Marine life abounds on the watertrail from Catalina to the mainland. A lone dolphin joins the paddle party somewhere mid-crossing.
Marine life abounds on the watertrail from Catalina to the mainland. A lone dolphin joins the paddle party somewhere mid-crossing.

Catalina Conquest: A 40-mile SUP Expedition For All The Right Reasons

by Rebecca Parsons

On August 18 Ron Hoffmeyer, Jeff Hughes, and Austin Hughes departed Avalon, Catalina, against a backdrop of dark skies and twinkling lights with their sights set on Dana Point, California some 40 miles across the open Pacific. They departed the beach at 5:10 am and paddled for 11 hours and 9 minutes, nowhere near a record-breaking time for the course.

Their mission was never about achieving a noteworthy endurance feat or adding their names to a record book. It was about supporting environmental education and an organization they whole-heartedly believed in: Dana Point's Ocean Institute.

The Ocean Institute (OI) was founded in 1977, originally under the name Orange County Marine Institute. The Institute is a non-profit organization that brings in 250,000 visitors annually, many of whom are brought on scholarship through the Institute's "Adopt A Class" program. The Ocean Institute's mission is simple: "Using the ocean as classroom, we inspire children to learn."

Students of all ages are invited to partake in whale watching cruises, hands-on labs, living history experiences, and environmental education programs.

Visitors of the Ocean Institute getting a hands-on tutorial in ocean conservation.

Hoffmeyer was first connected to the OI as a paying customer before he began volunteering for the organization three years ago.

"I see the inspiration that many children receive through their experiences at OI," Hoffmeyer says. "To me it is a one of a kind charity. It combines the oceans, children, and all the creatures that live and rely on this environment."

Hoffmeyer comes from an endurance background and has run a number of marathons, completed distance bike rides, and summited Mt. Rainer and Kilimanjaro. Six years ago he was introduced to standup paddling and began discussing goals with close friend, Jeff Hughes. They decided the crossing from Catalina to the mainland would be next on their hit list. They recruited Austin Hughes for a third partner and trained for three and a half months leading up to the event, paddling short paddles on weekdays and lengthier paddles on weekends. Two weeks before the paddle, they completed a thirty-mile paddle and were ready to take on the long haul.

On the morning of launch, the paddlers gathered on the beach in Avalon, their friends and wives ready to accompany them on a support boat. They spent the first 15 miles hammering with considerable headwind but eventually the conditions turned in their favor. The next eight miles were calm and the following ten the wind was at their backs. The final seven-mile stretch proved to be more challenging, but nothing they couldn't handle after months of training.

"The paddle was exactly what we all expected because we put in the time training," Hoffmeyer says. "We knew how we felt over time as we stepped up mileage from 10 to 16, 16 to 20, 20 to 25, and 25 to 30. We learned how much we were going to need to eat to keep the proper amount of energy going."

Hoffmeyer and crew near the end of their 40-mile journey. They raised $15,000 for the Ocean Institute along the way.

After 40 difficult miles, the trio rounded the entrance to the Dana Point harbor where they were greeted by friends, family, and of course, Ocean Institute staff and volunteers. So far, the paddlers have raised over $15,000 for the Institute through their GoFundMe page. Their efforts will allow more children in underprivileged areas to visit the Institute as well as further support OI's ongoing educational programs.

At age 56, Hoffmeyer may be the oldest man to have completed this crossing, but he's awaiting a response from the Guinness Book of World Records to confirm.

"It isn't really important to me," Hoffmeyer says of the record. "But if it can get more attention for OI, so be it!"

Clearly, these guys are paddling for the right reasons.

Check out the mission’s GoFundMe page.

More paddling with purpose:

Challenging the Devil’s Isle: A racer’s perspective on Bermuda’s 40-mile fundraising race

Descending 300 kilometers of India’s Ganges River for a cause