Epic: Casper Steinfath, Surviving the Lost Coast
I'm up north of San Francisco, on the wild Northern California coast in an area called the Lost Coast. It's called the Lost Coast because it's so far removed from the rest of society that it almost seems like it was forgotten or left behind as civilization took over the land. The closest major thoroughfare is the Pacific Coast Highway, which is many miles inland and sections off a 27-mile length of coastal Redwood forest. Other than that, there's only one, old, ranch road in the Lost Coast area, even less towns and very few people. It's like a glimpse into older times before so many people came to inhabit California. You really feel alone out here.
My family has a place to stay here where I spend a few months out of the year training for standup racing, since back home in Denmark gets pretty cold this time of year. One day last week, I went out for an 18-kilometer paddle with plans to meet some of my friends up the coast. I brought my board and some water because I knew it was going to take a couple hours to do the paddle. It was beautiful; the sun was shining, the wind was calm and I was ready for a good day.
Northern California is kind of like back home in Denmark in that the weather changes really quickly. I'd been paddling for more than an hour, and at that point I was crossing a large bay, which put me about two miles offshore. Suddenly, a thermal wind came up—the northern wind that is notorious around here. I felt it hit my face and before I knew it, it was howling 30+ knots. I found myself on my stomach, paddling upwind for dear life.
Since there were no roads on the beach to retreat to, no one to come pick me up or even guess where I was out there, I had no option but to keep going. Had I landed anywhere other than my put-in or my take-out spot, I would have been stranded. Looking back, maybe I could have turned around, but I was already too far into it. I wanted to complete the session. I felt like I was on an odyssey out there. It was a mission; more than just a training session.
As remote as it is out there, I definitely wasn't alone. There were huge creatures all around me. I saw plenty of whales, sea lions, the occasional seal. I was a little scared every time one of these creatures would surface, thinking, "Oh man, please don't be a shark!" The Great Whites are definitely out there, though luckily I didn't come across any this time.
I had started paddling at 2 p.m., expecting it to take only two hours. But eventually, I found myself racing the sunset. The hardest part was, I could see my destination most of the time—a big mountain in front of me—but I felt like I never got any closer. All kinds of survival thoughts were going through my head at that point, which helped me find new energy.
As I finally neared my landing spot, I noticed a plane circling above me. I learned later that my girlfriend was worried and asked one of the local pilots to search for me. She was really stoked when the pilot spotted me a few miles out.
Coming into land was almost the hardest part. The wind was offshore toward the end of my session, kind of blowing me out to sea, and I had to make land in six- to eight-foot surf. That can be hard enough in itself, let alone after four and a half hours of fighting for your life. I was completely drained of energy. I had flashbacks of the Battle of the Paddle at Salt Creek (laughs). I finally landed, and my girlfriend, my cousin and some of my friends were all waiting there for me. I've never been so happy to set my feet on firm ground.
Maybe I should have turned around out there. But there was something inside me that would not give up. I think all athletes can relate to that. We all want to push the boundaries of what's possible. That day definitely did for me. —Casper Steinfath
“Epic” is a SUP’s series that features harry escapades from world-class paddlers, as told by the athletes themselves. Stay tuned for more Epics, and check out the first edition of the series, featuring Sean Poynter’s first time paddling Jaws.
For more on Casper Steinfath, check out exclusive coverage from SUP the mag.