‘By Tez Plavenieks
The Paddler ezine: http://joom.ag/RNNX/p14
You’re going where?’ my best mate asked in disbelief when I told him the choice of destination for our SUP trip…and I have to say, sitting in the departure lounge, waiting for our flight to be called, surrounded by Zante bound stag and hen parties, I’m inclined to ask myself the same question. The ‘booze, beans, burgers ‘n’ boobs’ mentality permeates through the thronging mass and I start to feel nauseous. The girls ogle the boys and the boys salivate back in the girls’ direction. ‘Please God, let this be a successful trip’ I think to myself as I watch a bunch of ‘Oi Oi’ lads swigging beer. It’s a little after 5am and the boozing has already begun…
The Laganas strip
The island of Zakynthos, or Zante as we Brits more commonly refer it to, has long been a mainstay of the UK holiday scene and continues to be a popular choice for those looking for Greek fun in the sun.
Laganas, the main strip, is dominated by rows of bars, nightclubs and fast food outlets. If drinking copious amounts of cheap alcohol, stumbling home with a kebab stuffed in your cheeks, falling asleep in the remnants of said kebab on the beach, waking to a blazing sun and getting third degree burns for the trouble is your thing, then you’ll right at home in Laganas.
In all honesty, Laganas isn’t that bad – the beach is actually relatively easy on the eyes – it’s just not mine or Fi’s thing. At the risk of sounding like a snob, we were searching for the ‘other’ Zakynthos – the one we’d heard a few reports about, something which could only be achieved after getting away from the sprawl of Zak’ town and Laganas strip.
As you climb up into the hills, heading north, the vibe mellows dramatically and with the splash of amazingly coloured blue Ionian Sea to the right, the green hues of olive and apricot trees on the left and Cephalonia rising from the heat haze to the north, our anxieties began to evaporate.
With a scorching sun beating down we continued our journey along the winding cliff roads all the way to the sleepy port of Agios Nikolaos. Still in awe of the striking countryside and enticing water, we hung a sharp right, descended a small hill and finally arrived at our destination – the Peligoni Club.
The Peligoni Club is a watersports and beach club that’s perched atop the rocks right on Zante’s north east facing coastline. With no discernible beach to speak of we were intrigued as to how guests would get in and out of the water with their kit.
After a spot of pottering and investigating all became obvious. A slipway cut into the rocks makes for the perfect in and out and is actually pretty easy to navigate – despite the initial hesitation on our part. Greeted by beach manager, Chris Haysey, Peligoni dog mascot, Snoop, and the rest of the beach team, we were shown the ropes, where all the watersports equipment hides and given the low down regarding prevailing weather conditions.
Having completed the guided tour we hit the water to cleanse ourselves of the travelling grime and in seconds were straight into the swing of things.
Start the day right
The area around Peligoni is extremely beautiful. The colour of the water is simply astounding and just begs you to dive right in. Flat, glassy calm seas in the morning give amazing SUP conditions. Sweeping along the olive grove fringed coast you can’t help but gaze down into the deep blue abyss, trying to spot the abundant marine life swimming about beneath you.
At 10am in the morning the mercury is already soaring into the mid-30s and after a few strokes Fi and I found ourselves regularly dropping in to the water to cool off. The warm Ionian Sea envelops itself around you and brings respite to inferno like conditions you experience when ‘spooning’ around.
Having finished off a hearty breakfast of delicious locally grown fruit, Greek yoghurt, honey and strong coffee we would head off to do a few circuits of ‘Little Italy’ which is a small peak of rock that juts skyward and lies a few yards offshore from Agios Nikolaos port.
Apparently the rock is owned by Italy but doesn’t have any inhabitants – apart from a healthy number of squawking seagulls. The island is great for those SUPers who love a few laps and offers a unique and beautiful vista to keep you entertained during your SUP sessions.
We travelled to Zakynthos with our own iSUP gear as we wanted to make sure we weren’t restricted to just the club. The Red Paddle AllWater is the perfect tool for the job, simple to travel with and avoids costly excess baggage charges. After the first day in resort we loaded up the hire car and went off exploring.
The eastern flank of Zante is a stunningly beautiful part of the world and hides a plethora of SUP touring options. In places the jagged cliffs are steep and white and conceal multiple caves that are just begging for discovery.
