Can you imagine paddleboarding in Antarctica? Whether you have or haven’t paddleboarded before, chances are you might think it sounds absolutely crazy. Well it is crazy. But crazy in an absolutely amazing way!
Yes, there are leopard seals, humpback whales, and even orcas. Yes there’s a chance you will fall in. But trust me when I say, this adventure should be at the very top of your bucketlist.
I had no idea what I was getting into when I signed up for paddleboarding in Antarctica during my Quark Expeditions 7th Continent trip. All I knew was that I wanted to do as many activities as possible!
PRO TIP: Choose a Quark Expeditions itinerary that offers paddleboarding, and sign up as soon as you book your trip! Spots fill up fast, but sometimes you can still sign up onboard! Cost was $225 for one session!
What happened when I finally got on the board though was nothing I could have ever expected. Here’s my epic experience along with some facts that you probably want to know if you’re thinking about doing it! (PS don’t think about it, just do it, and thank me later).
One of the first thoughts that probably comes to your mind after, “An orca or leopard seal is going to eat me”, is “I’m going to freeze to death.”
Well, you’ll probably be glad to know that I was sweating the majority of the time, both because I had all the proper gear imaginable to keep me warm, and also from the rigorous activity that goes into paddling.
Before you go out, you’ll get properly fitted in a dry suit and boots, that are designed to keep everything inside of it dry (obviously) and isolated. So even if you did fall in, your body would not get wet…just your head. In all honesty, I was so hot that I considered “falling in”, except I had just seen a leopard seal so decided not to.
Under the dry suit you’ll be instructed to wear one to two base layers of thermals, thick socks (I’d recommend wool), waterproof gloves, and a hat. Again, I wore all of this and was sweating my ass off. Below you can see the actual items I ordered offline and wore during my paddleboard session!
Zodiacs are the badass, basically indestructible motorized raft-boats that take passengers from the big ship to the landings or cruises. A landing means you obv get off of it and walk on land, and a cruise takes you around to see things by boat (since only about 100 people are allowed on land at one time).
Since the regular Zodiac boats were doing their regular tours with the passengers who weren’t paddleboarding or kayaking, our guides took us in a separate one to an area where they weren’t zipping around.
Locations are pre-planned, and also pre-examined before they take us out…just to make sure there’s nothing dangerous (i.e. waves, orcas, etc.). You can expect to be taken to a glacier or area with icebergs to paddle around.
Now you might be wondering about the logistics of getting on and off the paddleboards while they’re in freezing cold Antarctic waters. It was actually really easy, and only one person fell off trying to get back on afterwards but we’re pretty sure he did it on purpose.
Once we arrived by Zodiac (with the paddleboards piled on the back end of the Zodiac), the guides placed each board tied to a rope in the water, then helped us on one by one by having us sit at the edge of the raft, and swing our legs over and down onto the board.
I am impatient and a show off so I took my guide’s arm and just stepped onto the board seamlessly, without so much as a shake.
Anyway, you’ll start on your knees, then they’ll hand you a paddle, and set you free of the rope. You’ll probably get yelled at a bunch to stay near the boat because…wait, next point:
From the second I stood up and looked down into the crystal clear, icy water, and could see the smooth gray stones of the shallow shore area we were loading up on, I was in love. Something was happening in every direction, whether it was wildlife popping up and around me, or the majestic glacier stretching high into the sky above me.
As I mentioned above, you won’t notice how far you first drift because you’ll be so mesmerized by the rare freedom of navigating yourself around untouched areas of Antarctica. Well, in my case, you’ll also be so preoccupied trying to get your GoPro out and ready to document everything, and will suddenly look up to be almost face to face with a sleeping Wadell seal on an iceberg.
You might think I’m crazy (spoiler alert: I am.) but I was secretly hoping to see an Orca while paddleboarding. To be fair, I had watched enough documentaries while battling the Drake Passage to know that they probably wouldn’t eat me since I am not a seal.
