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Adventure Travel

Jun 29, 2017

Going in Circles: Freya Hoffmeister and Her Plan to Kayak Around a Continent

Sea kayaker Freya Hoffmeister has made a name for herself by completing successively larger and longer circumnavigations: first Iceland, then Australia, eventually even South America.

WRITTEN BY

Michael Levy

Earlier this spring, she upped the ante once again, setting out on her wildest expedition yet.

I have Freya Hoffmeister on the line, and I ask her how she stays motivated on a kayaking expedition like the one she’s on. She says it’s not particularly difficult because it’s precisely what she wants to be doing. “It’ll take a long while to paddle around this island, but that’s the lifestyle I like.”

The thing is the “island” she’s paddling around is a continent, namely North America. And the “long while” will be approximately a decade.

Hoffmeister hails from Germany and is the most accomplished long distance sea kayaker in the world. Over the past decade, she has earned that superlative through a number of circumnavigations. In 2007, she kayaked around Iceland, and separately the South Island of New Zealand; in 2009, she circumnavigated Australia in her boat; from 2011 to 2014 she paddled around the entire circumference of South America; and then in 2016, she kayaked the perimeter of Ireland.

Freya Hoffmeister arrives in Queenscliff in December 2009 after being the first woman to circumnavigate around Australia by sea kayak. Photo: Courtesy of Freya Hoffmeister.

Her circumnavigations have earned her the highest honors a kayaker and extreme athlete can hope to achieve, including the National Geographic Adventurers of the Year award and a World Paddle award.

Deciding to kayak around North America didn’t strike her as a giant leap, just a fairly logical next step. “‘Why not spend the next eight to 10 years going around another island,’ I asked myself,” Freya says. “Half a year on, half a year off. Why not!” The entire circumnavigation will amount to some 50,000 kilometers of paddling. To put that distance in context, consider that crossing the Atlantic requires a comparatively short 7,500 kilometers of paddling. If she succeeds, her circumnavigation will be a first, just as her South American one was.

The plan calls for Hoffmeister to complete the circumnavigation not in one continuous, unbroken stretch of paddling, but in three- to five-month blocks of paddling, separated by three to five months off. Neither will she paddle entirely clockwise or counterclockwise around North America; she will travel two half loops, both starting in Seattle, and finishing in New York.

The reason for this, according to a press release on her website, is that “The northern sections [of the route] are only ice free for a few months per year, so paddling in one direction would extend her circumnavigation by even more years.” She employed the same strategy of paddling in large blocks on her South America circumnavigation.

In late March of this year, Freya left Seattle heading north. One might think that just the specter of a ten year journey would intimidate Freya. But she says that the biggest difference from her shorter expeditions thus far are purely environmental. “It’s colder,” she says, laughing.

And of course there are the bears…. Though she hasn’t seen one yet in camp. “They’ve been friendly so far,” she says. “I’ve got red pepper and black pepper spray in case, so I’ll ask the bear which flavor he wants before I spray him.”

Freya goofing around on the water. Photo: Courtesy of Freya Hoffmeister.

Freya was currently waylaid in Icy Bay Lodge in Icy Bay, Alaska when we spoke on the phone. After resupplying and resting in Yakutat (approximately 130 kilometers east-southeast of Icy Bay Lodge) from June 18 to 21, she was forced to stop in Icy Bay just two days later because of strong winds. “I’m in an exposed stretch for the next 160 kilometers,” she says, “where there’s no sheltered land on the coastline. Straight coastline without any place to hide.” To safely paddle this stretch she will need low winds, and hopefully low seas.

So for now, she’s stuck in Icy Bay for a few more days. But in a ten year expedition,  there’s no point in rushing. Just like Paul Salopek and his decade-long Out of Eden Walk, Freya says things are too beautiful to be purely concerned with speed. She generally covers 40 to 50 kilometers per day and camps on beaches and other sheltered spots on the coastline most nights.

Just one of the many beautiful sunrises Freya has seen on her numerous circumnavigations. Photo: Freya Hoffmeister.

Freya doesn’t concern herself with planning too far ahead either, and isn’t thinking about future three- to five-month blocks of the expedition until this one is finished (which will be at the end of August). With a project of this scale, it’s prudent to approach it in bite size chunks, she says: “You can eat an elephantjust cut it into small pieces and it works.

“Step by step. You can’t look at the whole circumnavigation at once. I think in terms of civilized spot to civilized spot—then I look at the map and see what’s coming up next.”

