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Blind adventurer Dean Dunbar on why he returns to paddling again and again


With over 80 activities ticked off his bucket list from across the globe, including skydiving and bungee jumping, to being launched from a human catapult to hurtling down rapids in a white water sledge, earning 20 world firsts and a number of records along the way, it’s hard to believe that Dean Dunbar, a self confessed adrenaline junkie from Scotland, and Palm Equipment SUP ambassador, is registered blind.

Last year Dean completed a number of SUP challenges including The Great Glen Paddle and has also completed his own take on our Three Lakes Challenge.

We caught up with him ahead of National Go Canoeing Week to find out why he added paddling to his catalogue of adventures, his love for a challenge, how he overcame obstacles to become the first to SUP from mainland Scotland to the island of St Kilda, and how you can take on your own paddling adventure, however big or small this National Go Canoeing Week.

‘Generally I dip in and out of things and will do them as a one off activity, so to still be stand up paddle boarding four years later is definitely a record.’ says Dean.

We wanted to find out why paddlesport caused him to break his try once rule, with SUP being the sport he returns to again and again - despite not even enjoying it at first!

You’ve tried pretty much every adrenaline activity on earth, what made you decide to take up Stand Up Paddleboarding?

This was purely down to a friend of mine, Carl Sawyer. Every year he’d ask me what activities I had planned and in 2014 he suggested SUP. I’d been with him before and spent more time in the water than on the board so I wasn’t mad keen on it if I’m honest.

Carl said if I took it up we could do a challenge together, so that became my focus and later on that year myself, Carl and his brother spent three days paddling the Caledonian Canal”

I only intended to do it (SUP) for a year, but here I am four years later.

I’ve found that it is one of the few activities I can do totally on my own as I’ve been able to learn the two lochs that I paddle on regularly. Because of my eye site, whatever I do I need a guide, but now I know the shape of the lochs and where the bends are, as long as I keep to my tracks I can be left on my own for several hours.

Tell us about your favourite challenges on the water?

I have to have a goal, there is no way I could have a SUP and just paddle here or there.

Myself and two friends paddled the three lakes - Windermere, Bala and Loch Awe. We wanted to do it in under 24 hours. It worked really well and we did it in under 19. We didn’t push ourselves, we had regular breaks and just enjoyed it.

SUP’ing from mainland Scotland to the island of St Kilda was definitely my favourite challenge. I had wanted to go for over 20 years but couldn’t afford it as you could only get there by boat. In 2009 my friend Patrick and I decided we would try and kayak there, but the weather was against us.

Last year we tried again, this time I was on a SUP and Patrick was my sighted guide in a sea kayak. It was difficult, but we did it. I was chuffed, it was a real big thing to get there because I had always wanted to do it.

You can read more about Deans expedition to St Kilda here:

Adventures can only be a positive thing. What makes them so great is that it’s relative. If someone has never paddled a mile, then learning to do so can be an adventure.

– Dean Dunbar

What about your training regime?

Training wise, I mainly train at home on a converted rowing machine but I do try and get on the water as much as I can. However, this is only once or twice a week at the moment as I have to rely on others to drive me to the lochs for training.

Being registered blind, what extra planning and safety measures do you put in place?

On new water the biggest advantage is to have a sighted guide with me, but a lot of the planning is in the logistics and I normally have to leave that to other people because even if i was to read a map, and work out where things were, it’s totally different when I get onto the water.

I always have a walkie talkie with me, however sometimes this hasn’t gone according to plan as they only stretch so far or don’t work around bends. There was one particular incident where I ended up on the wrong beach after paddling a loch. My wife Rhona was supposed to pick me up but I didn’t know where I was and that was quite scary.

There was also another incident when paddling with Carl, we decided to use a whistle so I know what direction to go in - 1 whistle meant forward and 2 meant go backwards. This was all going fine until I mistook a bird for Carl’s whistle and ended up paddling around in circles.

It hasn’t put me off but I just have to be a bit more switched on sometimes, or sometimes I’ve taken on a challenge and haven’t thought it all the way through. As much as I like the side of it where I can go out on my own, it is better doing it with other people.

It’s trial and error - my whole life has been, but you have to enjoy these things.

As an experienced adrenaline junkie, what does adventure mean to you?

It’s funny because people say I’m an adventurer but I just do what I do. I guess adventures are a byproduct of me doing what I enjoy.

Adventures can only be a positive thing. What makes them so great is that it’s relative. If someone has never paddled a mile, then learning to do so can be an adventure.

Everyone's adventure has to be a personal one, it has to be relative to you. You can’t start choosing other peoples adventures and challenges and putting yourself up against someone if you’re not at their level.

Describe your perfect paddling adventure?

My perfect adventure would be to just go out with friends, enjoying myself but also feeling that I’ve pushed myself.

However, for me the main thing is to have fun!

What are your top tips for having an adventure on the water?

Firstly respect the water. That’s the biggest thing!

Even if distances look short on a map don’t underestimate them, or the weather because it can change very quickly. If you don’t have the kit or the training for it then it could be dangerous.

Be aware, respect the weather and enjoy yourself

Get on the water this National Go Canoeing Week!

You don’t need to be a pro paddler to enjoy some time on the water this National Go Canoeing Week. Clubs and Centre’s up and down the country will be holding friendly and welcoming Starter Sessions and Guided Tours which are suitable for beginners. There will also be lots of other activities and events to get involved with, no matter what your ability!

Our target this year is to paddle a collective 45,000 miles - and every mile counts! To take part you just need to register your miles paddled during the week online. We have spot prizes up for grabs for those who enter their miles and some awesome top mileage prizes for those who submit the most miles during the week.

For help and advice about getting on the water you can visit your local club or centre who can offer guidance and support. If you fancy some new kit to take on the water with you during the week, take a look at our trade partner websites - they have everything you need and more to get out on the water!

Patrick and Dean are doing a joint talk at Birnam Arts, near Dunkeld, Perthshire, on Tuesday June 5th, about our St Kilda adventure.  You can read more at