Fiona Quinn: Ignore the Fear

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Fiona was sponsored by Aquapac for her stand up paddleboarding adventure. She told us: “I had a range of different waterproof bags, and a case for my phone and radio, which were incredibly useful. Being on the board when the boat left me, it was great to have a day kit with me. They are really rugged bags which survived being knocked about. And being able to have my phone on me was very important – even to just take photographs. It’s super useful kit and definitely did the job!

Ignore the Fear is the name of endurance adventurer Fiona Quinn’s new book and we know exactly why she chose this title! The moral of the story is about believing in yourself and is told through the tale of her 2018 adventure as she paddled 800 miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats on a stand up paddleboard – all whilst being scared of the ocean! 

Fiona spent 81 days paddleboarding 800 miles without any training or support and yet, despite this, she managed to set three world records along the way.

I came to adventure quite late in life; I was 28 when I first got a bike as an adult having not ridden one since I was a teenager, and it was only after exploring on my bike that I started hiking and paddling.” says Fiona.

It was her boyfriend at the time who got her into cycling. Shortly afterwards, she heard a talk by micro-adventurer Alastair Humphreys and her love for the outdoors grew quickly.

A few years ago, Fiona’s mum suffered breast cancer resulting in Fiona choosing to be close to home. Not wanting to give up her micro-adventures, she came up with the idea of doing a source to sea triathlon along the river Cam close to where she grew up. Having travelled the length of the river three times by walking, cycling and then stand up paddleboarding, she was inspired to go further.

In 2016, Fiona undertook on first big adventure cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Just a couple hundred miles from the finish line, she faced failure when she was caught out by a storm. Despite the disappointment of not reaching the end as she’d intended, she was far from put off choosing to spend a further 57 days walking back from John O’Groats to Land’s End solo the following year.

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By 2018, Fiona’s mum was clear of breast cancer and she decided to, this time, paddleboard from Land’s End to John O’Groats. A daunting expedition, Fiona knew she was far from experienced on a paddleboard, plus she struggled to find the support crew boat and crew she needed – and she was scared of the sea! 

I definitely wasn’t ready! In fact, I didn’t even know how tides work before I started planning and I had to find funding a volunteer support crew. But I knew I could figure it out as long as I kept believing it was possible.” Says Fiona.

Fiona’s fear of water comes from an experience when she was just six years old after she went down a water slide and struggled to get out of the water at the bottom. “But weirdly I am not scared of swimming pools.” She goes on to say. “Probably because I think I can rescue myself. I don’t know if I could do that in the sea so the idea of being on a boat, yet alone a paddleboard out at sea, makes me nervous.”

She gave herself five months for preparation, from coming up with the idea in December 2017 to getting on the boat in April 2018. “It was a ridiculous idea; I was a novice. But the fact that it was so ridiculous, and now there was a time constraint on it happening, that’s what pushed me to get it done.”

Even though I threw myself in at the deep end, looking back I would still approach it in the same way. You can prepare for years of ‘trying to be ready’, but until you start trying to make it happen you never really know what you’ll face. We weren’t fool hardy in how we behaved; we went out on calm waters, we were never far from the British coastline and I did have an experienced Yacht Master Skipper for the Irish Sea crossings.

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Having said that, there was one incredibly scary moment for her: “Corryvreckan is the world’s third-largest whirlpool on the west coast of Scotland near the Isle of Jura. At the time we were trying to go as quickly as possible. I had an experienced skipper, John, and an extra deckhand. We were inland and the water was calm, so the boat left me alone for 90 minutes to change crew and refuel.

But, as they left, it turned out there was more tide than expected and I was being pulled towards the whirlpool. All I could do was paddle as hard as possible to stay in the same position. I answered my phone to the Skipper in tears terrified telling him I was going to die. Around 30 seconds into the call, the water around me suddenly shifted into a circle and I was in the middle! I hung up and paddled like crazy but of course when the boat returned, I wasn’t in the place they expected me to be. I thankfully got to the edge of the circle to calmer water by which time my support boat had spotted me. That was a little bit scary!” She says with a nervous laugh.

While Fiona hasn’t been cured of her fear of the sea, writing the book has given her a fresh perspective on her experiences. One that has inspired her to start writing a second book all about the walk she completed from John O’Groats to Land’s End to prior to paddleboarding. It’s all about the interesting people she met along the way as well as the cake stops that kept her going through injury and torrential rain.

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Outside of adventuring, Fiona is an inspirational speaker and works with groups of new entrepreneurs to help them bring ideas to life.

I really like telling the stories from my adventures. Ignore the Fear isn’t about being scared, it’s about believing in yourself. It was ridiculous that I wanted to do this, and people said the same to me, but I just kept telling myself it was possible and kept pushing forwards. I realised that it doesn’t matter what other people think. If I wanted to do something, I can. It may not turn out as I expect it to but I can always give it my all, and I hope other people take a similar message away from the book!”

Fiona hopes to complete more stand up paddle boarding adventures and land-based British adventures in 2020, alongside working and public speaking.

What I love about adventure is the opportunity for mini wins as well as big ones. And the unknown of it all – can I dream up a crazy plan and make it happen – I’m curious to find out how far I can go. Doing things that way definitely pushes me and gives me confidence, especially if I am not entirely sure I can finish something when I start it.

You can get a copy of Fiona’s book, Ignore the Fear, via her website: