Paddle for Prevention: Ryan Fulton’s Australian Odyssey

Last November, Ryan Fulton, 28, started paddling south from the Gold Coast of Australia to raise money and awareness for heart disease, the number one killer of Australians. 35 days, 1,296.8 miles, and over $10,000 in donations later, he stroked into Melbourne. We wrote him to find out how it went.

SUP mag: What inspired your trip?
Fulton: After the passing of my father from a sudden heart attack at 46, my mum suffering from a heart attack, then both of my grandparents passing away from heart disease, I decided to look into it to see if I should be worried if it was hereditary. I found out that heart disease was the number one killer of Australians and that heart disease is 100 percent preventable with a healthy diet and regular exercise. I thought I would try and do my part and get the word out there and hopefully help to change a few lives. A friend of mine suggested doing (the trip) on a SUP. I told him he was an idiot and that his idea was the stupidest thing I have ever heard. I slept on the idea and the next morning I thought that it is the fastest growing water sport in the world, it is easy for anyone to get into, and it is fun for all ages. That was it, everything was set in motion. I quit my job and the planning began.

SUP mag: How long had you been SUPing for?
Fulton: I had been just a casual SUPer for about two years. I had never owned my own board until about two months prior to the trip. I had just borrowed from friends or SUP demo locations.

SUP mag: Had you done touring trips before?
Fulton: Never. The longest I had paddled was down the Currumbin River and that took about two hours round-trip. As the date got closer I did a few longer training runs from Coolangatta to Byron Bay.

SUP mag: What was the most challenging incident of the trip?
Fulton: The first day. I was trying to get my legs to stop shaking and get over the nerves. I really struggled that morning. I couldn’t stand up; my body was ready but my mind just didn’t want to go. It was a tougher day mentally than I expected but once I got through that first day I knew everything was going to be OK.

SUP mag: What was your longest day?
Fulton: The longest day paddling was coming into Sydney. I had done my usual weather reports and the morning I left from the Central Coast of New South Wales a storm was headed my way. I wanted to be in Sydney for the weekend so I crammed two day’s worth of paddling into one to beat the storm. I paddled about 87 km (54 miles) in just over 14 hours. That also happened to be the day of my first shark encounter. It wasn’t quite the frightening experience I had been building it up in my head to be.

SUP mag: How was the response as you paddled down the coast?
Fulton: I met a lot of great people during the trip, from paddleboarders to others that didn’t even know what a SUP was until I got them onto mine. I had fishermen pull up next to me out on the ocean and ask if I was lost. After explaining what I was doing they changed their questions to, “Had I lost my mind?” The overall generosity of people in the cities and the small towns that I stopped overnight at were amazing. Everyone wanted to be a part of it somehow, from donations to food to accommodation. It was one of the things that kept me going: just knowing that people were watching, listening, and hearing them tell me that I had helped to motivate them in some way, big or small, to change their lifestyle for the better of their health. I can’t explain the feeling that gave me.

SUP mag: What was your favorite part of the trip?
Fulton: I had the privilege of a police escort through Sydney Harbor past the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House, but the reception I received as I paddled into Merimbula on the final day of the Merimbula Classic was one-in-a-million. The final leg of the journey coming through Melbourne was just the icing on the cake.

SUP mag: What was the most unusual thing that happened?
Fulton: I had just finished the day’s paddle and was down near Phillip Island in Victoria. As I was bringing the board up the beach, an old local guy came running up to me and asked what I was doing. He seemed quite concerned. I told him I had come from the Gold Coast and he still had this look on his face like he had seen a ghost. “So you’re not from around here then?” I explained again what I was doing and his next comments will stick with me for the rest of my life. “Do you realize where you just were? I work on a fishing boat and we don’t even take the boats over there. You just came through the biggest Great White Shark breeding grounds on the entire southeast coast of Australia. Let me shake your hand because you should be dead floating out there on that thing.” He just walked away from me when I told him that while I was having lunch, my feet were hanging off the sides of my board.

SUP mag: What was the worst moment of the trip?
Fulton: I was really lucky. The first 15 days of the trip I had perfect NNE winds pushing me down the coast and I started to get worried that the journey would look like it was easy. Then I hit the South Coast of New South Wales near Ulladulla. I hit 2.8 meter (9-foot) seas and a pretty strong offshore wind. I probably should have taken a rest day. The local marine rescue guys told me not to go out but my stubbornness wouldn’t let me stop.

SUP mag: Any peculiar challenges?
Fulton: As bad as this sounds, sea sickness was something I had to get over really quickly. While I was standing and paddling I was fine but when I sat down for a rest or a food break it hit me bad. The first week I had to pack double the amount of food just in case.

SUP mag: Are you planning another long-distance challenge?
Fulton: A friend of mine wants to paddle north from the Gold Coast and see how far we can get in a weekend. I’m also looking at crossing Bass Straight at some point in 2013. It has never been done before on a SUP. While I’m in the mood for completing first-time attempted journeys I thought, “Why not?” I will also have another friend of mine coming with me.
It’s part of my life now. I enjoy a good surf session as much as anyone but I have the adventure bug now and I want to see how far I can push it while I still can. I would really like to paddle the Arctic Circle one day or the North Island of New Zealand to the South Island. And there is always Molokai.

For more information check out Fulton’s Facebook page, Ryan’s Paddle for Prevention.

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