Last week we reported that Chris Bertish, after attempting to break the 24hr SUP Open Ocean Distance World Record, had to abandon the challenge due to horrendous weather conditions, the onset of hypothermia and a pack of sharks circling his Paddleboard. Intrigued to find out what it was like out there in the cold dark waters off South Africa and what other adventures Chris has got planned, we managed to interrupt his busy schedule and grab an interview with the accomplished waterman.
For those of you who aren’t fully aware of Chris Bertish, he is an extremely down to earth and driven individual who sets himself a goal and does whatever it takes to achieve that goal, no matter what challenges and obstacles are in the way. Chris has a list of accomplishments as long as his SUP paddle, including being the first person to SUP and Surf at many of the worlds most extreme spots, being the winner of the 2010 Mavericks Invitational and also holding multiple World Records.
We are pleased to say that we were able to get in touch with Chris and were able to hook up and put a few questions to him, to not only find out what happened during the 24hr world record attempt, but to also find out what makes him tick and what other plans Chris has in the pipeline.
Firstly Chris, Thankyou for taking the time to speak to Surf Report and secondly we would like to say how sorry we were when we heard the the 24hr SUP World Open Ocean record had to be abandoned – What was it like out there, It seemed so perfect when you set off?
It was pretty exciting, a few frustrating elements to deal with and when dealing with the 200 km of coastline known as the Coast of Storms there are always unpredictable elements in the forecast that we have to contend with. It can often, when the conditions look ideal, change over the course of six hours and things can look very different. We had anticipated the weather remaining steady with a light south easterly, right through until around 10am the following morning and a weather report we received that evening also confirmed a gentle 5 – 15 knot south easterly, which is exactly what we wanted and how conditions had been for the last five days. Within five minutes of getting that report a localised low pressure system came in and pretty much slapped us straight in the face! This gave us wind in the opposite direction at about 18 knots, which wasn’t forecast at all, but we tried to battle it out, but you are never going to break any world records in that strength of headwind. We tried to battle it out for an hour or so and eventually turned round in the opposite direction to try and go with it, but the sea state was really bumpy and lumpy and our speed dropped quite dramatically. The fog bank then set in at about 1am and we really couldn’t see anything making it really quite unsafe to continue. We then had a problem with the smaller support boat that was being used to stay quite close to me in the fog, it ended up taking on water and then sinking. I also started to be surrounded by sharks. After paddling for 2-3hours in the low pressure conditions and the fog, it made me very wet and cold and I started getting mild hypothermia and started to get seasick and started to throw up.
That sounds horrendous and no fun at all, what was it like paddling in total darkness? It must have been disorientating?
It’s not actually too bad, obviously a bit of a problem when the wind changes direction from the previous five days and the sea state changes, but the worse part was the fog that came in. Even in total darkness you still have a horizon and can get a sense of left and right and up and down just from the stars and natural light, but when the fog set in it created a completely different element that I have never experienced before. I did experience some fog during the English Channel crossing, but the conditions remained flat and calm, whereas on this particular coast, it is never flat.
So how are you now? A challenge like this must be so draining both mentally and physically? How do you bounce back?
To be honest, I don’t really take a lot of time off from these kind of things! We finished up at about 4am and headed back in to harbour and I gathered up my stuff, I guess it was about 8am when I headed home. I had about 5 hours sleep and then carried on with work from home for the rest of the day, I never really stop or slow down, but I am trying to take off a weekend this week to try and catch up a little bit. Now it is a matter of debriefing and seeing if there was anything that went wrong and if there is anything we can learn from this attempt. We learnt a lot on the first attempt and implemented all the changes we thought we could improve on and looking back on this time round, I don’t think we could really improve on anything. The only thing we had an issue with, that dramatically affected the outcome was the weather and is unfortunately the one thing we cannot control.
Will you be attempting to beat the 24hr Open Ocean record again? – Somehow we think you will?
It is possible to get the record, but you need the right conditions and in the stretch of coastline I have tried to do it in, it has been crazy difficult to get the conditions you need through the night and into the following day. The biggest difficulty is not completing the 24 hour paddle it is finding the conditions to attempt the challenge in.
Any of these kind of challenges and records, involving support boats, people documenting the challenge taking photos and video and having the PR team along it becomes really expensive and hard to balance everything and a lot of people to coordinate to find the right time to pull the trigger. Unfortunately you cannot just call it on, on the day, which would be ideal.
Is there any chance you may consider a change of destination to attempt the record again?
We are currently going into winter now, with shorter days and longer nights so we will be putting the challenge on hold until November/December time to make it feasible again. We might look at doing it 1500km up the east coast in Durban, where the water is warmer, the air temperature is warmer, the nights are shorter and the forecasts are hopefully a little bit more predictable.
In the past you have had some dealings with the UK, not only setting the world record for the fastest channel crossing on a Stand Up Paddleboard but also paddling the River Thames from source to sea – Have you got any plans to head back to the UK?
I am doing a lot of motivational and inspirational speaking all over the world, and if I get more opportunities to speak for companies in the UK, then I will definitely plan to do more trips and challenges over your way. Logistically and because of the expense of moving projects over to the UK it can prove quite a challenge financially, but I always enjoy coming over and doing stuff in the UK and hopefully will be able to do a launch of the book and film, that we have been working on for about 5 years. As with a lot of fringe sports in South Africa, it is very difficult to get financial support and you have to fund or subsidise your sport yourself.
