WHEN Steve Mountain was on holiday in Cornwall 10 years ago, an incident with a shark left him terrified of open water ... until this week’s Fit Factor challenge.
The Active8 were at Budle Bay, near Beadnell, Northumberland, trying coasteering, which is a mixture of swimming, cliff traversing, rock pooling and cliff jumping that’s recently caught on in the North East.
For 32-year-old service chemist Steve it meant overcoming some major fears, as he hadn’t been back in the sea since the encounter in St Ives when he was 22.
He recalls: “I looked down and there was this huge mouth. Iit was an 8ft long basking shark. I’ve never swum so fast in my life!”Related content
Despite his fear, Steve didn’t want to miss out on the group activity. “I was terrified, but the instructor Kev assured me there was nothing to worry about and he was really calming,” says Steve from Redcar. “He really helped me conquer my fear.
“When I got in the water, I surrounded myself with people! I was a bit tentative to start with but then really got into it.”
Before long Steve was jumping off the rocks into the sea, starting with a 6ft drop and ending with a 15ft drop. “Once I’d done the first jump, I did them all,” he says. “Kev had jumped in a few times to make sure it was deep enough and safe. By the time we got to the last jump, I was fairly certain there was going to be nothing to hurt me. It was really good fun.
“I’m going to take my nine-year-old nephew coasteering at Redcar now.” Kev Anderson, owner and instructor at KA Kitesurfing Adventure Sports in Beadnell was impressed by Steve’s determination. “By the end it was just like water off a duck’s back for him,” he says. “He found it easy and was really settled. Most people tend to conquer their fears when they do it.”
It would seem that week’s activity polarised opinion among our Fit Factor challengers. Kev says: “Two thirds of them said it was the best activity they’ve done so far, while the other third said it was the worst thing they’d ever done in their lives.
“They struggled more out of the water than in. Moving over the rocks was quite slow, as some of them were slippy, but once they got in the water the whole thing just shot off.
“The movement of the water is very important. It’s just like one big natural rollercoaster. If you get into the little rock pools and gullies, you get washed around all over, and getting in and out of the sea is brilliant fun. They all coped with it fantastically and I was really impressed.”
Kev is amazed by the progress of the Active8 so far. “I don’t think any of them would’ve been capable of doing this at the start of Fit Factor,” he says. “They wouldn’t have fitted into the wet suits to start with. It just goes to show, if you’re a bit fitter how much more you can do.”
KA Kitesurfing Adventure Sports began life as a kitesurfing venture, but soon added stand-up paddle surfing to its repertoire of water sports before launching coasteering last summer.
“Coasteering is really taking off,” says Kev. “It’s really popular with adults, kids, groups of friends, families, corporate groups, hen parties and stag parties. It might even end up bigger than the kite surfing. Now we’re planning to start routes at Eyemouth where there’s a very rocky coastline.”
It’s one of just two centres in the North East to offer coasteering, the other being Adventure Northumberland in Alnwick.
Each session – which can range from a few hours to a full day – is fully supervised, with one instructor per eight participants. And the team at KA Kitesurfing Adventure Sports have all trained with the British Coasteering Federation as well as the best instructors at Newquay.
Kitesurfing lessons are carried out between Beadnell and Bamburgh as the wind conditions there are perfect, while coasteering is on offer at both Beadnell and Howick in Northumberland.
Kev says the coasteering route at Beadnell was ideal for the group as it’s not as aggressive as Howick, which has more caves, tunnels and a 45ft jump at the end.
“You can adapt it for anybody, making it as easy or as hard or as strenuous or an unstrenuous as you want,” he adds, “and there’s absolutely no pressure for anybody to do anything they’re not comfortable with. You don’t even have to be able to swim as you’ve got a life jacket.”
One convert to coasteering is police officer Daniel Henderson. “I totally loved it,” says the 37-year-old from Windy Nook. “Kev showed us how to get out of the sea using the tide. As we went on it got a bit trickier, the jumps were a little bit higher and the swims were a little bit further.
“It was quite funny at times trying to get people onto the rocks, heaving and pushing and pulling.”
NHS admin co-ordinator Dawnn Roe also loved the experience despite the bruises on her knees and sore hands. “I didn’t do the last two jumps as they were massive, but I really enjoyed it,” says the 40-year-old from Pelton.
“Just getting out of the water was hard work. It’s just as well we knew each other so other well, as there were hands everywhere dragging each other out of the water.
“There was quite a bit of swimming through seaweed and though we were out there for over two hours, it flew over and I’d definitely do it again.”
Mum-of-two Jacqui Fahey, from West Denton, Newcastle, found the experience exhilarating. She says: “I was petrified by how high up we were. It was crazy. I was shattered afterwards but I enjoyed it. I think I burned more calories than ever before.”
Nick Cotterill, 40, from North Shields, says: “This was by far the most enjoyable session I’ve done with Fit Factor. Beadnell Bay was absolutely beautiful with the tide right out. I loved climbing over the rocks, swimming in the sea and jumping off cliffs into the water. It was a real buzz. I’m hoping to get a group of friends together to go and do it again.
“The lads at Dave Fairlamb’s bootcamp have got me to sign up to do a Tough Mudder event in November. It’s a 10-mile obstacle course with mud, fire and electric shocks.
“I must be mad, but I really feel as though this is the kind of challenge that is going to help me maintain my focus and my weight loss once we finish Fit Factor in a week’s time.”
Emma Roberts, 22, from South Shields, was less enthusiastic about the challenge. “The salt water made me sick and we were getting tangled in seaweed. I never thought I’d ever do anything like that in my life. It was definitely a change.”
Another Fit Factor member who wasn’t enamoured with coasteering was Claire Hancock. “It was the worst experience of my life,” says the 40-year-old business manager from Billingham. “I absolutely hated it.
“My helmet kept coming down over my face and the heights just frightened the life out of me. It totally freaked me out and I stood and cried on the side. It was no reflection on Kev.
“I was so proud of Steve but it just wasn’t my thing. I prefer to have my feet on the ground.”
David Fairlamb says the Active8 have been getting in as many sessions as possible over the last two weeks, and says he’ll be quite emotional next Friday when the winner is revealed.
“They’re in such a bubble with set workouts and me ramming information down their throats every five minutes, so to suddenly be out of that group environment is going to be difficult,” he admits. “But I’ll be seeing the group once a month to check their stats and I expect them to carry on and push towards the 10k and the Great North Run.
“They’ve got to set a precedent for the North East. It’s one thing losing the weight, but keeping it consistent over a year will be the thing.”
It’s just over a week until the Fit Factor 12-week challenge finishes and the Active8 have their final weigh-in.
The Fit Factor winner will be announced on Real Radio Breakfast with Gary & Lisa during a live broadcast on Friday, June 29, with full coverage in The Journal on Saturday, June 30.
COASTEERING is a mixture of swimming, climbing and scrambling across the inter-tidal zone of a rocky coastline, strictly without the aid of boats, surfboards or ropes.
Safety spotters are placed along designated points of the rock face to ensure the safety of participants. Jumping into the sea from a height is also an aspect of the sport. The activity started in Wales, eventually spreading to Cornwall, Dorset, Pembrokeshire, Anglesey, the Northumberland coast and the Highlands of Scotland.