Bart De Zwart on Expedition Paddling
You seem to enjoy painful pursuits like paddling the length of the Hawaiian islands non-stop or, more recently, the 11-Cities Tour in one push.
For me it's the challenge just to do something most people cannot do. And life is so much nicer after you do something like this. When someone's sick and they come out of it, they see life differently. They appreciate things more. You don't take things for granted.
What's the hardest part of these grueling paddles?
Making the time to organize and to actually do it because I have a family, a wife and a daughter. My wife likes what I do but she's afraid of things sometimes. The hardest part of actually doing the paddle is the mental part. Sometimes it's just hard to keep going.
So how do you mentally prepare?
I don't think you can. The only thing is knowing that you can do it. Physical ability is obviously an important part of that. As long as you can keep going and have your food and your emergency things ready and all organized, you know you can do it. Whatever happens you will be prepared. Because if things go wrong, the wind comes in the wrong direction or something, you need to know what to do. The more prepared you are for these things the better you will be mentally. Safety mostly means preparedness.
How does your family handle these trips?
My wife knows all the bases are covered and whatever happens I'll be all right. I have a tracker so she knows where I am. If I do something where she doesn't know where I am for 24 hours, that's the part she doesn't like. When she knows where I am and what's going on it's a lot better.
What advice would you give someone wanting to get into these types of paddles?
Train everyday and know the risks you're taking. The other is be prepared for everything. Have some safety backup but don't depend on things like a locator. Everything I do I want to get out of it myself. If things go really wrong I can press a button but you should think, "I want to get out of here myself," and have (technology) as a last resort.
You seem to train and race against people quite a bit younger than you. Where does your energy come from?
It gets harder and harder as you get older. I train with Connor (Baxter) to find that source of inspiration. If you train with other people, it helps. It used to be the other way around, with him chasing me, but we still push each other. Sometimes I still push him.
This article originally ran in our Spring 2014 issue as “Core Commentary.”