Stand Up Paddle boarding – aka SUP – is one of those sports no one heard of a year or ten ago. Now it is one of the hippest boarding sports in the scene and kickass adventure are being undertaken. A good example is the recent crossing of the Bass Strait – the ocean between Australia and Tasmania – by SUP.
The Bass Strait is considered one the world’s most treacherous bodies of water and has often been compared with the Bermuda triangle due to the disappearance of ships and boats in its icy antarctic waves, gusts of unpredictable wind and shallow depths. The Bass is actually twice as rough as the English Channel and at 150 miles quite a bit bigger.
In spite of this all two Australians and one American paddler decided they wanted to become the first people ever to cover the roughly 150 mile stretch (250km) by Stand up Paddle board (SUP).
The Bass’ exposure to the Southern Ocean and shallow depths routinely cause problems for sailors on even the largest vessels. Yet world champion paddleboarders Zeb Walsh (Victoria, AUS), Jack Bark (Palos Verdes, CA) and Brad Gaul (Sydney, AUS) crossed the Strait standing on boards while using only their hands and arms to power their 12′ Bark Commanders.
“This is our Everest,” explained Walsh. “No one’s ever done it before. I guess it’s almost like pioneering the adventure paddle…we’re the guinea pigs to see how hard it is and if it can be done.
The three are all world class SUP paddlers and each of them has won their division in the world-renowned 32 mile (52km) Molokai-2-Oahu Paddleboard World Championships also known as the “channel of bones”. Brad Gaul won the Unlimited Paddleboard class in 2012 & 2013, Jack Bark took the Stock Paddleboard title in 2012 and Zeb Walsh was the Stock Paddleboard Champion in 2013. So all three are very familiar with rough seas and long paddles. Something they were definitely going to need in this “Everest SUP Challenge”
“It’s a formidable piece of water, it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s a challenge, you just don’t know what you’re going to get. I think taking Bass Strait on in a big boat is a challenge… to take it on with a paddleboard where you’ve really got no protection; your really on your own out there, it’s a huge undertaking.” —said 2013 America’s Cup Champion Jimmy Spithill
In planning for their adventure, the three decided the Surftech 12′ Bark Commander stock paddleboard would be the best board to take them across the Strait. Zeb and Jack had paddled Commander prototypes in the Molokai-2-Oahu races and Zeb won the 2013 32-mile Catalina Classic on the Surftech 12′ Bark Commander.
“We went with the stock board because even though they are a little slower than the UL, they are a little easier to handle when you’re beat up after 4-5 hours of paddling,”explained Walsh. The stock board is proven in all conditions. The 12ft length gives it the ability to fit in all different types of bump and chop. The board’s stability and size let’s it work well in the flat water, as well as massive open ocean waves, such as in the Molokai race. Because it’s only 12 ft, it takes less power to push compared to an unlimited, which will allow the boys to paddle it day after day with less fatigue than on an 18ft board.”
The trio left Wilsons Promontory in Victoria on February 25 and arrived at Cape Portland in Tasmania’s north-east about 6:00pm on the 4th of March.
The boys had paddled legs of up to 70 km a day, often hampered – as predicted and anticipated – by the Bass’ Strait’s notorious weather conditions. To deal with long stretches like that they switched between kneeling and lying on the boards.
“I’ve taken most of the skin off my knees though, so that’s not feeling awesome,” Walsh said. “Paddling in the head winds, your hamstrings really tighten up, so when it gets too much you lay down and paddle. But then your traps and your neck sort of get sore, so you’ve just got to keep mixing it up.”
In between the paddling sessions the boys camped on islands along the way.
“We copped a lot of head winds, the winds weren’t as favourable as we thought they were going to be,” Walsh continued. “It was like a constant race every day just to try and beat the tides so it’s definitely lived up to its name as a gnarly piece of water.”