Mikro Nisi is one such spot – about a ten-minute drive from Peligoni. As you descend the steps to the smooth white pebble beach the clarity of the water leaves you gasping in awe. All the hues of blue and turquoise shimmer and glisten under the hot sun.
Once inflated, we paddled round to the caves on the left and spent an enjoyable time investigating what was on offer. Some of these caverns are big enough to get inside and offer shady respite from the glaring sun’s rays out in open water.
During our sessions we were asked a lot of questions with regard to our Red Air SUPs, as apparently stand up paddlers just aren’t a common sight. This is a crying shame as there’s so much paddling potential here just waiting to be ‘swept’…
During one noteworthy morning we had the opportunity to paddle among the famous Blue Caves. As with those found further south, the Blue Caves are large archways and caverns carved into the rock from years of being lashed by winter Mediterranean storms and erosion.
The Blue Caves are a busy tourist hub with high volumes of boat traffic ferrying punters in and out. We had to be careful not to cause a nuisance, as Greek boat drivers are notorious for not giving way to anything!
A number of caves make up this stretch of the Zak’ coast and you can easily spend hours marvelling at these geological formations. For those who do decide to head to Zante for some SUP action then it’s definitely worth making the trip here. It’ roughly a 30 minute ‘sweep’ from Agio Nikolaos port. Just be sure to do it in the morning before the Meltemi breeze kicks in.
Shipwreck Bay is another iconic Zakynthos location. Only accessible by boat (or SUP), the bay is on the north facing coast and boasts the most amazing swimming pool blue coloured water you’ve ever seen. Called Shipwreck Bay because of the junked ship hull perched on the white sand, Shipwreck Bay is definitely worth a punt with a paddle.
If you decide to SUP to the spot then it will take a good few hours to reach. Paddlers would need to be aware that coming ashore during the mission, in the event of an accident, wouldn’t be that easy as sheer cliffs and sharp rocks litter the shoreline. We cheated and had Chris Haysey, the Peligoni beach manager, buzz us round in the centre RIB.
Unfortunately on the day in question an early breeze filled in and was nuking off the cliffs making paddling a bit of a mission. Battling against the wind, we still managed to get some shots but after a time we gave it neck. Thanks to Chris for the transport, without which we wouldn’t have made it to the bay.
It’s also possible to view Shipwreck Bay from the vantage point high on the cliff above. Those without a head for heights should beware though – as stunning as the view is, it may leave you jelly legged and dizzy!
Afternoon blow off
Greece is famous for its afternoon thermal breeze known locally as the Meltemi. The wind kicks in, usually, around mid-afternoon – although it can be earlier.
The Meltemi blows from north to south and for the downwind aficionado this can serve up some awesome conditions. We did a few mini downwind gun runs but with only iSUPs at our disposal catching runners and rollers were a little tricky. Fortunately, as Fi and I also windsurf, we could still make good use of the blow and spent most afternoons blasting back and forth in front of the club.
Around 6pm we’d retire to the bar for some well-earned Mythos (local brew) and/or gin and tonic. Never has après tasted so good…
Zante a SUP Mecca?
In the whole 10-day period the wife and I paddled every day and windsurfed all but one.
For paddling exploits the island offers a huge amount of potential. With the right support and logistics some serious downwind action could be achieved, as could a total circumnavigation of the island – a feat, as far as we’re aware, has yet to be completed.
For the recreational paddler Zakynthos delivers some absolutely stunning, interesting and mellow touring and exploring opportunities. If you’re the type who, like us, fancies combining a few disciplines, then as long as you’re not a hardcore wave head, you’ll be well served in this part of Greece.
Zante will no doubt continue to attract the ‘boozy boys and girls brigade’, and why shouldn’t it? However, if you’re looking for something different from your stand up paddle boarding trip then Zak’ would also be worthy of consideration. With still so much untapped SUP potential, the island is ripe for discovery. Check it out before everyone else does…
Thanks Fi and I would like to extend our massive thanks firstly to Red Paddle Co for the iSUP gear we travelled with. Without this generosity we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to explore the stunning Zakynthos coast. We’d also like to give a massive shout out to the Peligoni Club staff that helped make our stay super fun, comfortable and enjoyable. Thank you Ben, Chris, Bibby, Lee, ‘Big’, Rory, Charlie, Charlie and Snoop – we’ll be back!
Tez Plavenieks is the editor of SUP Mag UK and a freelance watersports writer/ journalist who produces articles, features and stories for a number of printed and online platforms.