In December, South African waterman Chris Bertish will attempt to paddle a modified standup paddleboard more than 4,500 miles across the Atlantic Ocean in the world’s first-ever solo transatlantic SUP crossing from Morocco to Miami.
If he’s successful, Bertish will spend over 130 days alone on the open ocean, paddling around 30 miles a day as he battles rough seas, near-constant sun exposure and rapidly changing tides.
For reference, the last person to attempt the feat — Frenchman Nicolas Jarossay — had to be rescued after almost dying a week into his journey last year.
“The whole project came about because I’ve been involved in numerous different water sports from a young age,” Bertish told GrindTV. “And I got into standup paddleboarding fairly late as a cross training tool for surfing.”
Bertish, who won the 2010 Mavericks Surf Contest, said that while he initially used SUP as a means of staying in shape for surf season, he soon became infatuated with the sport.
“I began paddleboarding in big waves and doing downwind paddleboarding, and realized how versatile the sport was,” said Bertish. “I set a few world records doing that, and realized I could do adventures of more than 200 miles on the open ocean if I could find a way to get myself out of the sun.”
Before long, Bertish dreamed up the idea of completing the first transatlantic SUP crossing.
Over a three-year period, Bertish imagined a way to not only make the gargantuan task happen, but to make it profitable for a few different charities, becoming an ambassador for Operation Smile, Signature of Hope and the Lunchbox Fund.
The waterman wanted to find a way to turn his record-setting trip — which he’s titled “The SUP Crossing” — into something that could provide continuing benefits for the three nonprofits, so he set up a website to solicit donations for the organizations, and hopes to raise $25 million by 2020.
“I’ve set the whole project up as an annuity fund that will pay out a dividend every month,” said Bertish. “The goal is to feed a minimum of 10,000 kids each month, pay for a cleft palate operation every week and to build a school every year for the next decade.”
After determining how he would use the trip for charity, Bertish set about preparing for the actual journey.
“For the past four months I’ve been paddling 50-80 miles a week,” Bertish told GrindTV. “I’m also still surfing on the side and going to the gym and surf training, but ultimately there’s only so much you can do to prep for a trip like this.”
Beyond physically strengthening himself, Bertish has been eating everything in sight so that he can add about 15 pounds of extra body weight to help offset the weight he’ll lose over the grueling, multi-month excursion.
And Bertish says the hardest part of the journey isn’t going to be the physical aspect, but rather the mental.
“The logistics of training for something that has never been done before, and doing it on a craft that’s never been built before before gives you a crash course in project management on a massive scale,” said Bertish. “The hardest part of it all is just getting to the start line, really.”
Bertish says that by being in the open ocean for such a long period of time, it won’t be a matter of if he will get caught in a rough storm, but rather how many storms he will get hit by and how he will get through each one.
“You have to have a backup of all your essentials so if anything fails the entire mission isn’t derailed,” said Bertish. “So you need backups of your water desalination unit, your satellite communication system and your satellite tracking system.”
“You need to be able to read wind instruments, so you can constantly be forecasting the conditions,” said Bertish.
“You’re always making changes to your route plan,” he continued. “You have to be checking your battery systems to make sure all the tools have power and that your solar panels are working properly.”
And to complicate the mental chess match, Bertish will be going through all those motions while paddling a craft loaded with over 800 pounds of equipment, food and water and battling emotional fatigue from being alone all day.
But, if he’s successful, Bertish will make a huge difference for countless children.
“As much as I love surfing and paddleboarding, they’re quite individual sports,” said Bertish. “But with this, I get to inspire people with what I’m doing. I have the capacity to help thousands of people. It’s amazing to potentially have that kind of impact.”
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