Words by Rebecca Hawkey | Images by Mike Lacey
Perseverance, and a shift in perspective, grants safe passage to this troupe of ocean dwellers as they embark on a voyage around the peninsula they call home.
On 2nd June 2023, Mike Lacey began a 230-mile open-water adventure that would see him paddling around the coast of Cornwall on a hand-built SUP board. Luckily, Mike didn’t do this alone, in fact he managed to persuade a group of equally audacious individuals to tag along.
The team in the water included his brother, Rich Lacey; Porthleven business owner and local surfer Kelvin Batt; and brothers Sam and Will Boex, founders of Flexi-Hex. The team on land was composed of friends Alex McDonald and Ed West, who just so happen to be photographers and videographers, on hand to provide vital logistical support for the entire trip, driving around the coast to scope out camping spots, communicating with the boys via satellite phone, and documenting the journey along the way.
Together they would tackle switching tides, strong currents, dangerous swells and sleepless nights, but it wasn’t all bad, for they would also experience crystal clear waters, supportive communities, unparalleled scenery and camaraderie amongst the crew. Here’s how it started.
In 2013, after years of surfing local breaks, Mike hung up his camera as a successful wedding photographer and, quite literally, launched himself into the world of ocean photography. Living near Porthleven with his wife at the time, he was lucky enough to find a perfect studio space in the village, and aptly named it Waves Gallery. Straight away he began filling it with photographs of a world that some could only dream of seeing in person, and that most never would.
Mike has always pushed the boundaries of ocean photography, capturing the seemingly impossible. He has, and still is, a pioneer of this craft for those of us that have followed in his footsteps, always offering advice and guidance to those that seek it. His appetite for exploration, even after ten years of gallery success, shows no signs of abating, and so, in true Mike style, he decided to mark this decennial by arranging a rather extraordinary expedition. Whilst this trip was about recognising a milestone for Mike and his career, the guys couldn’t take on something so noteworthy without using it as a force for good. With this in mind, the team chose two charities to raise money for, and they were SAS (Surfers Against Sewage) and CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). Every member of this team has a relationship with the ocean, whether it’s riding her waves, swimming amongst the seaweed or taking photographs of the deep, and therefore both of these charities are close to the hearts of all. The benefits of immersing yourself in open water, whether that’s the ocean, the rivers or lakes that make up our island, are well known when it comes to improving mental wellbeing and living in the present moment. However, these cannot be enjoyed if those very waterways are being polluted, which is why the work that SAS is doing is vital.
Raising awareness and money for both charities was an important part of this journey, and when chatting with Mike, he speaks openly about how integral the ocean is to improving his work-life balance and state of mind. “Life can quite easily feel overwhelming, like you can never get ahead, with emails, work and so on. There’s never much downtime, so for me being in the water, taking photos, it’s such a break from it all. On the paddleboard you’re in the zone, dealing with the changing environment all the time, so even if you drift off with your thoughts, it brings you back to the moment. You’re also overcoming something that’s hard as well, and it’s good for your mind to know that you can get over something again and again.” Mike and the team spent the months prior to launch building their SUP boards from their driveways and garages, with the materials supplied by the team at Fyne Boat Kits. These sustainably sourced timber SUP’s had to be built with longevity and dependability in mind, ensuring such craft could withstand the unpredictable Cornish coastline, and the notoriously interchangeable Cornish weather. They also received support from Fourth Element, kitting the team out with equipment that is built to survive the chilly dawn starts, and the blistering midday sun, protecting the team from head to toe in gear that is made for adventures just like this one. And with Fourth Element’s drive to use recycled materials in products like fishing nets and plastic bottles, what could be a better match for the paddle adventure?
Facing such challenges head on and making decisions in the moment is something Mike and the team became all too familiar with from day one, when their 20-mile target fell five miles short. How each individual and their board fared on the open ocean was always going to be a moment of adaptation, and whilst they had all spent years enjoying the big blue, nothing can prepare you for relinquishing all control to your surroundings. Understanding their own limitations, recognising weather patterns, learning to listen to mother nature and when to concede to her whims; all were to become valuable lessons.
After a few days on the water, safely paddling past Crackington Haven, Port Isaac, Padstow, Watergate Bay, Holywell Bay, St Agnes and Portreath with minor disturbances, the team rounded the headland to Godrevy Lighthouse, a sight so familiar and homely that it was the perfect place to make camp, coming ashore at Porthmeor beach. Here the boys were greeted with open arms from friends, family, and the mayor of St Ives himself, not to mention a feast fit for a king thanks to Porthmeor Café. This little slice of luxury was well deserved, and much needed before they attempted the daunting paddle around the notoriously wild Land’s End headland. A good night’s sleep, for the most part, had them up at dawn ready to tackle day five. Alex Mcdonald, and fellow photographer James Warbey, were in the water documenting their send off as they disappeared into the pasty morning light to the horizon beyond.
The whole team made it to Pendeen Lighthouse, however, despite the best of intentions, the weather had ideas of its own, forcing everyone to come ashore and press pause on paddling until conditions were safe to continue. It was also here, having started the adventure together, that their paths diverged. The weather kept them bound to land for over a week, due to which Sam and Will lost their window and had to return for work commitments. However, when the seas and skies became peaceful once more, Mike, Rich and Kelvin made the run from Pendeen, through the straight between Longships Lighthouse and the Penwith headland. Here they passed Porthcurno, Penzance and Praa Sands, before rounding the headland that would lead them home to Porthleven, a much-needed pitstop, arriving on 12th June after clocking 140 miles of paddling.
Whilst Mike and Rich had to postpone the final leg by a couple of weeks, Kelvin continued to push for the border of Plymouth solo, arriving safe and satisfied after some incredibly favourable conditions. On 24th June, Mike and Rich set sail once more from Porthleven with a somewhat daunting 90-mile stretch to bring them into Plymouth. On the first day they hit their 20-mile mark. On the second day they upped it to 30-miles, and on their third and final day they clocked an amazing 40-miles. Thanks to this they completed the challenge in ten days. Stopping at Fowey and Looe on the last day for refueling, they had to tackle Rame Head before they could relax. “We had to get around Rame Head with only three hours before the tide was going to turn,” says Mike. “We cut across the bay, maybe three miles out at sea to try to make up some of our paddle time and to race the tide. We had minimal supplies at this point and no signal. Luckily we got to Rame Head just as the tide switched. We were exhausted, but the tide pushed us into the river at Plymouth – the last push to our end point at the bottom of the Tamar Bridge, the marker between Devon and Cornwall.”
Steering between such a vast industrial shipping channel, and racing against the dying light, Mike and Rich reached the finish line right on schedule, with a grand total of ten days on the water, and an impressive 230-miles under their belt. A successful foray, for sure, but one that Mike says he won’t be repeating any time soon!
Given that Mike is a photographer and videographer, it should come as no surprise that capturing this trip was a personal goal of his. With support from filmprocessing.co.uk, Mike was able to capture shots on film, along with his digital content which will eventually be used in a film documenting their time on the water, to remind us just how spectacular our coastline is, and how much it needs protecting. You can usually find Mike at his Waves Gallery studio in Porthleven, if he’s not out capturing the underwater world for us all to enjoy.