Dock Tales: Jon Byrne
You may have noticed Jon zipping around The Royal Docks on his OneWheel. He runs one of the friendliest businesses in the area, a watersports centre on the edge of Royal Victoria where he encourages people to enjoy the health benefits of the great outdoors. Here’s Jon with his Dock Tale…
“There are two golden hours during the day here, sunrise and sunset.
Sunrise on the docks is absolutely stunning. If you get a clear day and you look down towards the east and see the sun just cracking through beneath the bridges down by city airport the whole area glows golden – you can’t beat it. Though no disrespect to sunset. We’ve seen some amazing sunsets too with the water reflecting, and amplifying the colours of the sky.
Every single day I thank my lucky stars that the docks are part of my commute. When I drive the safety boat across the water to set up for the day it’s an amazing feeling to think hey I’m not on the tube and I’m not stuck behind my laptop. Here, when you look down the dock you have so much headspace and feel like you can breathe more. But life wasn’t always like this.
Around 2014/2015 I was working in sales so I was out doing a lot of networking and I met a chap who invited me to come along and check out this ‘little wake park.’ I originally said no, but then I started coming regularly to wakeboard and I found that I was getting so much nourishment socially, physically, and for my mental health. Compared to my busy stressful sales career, I really enjoyed hanging out, coaching people how to wakeboard and I was blown away by this small sense of community that we were building. I was amazed that this could be done in London because it can be a very faceless place for a lot of people.
I’m a really big believer in the healing power of water. Time spent in and around the water or, even spectating has a very calming influence.
Over the next year, I traded in my career and went full-time, at the centre. Fast forward and here I am running it under my company. I’m a really big believer in the healing power of water. Time spent in and around the water or even spectating has a very calming influence. It doesn’t matter where you are from in London or what you do for a living. The water is such a great leveler. People come here, they take their shoes and socks off, they get in the water and everyone’s the same.
We have two arms of the business The Oiler Bar which is the hospitality side of things, and the water sports at Wake Up Docklands. The easiest way to describe wakeboarding is that it’s like snowboarding on water. You’re being pulled just like you are in waterskiing but there’s no boat, instead we have two straight-line cables. One of them is suited to beginners and the other is for more advanced riders so there are jumps and slides and you can do flips, spins, and tricks. We have all the equipment and instructors that can get you from zero to hero very quickly.
On the paddleboarding side, you can book for an instructor-led session where we teach you basic paddle skills and take you on a tour of the docks or, you can do our two-hour accredited course which allows you to go out on your own.
We call newcomers VIPs. Getting people out on a paddleboard for the first time or wakeboarding and seeing them absolutely light up when they’re standing on the water is fantastic. My favourite spot is taking paddleboarders just by the Sunborn Hotel. If you’re lucky you see a red London bus and a red DLR cross over The Expressway as you’re looking back towards The 02 and Canary Wharf – and if you get a plane in shot as well, even better!
I get goosebumps thinking about some of the activities that we’ve delivered for our adaptive sports athletes. There’s a chap who had been blind since birth and we got him wakeboarding.
I get goosebumps thinking about some of the activities that we’ve delivered for our adaptive sports athletes. There was a chap who had been blind since birth and we got him wakeboarding. That first introduction and getting him on the water blew us all away and reduced some of us to tears.
We’ve also had school kids whose teachers thought they should stay behind at school because of their physical disability and we’ve actually got them on the water with the help of a lot of skilled staff. Then we’ve received feedback from the school that those kids are now more animated in class, they’re making more friends, they won’t stop talking about the experience and that’s something that’s really touching.
I also have this idea that instead of being prescribed medication by your GP for things like anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions, what if you were prescribed coming down and doing water sports? We would love to do something like that.
Life-changing lunch breaks
There are so many more water sports activities that we could potentially bring to the docks and offer here. Before our clientele was mostly from the city and Canary Wharf but this year we’ve gone hyper-local, encouraging residents to get involved. So if they’re walking or jogging passed we’ll invite them in to have a look, and perhaps organise a one-hour session during their lunch break.
Our Hawaiian Beach Bar Byrney’s is the beating heart of the centre. Even if you’re not doing water sports you can still chill out, enjoy the vibes and watch the action. During the summer we also have bbq facilities and have been known to throw some very memorable Caribbean seafood evenings. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to drink the water in the docks however we do sell it on tap at both The Oiler Bar and the beach bar in the form of our own branded beer called Dock Water!
A few years ago Royal Victoria hosted a stop on the APP World Tour. It was really impressive to see some of the world’s best watersports stars mingling with the likes of us here in the docks.
World-class athletes have even joined us. A few years ago Royal Victoria hosted a stop on the APP world tour and some of the biggest names in paddleboarding like Red Bull athlete Kai Lenny came down. It was really impressive to see some of the world’s best watersports stars mingling with the likes of us here in the docks.
We now live in an age where this area is mostly dedicated to recreation. We’ve got much cleaner water than there’s ever been here in the docks. Every day you look around and you see these large cranes that used to be loading and unloading cargo from vessels that were docked here - the history of this place is everywhere. You can’t get away from and I often think how hard it used to be for people to earn a living here. It was dangerous, some got injured and lost their lives but now we’re out here enjoying it in a much more serene and peaceful manner. We’re very fortunate and we’re very aware of that.”
Tempted to give watersports in the Royal Docks a try? Wake Up Docklands re-opens for the 2021 season in April.
For more info head over to www.wakeupdocklands.com. You can also hear from Jon or ask him a question at our Dock Tales online event on November 30th. Book your free ticket.
Interview by Momtaz Begum-Hossain
Images: Jon’s profile by Emma Nathan
All other images supplied by Wake Up Docklands
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