THREE world records in five months: the first official source-to-sea journey down the River Thames, the fastest SUP crossing of the English Channel and then, to top it off, the SUP 12-hour Open Ocean Guinness world record.
Chris Bertish (39) from Cape Town. In 2009 Chris was the first person to SUP Dungeons and a year later, Nellscott Reef, in Oregon. In 2012 he set another world first with his solo, unassisted, eight-day SUP journey up the Cape West Coast, from Cape Town to Lamberts Bay to raise money for The Lunchbox Fund.
August 2013, Source to Sea: 345km in 4.5 days – Run/SUP/Cycle: world first and current world record
August 2013, English Channel Crossing: 38.1km in 5 hours 26 minutes: current world record
December 2013, SUP 12-hour Open Sea World Record 130.1km in 12 hours: new Guinness world record
Cause To raise money for The Lunchbox Fund which feeds hungry children in South Africa.
Risk of death by misadventure Moderate. Dodging tankers in the fog of the English Channel was a risky business and his SUP 12-hour record saw him dealing with sunstroke, exhaustion and hyperthermia while paddling 25km offshore.
Source to Sea: Experiencing the changing faces of the River Thames as it grew from a tiny trickle to a vast, busy, commercial river.
English Channel Crossing: Seeing the White Cliffs of Dover.
SUP 12-hour Record: The full moon at the start, pods of humpback whales, dolphins and seals and setting a Guinness World Record.
Main Sponsors Clif bar, Island Tribe and GoPro, but mostly self-funded.
Last year, world-class Big Wave surfer and Stand Up Paddle boarder Chris Bertish spent eight days battling the elements on his way to a world first solo SUP expedition up the Cape West Coast, raising funds for The Lunchbox Fund. This year he went one (no, make that three) better…
A work trip to Europe last August saw Chris planning a new adventure, Project Code Red. ‘I’ve always been excited about code-named, classified undercover operations,’ he explained, ‘those stealth missions that require operatives to be on call to go anywhere, anytime, without notice. So I decided I would create my own.’ This would involve the first ever-official Thames River source-to-sea adventure, followed, if conditions were right, by a crack at the record for a SUP crossing of the English Channel, which stood at 5 hours 38 minutes.
Starting at the plaque that marks the river’s ‘official’ source in the middle of a field in the Cotswolds Chris, battling with a knee injury, managed to run for 21km to Cricklade where the Thames was just deep enough to put his SUP in the water. He jumped onto his board (loaded with food and water, navigation and emergency gear) and paddled 90km a day for three days and nights (portaging his gear through over 37 locks) to the SUP finish point at Putney Bridge where he took to his bike, hoping to ride the final section through the City of London to the finish at the Thames Barrier, in one go. It was not to be. Night closure of the Central London Thames Path and numerous bike malfunctions delayed his progress and he finished a day later than that he had hoped. But he still managed to set the world record: 4.5 days to complete the 345km challenge.
Being Chris, he didn’t rest on his laurels. Despite having had only 9.5 hours sleep in 5 days, he packed up his bike and drove to Dover, arriving at 1am. After prepping his gear and snatching a few hours sleep, he headed out to the White Cliffs of Dover. He planned to cross the Channel at its narrowest point, a distance of around 33.8km (21 miles), but the massive tidal range and delays to allow three ships to pass meant he strayed from the most direct route, covering a distance of 38.5km in 5 hours and 26 minutes. Nonetheless he had broken the record by 12 minutes: Project Code Red was done and dusted.
‘I wasn’t planning on doing the adventures back to back,’ admits Chris, ‘but the weather window was so good that I just had to go for it. Sometimes in life you only get one opportunity so you have to be ready any time to take it. You can always find excuses for why you can’t. But you need to focus on one reason why you can and then just give it your best shot and make it happen.’
And Chris has a reputation for pulling out the stops. Even before he took up stand-up paddle boarding he was one of South Africa’s most accomplished sportsmen. 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 in to 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!
Two world records in a week. Not bad. But Chris wasn’t finished yet. Next on his hit list was the SUP 12-hour Open Ocean Record, which stood at 120km. Chris calculated that if he picked the right day and conditions he would have the south-easter at his back, which would assist him in paddling over 10km per hour for 12 hours straight: enough to break the existing record of 120km in 12 hours. Guinness Book of Records gave him a three-week window in December 2013, to complete the challenge. Wind conditions in the first half of the month were good, but the swell wasn’t running in his favour until December 17th when a decent wind of around 10-35 knots was coupled by zero ground swell – almost perfect conditions for his record attempt.
The plan was to start two kilometres off Slangkop (Kommetjie) and follow a straight line some 10-25km offshore past Cape Town and Robben Island and then straight up the coast to Langebaan, 120km to the north. As with surf skiing, downwind SUPping involves catching the swells, linking runs and letting the ocean do much of the work. That’s all very well when you’re fresh but after an hour or so, fatigue sets in, runs become difficult to catch, and it all becomes incredibly hard work.
Chris got off to a great start. As he started paddling he was surrounded by humpback whales, which followed him for the first 10 minutes of the journey. The wind was 10-20 knots, which was enough to set a blistering pace of 13.8km/h for the first four hours. The wind dropped off slightly for a couple of hours before re-building to a lively 20-35knots but seventy kays into the paddle Chris entered the crisis zone as mild hypothermia, sunstroke and exhaustion took their toll.
‘The seas were wild with massive waves and a three-metre wind chop,’ Chris recalls. ‘I was no longer asking, “how far have I gone?” but “how far do I still have to go?”’ The wind-chill off the cold sea lowered his body temperature and he lost feeling in his hands and feet, so had to add layer upon layer of neoprene to stay warm. And he started craving proper food. Fortunately, after forcing down high protein shakes, biltong and Clif bars he got a second wind and continued on for the final 50km phase. The going was tough; he was fighting cramps and his power was waning, but he was still on target for his goal of 120km in 12 hours.
After 10 hours and 53 minutes Chris passed the 120km mark – the new world record was his. But his plan was to paddle for 12 hours straight, so he dug deep and pushed on to Saldanha, adding another 10.1km to the journey to set a new Guinness SUP 12-hour record of 130.1km.
‘The day I set the record I had a rising full moon, pods of pilot and humpback whales, schools of dolphins, giant ships, a 30-knot breeze, 12-foot seas, fatigue, sunstroke and hyperthermia. It was sheer bliss. I was stoked, and what I achieved was far beyond my greatest expectations. What more could you ever want in one day? The pain was temporary; but the memories of that day and my Guinness World record certificate, will last forever.’
As with his previous world-firsts, these epics were in aid of Lunchbox Fund, which supplies hungry children with school lunches, generally the only meal they eat in a day. Supporting this cause is huge driving force for Chris who insists that life’s about giving back wherever you can, no matter whether it’s a little or a lot.
Incredibly these feats are only one tiny part of the busy life of Chris Bertish. Far from being a professional athlete, he has a full-time job running his own company and travelling the globe as a motivational speaker. The dogged Bertish epitomizes the characteristics that separate true adventurers from the rest. He’s driven, focused, determined and resilient. Chris never gives up and has an extraordinary ability to remain positive and flexible when the going gets tough. He lives up to his mantra ‘Follow your dreams. Nothing is impossible, unless you believe it to be. There’s no such thing as failure in life, only the failure to try.’
SPONSORS REQUIRED FOR SUP CROSSING
IN A NUTSHELL
• 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 be 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) www.thesupcrossing.com
Watch the video trailer: http://thesupcrossing.com