Leopard seals on the other hand, I was not so eager to see…but of course, one decides to pop its snake-like head up next to my board. It actually saw the kayakers first, and I watched it come up out of the water and straight up stare at them for a good five seconds.
It must have scared the kayak guide because they slowly backwards paddled away from it. One of the guys and I were at the back end of the paddle boarding group because we were trying to take photos per usual, and of course we wanted to see the leopard seal, so casually waited in hopes it may come closer.
Actually it was a funny story because I had asked the guy to take my photo since everyone else was out of the frame (yes the GoPro hand off was terrifying), and while he was aiming it at me, I said, “Omg. The leopard seal is behind you!” He thought I was joking so ignored me until our guide yelled from the boat, “Leopard seal!”
You can probably imagine how he almost lost balance and fell in from trying to turn around so fast.
The leopard seal was a lucky bonus, but we saw tons of other animals while we were paddleboarding in Antarctica too!
Before we even got on our boards there were dozens of little penguins jumping out of the water and swimming all around us. In case you don’t know, penguins are pretty much like little bullets when they’re in the water, and way more coordinated than when they’re on land.
It’s kind of surprising then they decide to just suddenly fly up out of the water for a breath of air, since they do it so fast and unexpectedly that it makes you wonder if it’s a leopard seal…
But it’s really freaking cool to see them swimming under and around your paddleboard! You’ll also probably see a ton on the land masses and icebergs you pass as well! You can expect to see Gentoo and/or Chinstrap penguins…but Emperor Penguins would require a lot more time and money as they only live farther south.
Not going to lie…I consider myself as someone to have really bad luck when it comes to spotting whales or other rare wildlife…but NOT in ANTARCTICA!!!
I’m pretty sure I saw about 100 whales total, and a few of them were even right by the paddleboards! Can you even imagine that?! A freaking hump and fin of a massive humpback whale flipping right in front of you while your by yourself on a piece of styrofoam?!
Freaking epic. Almost as epic as being stared at by a leopard seal.
While the threat of the icy water and embarrassment kept most of us extra focused on not falling in, there were still a few who did.
Not gunna lie, I spent a little too long filming penguins on an iceberg, and suddenly got caught in a current which sent a small barrel wave at me. I literally yelled, “Ah, wave! Why!” Then turned the board towards the wave, dropped to my knees, and held on as the gentle-yet-freezing wave washed over me. It drenched every part of the dry suit, which I didn’t feel at all, proving that they work. Oh, and my maneuver both impressed and amused the two guides.
The next person to fall in was a first time paddleboarder, who if you ask me, deserves an award for trying it out in freaking Antarctica! We were trying to all line up for a photo and trying to tell him how to back paddle to line up with us, and he lost balance and fell in…which I made worse by yelling, “OMG I GOT THAT ON CAMERA!”
Then the last person, as I mentioned before, claims he jumped in as we were about to get on the boat, but we all think he lost balance and fell. If he did do it on purpose though, joke was on him, because we ended up making a land landing afterwards rather than return to the boat!
A few of us were slightly concerned about missing the land landing (it was the first day we had landings and all wanted to be the first to step foot on Antarctica), but our guides surprised us after the paddle sesh, and took us to a small island to walk around on!
The little island was full of nesting Gentoo penguins, and a couple of molting seals. AKA you could get pretty close (within the 3 meter limit) of all of the wildlife since they were more focused on their own lives.
Do not worry if you aren’t a selfie-stick handling ninja like I am (jokes). While you can take your GoPro or waterproof camera with you at your own risk, there’s also a guide on the zodiac taking photos of everyone the whole time. And their photos are with a professional camera so you’re pretty much good to go!
Pro Tip: For anyone using a GoPro or action cam — be sure to put either RainX on your screen, or keep licking it, because even the air has a ton of salt in it and will just keep fogging up the lens. Below you can also see what kind of mounts are best for going paddleboarding in Antarctica!