BBC presenter and naturalist Steve Backshall and his rowing partner Tom McGibbon (both UK) have officially set the record for the fastest time to row the length of the Thames by double canoe/kayak with portaging (Teddington lock)

In under 24 hours (starting at Lechlade Bridge, located in the city of the same name at the southern edge of the Cotswolds, 68 miles west of London), and arriving at Teddington, the British adventurer kayaked his way along the Thames. 

The duo began their attempt on Tuesday 8 August 2023, and completed it in a total time of 20 hr and 29 min, crowning several months of training and relentless dedication. 

The record set an unprecedented first, too, breaking the minimum with hours to spare.

"This was one of the hardest things either of us have ever done," Steve declared after the record-breaking feat.

Because we were looking for a fast time to break the record, we never let up, never took a rest, just pushed on through even when we needed support eating. The crew could force food into our mouths! Twenty hours is a long time to paddle hard… - Steve Backshall

Steve rowing

"Tom and I trained for the race by paddling each section of the river in turn, getting to grips with its twists and turns, especially the bits we would be doing in the dark," he explained. 

"This didn’t stop us from getting lost several times at night, and very nearly paddling over a weir, which would have been bad, as well as into a dead tree!"

Moreover, not everything went as initially planned: "We planned on paddling in August to make the most of day length but then we had a miserable day, pouring with rain all day long, and with a strong headwind." 

At one point, I had to stop to change my clothes, because I was getting hypothermic in August!

Steve’s great passion for discovery and pushing his boundaries led him to become a thrill-seeker, educating his TV audience on the world's wildest and most marvellous secrets - a passion that eventually led him to this one-of-a-kind adventure. 

In 2016, he married British professional rower, two-time Olympic champion and member of the Great Britain Rowing Team, Helen Glover. 

“My wife Helen is an Olympic athlete, but is away on training camp at the moment, so sadly couldn’t help or support," Steve said.

"Instead, I had an incredible team, made up of professionals, kayakers, expedition leaders, and old friends. They kept us going all through the night, fuelling us up and keeping our morale up."

Aged 50, Steve has always been passionate about wildlife and exploration.

Best known for his naturalist shows, since 2003 the TV presenter has mainly worked for the BBC’s Natural History Unit. 

He is well known to be one of the presenters of the successful CBBC Deadly... wildlife documentary programming. 

The series, with several books and spin-offs, was announced in 2009 and is still ongoing across different media. 

Throughout his career, Steve has also written several wildlife guides and embarked on many exciting adventures across the globe – all the while voicing out the importance of biodiversity, educating future generations on the respect of the environment and the protection of different species. 

Steve rowing with Tom

Other than his long TV presenting career and many adventurous highlights, in 2011, Steve was also awarded two BAFTAs:

  • Best Children's Television Presenter
  • Best Factual series

His continuous efforts to raise awareness around the topic of marine conservation, as well as his advocacy for a more sustainable planet, perfectly align with the theme of Guinness World Records 2024, which will hit shelves in September 2023 with the theme ‘the blue planet’.

Steve was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2020 New Year Honours, receiving the honour for his services to charity and wildlife conservation. 

This record is huge for us. We both watched Record Breakers as kids and dreamed that one day we'd break a record of our own. I never thought it would take me this long! - Steve

Tom and Steve at arrival

A very similar record, the fastest time to row the length of the Thames by single canoe/kayak (Teddington lock), was set in 2021. 

Between 28 and 30 May 2021, it took Matthew Harvey (UK) a total of 2 days 9 hr 33 min to complete the feat.

This record differs from the one broken by Steve because of the portaging – in other words, the act of carrying the boat over land, around an obstacle or a non-crossable stretch of water, until it can be returned to navigable waters. 

It is often preferable to portage rather than using locks, as it wastes less water and is more sustainable. 

Both Matthew and Steve’s records took place on the tidal part of the Thames, which runs for 68 miles (109 km) starting at the mouth of the river downstream from Teddington Lock, located in west London. In total, the two parts of the river (tidal, which is subject to tides, and non-tidal) unravel for an impressive 215 miles (346 km).

The overall longest river in the world is the Nile, in Egypt, spanning a whopping 6,695 km (4,160 miles) in length.

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