TransWorld SURF’s Mimi LaMontagne chats with Hurley’s Jodie Nelson who just completed a stand up paddle from Catalina to Dana Point—a distance of over 40 miles—to raise money and awareness for breast cancer, a disease that, as it turns out, man, woman, or child—we all have a personal stake in.
TransWorld SURF: Your mother and aunt have battled breast cancer, so you're obviously passionate about it. But what inspired you to do this particular thing? What or who gave you the idea of paddling for the cause?
Jodie Nelson: Honestly, it was God. My friend has been battling breast cancer for 11 ½ years, and I've been going to her appointments and chemo with her, and I was just sick of not being able to do anything. Kind of just watching, not doing. She was kind of at that point where she didn't know if it was worth it. The point where you are in so much pain, and have been for so long, that it seems like you just want to give up. She really is the most amazing woman I've ever known in my life. I just wanted to fire her up to keep going and keep fighting. Just to show her how much she means to me and so many others. And it started there, plus then yeah, my mom's a survivor. My aunt's an ovarian cancer survivor. My good friend Megan's sister is battling breast cancer right now at a hospital in New York. Just all those things, and then just I needed to use my body, myself, to go out there and raise awareness and funds and ultimately get my friend fired up to keep fighting. That's where it all came from.
How did you prepare for it training wise? Did you do anything special?
Yeah. I trained a ton actually. We documented everything and it's on www.paddlewithpurpose.com. I've been training for a long time, just doing a lot of distance. Every other day I do 7-10 miles on the SUP. I also go to the gym and worked out at this place in Laguna Beach called the Sports Performance Institute—they did paddle specific training with me. And I'm also rehabbing a broken foot from October; I haven't even been surfing really. I broke two of my metatarsals and dislocated two. It talks about that in my first episode on the website. So just been rehabbing that, and using stand up paddling to get back to where I need to be for surfing.
How did you hurt your foot?
Haha—stand up paddling. I was on my SUP on like a one-foot wave, and I stepped off my board and it was shallower than I expected. Basically, I just broke my foot in half. But anyway, I would do 7-10 miles every other day. And then once a week I would do a big paddle. I started off with 18 miles and the following weekend did 20, and then the week before the big paddle I did 30 miles. Just kind of doing that and going out in really bad conditions, just trying to train on everything, trying to prepare myself in that way. Only did the 40 miles once. Probably the only time I'm gonna do that.
During the paddle, what was going through your head?
I was listening to a lot of music. It was just beautiful out there. I did the race last year, part of the first women's team of two stand up paddlers to do the event last year. And it was really bad conditions last year—a pretty horrific experience. And so, leading up to this, you can't predict the weather. It could have easily been the same kind as last year, which was horrible. South wind, could only paddle on one side. Couldn't see the mainland. This year, the conditions couldn't have been any more perfect. I woke up at around 4:15am and got out on the water at about six, started paddling about 6:15, and I could see the mainland. I was paddling in the dark, but the light was starting to get brighter. We like to paddle with a little wind at our backs, makes us go a little faster. And that ended up happening later in the day when the wind switched. And then just you know, I try not to freak myself out. I didn't want to know how long I'd been going, I didn't want to know how far I had gone or how much further I had to go. So I just kinda told everybody on the boat not to tell me anything like that, but just to make sure that I had 250 calories an hour.
So they gave you food while you were paddling?
Well you can't even eat. You can't chew. You're body does not want to work any harder than it's already working. So you have just special electrolyte drinks. I was doing Emergen-C, part of my campaign. You can't just have regular water, it'll just go right through you and you'll get dehydrated. Then to eat—it's not really eating. You just have this gooey stuff, and you just have to put it in your mouth and wash it down with water. You're basically fighting back throwing up the whole time.
You paddled with a whale at one point. What was that like? Scary?
I did. For almost two hours! His name is Larry. I named him. He was my friend, we're gonna be friends forever. He freaked me out, a lot. It took my breath away. He was messing with me. He was right next to me, under me, in front of me, behind me. He was going all over, blowing up bubbles, it definitely took my breath away. I tried getting used to it, but then I'd look down and see him and he'd be flipped upside down underneath me and I'd see his whole white underbelly and I'd be like, 'I know that's Larry, but what if it's a great white?' I'd start playing these scenarios in my head. What if? What would I do? Then I'd start getting worked up again. Then he'd come up, actually touching my board with his tail, my paddle, and I was like ‘This is not normal behavior. Why is he doing this? There must be a great white under there.’ And he was like trying to protect me or something. He would blow these big bubbles and if you go on the Web site, there are pictures of him blowing these huge bubbles right next to me.
