- In a nutshell: A world first solo, unassisted, 8 day SUP journey up the Cape West Coast, from Cape Town to Lamberts Bay to raise money for The Lunchbox Fund.
- The adventurer: Chris Bertish, 38, from Cape Town,
- Previous big adventures: History shows that Chris Bertish has big kahunas. In 2001 he won the XXL Swell.com Award for the biggest wave paddled in the world that year. He was the first person to paddle into the legendary surf break at Jaws in Peahi, Hawaii and has numerous Big Wave surfing titles – the most impressive being winning the Mavericks Big Wave Invitational 2010, in the biggest surf in the history of the sport. Not surprisingly, he threw himself into the new sport of SUP with the same daring, becoming, in 2009, the first person to SUP Nellscott Reef, Oregon and, a year later, Dungeons. His pioneering achievements were recognized in the South African Surfing Awards in 2011 when he was awarded the Pushing the Boundary Award.
- Length of Expedition: 323km
- Duration of expedition: 8 days
- Cause: To raise money for The Lunchbox Fund, which feeds hungry children in South Africa.
- Risk of death by misadventure: Very high
- Highlights: Coming within metres of a pod of 23 humpback whales, while paddling through the mist. Sightings of a huge sunfish, shark, dolphins, penguins and countless seals.
Sponsors: Naish, but mostly self-funded
Chris Bertish is no stranger to the Cape West Coast, having taken part in numerous stand up paddleboarding (SUP) races in Cape Town and Langebaan. He has also finished several long distance events, mostly as fundraisers, such as the CANSUP110 – a 110km paddle along the West Coast to raise money for CANSA. Much like an optimistic cyclist working with the rule of three, Chris believed that with this behind him, he should easily be able to handle 323km of SUP along the West Coast.
Actually, this is small fry - or so Chris thought. You see, Chris is currently planning and preparing for The SUP-Crossing, a 3,250km SUP journey across the Atlantic, almost exactly ten times this distance. Surely then, the West Coast would be but a training run... As it turns out, he now reckons that the entire Atlantic will probably be easier than those 323kms were.
The West Coast is well known for good kite surfing and downwind SUP races - and therein lies the rub. Good wind implies lots of wind, and it doesn't always blow the way you want it to. Furthermore, Chris was doing the expedition solo, which meant that just over 50kgs of sleeping and cooking gear, food and drinks, and communications and safety equipment was strapped to his board. When you are the motor, that’s a lot of dead weight!
When the time came to set off on Day 1, the surf at Cape Point was so heavy that Chris would have ended up taking the scenic trip to the reef, so he was forced to launch from Olifantsbos, 5km further on. Again, the surf was pounding, but the beautiful scenery buoyed his spirits and a light tailwind helped carry him out. Soon, the omen of Cape Point was forgotten. Chris set off, paddling for Llandudno, but on trying to come ashore there he realised the surf was too big, so he paddled back and into Sandy Bay. Although the surf was heavy, making his return to shore a challenge, the day went without further hitch, and 39km were dispatched.
A downside of being a one-man operation, was that Chris took a while to do all the camp prep and break up, which meant waking up at 4am to be on the water before 6. On Day 2 he was greeted by howling wind, which fortunately died down but meant heavy seas again. He made it to Robben Island, but two days of paddling in heavy surf had left him exhausted. The island doesn't normally allow stayovers, but Chris was beat. He leopard crawled, pulling his gear, up the beach into the bushes, set up camp amidst a penguin colony and crashed out. Rising at 4am, he was gone by daylight, his fleeting visit unnoticed. ‘To stay overnight at Robben Island was such a treat - not many people get that chance’, confided Chris. ‘It’s something I will remember for a long time. The first two days had their share of obstacles but went fairly smoothly. I knew the worst was still to come.’
Day 3 was intimidating, with 52km planned to Dassen Island, and the wind howled the entire day. Unfortunately, the howling was never behind him, to give that extra push; rather he paddled directly across the wind. With the distance and the tough conditions, it took 10 hours to get to camp, and he arrived exhausted, and suffering from moderate sun stroke and burn, particularly on his corneas.
