SUP athlete is first to paddle from Cuba to U.S.


Photo courtesy of Ben Friberg; bottom images are video screen grabs

Ben Friberg, recalling last week’s historic 111-mile paddle from Cuba to Florida, explained that nighttime was the most difficult period.

Because it was pitch black for more than five hours, before the moonrise, but mostly because of bouts of seasickness in choppy seas, which generated a prolonged period of dry heaves and made him afraid to eat.

“Your legs can handle it as it comes in but your stomach can't. I was getting pretty close to vomiting and we were only in the first 30 minutes of darkness,” Friberg recounted to SUP the Magazine, in a story posted Wednesday.

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“I was really concerned. I dry heaved for about a minute and kind of stayed in down dog for a while and let my stomach chill. Everything was good then.”

Everything went remarkably well, in hindsight.  (Friberg is producing a documentary about his voyage. The trailer is posted above.)

Friberg, 35, a musician from Tennessee, covered the 111 miles from Port Hemingway, Cuba, to Key West in 28 hours, 6 minutes. After stepping off his board dehydrated and on wobbly legs, he had become the first person to standup paddle (SUP) from Cuba to Florida.


Swimmers have tried to span this channel for years, but jellyfish stings forced them out of the water.

Friberg, who last year set a record for most miles paddled in 24 hours (238 miles on the Yukon River), had only chop and stamina to contend with during a SUP odyssey in which he was shadowed by a support team aboard an escort boat.

He guarded against sunburn by wearing long socks, a long-sleeved shirt, and a long-billed cap.

Along the way, standing most of the time but also kneeling in periods, he burned an astonishing 9,800 calories.


The crossing, he had said, was intended “to promote peace and understanding between Cuba and the U.S.”

Friberg spent a year studying the channel and handling logistics before choosing Aug. 1 as a launch date.

He paid close attention to the weather before the outset, and though he endured patches of rough weather, the crossing for the most part went smoothly.

In fact, he said, the biggest issue was the queasiness, because had he actually begun to vomit, he’d have lost too much energy to continue

“That was a cause for concern,” he said. “If you vomit you've lost all the calories you've earned. Out there you hate your Camelback, you hate the people on the boat who are telling you it's time to eat. If you throw up you need to figure something out.”

Afterward he was thankful to everyone involved, including his father, who was on the support boat.

“I was just really stoked to be done with the paddle,” he said. “It's a great feeling. I was really happy for my team. It's not just me out there. Everybody has their own life and they've taken the time out of those lives and it's an honor to be a part of that.

“Everybody has a job to do. Your job is no more important than the captain or the navigator. I was happy for our team to have a successful crossing.”

Undoubtedly, other SUP athletes will try to paddle the channel in a faster time. “If somebody wanted to beat my time, I'm stoked for them,” Friberg said.

Hat tip to Sup the Mag.