Exclusive Interview with Bart de Zwart on his World Record Breaking Paddle!

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On May 30th, 2017 Starboard team rider, Bart de Zwart broke the world record for greatest distance paddled within a 24-hour period.  This new World Record exceeds that previous one set by English paddler Joanne Hamilton-Vales of 111.84 miles achieved back in April 2017.  Joanne was one of the people on de Zwart’s team to help him smash this goal.  Standup Journal Online caught up with the tired and muscle sore Dutchman to ask him a few questions about his monumental achievement.

Starboard Bart de Zwart world record
Bart de Zwart charted a 7-mile loop for himself for this 24-hour paddle in Erlach, Switzerland. He was racing against the clock and against the weather to make his dream come true. Photo: Joerg Husi

SJ:  When was the hardest part of this paddle? We heard there were thunderstorms.  How did you protect yourself in this moment or did you just take a chance and keep paddling?

Bart:  There are a couple of hardest parts in this 24-hour challenge. The first was during the thunderstorm which was far enough away that I didn’t worry about safety. I would have left the water if the storm came too close. But, I did start counting the seconds between the lighting and thunder to calculate the distance. At it’s worst, it was 13 seconds which is still 4 kilometers away. However, with the thunderstorms came the wind. Because there were several systems in different  directions, the wind shifted often.

The worst was six hours into the race.  I was battling a headwind and doing about 5.5 to 6 km an hour and putting to much energy in there to keep moving. I though if this keeps going like this, I will not only make my goal but also break the record. A record like this is very different than a Ultra long distance race. I am racing the clock no matter what the conditions are like. Normally, you are racing an opponent. If conditions are hard, it is equal for everyone. The clock never slows. I had this constant feeling that whatever I did, (eat, small break, splash myself with water) I was losing time in the end. So you are basically watching your GPS for 24 hours, constantly monitoring how you are doing. It was hard also when you have paddled for 14 hours straight and every part of your body is hurting, but you have to keep going at the same pace and not slow down. That is where the mental part of this kind of racing comes in.

Bart de Zwart SUP World Record Starboard night paddle
Every stop along the way made for lost time. Even eating, which an ultra athlete needs to do constantly when expending energy like this, takes time away from the distance setting which was Bart’s main goal. Photo: Joerg Husi

SJ:  What preparations, if any, did you take prior to this record-breaking event?  Have you been training for it?  

Bart:  I train year round. In the long distance season, I start training more long distances and paddle almost every day.  Plus two times a week I paddle for 2-5 hours at a clip. Other then that, I do no special training. Having said that, I do prepare in other ways. Because if you are prepared, you are mentally a lot stronger. What most people don’t realize is that paddling through the night is super challenging and figuring out how to eat for 24 hours on a paddle board is too. If you’ve never tried this, you are not prepared.  You have to paddle at night to see how you paddle when you get sleepy or what lights you will need. You also need to try different food to see how your stomach handles eating non-stop for 24 hours. With most ultra long distance races and expeditions I do, preparation is the biggest and most important part.

Bart de Zwart world record distance Starboard Switzerland sunset
The sun sets over Erlach, Switzerland where Bart de Zwart chose to make his run for the world record. Photo: Joerg Husi

SJ:  Your other accomplishments include your open ocean endurance tests (Hawaii to Kauai in 2011).  Do you have plans for an open water experience soon?  Can you tell us about it?

Bart:  Yes, I am planning an Expedition in the Marquesas  (most isolated French Polynesia) with fellow paddler and photographer Franz Orsi. We will be going along all the islands unsupported with all of our gear with us visiting the Island where Thor Heyerdahl came up with his theories about the early movement of Polynesian visitors.  The journey will be mostly paddling with one crossing using a windsurf sail because there will be a lot of side wind for 60+ miles.

Bart de Zwart SUP world record Starboard team
Multiple GPS trackers to record his time, speed and distance are required when going about to set a new World Record. Here, Bart checks in with his team before the start. Photo: Joerg Husi

SJ:  In a few words, can you give us your thoughts/perspective on Chris Bertish‘s Atlantic crossing.  What do you think of this accomplishment?  How does YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE give you a greater perspective on what Chris did?

Bart:  Six years ago I did the my five day crossing from Hawaii to Kauai on a regular 14-foot board as a test for a transatlantic crossing.   It has always been my goal to do that and I had far developed plans to complete a transatlantic crossing myself.  I had to postpone the trip a few times because of life, family and work schedules.  My most recent plan was to go the year after Chris.  When I found out he was going to do it, I pulled out.  Chris and I have a mutual respect for each other. I talked to him just before his start and wrote to him while he was out there. I knew, based on knowing him as a person and the depth of his preparations that he would succeed.  He agreed and thought the same of me.  It was still hard to see someone else do it, but I have great respect for Chris.  We are very similar in many ways.

Few people really know what it really entails to be out on the ocean for many days just relying on yourself for survival. The five days and nights I did is about the maximum one can go on a regular board.  Any farther than that and you need a cabin to stay dry.  Staying wet for so many days is not good for your body.

I know an experience like that will change you view on things and makes you a better person, especially appreciating the small things in life.

Thanks Evelyn.  I like your questions.

Aloha from Switzerland,
Bart de Zwart

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Evelyn O'Doherty, editor & publisher of the new Standup Journal 2.0 is a former school teacher gone rogue. She left her career as a teacher in order to spend more time near or on the water after learning to surf turned her life around (upsidedown?). She is a year-round surfer and paddler living on the eastern tip of Long Island in NY who is a certified SUP instructor, seasoned SUP racer and avid longboard surfer. Evelyn was hired as Online Editor to Standup Journal in 2016. Her passion for the project quickly led to her success and eventually taking over the mag herself in Oct. 2018. Today, as editor, publisher and chief bottle washer at Standup Journal, Evelyn keeps her toes wet writing, traveling, paddling, surfing, and learning to foil. You can find her most days paddling out on Gardiner's Bay or surfing Ditch Plains in Montauk, NY.