Paddling the Pacific: Antonio De Le Rosa Launches Standup Paddling’s First Attempt at Storied California-to-Hawaii Crossing

Antonio De La Rosa passes under the Golden Gate Bridge early June 9, 2019, Day One of his projected 70-day self-supported solo Pacific crossing to Hawaii.Galen Licht

Self-Funded Spanish Endurance Athlete Projects 70 Days for Solo, Unsupported 2,500-mile Expedition from San Francisco to Honolulu

It’s not easy to talk to Antonio De La Rosa without smiling.
The positivity he projects is nothing short of infectious.

So far, apparent joy and endless vigor have done De La Rosa well. The 49-year-old Spanish endurance athlete and paddling outfitter has found a way to thrive while traversing hostile environments alone: completing an Arctic 620-mile cross-country ski challenge in 2017, and rowing the Atlantic from Senegal to French Guiana in 2014.

Now he’s putting that ability to stay positive in positively miserable conditions to a historic test. Just after 7 a.m. this morning, De La Rosa exited the Golden Gate with an ebbing tide to launch standup paddling’s first attempt at the hallowed Pacific Ocean crossing to the Hawaiian Islands. Per records kept by the Ocean Rowing Society and the Great Pacific Race, only five other people have successfully completed solo, human-powered crossings between the North American mainland and Hawaii. 1987 is the last and only time that a paddler (Ed Gillet) has successfully done so, on a 64-day voyage that nearly killed the San Diego kayaker after he ran out of food.

So it’s a good thing De La Rosa is feeling good.
“I’m happy,” is how he summarized his mental state on Tuesday, talking from the Sausalito docks where he was making the final preparations loading out his board — if you can even call it “a board.” Though De La Rosa has a girlfriend back home (and no children), he lovingly refers to the 24-foot-long custom super-craft as his “niño.” He spent years developing the original design featuring a carbon-composite build (154 pounds unloaded) and a peanut-like profile. The craft’s sealed forward cabin (where De La Rosa will sleep), tapers down to a 35-inch-wide open deck where he will be able to stand and paddle from either side. The tail then widens to house an additional storage hatch that is high enough for De La Rosa to lean back on in waves and chop.

About those waves: prior to this morning, De La Rosa had never paddled in the Pacific Ocean.

He is at least no stranger to self-supported distance via SUP. De La Rosa completed a 2,175-mile circumnavigation of the Iberian Peninsula’s coastline in 2017, as well as a punishing 460-mile transit up the west coast of Greenland the year prior. This March, he took a couple weeks to first test this new ocean-going design upon completion, in as heavy conditions he could find in the Mediterranean: “25 mile an hour wind and 2-meter waves,” he described. De La Rosa was pleased with the rudder and tracking performance, as well as the craft’s self-righting abilities. Pleased enough, that is, to ship off his niño in a container through the Panama Canal to meet him last week on the West Coast.

From there, Galen Licht from Sea Trek has been helping De La Rosa with logistics, staging his expedition near the longtime Sausalito-based SUP and kayak outfitter.

“He’s looking good,” Licht said, citing De La Rosa’s real-deal credibility winning an Atlantic rowing race in 2014. “He knows pain and suffering.”

Licht also noted the seaworthiness of De La Rosa’s craft, highlighting the simple and robust rudder system where De La Rosa can use a peg to lock in his course, as well as the 4-foot, 65-pound dagger board to help stabilize the craft in side-winds and -waves.

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!!!!Que alegriaaa!!!! Por fin el barco en el agua/tabla de SUP flota, y muy, muy bien. Sensaciones buenisimas, por el momento las pruebas están saliendo geniales, mantiene bien el rumbo, la deriva, los equipos electrónicos van bien, marcan el norte y tal… las placas solares cargan perfecto. Parecia que no llegaba a tiempo para empezar este año el #pacificsupchallenge2019 pero ahora si, ya os iré contando como se comporta en vuelcos y demás travesuras que le pienso hacer esta semana en Aguilas, Murcia. Faltan retoques y otro paso por fabrica pero ya casi.. Ademas mañana dan vientos de 40 Nudos y oleaje de 2 mts, vamos, lo que será un dia Flat y tranquilo en el Pacifico, je,je. ” No dejes para mañana lo que puedas hacer hoy”. !!!!!vamossss!!!!! @meridianoraid2 @_ocean52 @kundakaexperience @4ocean @leathermanespana @seatosummitiberia @eltransistoroc @trangoworldofficial @satlink @katadyn_group @spsstanduppaddle @teva @hokaoneone @sensosports @lowrancefishing @halbertoflores

A post shared by Antonio de la Rosa (@antoniodelarosa_sport) on

“I don’t need to paddle it for two months to know,” De La Rosa said, noting he feels better about this craft than his cross-Atlantic rowboat. “With two days I can know its stability and my position.”

