Ep 12: Beach, wind and water sports in Weston

We chat with former Combat Paramedic Ben Peters about some of his many adventures, his work with young people, WhatSUP paddleboarding, and some of the adrenaline sports on offer in Weston.

Ben Peters podcast

Click below to listen to the episode in full or see below for a summary of the conversation:


Born and bred in Weston, Ben’s extraordinary life has seen him paddleboard down the Amazon River, work as Bear Grylls’ medic and help rebuild the British Virgin Islands with Richard Branson. He was a combat paramedic for 14 years in the Royal Army Medical Corps and then settled back in Weston after his military career ended, to raise his two daughters.

Ben spoke to us about the fantastic range of outdoor activities on offer in Weston for those who want adventure and excitement, including kitesurfing, windsurfing, blokarts, stunt kites, paddleboarding and canoeing to name a few!

Do you think your desire for adrenaline comes from the requirements put on you from your career? 

My job as a Combat Frontline paramedic was quite a high adrenaline environment. You see and do quite a lot of things being a soldier, your eyes are open to a lot of other activities when you’re on rest and recuperation. You get to go and do all these amazing outdoor activities like skiing and parachuting to give you a little bit of respite. 

When I left the military, I went off to the gas industry and I worked on oil rigs, doing remote medicine, which lost my soul a little bit, I was caught in a corporate trap, so I broke away from it, went back into expedition medicine and went to work in TV and film and expedition projects around the world.

I realised quite quickly that the information schools were getting was quite low and a lot of children didn’t have the same advantages that my children have. I’m very outdoorsy – I encourage them to do a lot of outdoor sports and they’ve been quite privileged to be able to have the accessibility of sport through me. I realised that probably wasn’t a true story for most children, in and out of Weston. 

Through my youth work in Weston, we’ve done lots of simple beach days, playing touch rugby on the beach and lots of different things. Some may never have been to the beach before.

School trips come into Weston and they get off the bus on the seafront and it’s like an awestruck moment when they look at the size of the beach, the vista of the sky. You can almost see the neural pathways expanding. 

Ben Peters Former Combat paramedic
Ben Peters

How did you find yourself being Bear Grylls’ medic?

My specialty was rescue medicine and survival specialty in the military – that was what I did for years, so it was a natural progression. When I started in TV and film, that kind of expedition medicine just really shone, it’s quite a tight knit industry, and all of a sudden this crazy ex-military medic had joined the ranks to do all of these weird and wonderful things. That career’s seen me descend the Amazon and so many amazing things. One of them was working on The Island with Bear Grylls.

There was also a rumour about you working for Richard Branson on Necker Island…

After the hurricane in the British Virgin Islands, my services were called upon to go out and help with the rebuilding the sslands. The hurricane had destroyed everything and it was a real joint effort between Richard and a lot of other people. I was deploying my skills in different ways, rebuilding medical infrastructure. It was a nine month project.

Ben Peters Former combat paramedic
Ben Peters

For people who want a little bit of adventure and excitement, what is there to do in Weston-super-Mare?

There’s lots of community things to get involved with here. We have Weston Rollers’ Skate Nights, on a Friday (6.30pm) and everybody on wheels, roller skates and skateboards takes over the beach and the promenade.

Up and down the beach there are a lot of activities going on. At the far end of the beach, towards the Uphill end, we have one of the only dedicated kite zones on any beach in the UK. 

There’s the South & West Association of Traction Kiting – they’re the ones you see in the buggies powering up and down the beach. They’re a great group of guys and girls. If anybody is interested in that type of sport, contact SWATK -they give help and guidance.

The kitesurfers group is Weston Wind, Wheels and Waves. They’re a really approachable group for kitesurfing. Weston can be one of the best beaches in the country for kitesurfing in the right weather conditions. 

Is that because it’s the wrong kind of wind to be able to surf safely?

We kite with the cross-on or onshore breeze and we’re actually quite lucky in Weston because the prevailing wind blows onto the beach directly, so we get a very safe onshore wind. 

There’s also a phenomenon in Weston which we get a lot, called a sea breeze – as the landmass heats up through the day, the cold air gets drawn up the estuary and sucked in by the rising of the warm air over the town, the cold air gets drawn in off the sea and actually increases the wind in the evening, so we get our lovely sunset kiting sessions.

Windsurfing in Weston
Windsurfing and open water swimming in Weston

Water safety and rules of the sea in Weston

There are rules of the sea that we all stick to – when people are entering the water, that’s when they’re most vulnerable, so we give way to them and to people on port tack. That’s what good training through different organisations gives to people on the water, so we can keep safe.

It also makes sense to join organisations, because if you’re doing something on your own, you’re missing out on an awful lot of stuff that perhaps you need to know.

In Weston we’ve always promoted safety with all of our kite sports. It’s quite a dangerous sport, there’s a lot of power involved and a lot of things can go wrong and go wrong quite quickly. 

I grew Weston Wind, Wheels and Waves to become the second biggest club in the UK for kitesurfing, only beaten by the home of the British Kitesurfing Association in Hayling Island. We’re really proud of the club and the way they approach safety. 

We have a lot of swimmers, tourists, dog walkers and other beach users and the kitesurfers are a really respectful group of people who put their safety above fun. They make sure that beach users stay safe and we don’t put them in any danger.

