Exclusive: Robert Norman on Setting the 24-Hour Distance Record

While the majority of mainstream media focused on Chris Bertish—the man currently propelling himself from Morocco to Antigua in an attempt to complete the first-ever unsupported Atlantic SUP crossing— last week another massive precedent was set for standup paddling. Robert Norman, a Florida paddler with a penchant for breaking records, officially set the new Guinness World Record for longest distance paddled in a 24-hour period. Norman completed the feat on a three-mile course on a lake in Florida, shattered the previous record by more than 12 miles and officiated it with the Guinness Book with a finishing distance of 111.8 miles. We caught up with him soon thereafter to get the inside scoop on how it all went down. –MM

What were your motivations going into the attempt?
It was all personal. I've been interested in the record since I first started paddling. At first it was like, 'Ah, man, I'll never be able to do that.' Then over time as I got better at paddling, the prospect slowly became a reality."

What kind of equipment were you on?
My board is a 2014 production unlimited by Starboard. It's 17'6" by 23" and only 213 liters, so it's a very low-volume shape designed for smaller paddlers. I'm about 135 pounds so the board fits me like a glove; I only had to do about 32 strokes per minute to maintain a speed of about 5 miles per hour the whole time. It's very efficient.

Tell us about the course and conditions.
We didn't have ideal conditions going into the attempt, but the date was set so we got what we got. The daytime hours of the event were pretty windy. The course consisted of a three-mile lap around the lake, so there was wind from every direction. When I set the course up with Guinness they wanted it to be a lap system so you never gain an advantage for too long.

How hard was your average pace?
I was going about 80 percent of my normal race pace on this unlimited board. I usually go around 10-minute miles for six to ten miles, and with this I was averaging about 12 and 20 seconds per mile for 24 hours.

Did you ever reach a breaking point? How did you power through?
Physically there was no point that I hit where I had to stop, but mentally it got tough at points. The hardest stretch in terms of mental fatigue came in the darkness at around 2am (about 14 hours into the attempt), and honestly I countered that by just upping my caffeine intake a little bit.

How was the recovery?
The day of and the day after I was walking around like I just had spine surgery. About two days later I was walking around normal and I was able to function. It took me about five days until I started paddling again.

How did you go about making the record official?
I joke that certifying the event with Guinness is harder than actually paddling for 24 hours, ha! It starts with an application request with Guinness. From there, you can either hire Guinness to come attend the event or you can submit a meticulous list of details that satisfies their requirements. That’s what I did, and we documented everything from the event. The record is actually still pending approval—it could takes about 10 weeks to review—but based our the math there’s no question. It just takes time to process.

Any plans for more records moving forward?
If somebody beats my record, I'll respond accordingly and go re-break it. If nobody touches the record, I don't see myself going and trying to break it just for fun. But I am interested in setting a similar record on flowing water, a river event of some sort.

More on Norman’s 24-hour SUP distance record.