Though he felt confident in his craft, in his health and fitness, and relaxed in general with the grueling days ahead —  anticipating 15- to 20-foot waves and grueling conditions in the immediate days after launch — De La Rosa was most concerned with the launch itself, under the Golden Gate. Having loaded, provisioned and equipping the craft with an additional 1,000-plus pounds, De La Rosa was prepared to leave by mid-week. However, he waited for winds to settle and a high tide. The plan was to depart in the early morning hours, with the calmest winds, on the back of the dropping high tide, riding the flooding ebb out of the Gate and into the Pacific. When conditions lined up this weekend, De La Rosa departed at 6:18 a.m., Sunday, from the Presidio Yacht Club, located in Horseshoe Bay just inside the northern terminus of the Golden Gate Bridge.

“It was a perfect sunny morning, he had a great start with a tailwind and 4-knot ebb,” said Licht, who accompanied by De La Rosa in a skiff with a handful of local friends and supporters.

With the California Current rushing down the West Coast, paddlers and sailors alike have the most challenges with the immediate onshore conditions that conspire against efforts to make any progress west. In the past seven years, five kayak expeditions attempting unsupported paddle-powered crossings to Hawaii have been aborted or turned into rescue situations within the first 24 hours after launch.

If De La Rosa can maintain progress getting offshore as he tracks south, he will eventually reach more favorable wind conditions (at his back) shuttling him west toward Hawaii. His target is Oahu. And though that adds an additional couple hundred miles beyond the Big Island, Honolulu offers logistical ease: De La Rosa has a September 5 flight booked to Fiji for an eco-challenge race.

Pacific SUP challenge 2019- ENG Antonio de la Rosa from posovisual on Vimeo.

He’s not looking that far ahead yet. De La Rosa’s mindset is geared to the long haul at hand. Though he’s planning 70 days total to go the approximately 2,500-plus miles, he’s packing food for 90, budgeting 3,000 calories a day. The 5-foot-9, 200-pound adventurer also budgets that he can lose about 4-7 pounds a week — “I have fats to kill!” he jokes.

De La Rosa also plans to stand, harnessed to the deck, and paddle 16 hours a day. During recovery, he’ll have a computer loaded with music and movies (the craft has an internet router plus GPS navigation as part of communication system that will allow him to send updates). But he expects little down time to use it, knowing the reality of extended time at sea. Any time not paddling is checking his systems (he is using a pair of sea anchors to stabilize him in rest phases), and attending to his craft, sleeping in 1- to 1.5-hour segments.

“This is my job,” he says. “For the next two and a half months, it’s my job to paddle and balance.”

Antonio De La Rosa approaches Point Bonita and the western end of the Marin Headlands, with only the expanse of the Pacific ahead. Galen Licht

The act of 100 percent paddle power sets De La Rosa’s effort apart from previous efforts. Ed Gillet relied on the use of a para-foil kite during his 1987 kayak crossing (though a lack of prevailing tailwinds prevented him from using it more than a couple weeks). In 2017, South Africa’s Chris Bertish took 93 days to paddle 4,050 miles across the Atlantic in a similar craft as De La Rosa — customized with an open deck designed for upright paddling. De La Rosa’s could also end up being a comparable distance to Bertish, especially if he tracks farther south before conditions turn in his favor — or if any storms throw him off course.

And in considering that course, De La Rosa seems well aware that for this wide-open expanse, there is not exactly a set path or route. But the self-reliant challenge of that blank slate ahead is kind of the point.

“I love the discovery,” is the best he can articulate in English. “I love this kind of life. It’s very simple.

“I don’t need gold,” he added. “It’s just alone — and perfect.”

— Follow De La Rosa’s live-tracking progress on the homepage of his site: Follow Sea Trek for additional updates.

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The article was originally published on Standup Paddling

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