Chris Bertish Sets New World Record

Bertish heading downwind and to his record. Photo: Brandon Kilbride
Bertish heading downwind and to his record. Photo: Brandon Kilbride

Chris Bertish Sets New World Record

Chris Bertish has a penchant for punishment. In the past year the 39-year-old South African charged a 320-kilometer paddle and completed a source-to-sea run-paddle-bike descent of the Thames River in England in three-and-a-half days with a English Channel SUP crossing added as a bonus to himself. Now he’s unofficially set the world record for 12-hour open ocean paddling off the South African coast near his home, covering nearly 130 kilometers in that time in great downwind conditions. The record was previously held by an American at 120 kilometers. We caught up with Bertish to get the inside scoop on his grueling achievement.
—Will Taylor

What drove you to try and break this record?
I’d been working towards a 110-kilometer paddle for the past two years now, leaving from Cape Town’s V&A Harbour to Langebaan Lagoon up the west coast, which I believed was possible. I had done it unassisted over two days at 70 km and 40 km, but never in one go. When I started researching the distance more, I found out there was an existing world record of 120 km in 12 hours. I thought, I might as well give the world record a try. You never know whats possible unless you give it a try.

Why did you choose that particular route?
It was an open ocean route from very close to where I live in Kommetjie which has great, consistent breeze and (was) almost straight down the rhumb and wind lines, almost start to finish. Also leaving from here, I was hoping it would keep us just far enough out into open ocean that we would be outside of the city’s, mountain ranges’ and Table Mountain’s wind shadows, which worked perfectly. Most of the time we were 15-25 km offshore.

Timed and stoked. Photo: Kilbride
Timed and stoked. Photo: Kilbride

How was the process of making sure the record was official?
Four GPS’s, three time keepers, two photographers, one videographer, one GoPro on 5 second intervals for 12 hours straight. It was a logistical nightmare to get it all together on the day. I think I went to sleep at 1:50 AM and was up at 4 AM getting everything prepped and checked for the day.

What was the most challenging part of this expedition?
The logistics of organizing everything myself and being the athlete doing it was super intense. I learned a lot relying on my team as I normally do these projects by myself. I got the green light (from Guinness World Records) 18 hours beforehand made sure everything was ready. I had double back ups of everything and still half of the digital and GPS units failed; thank goodness I always plan for the worst.

How did this compare to your last South African expedition?
Less life-threatening, as this time I had support, which was awesome. I could push it as far as I wanted to and knew I had backup. It was more a mental endurance event for me this time round, just getting the distance, keeping my average speed up and not having many breaks to change hydration packs, GoPros etc. I think the longest break I had while doing these changeovers was one minute, 50 seconds. Considering you’re going for 12 hours, it’s pretty remarkable. I’ve never been so shattered before, every muscle and bone in my body ached. For the 10 days after my body was totally broken.

Offshore oceanic traffic. Photo: Maleen Hoekstra
Offshore oceanic traffic. Photo: Maleen Hoekstra

What was your favorite moment on the paddle?
Paddling with the Humpback whales and dolphins and definitely when I got to the 120km world record mark. I wasn’t 100% sure at one stage whether I was going to make it as I got mild hypothermia and lost feeling in my hands and feet.

It seems like you’re always doing some hardcore mission. What do you do when you’re not training and planning?
I don’t really have any down time, as I still run my small business full time and give motivational talks both nationally and internationally, while trying to train, stay balanced and work on the next adventure. I have just hung up my paddleboards in the garage for the next three months while training for the Mavericks Invitational, as I am still a defending champion, so I need to focus on specific training until the event runs. My fiance’s pretty understanding, but wishes I would just chill and relax a bit more. She’s amazing.

What’s next?
I have so many adventures and projects planned through January 2018, I just wish I had sponsors that helped me financially. It’s always difficult putting together all these projects out of my own pocket, even when they are raising awareness for good causes/charities. It just blows my mind what projects I would be doing if I really had backing. The projects I’ve done are just the tip of the iceberg of whats possible. A main sponsor would really help me go beyond what most believe is humanly possible. I’m really stoked to have had some assistance this year from Clif Bar, who have really helped wherever they can, but a main sponsor makes all the difference in making bigger projects happen.

What’s the status on your Atlantic crossing?
Still trying to get funding/sponsorship. It’s not easy out there.

For more info on Bertish check out his website.