On Tuesday, June 21, just before 9:00 p.m., Bart de Zwart stepped off land at Keokea Bay on Big Island. Five days later, just before sunset on Sunday evening, he took his first steps on ground again at Kalapaki Beach on Kauai. He took 215,000 paddlestrokes to navigate his 14-foot stand-up board on what he called the “ultimate crossing,” a 300-mile journey.
He crossed three open-ocean channels, the last 72 miles from Oahu to Kauai. He encountered side winds. Rain. Big swells. Seasickness. Waves flipped him four times in one night, as he rested on an air mattress strapped to his board.
“It’s probably the hardest thing I ever did, and I won’t do it again,” he told HawaiiStream minutes after stepping on land again.
Some people suggested to his wife Dagmar that he might qualify for the Guinness Book of World Records. “But you need at least two witnesses and Bart is paddling by himself,” she told Dennis Fujimoto of The Garden Island newspaper.
Bart made his voyage solo. He did it non-stop, only taking breaks at night. And he did it unsupported. No support crew followed him in a boat. No one tossed him food. No one re-supplied his water bottle. No one shouted encouragements to him when his 28-inch-wide board flipped.
He packed on board an EPIRB, GPS, compass, map, flares, VHF radio, cell phone, water maker, back-up paddle, extra paddle shaft, two wetsuits, an inflatable mattress, camera, freeze-dried food, nuts, dried fruit, granola bars, liquid sports drink, liquid recovery drink, electrolyte drink mix, water—and chocolate.
But why? “The answer is simple, I think,” he wrote on his blog. “Sometimes it is good to do something difficult and hard in order to appreciate life, people, food and all the things around you we often take for granted. And I love to challenge myself and I love the adventure, being very close to the ocean for 5 days is an experience everybody should have once in their life. Maybe not necessarily on a 14 foot SUP this way though. And, it is in the Hawaiian culture. Hawaiians have been using their outrigger canoes since thousand of years to reach all corners of the pacific. They used simple canoes and the sun and the stars for navigation, amazing the distance they traveled. To really understand, you have to experience yourself.”
What is it about stories that move us? Do you cry at movies? How about when the dog was rescued drifting a mile off Japan’s coastline three weeks after the tsunami earlier this year? Some things just touch your heart. For their daring, their generosity, their accomplishment. Bart’s story touched me. I cried when his wife Dagmar wrote on their blog, “Tom [the ‘weatherman’] predicted that he [Bart] can make it by midnight. I know my Bart, he goes for landfall before dark. He is putting everything he has left over into that goal.”
Bart’s is not the first such heroic paddling accomplishment.
In 2008, big wave surfers Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama pedaled their bikes across each island and, then, hopped on a stand up board to paddle to the next island and repeat their efforts—from Big Island to Kauai. Laird and Dave set out on their adventure as a means to raise awareness of autism.
As I write, Roz Savage is rowing the length of the Indian Ocean solo, after rowing the Atlantic and Pacific in previous summers. She is doing so to raise awareness of our oceans and, in particular, the plastic floating about in them.
And, of course, there are those brave Hawaiians that Bart mentioned. They braved thousands of miles of open ocean with no GPS, no compass, no sextant. Just stars, sun, moon and birds, fish and wind to guide them. No one really knows why—be it wanderlust, famine or disease. But their accomplishments—in heroics, intelligence and technology—have been compared to strapping someone in a capsule and rocketing them to the moon.
Stories are like that. Some you like. Others not so much. Some make you cry. Other stories you can’t get through the first 50 pages. So, what is it about Bart’s story that got me?
Maybe because I’ve had a small taste of paddling from one island to another a few times, albeit sitting down. Maybe I was feeling melancholy when I read the newspaper article. Maybe I was moved by the audacity. Or the discipline. Or the support by his wife and child.
I suppose it's as simple as shopping. When I was in Hilo for the Merrie Monarch Festival, my girlfriends Nicki, Monica, Cindy and I went shopping. In Honokaa, Monica and I bought the same shirt—in different colors—but Nicki and Cindy passed. In downtown Hilo, Cindy and I walked out with the same skirt, but Nicki and Monica passed. Nicki bought a pair of earrings. I thought they looked nice on her but not nice enough on me to buy a pair. Tastes. What I like someone else doesn’t. What moves me doesn’t move someone else.
Even so, I’m guessing you’ll be a bit moved by Bart’s story. Maybe not as much as I was but moved all the same.