And looking forward at what’s coming up next is the way Hoffmeister approaches life in general. Just because she has already accomplished so much, completed routes no one is likely to repeat for a long time, and reached the pinnacle of her chosen sport, doesn’t mean she is going to hang up her paddle. At 53, her mantra-cum-slogan is “Never stop starting. Never start stopping.”

I’m not as young anymore,” she says nonchalantly. “But I still love what I’m doing. Everyone should do whatever they love to do. Don’t stop.”

“Other people climb mountains,” Freya continues. “Then inevitably others do more complicated routes on other mountains. That’s exactly what I’m doing with my paddling. Just horizontal.

 

Feature Image: Courtesy of Freya Hoffmeister.

If you enjoyed this feature, you might like this story on circumnavigating Wales via stand up paddleboard.

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Adventure Travel

Jul 31, 2018

Kayaking’s Elite Return to India at the Malabar River Festival

During the week of July 18th to 22nd, the Malabar River Festival returned to Kerala, India with one of the biggest cash prizes in whitewater kayaking in the world.

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

A $20,000 purse attracted some of the world’s best kayakers to the region for an epic week battling it out on some of India’s best whitewater.

The kayaking events at Malabar River Festival were held on the Kuttiyadi River, Chalippuzha River, and the Iruvajippuzha River, in South India on the Malabar Coast. The festival was founded and organized by Manik Taneja and Jacopo Nordera of GoodWave Adventures, the first whitewater kayaking school in South India.

Photo: Akash Sharma

“Look out for these guys in the future because there are some future stars there”

One of the goals of the festival is to promote whitewater kayaking in the state of Kerala and encourage locals to get into the sport. One of the event organizers, Vaijayanthi Bhat, feels that the festival plays a large part in promoting the sport within the community.  “The kayak community is building up through the Malabar Festival. Quite a few people are picking up kayaking… It starts with people watching the event and getting curious.  GoodWave Adventures are teaching the locals.”

Photo: Akash Sharma

Vaijayanthi is not lying when she says the kayak community is starting to build up.  In addition to the pro category, this year’s Malabar Festival hosted an intermediate competition specifically designed for local kayakers. The intermediate competition saw a huge turnout of 22 competitors in the men’s category and 9 competitors in the women’s category. Even the professional kayakers who traveled across the world to compete at the festival were impressed with the talent shown by the local kayakers. Mike Dawson of New Zealand, and the winner of the men’s pro competition had nothing but good things to say about the local kayakers. “I have so much respect for the local kayakers. I was stoked to see huge improvements from these guys since I met them in 2015. It was cool to see them ripping up the rivers and also just trying to hang out and ask as many questions about how to improve their paddling. It was awesome to watch them racing and making it through the rounds. Look out for these guys in the future because there are some future stars there.”

Photo: Akash Sharma

 

“It was awesome because you had such a great field of racers so you had to push it and be on your game without making a mistake”

Vaijayanthi says the festival has future goals of being named a world championship.  In order to do this, they have to attract world class kayakers to the event.  With names like Dane Jackson, Nouria Newman, Nicole Mansfield, Mike Dawson, and Gerd Serrasolses coming out for the pro competition, it already seems like they are doing a good job of working toward that goal! The pro competition was composed of four different kayaking events- boatercross, freestyle, slalom, and a superfinal race down a technical rapid. “The Finals of the extreme racing held on the Malabar Express was the favourite event for me. It was an epic rapid to race down. 90 seconds of continuous whitewater with a decent flow. It was awesome because you had such a great field of racers so you had to push it and be on your game without making a mistake.” says Dawson.

Photo: Akash Sharma

The impressive amount of prize money wasn’t the only thing that lured these big name kayakers to Kerala for the festival. Many of the kayakers have stayed in South India after the event ended to explore the rivers in the region. With numerous unexplored jungle rivers, the possibilities for exploratory kayaking are seemingly endless. Dawson knows the exploratory nature of the region well.  “I’ve been to the Malabar River Fest in 2015. I loved it then, and that’s why I’ve been so keen to come back. Kerala is an amazing region for kayaking. In the rainy season there is so much water, and because the state has tons of mountains close to the sea it means that there’s a lot of exploring and sections that are around. It’s a unique kind of paddling, with the rivers taking you through some really jungly inaccessible terrain. Looking forward to coming back to Kerala and also exploring the other regions of India in the future.”

 

For more information on the festival, visit: http://www.malabarfest.com/

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