What do you do after spending 93 days on a stand-up paddle board dealing with aggressive Great Whites, waves the size of small houses, numerous injuries, and a craft that keeps trying to sink? If you’re surfer Chris Bertish, you eat, drink, and go on a media tour.
“I had a burger, a couple of beers, and a shower, then I had my first interview,” Bertish told us over the phone from his home in South Africa, shortly after becoming the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean on a paddle board, on his own, unsupported. “Since then, except for four days when I was able to escape to get in a little sailing with my partner, it has been a nonstop media parade. For three straight weeks I have been doing nothing but telling my story, which I am happy to do since it helps raise money for the three charities I support. But I have to say this: I think paddling across the ocean was easier than this. In two days I leave for Indonesia, where I can surf for two weeks and spend some time catching up on the almost 3,000 emails that are clogging my inbox. Between waves I will be working on my next book and several talks I will be giving, telling the story of my crossing and why I did it. But most of all, I can ride some waves again. Thank God.”
When Bertish finally made landfall on March 9, 2017, on the Caribbean island of Antigua, he was a bit out of touch with current world affairs. Understandable, since he’d just spent nearly 100 days at sea. So when someone mentioned to him after he was on land that Donald Trump was now the President of the United States, he thought they were making a joke. “I was a bit shocked to tell you the truth, he said. “I thought it was an April Fools’ prank, but then I realized it was only March so it must be real. Once I knew it was reality I thought [about] how bizarre it was. That’s the type of thing I could see happening in my country. We are sort of like a mixed third-world country, but I just did not think that it could happen, or be allowed to happen in a first-world country that the rest of the world looks up to. For me that was the most disturbing.”
The final few months before his departure from Agadir, Morocco, had been a blur as he focused solely on executing his dream of crossing the ocean on his modified stand-up paddle craft. Once he was on the water, he had little time to focus on anything else. He paddled 4,050 miles, averaging an astonishing 43 miles per day, mostly paddling at night to avoid the punishing sun.
But accomplishing the impossible is something Bertish knows well. In 2010, he won the Mavericks Big Wave International surfing event on a borrowed surfboard after his was lost in transit. His winning wave still remains one of the largest ever ridden. He was the first surfer to ever paddle into the infamous Jaws surf break in Hawaii, and he has a Billabong XXL award for riding the biggest paddle-in wave ever at Mavericks. He holds the world records for the 12-hour, 24-hour, five-day, seven-day, and 350-K records on a paddle board. Hopefully now that he’s accomplished a world first, he’ll finally take a breather.