An Introduction to Coasteering from Kernow Coasteering
Matt is a man of many talents, in addition to running the successful Cornwall Underground Adventures he is also the man behind Kernow Coasteering. He certainly has adventure in his blood and enjoys adrenalin activities.
If like us, you are not sure what coasteering exactly is and what it involves please read on to find out more. Coasteering is an activity Matt is passionate about and keen to share with others who might not yet have come across it.
Cornwall has the ideal landscape for coasteering and offers plenty of challenges and lots of delights as you explore its hidden and lesser-known coastal areas.
Hi Matt, nice to catch up again and have a chat about your other business, Kernow Coasteering.
Thanks for having me back again!
What exactly is Coasteering and why should visitors to Cornwall try it?
"Coasteering is best known for the cliff-jumping aspect, and it seems many people who have yet to try coasteering think that’s really all that it entails. Whilst cliff jumps will make up part of any coasteering experience, there’s much more to it. It’s an adventurous activity that takes place entirely in the inter-tidal zone of a suitably featured, rocky coastline. Generally, a ‘coasteer’ will aim to travel a planned route along the coast. This may be an ‘A to B’ journey, or a circular route, depending on what the coastline in that area offers. This is a very high-energy environment, so it can be a bumpy ride when the swell is up. But, as well as jumping off rocks into the sea, it also includes wild swimming, boulder hopping, scrambling and extreme wading! You can see, therefore, that for anyone who doesn’t want to do the jumping part, there are many other reasons to go coasteering. So, think of it as many activities rolled into one, all in a unique coastal environment.
One of the main attractions that brings people to Cornwall is the sea and its amazing coastline. Walking the coast and visiting the beaches are, naturally, great ways to enjoy Cornwall’s amazing environment. But coasteering definitely gives you the feeling of engaging with the wilderness a little more deeply. The mixture of adrenalin combined with exploration certainly gives a lasting impression. I think it’s safe to say that coasteering has become one of the ‘must do’ activities when visiting Cornwall, maybe only second to surfing. The advantage with coasteering is that with no experience you can turn up and be coasteering immediately. Whereas with surfing, you need to spend years repeatedly falling off the board before you start to get any good!"
Is it true it was invented in Wales?
"Yes, coasteering, as we know it, was invented in Wales. Certainly, it was in Wales, Pembrokeshire to be precise, that people started leading groups and doing it commercially. This was back in the mid-1980s. It was over 20 years before coasteering was on offer in Cornwall. I actually did some research on, not only how coasteering began, but how coasteering evolved from its beginnings. In particular, I was interested to see how coasteering was spreading beyond the UK. It’s now available in many countries, from Norway to Australia. Anyone who’d like to know more about that, can read the blog on it here."
What are the best parts of coasteering? What makes it so special?
"Many people will say it’s the thrill that comes from the cliff jumps. But, as much as I do enjoy the jumping, the best part for me is the feeling of exploring the coastline. Coasteering allows you to access the coast in a unique way. Kayakers, for example, can cover a lot more distance, but they can’t get as close as us coasteerers. That allows us to explore literally every nook and cranny of the coast. And you never know what exciting feature may be around the next corner. Amazing caves, gullies, arches, tunnels and other features constantly surprise and thrill those who go exploring. In addition, it’s a very tactile way of exploring. Up close and personal to the coast, you are almost always touching rock, as well as interacting with the sea. Once you have a bit of experience, using the sea to help you move, washing you in and out of features is amazing fun. However, it can be a bit overwhelming at first, if you’re not used to it!
Being based in the far west of Cornwall, I had the personal goal of coasteering every part of the coastline of west Cornwall. That is, the coastline between St. Ives, all the way around Land’s End to Penzance, and beyond, over 40 miles along the coast path. Now, I didn’t do it all in one go, of course! But over the years I gradually chipped away at it and finished ‘Project Penwith’ in 2020. So, I’ve been in pretty much every cave, gully and crack on the west Cornwall coastline. I have such fond memories of exploring all those areas, some of the places I found were mind blowing!"
What equipment do you use in coasteering?
"There are a few essential pieces of equipment for coasteering. Firstly, you need a wetsuit in the UK waters. I’d recommend a 5mm winter wetsuit all year round, as the constant in-and-out of the water means a wetsuit any thinner will leave you feeling cold pretty soon. A helmet and buoyancy aid are also essential equipment, and even when coasteering with friends (i.e. not leading a group) I would not coasteer without them. Also, essential is a pair of shoes or wetsuit boots. Some of the rocks can be sharp and there almost entirely covered in barnacles, which are very sharp and would shred your feet if not protected.
Finally, at least one person in the group should be carrying some safety equipment, which may include a throwline, first aid kit, means of calling for help, etc."
What equipment do participants need to take along with them?
"When coasteering with Kernow Coasteering, we provide the wetsuits, helmets and buoyancy aids. Participants need to bring their own footwear, as stated above, either a pair of trainers or wetsuit boots. In addition, we also get participants to bring along an extra pair of shorts that they can put over their wetsuit. This protects our wetsuits from barnacle damage, as inexperienced people tend use their bottoms far too much as their main point of contact with the rocks!"
Do participants have to have a certain level of fitness, or can most people get involved?
