In the depths of South Devon lies the South Hams. A beautiful coastal region, known for its stunningly rugged coastline and its rolling hills. The area has a long history of lifesaving, stemming from Bantham Surf Lifesaving Club, which was ‘formed by Mr Maitland Tribe, the local expert on beach safety, in 1960.’ This was the setting for an epic challenge of endurance, done on a whim by a local lifeguard this summer.

The RNLI operates seasonal lifeguard cover at seven stations in the area. From Challaborough in the West, through Bigbury North, Sedgewell Cove, Bantham, Hope Cove and Slapton, all the way to Blackpool Sands in the East. The stretch of coast also houses the RNLI Lifeboat Station at Salcombe and the Independent Lifeboat Station at Hope Cove. A total of 9 stations that provide Lifesaving cover to the dramatic stretch of coast.

The South Hams also happens to be the home of Red International, with our global HQ just 15 minutes up the road from Bantham beach (pictured above. credit: Luke Lane-Prokopiou ). This Lifesaving Club is where Lewis Durant, our lead rescue designer cut his teeth as a lifeguard and is where his younger brother, Harry, now follows in his footsteps: patrolling the South Hams beaches during summers between years at University in Cardiff.

Burgh Island - South Hams

Credit: Luke Lane-Prokopiou

Unlike 2022, when Harry had a busy summer of rescues. Mid-way through the 2023 season, the unseasonably poor weather had brought smaller crowds and fewer incidents.

Like many lifeguards, Harry is driven to test himself. Working on the beach all day is in itself a wonderful way to spend the summer, but he wanted to find a way to push his limits as well. So, at 16:00 on Thursday 10th August, he decided that the following morning he would attempt a new Lifeguard challenge in the area.

The idea had always been at the back of my mind and from the start of the season I decided that this would be the year I would take on the challenge. The route is the total length of our patrolled area and due to the prevailing wind at start bay, going anti-clockwise from west to east is the ideal direction to paddle.”

RNLI Lifeguard Harry Durant after saving multiple casualties at challaborough becach in South Devon

Credit: RNLI

As far as we are aware, this had not yet been attempted: Harry’s plan was to prone paddle, swim and run, from the Western most South Hams Lifeguard Station (Challaborough), to the Eastern most (Blackpool Sands). At this point, not quite sure of the route or distance, Harry enlisted the help of the Red Rescue team and his partner (and fellow RNLI Lifeguard), Chloe. With an idea that he would paddle the first leg, before running, swimming and paddling again, he needed some logistical help and the super-transportable 10.4 Prone Sprint from Red Rescue was the obvious choice of craft.

The plan materialised that evening and the following morning, Harry set off with the tide at 9:42am from Challaborough. Over the next hour, he prone paddled out to Bigbury, past Sedgewell Cove and Bantham, before stretching out around Thurlestone Bay to Hope Cove. Ticking off the first 5, most densely located stations in 1 hr 3 minutes, covering 5.78km/3.59m.

RNLI lifeguard at start of 9 station lifeguard
9 station challenge leg 1

Chloe then met Harry to deflate the board and take it on to the next leg in the boot of her car. Harry swapped into his running gear and set off over the headland. This running leg took Harry passed the 6th station (Hope Cove Lifeboat). The plan was to run Bolt headland over to Salcombe and to the swim the mouth of the Salcombe Estuary. Chloe would re-inflate the board and paddle alongside to give safety cover. Harry would then begin his final running leg and she would paddle back and drive the board to Hallsands for his final prone paddling stretch.

A spanner was thrown in the works when they found out it was the very busy Salcombe Regatta, so it was unsafe to swim across. This forced Harry to run into Salcombe, jump on the passenger ferry and continue the run from there. Having ticked off the 7th Station (Salcombe Lifeboat) a long slog on the road took Harry to Hall Sands, where he met Chloe to get back on the board and begin the final leg.

Without a refreshing swim to break it up, this middle running leg saw Harry cover a gruelling 20.82km/12.93 miles (completed in 2 hr 14).

Harry jumped back on the 10.4 Inflatable Prone Sprint and got his arms working again. Passing by Slapton Lifeguard station (the 8th) and covering another 9.74 km/6.05 miles, charging along to the 9th and final station at Blackpool Sands after another 1 hr 35 minutes on the water.

“The board carried me quickly across the bay to Hope Cove. The board felt especially fast in the Hallsands to Blackpool leg. The flat water was cut through effortlessly by the streamlined profile of the board and I was able to maintain a trimmed plaining position with ease.”

9 Station Challenge - leg 3

Completing a total of 39.8 km/22.58 miles in 4 hr 52 minutes, Harry was ferried to the pub at Slapton for a celebratory Fish and Chips. Here the talk turned to repeating the challenge next year, bringing in some fellow lifeguards as companions and competitors, planning it so that Salcombe Estuary can be swum and potentially stretching out the runs to include more of the gruelling coastal paths. Watch this space.