This story featured in the 2013 Buyer’s Guide issue.

Photo: Michael Torres

Team: Bill Whiddon and Thaddeus Foote
Mission: Tame the Gulf Stream on Standup Paddleboards

By Phil White

Bill Whiddon, 58, has been surfing since 1964, often with open-water kayak instructor Thaddeus Foote, 39. Soon after south Florida’s lack of consistent surf drove the Miami watermen to standup paddleboarding four years ago, they began seeking new challenges. They began competing in local races and paddling with a group of hard cases calling themselves the Cocoplum Navy. They looked toward the eastern horizon and thought of the Bahamas, the low-lying islands just beyond it. The closest, Bimini, is separated from Miami by 52 miles of blue water.

The Mission: If the distance was challenging, the Gulf Stream was positively daunting. The world’s most powerful ocean current barrels north at about three knots, and paddling against it would be like trying to climb up a down escalator. It was certain to be a long day. Foote and Whiddon left Bimini at 3:30 a.m. on June 9.

The Board: The duo needed more glide and stability than their 14-foot race boards provided, so they ask their friend Ricky Carroll to shape boards suited to the mission’s unique requirements. “Maximum glide, minimal rocker, large surface area, no rudder,” Whiddon summarizes. The last request was due to the abundant seaweed in the Gulf Stream. A rudder would have trapped it “like a hay baler,” Whiddon says. Carroll handcrafted two single-fin, 16-foot boards, with EPS cores and carbon finishes.

The Paddle: When C4 Waterman found out about the planned Bimini-Miami crossing, they sent Whiddon and Foote two X-wing carbon race paddles. The paddles’ narrow shafts were critical in reducing hand fatigue, Whiddon says.

The Gear: The men wore Columbia rash guards for sun protection, and sipped constantly from CamelBak SUP hydration packs. They each drank a gallon an hour in the 90-degree heat. The thermometer’s rise paused only briefly, when an early morning storm pelted the men with wind and rain. “That squall really took it out of us, and then we had the Gulf Stream fighting against us,” Foote said.

Safety: A chase boat carried food and liquids, as well as a GPS to keep the paddlers on course. To reach their planned landfall at South Beach, the paddlers had to angle south into the Gulf Stream, and maintain a good pace to make any westward progress. When the GPS stopped working 20 miles from Miami, the Whiddon and Foote decided to stop fighting the current. They paddled due west, and let the stream carry them 12 miles north of their planned landfall. They came ashore near Haulover Beach, 17 hours after they started.

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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