Windsurfing and beachgoers in Weston-super-Mare
Windsurfers and beachgoers in Weston

What are Blokarts and stunt kites?

Blokarts are the small sailing land vessels and the organisation Weston Blokart Club is run by a guy called Steve.

They’re little sailboats that tuck themselves into a little formula one-type car, with a sail above their head. You’ll see them in the Kite Zone area at the far end of the beach, where all the wooden posts make a big square. That’s the traction kite zone, because they are moving quite quickly. 

Is Weston Marine Lake the safest place to paddleboard and canoe? 

It’s probably the safest part of Weston. We don’t really try to encourage too many people in the bay into the water – we’ve got the third fastest moving tide in the world. And people get caught up very quickly in the water if they don’t understand the way the currents work through the bay. 

We are incredibly fortunate at the north end of the beach to have Weston Marine Lake which is a sheltered part of the beach, where you have access to the water at all times. When our tide can get quite high, we’ve got a causeway which holds in all the water. If you check the tide times and the height of the day, at 10.7 metres, anything higher than that reaches the causeway and then that becomes open water as well.

But any other time apart from that, it’s really safe and we’ve been really lucky to get it dredged and improvements are being made all the time to the Marine Lake. Paddleboarding and any kind of floating craft are more than welcome – nothing under any form of power. So no motorised or wind-assisted things can take place in the marine lake, that’s for the safety of others.

Canoeing in Weston Marine Lake
Weston Marine Lake

Can you recommend any paddleboarding clubs or canoeing clubs in Weston?

At Weston Marine Lake we have the Mudlarks – the open water swimming club (read more in our interview with them here). We also have my WhatSUP UK doing paddleboard lessons during the six week summer holidays. 

There are quite a few local groups and communities like SUP Somerset who sometimes use the lake. It’s a good area to take up the sport if you’ve got your own equipment, because it’s a really safe environment. 

Paddleboarding Weston Marine Lake
WhatSUP paddleboarding Weston Marine Lake

If somebody is thinking I really want to give paddleboarding a go, but are unsure where to start, is it easy for beginners to get involved?

Yes. Paddleboarding is one of the most accessible sports in the world and that is why it’s been the main focus of my organisation, because anybody can do it. We’ve got the world’s only wheelchair accessible paddleboard, we paddle with the deaf and blind. There’s no age restriction to WhatSUP. I don’t think there’s any real limitations to paddleboarding. 

It’s all about equipment and being safe – so buoyancy aids and correct equipment and the leash, safety lines and bits and pieces, but there’s really not a lot that can go wrong if you’re in Weston Marine Lake, you’re never too far away from the side.

Wheelchair accessible paddleboard WhatSUP
Wheelchair accessible paddleboard

What made you start WhatSUP? 

I was approached by Michelle Davis, my best friend. She passed away a couple of years ago and she was a real power in youth work and Weston – she did so many amazing things. I had just come back from paddleboarding the Amazon and when I was telling the children in the youth clubs all about this incredible adventure, where I paddled all this way and met all these tribes, and lived in the jungle, a dad asked me if I could do some paddleboarding with the kids. And I said yes. 

Another big drive for paddleboarding and providing outdoor activities for a range of different children was my daughter, Alana, who is autistic. She was a big drive for me to do more with the community and more with her friends.

Ben Peters and his daughter
Ben Peters and his daughter

Are there any interesting facts that you know about Weston?

The promenade that you walk on around the marine lake used to be enclosed, it used to have a roof in the Victorian era.

Knightstone Island’s got a really incredible history. There’s a lake under Knightstone, so the island is actually hollow. There used to be an incredible old Victorian swimming pool on Knightstone Island, which I fondly remember as a child. That end of the beach has so much history, like the Victorian Prince Consort Gardens. They are beautiful, with an incredible view over the sea. 

Also, if you look through the holes of the wooden sculptures around Marine Lake, they line up with different landmarks.

Favourite places to eat in Weston?

My daughter’s got celiac disease, so Michelangelo’s just by Knightstone is amazing.

They make gluten free pasta and they will do anything that’s on the menu gluten free. 

Papas has always been my place for fish and chips.

Also good for celiacs/gluten free are Brunellos and Revo Kitchen.

Papas fish and chips, Weston-super-Mare
Papas fish and chips, Weston-super-Mare
Knightstone Island, Weston Marine Lake
Knightstone Island and Weston Marine Lake

Tell us about Weston Beach Race (22-24 September). What are your thoughts on it? 

I’ve competed there in the past. The beach race is a very fast-paced, high adrenaline race and an amazing thing that Weston does. It brings in a lot of people, and it’s a massive boost to the tourist economy, so I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think Weston needs those boosts of people every now and again. Yes, it’s going to be a bit noisy, but go up and watch it – we have so many local riders that ride in it.

It’s the biggest sand race in the country – it’s HUGE on the motocross calendar. It can be quite disruptive to the locals and it can be carnage getting in and out of the traffic, but I think Weston is a place to embrace – we embrace a lot of things in Weston, it’s part of the culture. 

Weston is what you make of it, we have a very rich cultural soup in Weston, we get people from all walks of life and backgrounds, it’s something I’ve always appreciated.

For more information about all of the beach and active sports you can watch and take part in check out VisitWeston 

Weston Beach Race
Weston Beach Race, image credit: Neil O’Donoghue & Community Renewal Fund