as the 'Polar Bears'.

Attendees at feeding time were professional explorer Justin Miles, Active 360's Brighton arm Phil Sayers, SUP non-stop circumnavigator of the Isle of Wight Charlie Head, film-maker Justin Hankinson, SUP/canoe racer-instructor and Co-Director of Active 360 Mohammad Nilforooshan (who gave me my first SUP lesson at SUP City London) with Newland Logistics Manager Helen Turton.

stand up paddling sup expedition polar bears greenland helheim glacier sermilik fjord sermilijk sportscene london Epic Challenge

This is first proper expedition of any kind in Greenland. Following an overnight stay in Reykjavik, Iceland, the Polar Bears aim to fly into the fishing region of Kulusuk to camp and acquire supplies, then onwards by local hunters' boat for another night's stop-over at the start-point, Ikateq, the mouth of the Fjord. Once off, they will paddle North for four days with wild night camps allowing the team to make the most of the 24-hour daylight. They will continue veraciously up until the point where the sea ice becomes impenetrable, here they will retreat Southwards to Tiniteqilag, well over a 100km in all.

This truly unique expedition our friends the Polar Bears will undertake is gaining huge interest in the press. Their promo teaser has had over 1000 hits in the first few days of release, proud new kit sponsors include Oakley Europe and Berghaus and there has been serious interest from high-profile explorer Bear Grylls.


Newland was the obvious choice to provide the logistics; explorer Justin, who has kayaked from Bristol to London using the extensive UK canal network, had been on a previous voyage in Svalbard, Norway with Helen. She will be travelling personally in the support motorboat, the team also have rapid support from Svante Strand, ex-Norwegian Special Forces and owner of Newland AS, who be paddling a sea kayak alongside them.

Logistically this expedition has fixed drop off and pick up points but otherwise it lends itself to total freedom, going with local knowledge, time, fluctuating weather and the physicality of the team – never getting cornered to a plan. Newland will be providing a good means of communication; satellite phone, a base set up in Norway as a matter of course to track the paddlers' progress and monitor fluctuating weather conditions plus personal locator beacons; a last measure for contacting local help.

stand up paddling sup expedition polar bears greenland helheim glacier sermilik fjord sermilijk sportscene london

The paddleboarders face a whole host of potential known-of and unforeseen risks other than swims as Helen puts it: “Being on the water is only part of an expedition of this nature because the area that they're in there are cold weather injuries issues, hypothermic issues with the temperature of the water, there are natural wildlife issues with glaciers carving and icebergs moving around, and, the polar bear is king in this environment!”

Polar bears are a real threat; firearms, signal pens and flares will be carried, hired within the country, ultimately to scare any bears away. Unpredictable winds are 'catabatic', blowing from high-ground to sea level which could create waves that could knock our boys off, to counter this they may have to paddle closer to the shore.

“The main difficulty so far is getting these guys focused on admin and getting paperwork back to us,” she chuckles.

Charity work

The idea for the expedition came about when Paul and Justin, were having a glass of wine after a day's paddleboarding exchanging the idea; “wouldn't it be cool to do the first proper Arctic paddleboard trip, before we knew it the wine was going down quite well and it was the next morning,” explained Justin. That day-after hangover became a yes and the duo knew that they wanted to use this opportunity to promote awareness of the huge opportunities out there to make better sport and recreational use of British waterways. 

They also wanted to raise funds for several charitable good causes. The good causes chosen are Momentum – a group who run epic physical challenges around the world to raise money for pioneering work to fight colon cancer at St Marks Hospital in Harrow. Also the newly formed Canal and River Trust, the charity entrusted with the care of 2,000 miles of the inland waterway network of England and Wales.

Paul says; “we put a lot of thought into choosing the good causes and it was important to all of us to make sure they were relevant to us and the aims of our project.”

Justin: “What I like about this one is the group of people we've got involved, we get on so well, normally when I do an expedition it's me on my own or with a small team, it's all very serious, very focused. But with the group of guys involved and everything else we're trying to do, all the charity stuff, getting people up and getting people active, running the schools [SUP] this project is going to be fun, every time we meet up we have a riot.”

stand up paddling sup expedition polar bears greenland helheim glacier sermilik fjord sermilijk sportscene london

Quick chats with other Polar Bears

Phil Sayers, Kilimanjaro-climber, amateur K1/2 kayaker, snowboarder and wakeboarder is setting up Brighton's ASI-accredited Active 360 branch off Hove beach front as well as managing all the social media for the Polar Bears project. He got involved through 'Explorer's Connect', a site where he was recommended to get in touch with Paul Hyman by fellow Bear Justin who was doing a paddle challenge from Bristol to London at the time.

“It's a hell of an opportunity and why would you not want to get involved with that. I was very, enthusiastic, very keen, put myself forward and it was fortunate that they managed to extend the original numbers to include a few more. They thought I was worth bringing along for the ride!”

Marketeer Paul is looking to inspire people to take up the sport, engage them and promote sponsorship opportunities for the expedition which has been so far privately-funded:

“We have lots of ideas to promote the project including a mass paddle event on the Thames on 11th May, a 2 day race event at Paddington Basin and some fund raising parties and other events. We do need more sponsorship to make this happen. We’ll look at any which way we can do this, I’m sure we'll also put our silly thinking hats on.”

As for Charlie Head, one of the nine Bears, he hopes to take Ocean SUP to new levels next year by paddling from Formentera, Spain to the Caribbean following trade winds. He is close friends with other team-mate Brad Symington, they both spent a season paddling in South Africa. Amusingly Charlie, did not gain international press coverage during his last 1000km, unsupported, SUP ocean-crossing from Landsend, Cornwall to London for his incredible paddle, but for saving a Shih Tzu puppy stranded on rocks.

stand up paddling sup expedition polar bears greenland helheim glacier sermilik fjord sermilijk sportscene london Mohammad Nilforooshan Justin Miles Paul Hyman Justin Hankinson Helen Turton Phil Sayers Charlie Head
Left to right: Mohammad Nilforooshan, Justin Miles, Paul Hyman, Justin Hankinson, Helen Turton, Phil Sayers, Charlie Head   

Charlie has the reputation amongst the team as being the physical 'iron man', he prides himself on being there for the other Polar Bears, motivating them. “We all get on way too well. It is going test us, it's gonna bring out the character in people, when people are vulnerable, cold, tired and put in stressful situations, I've seen the most beautiful people turn ugly. As it stands we respect each other, we all love each very much.”

Film-maker Justin Hankinson is learning to paddleboard from scratch, he will be documenting the entire expedition with revolutionary camera angles given the limited space of shooting from a 12ft board. His batteries will be solar-powered and will be taking hundreds of memory cards to capture the action, no downloading and reusing here! He is the vital link with the Newland base relaying photographic, interviews and tweet content back to the real world. 

Apologies from absent Polar Bears Stuart Howells, Jaime Silva and Brad Symington (as a top kite surf coach, Brad had been flown out to South Africa for a few days commentating on the Red Bull Kite Surfing Championships working alongside legendary Robbie Naish.

Sportscene will keep you in the know with the Polar Bears' progress over the coming months!