Cat Friend (British) and Valerie Bisbal (Mallorcan) have become the first people to circumnavigate the Spanish Island of Mallorca (Majorca) on Stand Up Paddleboards (SUPs). Previous attempts in 2015 failed.
Leaving from Port Soller on June 1, 2018, they paddled the 344-mile coastline in 24 days. The two began training in February; a combination of paddle practice; weight training for strength and cardio for fitness. They took professional advice on their technique to ensure they could contend with the hardships of paddling up to six hours per day; many days paddling over a half marathon.
The length of the event, stamina requirements, risks of weather, sea and safety put the adventure into expedition status requiring the girls to produce risk plans. The challenges include the Jurassic north coast, where hostile 1000-foot cliffs plunge directly into the sea, permitting few places to shelter when the weather turns rough.
Unseasonal storms at the end of the first week caused major problems for Cat and Valerie. There were three blank days due to the weather and for other days, strong headwinds meant they only achieved half their target distance. Thunderstorms caused further downtime – as the two avoided the danger of lightning when on the water with carbon paddles. Scares occurred when being within 150 feet of a car ferry in Alcudia Bay and later finding themselves in a bloom of jellyfish where they had no choice but paddle on.
Exhaustion, muscle burn, back and wrist strain caused them to contemplate, on several occasions, about their ability to achieve the goal. "On the seventh day we were quite downhearted," said Friend, "the weather seemed against us, our bodies were suffering and camping overnight in poor conditions took its toll.”
Overall the journey took 24 days involving up to six hours on the water each day, including four hours of purposeful paddling. Having trained and committed themselves and with the assistance of a sports physiologist, they pulled through and once the weather improved they caught up with the demanding schedule.
"We saw some stunning sights on the way," says Valerie. "I have lived here all my life, but the chance to explore remote caves and coves was fantastic. We had clear blue bays, paddled with dolphins, manta-rays and in blooms of jellyfish but sadly we saw much more plastic than wildlife.”
The expedition created a large following on Spanish, British and German social media, the girls were recognised around the island. Followers escorted them in boats across the bays of Pollenca and later across the shipping lanes of Palma.
Life became a routine. Wake around 4:30 a.m., eat, apply vast amounts of sunblock and insect repellent. Check and re-check weather and wind forecasts. Paddle from 5 a.m. until 11 a.m. before the wind increased, regularly drinking water and eating energy bars. Then shelter from the sun, eat, drink water, sleep for a couple of hours.
The venture is in aid of Asociacion Ondine, a Balearic based marine conservation charity. The main aim is to raise awareness of the problems of plastic in the seas and oceans. Local schools have watched Cat and Valerie and invited them to come and talk to the children about the expedition and cause.
"It's not possible to be active in the sea without acknowledging the ocean plastic crisis," said Friend. "Raising money for marine conservation was a natural fit. We saw plastic everywhere, every day at sea and on the beaches."
Cat and Valerie used the Starboard Touring 12'6 SUP, donated by Starboard SUP. The load was not light as each girl carried 45 pounds of kit in dry bags and two gallons of water. Other equipment included safety, camping and food as supply teams could not meet them every day. Each morning they would clean the beach they slept on; plastic straws, lighters, bottle tops and bags were the most common finds.
"Finding so much litter on the beaches just spurred us on for the next paddle. If we can get people to see what we are doing and ask why then we're getting everyone to think about plastic and the health of our oceans."
Cat and Valerie completed the round the island trip to a large welcome in Port Soller where boats, yachts, canoes and paddleboards escorted them into the port. A crowd of friends and followers were on the beach to welcome them.
"It was an emotional welcome," said Friend. "We were overwhelmed by the impact we had created, we hope we have done our bit for Marine Conservation – at least for 2018."
About Cat Friend
Catherine Friend (28) has a degree in Biological Sciences from Edinburgh University. Her prime hobby in life is sailing. In 2011 Cat represented her country (GBR) and came 4th in the ISAF team racing World Championship. In 2013, she won the Wilson Trophy.
She took up paddleboarding in 2017 and in April 2018, gave up her office job in London to complete the Soller to Soller expedition to highlight the cause of ocean plastic. Cat's hardest bit was pushing through the pain of tendonitis to keep going with the expedition. Cat's favorite piece of equipment: the anchor.
About Valerie Bisbal
Valerie Bisbal (41) has lived in Port Soller all her life. Married with 2 grown up children and a 5-year- old, she didn't envisage being involved with a project of this scale. She has had to take time out from the family restaurant business in Port Soller to embark on Soller to Soller. Valerie's hardest bit was being apart from her family, especially her 5 year-old son Gael. Cat and Valerie met in 2017 when Cat was on holiday in Mallorca. They talked about the idea of going around Mallorca by SUP and worked on a plan. Once sponsors like Starboard signed up it began to take shape! Valerie's favourite piece of equipment: the pillow.
Mallorca (Majorca to many people) lies 200 km off the southeastern coast of Spain in the Balearic Sea. It is a popular holiday destination for Europeans with more than three million German and two million British people visiting each year. Major holiday resorts include Palma, Magaluf and Pollenca.
Port Soller the start and finish point of this venture is on the north coast surrounded by mountains. For further information see http://www.SollertoSoller.com or follow progress at https://www.facebook.com/sollertosollerSUP/ or on Instagram @sollertosoller. Information on Asociación Ondine is available through the website.
Call to donate
We are so close (81% of the way) to the goal of £10k! Please help us get there if you love the oceans as much as we do: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/sollertosoller
Cat and Valerie want to continue raising awareness of the ocean plastic crisis by paddling in the Balearics. They haven't haven't decided whether its Menorca or Ibiza next but now that they've tackled the largest island, nothing can stand in their way!
Follow the latest on Facebook and Instagram at @sollertosoller.