You also seem to have so much going on, as well as the 24hr Open Ocean record, you are also on standby for the 2015 Mavericks Invitational, fitting everything in must be so hard?
You are absolutely right Mat, in fact this challenge the second time around has been a bit of a problem for me – the first time round I got my training out of the way and started training for the Mavericks event, but it is very tricky when you are trying to juggle being competitive at a top end event and aiming for a world record. The two different sports require two completely different training sets and to be competitive at that level is extremely difficult, they are complete polar opposites in regards to training.
Can you see Mavericks going ahead this year with only 5 weeks left of the waiting period?
You know Mat, that is a really difficult one to call, when I won in 2010 it ran in mid February, the event has previously run in the beginning of March, but with only 5 weeks left, we will just have to wait and see, you never know, and that’s what’s unique about this sport. We as athletes are dealing with the one thing that isn’t constant, the weather. Whereas other sporting disciplines can set a day that they will be able to complete the event they are trying to do, we are completely reliant on the forecast, the weather, the waves, the ocean and the tides. You never know what is going to happen and they will run an event on the day you least expect it or on the one day when there is something you absolutely cannot miss!
The 24 hour SUP challenge is not only about you trying to beat a World Record, it is also about raising vital funds for Miles for Smiles, obviously a Charity very close to your heart?
I try and get involved with foundations that I believe are doing good things and are a really good cause. I believe it is important to be able to give back and we are very fortunate growing up in an environment where we have everything and everything works, and a lot of people take that for granted. Sometimes it is great to bring attention to that and remind ourselves that it is important to give back and help others whenever we get the opportunity. If I can raise money for Miles for Smiles and Operations Smile (which is a charity to pay for operations to help those born with cleft pallets and cleft lips), it will put a smile on their faces and change their lives forever and I couldn’t think of a better reason for backing a project like this.
We see you have a new book called “Stoked” coming out in August, What can we look forward to and will it give us a sense of what makes a great waterman like yourself tick? Will you be detailing some of your achievements like winning the Mavericks Invitational and what it was like paddling over the top at Dungeons for the first ever time?
There is a lot of the inspirational stuff in there, it seems like people find the whole story pretty inspiring, from my childhood growing up and how I developed into doing the different open ocean sports that I did and deciding that I wanted to get into bigger surf and how I did that and how I developed my own training techniques. I set a goal for myself, stayed focused and never gave up until I achieved it. It was a 10 year goal in the making and I think a lot of people don’t realise how long and how much determination it takes to be able to follow something for ten years without loosing sight of it. Especially trying to make a name for yourself and to break into an event that is incredibly hard to get into, let alone get the opportunity to take part and even win it.
The nice part about it is, I have made a lot of mistakes in my life but I believe a mistake is only a mistake if you make it twice, so its all about life lessons and what you take from each mistake and how you apply it to your life to make you evolve and grow. There are a lot of my mantras and life lessons in there that will hopefully help other people overcome their own obstacles and help them get to achieve their hope and dreams as well.
It sounds like it is a book for everybody, not just Surfers and Paddleboarders? People outside of the watersport community will gain something from the book?
That has always been the mission and the movie is definitely that way, we have tested the movie out with a whole load of focus groups and with people who have never seen the water before or have never surfed and the strongest feedback we have received is from the non surfers, who really enjoyed it. That’s when you know you have a powerful story when even though it may be a surfing story, people can watch it from all walks of life, whether they are young or old, surfers or non surfers, paddleboarders or non paddleboarders they can still really appreciate and find the story powerful and inspiring.
Finally, What’s next for Chris Bertish? Obviously you will be smashing the 24 hours Open Ocean SUP record before long, but what else? Any outer reefs you have your eye on or an other World Record’s that take your fancy?
There’s always a whole lot of stuff going on and there is project we are looking at for this winter called The Big Five Open Ocean Project, which is to surf, stand up paddleboard and hydro foil on five previously unsurfed reefs out here, that are all between 2 and 15 miles offshore. I am currently trying to secure funding to do this, and all these projects require a lot of logistics and planning. It is nice to push the boundaries of your sports and I’d like to be able to ride these reefs on three different crafts, which would make it very unique and different!
Well, thank you so much for your time Chris. We wish you every success with the next challenge, good luck with the Open Ocean 24 hour record later in the year and we look forward to getting out hands on “Stoked” in August. Keep us informed on the next project and let us know next time you are in the UK.
Thank you Mat and thank you very much for your time.
So there you have it, an insight into what it was like paddling in the fog and the dark off of South Africa and we are excited to hear about The Big Five Open Ocean Project and wish Chris success in this next challenge. Even in the half hour conversation I had with Chris, it struck me he is extremely focused and driven and carries himself with a captivating calmness and is very humble in his achievements. Just chatting with him, I don’t think it will be long until Chris claims the 24 hr SUP Open Ocean Distance World Record or anything else he sets his mind too.
To find out more about his work as a motivational speaker, to follow many of the other projects he is involved in and to see more about the book Stoked, take a look at the Chris Bertish website here.
All pictures courtesy of chrisbertish.com