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Man Crosses the Atlantic On a Stand-Up Paddleboard

South African surfer Chris Bertish spent 93 days paddling 4,050 miles between Morocco and Antigua

Chris Bertish at his finishing line in Antigua (Brian Overfelt for The SUP Crossing)
smithsonian.com

Yesterday, South African big-wave surfer Chris Bertish became the first person to cross the Atlantic via SUP. Don’t understand the acronym? Then you haven’t been hanging out at the beach for the last decade. Stand up paddleboarding (SUP) has become a well-established sport, with enthusiasts using long paddles to power specialized surfboards they stand on. While it’s become a big fitness and recreation trend, Bertish has taken the sport into the realm of adventure, paddling his highly modified board 4,050 miles from Agadir, Morocco, to Antigua over 93 days, reports Jamie Grierson at The Guardian

Colin Dwyer at NPR reports that the 42-year-old South African surfer undertook the feat to help raise money to build schools in his native country and to support charities that help pay for cleft lip and palate operations. As of yesterday, his odyssey has raised $490,000.

The journey was no trip to the beach. Bertish’s $120,000, 20-foot-long paddleboard, dubbed the ImpiFish, was a solar-paneled board that included satellite weather forecasting gear, GPS, an autopilot system, satellite relays to the internet and a tiny cabin where he slept at night. Over the course of three month, reports Dwyer, he ate the same prepackaged food day after day. He encountered sharks, bad winds, giant waves and loneliness. Near the Canary Islands he faced storms for several days, and seas so rough that his paddleboard was constantly swamped. He believed it might sink.

Though his board was custom engineered for the trip, it still had big problems. “Everything that could possibly have gone wrong, went wrong,” Bertish told John Clarke at The New York Times in February. “It’s been constant stress.”

He had to improvise fixes for 12 different parts of his craft. He also tore a rotator cuff, which he now needs surgery on.

But, he tells Clarke, the trouble was worth it as he made his way into Antigua’s English Harbor at dawn. “The sky was really fierce and ominous,” he says, “But then the sun peeked its way through with this incredible gold and black beaming through the clouds. It was just beautiful, and it was just me in the middle of it.”

Antigua, however, was not his original goal. Clarke reports that Bertish set out planning to end his trip in Florida. A low pressure system and potential bad weather convinced him to opt for the shorter route along the way.

Grierson reports that Bertish paddled an average of 44 miles per day. He also set the single-day SUP record by paddling 71.96 nautical miles, almost double the previous record, at one point.

It's a record not likely to be matched anytime soon. In January, 2016, a Frenchman named Nicolas Jarossay attempted the first transatlantic crossing on a paddleboard following three years of preparation. After one day on the water, however, the rudder line of his board snapped and he was set adrift. He was later rescued and treated for hypothermia.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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