Confessions of a kayaking guide | 10 years leading and loving tours in Montenegro

Undiscovered Montenegro’s kayaking tours on Lake Skadar are so awesome they get nothing but 5-star reviews on Tripadvisor. Set in an epic landscape of giant blue lake fringed with grey-green mountains and carpets of waterlilies, the pristine scenery and wildlife seduce every time. But is it always so professional behind the scenes? UM owner and kayak guide Ben reveals all, having spent the last 12 years paddling every nook and cranny of this attractive lake and a decade guiding guests.

So, is it as easy as it looks, guiding kayaking tours?
Imagine a swan gliding serenely over the surface of the water. Now imagine how furiously its feet are motoring! Every tour requires a 07:00 start to ensure all boats, paddling and safety gear are in place, ready to go, as well as cool-boxes full of delicious packed lunches – and that’s before we even begin rounding up our guests for the day. Some trips also require a Land Rover to be left at the finishing spot in advance and when the trip is over, all of these steps have to be repeated in reverse order – and these days all equipment given a thorough Covid-clean – before our part of the tour is officially done. Easy? I’ll see you outside…

Any embarrassing moments?
Before I was the polished and experienced guide that I am now, I once capsized myself in fright when a dice snake leaped into my boat with a wriggling fish in its jaws – I lost my binoculars, the first of many pairs of sunglasses and quite a lot of dignity that day. I did learn, however, that dice snakes are non-venomous. I’ve lost the odd unsecured buoyancy aid off the roof of the Landrover, once forgot entirely to pick up a Danish family for a day tour (they flagged me down as I drove past them!) – but the winner has to be the time when a couple of nuns from Beška Island rushed out in their motor boat to rescue a couple of guests I was struggling to tow in a strong wind (thankfully these are rare on the lake).

What was your most difficult kayaking experience?
Halfway through another tour to the island monasteries, a serious gale blew up out of nothing and stranded us on the island of Moračnik with our return passage blocked by a 30km headwind. After two hours, I made the difficult call for Emma and I to hitch a lift on the boat of a passing nun (yes, second time nun-rescue for me), leaving our guests in the hands of our second kayak guide, Vuk. We then drove our Landrovers 90 minutes further away to a spot I knew the kayakers could reach in half an hour, wind assisted. Under Vuk’s supervision, 16 guests were then coaxed over the waves to our rescue point close to Albania! We eventually got back everyone safely back to their accommodation well after nightfall.

Beers for our bravest group of kayakers ever!
View from Moračnik island: beautiful but too windy!
Safe landing a bit closer to Albania than planned

Do you ever get bored doing the same tours every year?
If I ever tire of paddling on one of the world’s most beautiful lakes and swimming in its pristine, fresh waters, having escaped the rat race to do so, I deserve shooting. Seriously, I don’t think it’ll happen. We have seven kayaking tours at Lake Skadar available and with different people, different seasons, different wildlife, weather and choices, they’re never the same twice. We’ve also recently launched some week-long expedition-style kayaking holidays that incorporate wild camping and bushcraft, crossing the lake’s border to paddle into Albania, and even a 150km sea kayaking adventure up the Adriatic coast. In these times of social distancing, these trips have become more popular than ever!

Ever had a hole in your boat?
Our Z-Pro Tangos are all Grade 3 rapids tested. In ten years of using them, I’ve only suffered one puncture – and it was slow enough for us to manage the whole tour with just a brief “re-pump”. After that we fixed it with a bicycle repair kit.

Tell us honestly, has anyone ever struggled to complete the tour?
I must have taken very nearly a thousand people kayaking on Lake Skadar, so that’s a lot of happy paddlers, but inevitably there’s been the odd problem. I’ve had guests who ignored our Ts and Cs and didn’t say they couldn’t swim until halfway across the lake, one lad who claimed he was negatively buoyant and sent his girlfriend on the trip while he read his Kindle on the beach (he came prepared…). Occasionally kids or more elderly clients can get tired, but that’s when my tow line comes in handy. One teenage girl even feel asleep in the front of my tandem! And of course I’ve had plenty of people who were just not destined to be great paddlers! Our tours are beginner-friendly and often spark a real love for kayaking. The ones who are up for fun usually get better as the day goes on, but every so often there’ll be someone who could be out there all week and not crack it. I pride myself on only ever having had one outright total coaching fail – she was lovely, and knows who she is!

Kids and kayaks, yes or no?
Taking the kids is a definite yes from me and that’s despite the extra snacks! It’s great watching first timers of any vintage really get into paddle sports. Ok, smaller kids don’t actually do that much actual paddling, Mum or Dad take care of that from the back of our tandems – but our younger guests love the swimming and jumping straight off our kayaks into the water. As for the teenagers…they love the swimming and the jumping off stuff into water! The only non-negotiable is that all participants have to able to swim and be at least 7 years old unless they’re really used to outdoor adventures (exception made for my own kids of course).

Is that hat for go or for show?
Kayaking in summer in a hot country like Montenegro, you have to wear a hat, especially if you’re ginger like me – I could burst into flames at any moment!

How do I book?
For guided kayaking day tours, head onto our lake-skadar.com website and book online. Our minimum age is 7 years and you must be reasonably fit and able to swim! To kayak with us as part of a multi-day adventure, choose our Lake Skadar multi-activity holiday or any of our 100% kayaking breaks at www.undiscoveredmontenegro.com.

Watch our video for a virtual kayaking tour at Lake Skadar!

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