Mike Martin - Sea Kayak Guide

I grew up on the Orkney mainland, surrounded by sea, coast and islands.

Read more about Mike's journey as a sea kayak guide

Orkney Seascapes and Early Adventures

I was born in Kendal in Northern England but my family moved to the Orkney Isles when I was young - it was a childhood spent on these islands that really got the sea ingrained in my imagination. As an eight year old child walking along the epic cliffs and open beaches of the Orkney mainland (with a mad Bearded Collie and my dad) it was hard not to be so heavily influenced by the power and beauty of the sea, sky and land. The Orkney seascapes are so changeable and fascinating that to explore on foot is only one aspect of the landscape - a big part of me wanted to be out there on the waves looking in at the land.

We moved back to England when I was at the start of secondary school and although we lived close to the sea it was the rivers of Northern England and the Lake District that held more of a draw and I explored them in a white water kayak, competing in slalom competitions and honing my skill on white water.

I started to gain qualifications and training in Outdoor Leaderhship once I left school and got my first taste of sea kayaking by joining expeditions to Shetland and the Uists but it was now rock climbing that took up most of my time. Like a lot of young climbers I was obsessed with mountains and grades and I pushed myself to climb more exciting routes in summer and winter. The Epic nature of Scottish winter climbing drew me in and those memories of brittle ice, avalanches, partnerships, joy and suffering really helped define the true meaning of the word adventure for me.

Sea Kayaking Beginnings

Looking for a new career I joined the Royal Marines, but unfortunately I sustained an injury late into commando training and never gained the coveted green beret. Thrown back into the world I was a bit unsure what to do next. I randomly saw an advert for a live-in hotel job and moved back to Orkney - at the same time randomly getting the chance to buy an old sea kayak - it was just meant to be!

I'd always known that I'd spend a lot of time on the sea at some stage in my life and from that moment on my years have been a hybrid time of land and sea. I've now spent hundreds of days in sea kayaks exploring Scotland's magical coastline - and there are still many more miles left to explore (Argyll alone has more coastline than the whole of France!).

The Magic of Sea Kayaking

Those early days of sea kayaking on Orkney are hugely important memories for me - using all my kayak handling skill from white water and my honed sense of risk and reward from winter climbing allowed us to push our kayaks into Orkney's challenging seas - the fast tides and constant wind that charachterise sea kayaking in the islands. For me the adventure was always present and we used the experience gained from each trip to paddle a little further or into a little rougher water each time.

Although I have a huge level of knowledge, skill and confidence in a sea kayak nowadays its always good to look back on those early days of uncertainty and doubt and remember that process of adventure, exploration and learning that brings such joy and meaning. I look at my clients and students and recognise those little glimmers of joy when they master a skill, explore somewhere new or feel in control of their kayak in a big landscape - even if that joy simply comes from being a few metres from shore or from being in a big tidal race - there is real magic from being out on the sea in a kayak.


Mike is a BC Advanced Sea Kayak Leader and an advanced water performance sea kayak coach.

1st Class Honours Degree in Adventure Tourism Management.

*Adventure CV

I've spent my life outdoors and active, here are a few random highlights -

  • Getting lost on the highest peaks of the Isle of Rum (age 8).
  • Sea kayak circumnavigations of: Skye (8 days), Shetland (6 days), Orkney mainland and Southern Isles (7 days), The Uists (7 days), Barra and Mingulay (7 days), Mull (3 days), Islay (3 days).
  • I've stood on top of the Old Man of Hoy.
  • I've paddled and guided clients along some of Scotland's most dramatic coastline - with 9 visits to Shetland, a few more to Orkney and many more to the Hebrides and West coast - I've got a good knowledge of sea kayaking in Scotland, but with many more places yet to explore.
  • I'm half way through the Munro's and counting (282 mountains in Scotland over 3000 feet high).
  • I'm one third of the way round the Scottish mainland coastline, having paddled from Mallaig to Inverness over 11 days. Hoping to get all the way round in 2 more trips at some point soon.
  • I've climbed in winter all over the Highlands - one of my first routes was the classic Grade V Ice Climb - Point Five gully on Ben Nevis. It was so inspiring that I became obsessed with Scottish winter climbing for a couple of years (until I saw sense!).
  • I've done over 500 rock climbs in Scotland and the Lake District - up to E2 in grade, but my favourites are long easy mountain routes.
  • I cycled the North coast 500 and Hebridean way before they were even a thing! (and I had the whole North Coast to myself).
  • In my spare time I like to get out on a bike of any sort - from TT to moutain bike, or go for a run or swim - I've done a few triathlons including Ironman Wales and the Celtman.

Take a look at some of the trips that Mike guides

Full list of our Sea Kayak Expeditions and Courses