One Shot: Cuba to Florida

Ben Friberg has a penchant for SUP records. Last year he set the record for the most miles covered in 24 hours when he paddled 238 miles straight down the Yukon River. On August 2, he paddled into history again, becoming the first person to SUP from the shores of Cuba to the shores of Florida. Friberg, 35, covered the 111 miles from Havana to Key West in a grueling 28 hours and six minutes. We caught up with the Chattanooga, Tennessee musician to get the scoop on burning 9,800 calories in one go, dry heaving in stiff headwinds and his first wobbly steps back on American soil.

SUP mag: How are you recovering?
Friberg: My feet are still tingling but I’m doing good. I’m getting a little stronger every day. I’m going to paddle today.

SUP mag: How do you feel it went?
Friberg: It went great. The whole experience was phenomenal. We spent four days in Havana. It was almost literally a touch and go trying to beat Dorian, that tropical depression. We ended up taking a gamble hoping we got a break in the weather. We could have waited longer and I would have gotten a better window over the next day but the Cuban people put a lot of resources and energy into the international press conference on Thursday. I kind of put my own agenda aside and left earlier to give the meaning of the crossing to the Cuban people. That was important.

SUP mag: How was Cuba?
Friberg: It was super rad. It has phenomenal cuisine, architecture, art, music and history. The people there have beautiful personalities. The water clarity is like what you see in Hawaii. It’s an aquarium surrounding the coast. I’m a huge lover of jazz music and if you go to a beach there you’ll have numerous ensembles going from group to group with an upright bass and a guitarist and some sort of percussionist and maybe a trombone and they’re playing songs that are changing keys and changing tonality and they’re poly-rhythmic. That’s their folk music.

SUP mag: What kind of preparation went into your trip?
Friberg: I try to stay very well organized so when you start growing close, you’re not thinking through things, you know what to do and when to do it so there’s no decision making. A big mission is not routine, it’s not like a 15-mile paddle. If someone’s going to do a super long paddle like a 24-hour distance, they should do something like that before. You need to understand how your body is going to work. What are you going to consume after six hours? At 12? Do you want gloves? If the gloves get wet will you get blisters? You need to be prepared psychologically. You don’t want surprises.

SUP mag: Surely there were some surprises. What were they?
Friberg: It got pitch black out there. The moon didn’t come up until after 2:30. We had five-and-a-half hours of complete darkness. It was very choppy during those first five hours and you can’t read the chop in the dark. Your legs can handle it as it comes in but your stomach can’t. I was getting pretty close to vomiting and we were only in the first thirty minutes of darkness. I was really concerned. I dry heaved for about a minute and kind of stayed in down dog for a while and let my stomach chill. Everything was good then.

SUP mag: How were those unanticipated hours?
Friberg: I was mentally prepared for 40. I think it could be done in 17 hours. I spent 12 months studying that channel. You never know how variables are going to play out until you get there. If somebody wanted to beat my time, I’m stoked for them.

SUP mag: What was the hardest part of the paddle?
Friberg: The hardest thing, if I had to pick, was when I was dry heaving for that one moment. I don’t vomit or dry heave from physical exertion so that caught me off guard for sure. That was a cause for concern. If you vomit you’ve lost all the calories you’ve earned. Out there you hate your Camelback, you hate the people on the boat that are telling you it’s time to eat. If you throw up you need to figure something out.

SUP mag: You looked a little shaky upon your arrival, how was it to hit solid ground after 28 hours of being on your feet?
Friberg: I was just really stoked to be done with the paddle. It’s a great feeling. I was really happy for my team. It’s not just me out there. Everybody has their own life and they’ve taken the time out of those lives and it’s an honor to be a part of that. Everybody has a job to do. Your job is no more important than the captain or the navigator. I was happy for our team to have a successful crossing. The Garmin said I burned 9,800 calories on the paddle. Mostly, I was looking forward to my stomach settling and getting some real food.

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