‘That day is difficult to put into words’, Chris reflects. ‘Only sheer will power, endurance and my never-give-up attitude got me there alive. Paddling over 50km in one day has rarely been accomplished on a SUP, never mind by someone carrying 50kgs of gear onboard, while paddling across a howling wind for 10 hours. I made the island by the skin of my teeth, just before the wind picked up further. It was about as close as it gets. A slightly stronger wind would have prevented me from reaching the island and I’d have been blown out to sea. When I made it to shore, I lay on my board for 20 minutes holding onto a piece of kelp, just recovering and trying to summon enough energy to get to the beach, where I passed out. The warden took one look at me and offered to let me stay and recover. Not that I had time for much rest before heading off early in the morning.’
On Day 4 the elements took another shot at him. With his vision already impaired by the sunburn, he awoke to a thick fog along the coast. ‘Heading out from Dassen Island into the fog was frightening’, he admits. ‘I had no sense of direction, so I had to follow my GPS and hope for the best’. But there was a silver lining. As the fog started lifting, Chris was greeted by a pod of humpback whales, which swam with him for over 40mins while he battled into a headwind. Later, a frustrating sidewind pushed him towards land, and the huge swells that were smashing into the rocky coastline offered virtually no points to exit safely. The 55km to Langebaan turned into the ultimate battle, with the heavy swell making any mistake dangerous. Only barely making it past the treacherous rocks of the lagoon entrance, Chris finally got his first downwind run into Saldanha Harbour, the first and last downwind conditions he would have on almost his entire trip. With his sunburn now at its worst, all the skin peeling off his feet, blisters all over his hands, and his vision almost completely gone, it was time for a rest day.
Day 6 saw him paddling another 50km, past St Helena Bay, and as expected by now, he faced a slight headwind all the way, but the company of his brother, Greg, for most of this stretch was great motivation. On Day 7 the wind finally got the better of him, and after messing up his planned route, turned into an unassailable headwind and then - even worse - into a crosswind that washed him up through huge, life-threatening surf. He ended up stranded, shipwrecked in the middle of nowhere. No roads, houses, food, water or help, just a deserted beach 23km short of his destination. A concerned arrival party received the message that he would not be meeting them at the planned campsite, and that he would be adding 23km to the 33km planned for the final day.
‘It was make or break time. I knew, with the forecasted wind, that if I stopped for food and water in Elands Bay, I would never make it back out again the following day and would be washed up on the rocks further down the coastline. So I made the call, with one energy bar and one litre of water remaining, to paddle the last 56km straight. At first light on Day 8, I set off through the massive surf, straight out to a waypoint 12km offshore that I had set in my GPS. If all went to plan, by the time the devil south-wester picked up, I would be so far out that it would blow me almost directly into my final destination.’
His anti-wind master plan worked, and on the last few kilometres of his trip he even had a tailwind. After thinking they'd lost him on the last night, the support crew arrived in Lamberts Bay to find Chris with a celebratory beer in hand.
It had been a harrowing, but confidence-building experience. ‘For several days I spent hour after hour fearing for my life. I had to rely on all my past experience and knowledge to get me though. But I realised that if I could complete this solo mission with no support boat or help at all, paddling over a marathon a day in the worst elements, living on nothing more than water and freeze-dried food, with all my gear strapped to my deck, then, with a support boat, anything is possible. The SUP Crossing, my mission to paddle across the Atlantic to raise money for the Lunchbox Fund, is definitely possible. Nothing’s impossible, unless you believe it to be.’
Sponsor required for SUP crossing
- The first ever SUP Trans Atlantic Crossing
- A registered Guinness Book of records attempt for the fastest self powered Trans Atlantic Crossing on any vessel
- Fund raising for the Lunchbox Fund (every 50km Chris paddles will feed a hungry child in Africa for a year)
- Endorsed by the Sports Science Institute (the Crossing will be used as a case study for International research & education)
- Carbon neutral project (the project is aiming at a completely carbon neutral footprint, by using solar, bio-diesels, organic products and carbon credits)
Watch the video trailer: http://thesupcrossing.com/