He was just getting in my way a little bit. I was like, 'I'm on a mission here!' and I was trying to enjoy the moment, it was a long moment, almost two hours. But I also had a mission, and it was taking a lot of energy away from me to be having this gigantic animal next to me. And it turns out he's a Minke whale, that is super rare for our waters. And all the marine biologists and tripping out, the American Cetacean Society hasn't seen footage like this of a Minki whale since the early 90's in Australia. The story keeps tripping me out more and more, because it was all totally a God thing. I just lost one of my best friends and business partner March 11, he had an aortic aneurism. And he was my coach on the boat last year, he was supposed to be my coach this year. And it was just super hard not having him there, and then to have all these things happen. I mean, I'm trying to raise $100,000 and I reached out to a few of my celebrity friends and I was like ‘I don't need my celebrity friends—I've got Larry the whale!’
How long did the whole thing take you?
It was right about 9 hours. I think it was 9 hours and 1 minute.
What was it like when you finally got to Dana Point?
It was overwhelming and super emotional. You know, I was glad it was over. To see all the support that was down
there, it was just crazy. It so is not about me, and it's not about glory of fame, I don't want any of that. It's all about being able to help my friend Angela out and bring awareness to breast cancer, educating. Bringing support to Keep A Breast and Boarding For Breast Cancer, I love what both of them do. They normally don't work together. It's just so neat to bring everybody together for the same cause that affects so many people.
Whether you're a girl or a guy you've either been affected yourself, or it's your mom, your sister, your cousin, friend, wife. If you're a guy you can still be affected with breast cancer, too. A friend of mine just emailed me last week and told me his wife just got diagnosed three weeks ago, and she's only 31. She had to get a double mastectomy and the oncologist that's working on her has an 11-year old girl with breast cancer that is one of his patients. It's just crazy. I wish there weren't those stories, but as I put myself out there more and more people are sharing their stories with me. Cancer is a big thing. The parallel with this paddle was it's a big thing. No woman had ever done it before, and it was big and super intimidating. And I wanted to show that the fights not over. We can still fight cancer. And it is big, intimidating, and scary, but we can still fight it. And that's why I want to help these two foundations get funding so they can continue doing what they do.
So now that it's over, are you going to be doing anything to continue the effort to fight breast cancer?
For sure. When this whole thing started I wanted to document the whole thing because that's kind of what I do with my TV hosting and stuff. I love storytelling, just getting a story to make sense to your grandma, who knows nothing about stand up paddling or surfing or whatever. You know? So we're gonna continue telling this story. We're working on a ½ hour television show edit we're putting together, we're gonna pitch to Discovery Channel and Oxygen Network and a few other different networks. And we're also gonna edit a short film documentary out of all our raw footage. And we're gonna do some premieres with that, and use that as a fundraising tool. And the boys that have been working with me on this would really like to enter it into a few film festivals just for fun. So we're gonna continue doing this thing, and there's been a lot of other stand up paddling business and whatnot that have come forward that would like to once a month or something do a paddle class for people, where all proceeds go towards the cause.
Your saying all these people, and the boys, did you put your team together yourself or did your sponsors help you?
I don't have any sponsors really. I came up with the idea, I'm not a professional surfer anymore, I don't claim to that at all. I do marketing, TV hosting, I work closely with Hurley all the time. They're like family to me; I've been a part of that company for a long time. But you know, I came up with this idea and I basically told Keep A Breast it would be great if I could get a little help to be able to document all of this and help pay for some of the expenses and stuff like that because I'm not rollin' in dough right now. But what ended up happening, they pitched it to Emergen-C, and Emergen-C gave me a small budget and then I put everything together on my own and worked within that budget. But we haven't spent a ton of that money because Crows Nest Yachts came in and sponsored the boat and they wouldn't let us pay for gas. We decided to pay for our hotel in Avalon and pay for dinner the night before and a couple small things. Sports Performance Institute, they sponsored me, they didn't charge me or anything because everybody knew that every penny we didn't spend on that budget was going directly to the cause, into the donations. It's been a pretty awesome experience.—Mimi LaMontagne