All You Need To Know About Coasteering
From the best coastal traverses to the kit you need, here is everything you need to know about coasteering.
Coasteering can be described as a cross between rock pooling and obstacle courses. It is similar to canyoning in the sense that you will be scrambling across rocks and getting wet, though there may be jumps and swimming too. However, there are no ropes involved, and it’s on the coast, not in a canyon. As a sport, coasteering consists of traversing the area where the sea meets the land in the most enjoyable way.
Coasteering is a relatively new adventure activity, at least from a commercial standpoint. Coasteering first appeared in a book about coastal climbing in the 1970s. However, its invention and evolution into what we know today is credited to surfers in Pembrokeshire in the 1980s. This is where coasteering was first developed commercially, and still to this day, Pembrokeshire is still regarded as one of the top coasteering destinations in the UK.
The word coasteering is a combination of ‘coast’ and ‘mountaineering’ – although we reckon it’s more like scrambling than mountaineering. The National Coasteering Charter describes coasteering as “Exploring and journeying through the impact zone between the levels of high and low tide, often including total immersion in seawater.” The impact is the term used for when the water crashes into the land. So essentially, coasteering is everything from walking, scrambling, jumping, climbing and swimming along the coastline.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS?
Coasteering involves travelling along the coastline where the sea meets the land. There will be a lot of time spent in and out of the water, climbing over boulders and swimming across pools. It is possible to explore narrow gullies and caves on the cliff line, investigate rock pools and learn about the geology of the rock formations.
Among the many attractions of coasteering are jumping off cliffs into deep saltwater pools. You can certainly do this, but there is more traversing involved than diving into the ocean. High jumps are merely optional adrenaline boosts rather than an integral part of the entire experience in many cases. A typical coasteering route includes scrambling up and climbing over rocks or swimming through gullies and squeezes. There is also the possibility of encountering features created by the tides, such as sluices, whirlpools, and pour-overs.
Coasteering routes are well-thought-out and heavily investigated by fully qualified professionals, so you should always Coasteer along any way with a guide. Just traversing the coastline and jumping into the sea alone can be incredibly dangerous and is not advised. There are many factors involved in specific routes, such as tide, size of surf, and movement of rocks. So even if you have been on a route with a coasteering centre before, it may well be a different state of tide or larger surf the next time you go, so you shouldn’t coasteer without a professional guide.
Some routes only require a basic level of swimming ability, whereas others expect you to swim 50 metres unaided as a minimum requirement. Due to the proximity to the open ocean, we believe it is best to err on the side of caution and ensure you are a confident swimmer before going coasteering. Despite the fact you will be wearing a buoyancy aid, you will want to be able to get yourself from one jump to the next without fatigue and/or fear of the water and the only way to ensure this is to have a basic level of swim fitness. It is worth mentioning that this is even more important during colder temperatures due to the increased use of energy to keep your body warm. However, it is now possible to go coasteering all year round thanks to significant advancements in wetsuit technology, making it easier to remain warm during the coldest conditions.
COASTEERING EQUIPMENT LIST
Coasteering doesn’t require much equipment. The simplicity of moving along the coast is central to the whole experience. Thus, you don’t need any extensive equipment like ropes or a paddleboard. As mentioned, a coasteering kit list is primarily made up of items that provide warmth and protection, such as the wetsuit and buoyancy aid.
Firstly, you’ll need a full-length wetsuit to keep you warm on those colder days but also to protect you against the rocks as you clamber in and out of the (probably cold) seawater. It doesn’t matter how warm the sea is. If you don’t have a neoprene sleeve to keep you warm, you will quickly feel the chill in any wind when getting into and out of the sea. Likewise, it may be okay to walk on the beach barefoot, but coasteering is an entirely different story. The terrain will be rocky, and you will need to scramble over jagged rocks that could cut your feet if you slip. You will need a pair of lace-up trainers which you don’t mind getting wet. Some routes allow a pair of wetsuit boots as good enough protection though you will still feel the rocks, so we would advise the thickest soles possible to maximise the enjoyment of your experience. Sometimes even wearing gloves is recommended as your hands soften; you may find they cut easier when getting in and out of the sea, though this depends on the type of coasteering route you are taking. The added layer always helps with the warmth too.
The next thing you need is a helmet and a buoyancy aid. The helmet will protect your head, and the buoyancy aid will ensure that you remain afloat. Each provides an additional level of safety, allowing you to concentrate more on the enjoyment rather than the risks.
Additionally, coasteering instructors may bring extra gear, such as a first aid kit and throw lines (floating ropes, just in case). Others utilise Peterson Rescue Tubes, which are inflatable buoys that can be used as markers for jumping into the water.
Lastly, depending on where your coasteering adventures take you, you might want to pack a torch for cave exploration or goggles for diving.
IS IT SAFE?
The majority of people associate coasteering with jumping off cliffs into the sea. As a result, it is often confused with tombstoning, the term given to people jumping into an unknown water depth. Coasteering is incredibly safe when performed with the correct equipment and an experienced guide who has done all the necessary checks before jumping into the water. In my opinion, this is the significant difference between the two, though coasteering also includes the journey across the coastline.
The main hazards on a coasteering route are rock impact, proximity to the sea, and cold weather. Even though some of these consequences may be quite severe, they are easily mitigated if you take proper precautions and use the right equipment. Coasteering is not the type of activity that beginners would normally undertake alone and, as mentioned before, should be done with a fully qualified and experienced guide.
It is always tricky to know what you don’t know about the coast and the sea. A great deal of knowledge arises from local experience, for example, learning where the riptides are and safe entry/exit points. That’s why coasteering is almost always done with a qualified instructor. With their knowledge of the local area and all the best routes, they can minimise risk while maximising fun.
WHERE CAN I GO COASTEERING?
Because coasteering was invented in the UK, it is not a word you encounter very often in other countries. But within the UK, over 150 National Coasteering Charter approved centres are operating year-round, with more and more popping up each year. They are providing exciting and safe Coasteering routes all along the UK coastline and making the most of over 30,000 kilometres of it, with new courses being mapped out and explored all the time.
You can find some of Cornwall’s best coasteering on the north Cornwall coast. You can explore many of the nooks and crannies that exist where the Atlantic Ocean meets the wild Cornish cliffs, once the home of smugglers. In particular, The Gazzle near Newquay has ragged rocky coves protected from the wind, which are ideal for coasteering as they have great jumps and caves to explore.
The Welsh Coastline also has several established coasteering destinations, including Pembrokeshire, of course, where it all began. Anywhere with an attractive shoreline will probably have a coasteering route not too far away. The south coast from Land’s End along to Dorset, Northern Ireland and even the Isle of Skye all have providers ready to take you on a coastal adventure.