"Most people who come along coasteering with us are quite surprised at how tiring it is. Swimming in a wetsuit and buoyancy aid if you are not used to it, it seems, is pretty hard work. I can’t comment, as I only ever swim with a wetsuit and buoyancy aid on! But, to answer your question, anyone with an average level of fitness can take part. If you get exhausted from a short walk, or get puffed out climbing the stairs, you’re going to find coasteering extremely challenging."
Are there dangers involved in coasteering? Is it safe to go alone or should you only go as part of an organised event led by a qualified instructor?
"Like any adventurous activity, coasteering does have risks associated with it. However, based on data gathered by the National Coasteering Charter, coasteering is, statistically speaking, a very safe activity, with a low rate of serious incidents. More conventional sports, such as cricket and football, for example, have a significantly higher rate of injury. But that is probably largely due to the fact that almost all coasteering takes place as a guided activity, led by competent instructors, with years of water experience and detailed knowledge of their routes.
People who haven’t tried coasteering before, and indeed may not fully understand all that it entails, should only go as part of an organised group. As well as keeping you safe, they will make sure you are properly equipped and only take you out when and where it is safe to do so on any given day. Finally, they will have the training and equipment to deal with any incidents, in the unlikely event something goes wrong.
I’d stress that only people with a great deal of experience should go coasteering in their own self-led groups, and coasteering alone is probably not recommended for anyone. However, I must confess that I do go coasteering alone. I think I have enough experience to judge when it is safe, where my personal limits are, and having measures in place in the event things don’t go according to plan. Some of the videos on the website are from such solo journeys, as I was exploring for Project Penwith. You’ll have to watch them and judge whether I’m bonkers or not!"
Are participants required to be able to swim?
"Some basic swimming ability is required. You will be spending at least half of the time in the water, and this cannot be avoided. You don’t need to be a strong swimmer, but you have to be able to swim under your own steam for the duration of the session. Also, anyone who has very little swimming experience is probably going to lack water confidence. Suddenly being in deep water, amongst the rocks, with swell moving everything around, can be intimidating, if you’re not comfortable in the water.
Anyone who may be worried that they are not a good enough swimmer to take part should give us a ring. We’re more than happy to have a chat and see whether we think coasteering is for you. Additionally, if we know that someone is a weak swimmer, we can make sure we take them out on a day when the sea is calm. It’s much harder work when the sea is rough."
What do participants get to see and learn whilst coasteering?
"Many participants feel a huge feeling of reward at having pushed their limits and stepped outside of their comfort zone. This varies from person to person. For some it will be sending the biggest jump on the route. For others it will simply be getting on the wetsuit and taking part. People will undoubtedly get a refresher on having respect for the sea, as well as learning the basic techniques for navigating the coasteering environment. You never know when those skills may become useful later in life!
Coasteering also gives people a chance to re-connect with nature. We see a lot of wildlife on our journey, from the humble blue-rayed limpet, to the many seabirds, and even seals that may visit us from time to time. People love to witness all of this, of course, and we’re there to share any additional facts and information that may be of interest."
Generally, how long is a coasteering session?
"We are generally in the water for about two-and-a-half hours. It may not sound like much, but by the end we’re all (guides included) pretty worn out!"
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about giving Coasteering a go but haven’t yet taken the plunge?
"What are you waiting for? It’s incredibly good fun, whether you are looking for big jumps, or whether you’re looking to avoid jumps and just explore the coastline. Coasteering’s flexibility means that it offers something for everyone."
Is it true coasteering is a great means of overcoming fears and gaining self-confidence?
"I think many of the people who come coasteering with us are quite surprised at the things they achieve during their coasteering session. The obvious thing would be doing jumps they never thought they could do. But some of my most memorable sessions have been when we’ve had groups out in some pretty rough weather. With our careful guidance and great teamwork from the group, we’ve gotten through some pretty wild sessions which left everyone buzzing from the shared sense of achievement."
A few quick questions for you Matt.
"Ooh, it’s a tough one. I do love my coasteering, but rock climbing is probably my number one thing to do. At Kernow Coasteering we also offer rock climbing. Cornwall has lots of amazing rock climbing all around its coastline, particularly on the granite of west Cornwall, where we are based. It’s not as popular as coasteering, but it’s another great way to see a different side to Cornwall (the sea cliff locations we climb at are stunning), as well as step out of your comfort zone."
What one luxury item would you take with you on a desert island?
"I’m actually a very keen amateur pianist, so if this desert island has a piano, I’d probably never want to be rescued! I assume the desert island also has some nice coastline for coasteering, as well as maybe a good crag or two for climbing. Heaven!""
Thanks, Matt for taking the time to answer our questions, we are now a lot clearer on what coasteering is and we are looking forward to taking the plunge soon.
Kernow Coasteering is a company that specialises in outdoor activities with professional instructors that are highly trained, skilled and experienced. You are in safe hands with these guys and are assured an exhilarating adventure where you will get to see and experience a lot more than you would on a boat tour or a walk.
For more information on coasteering and how to get going, please contact: Kernow Coasteering at ………..
Telephone: Matt:07734 343 954
Address: 2 Orchard Court, Penzance, Cornwall, TR18 4SX
Matt also runs Cornwall Underground Adventures, if you are after a different challenge and a unique adventure. For more information please visit: