Finding Pleasure in the Pain
A lot of people ask me why I do the things I do… why I paddle 32 miles in the middle of the ocean, get in the ocean when it is freezing cold, or push myself as hard as I do… The answer is simple… its truly because I love it. I find a pleasure in pushing my personal limits and seeing where not only my body can go, but most importantly my mind.
Ultramarathoner Dean Karnazas takes the words out my mouth. I just replaced the word “runner” for “paddler” to relate it to my sport. He says,
People think I'm crazy to put myself through such torture, though I would argue otherwise. Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness. Dostoyevsky had it right: 'Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness.' Never are my senses more engaged than when the pain sets in. There is a magic in misery. Just ask any [paddler].
Just a few months ago I had the chance to really experience these personal limits when I traveled to the island of Bora Bora for the Ironmana Liquid Festival. This isn’t just any ocean festival, but one where you know you are going to be paddling and swimming a total of about 60 miles in four days. The thing is you don’t know how this will done… As race and event director Stephan Lambert says best, “Expect nothing, be ready for everything.” Stephan does not tell you what the event each day will be until immediately before. All you know is that there will be one long prone paddling day, one long swimming day, one combo day, and one extremely long SUP day. The challenges have an element of adventure to them as they become much more about the personal challenge than racing your competition.
I was fortunate enough to go with my best friend and business partner Jess Rocheleau who decided beforehand she was going to complete all the challenges, even with hardly any paddling training. Jess is a tremendous athlete in her own sport of swimming and triathlon, but knew she would be relying on her underlying fitness and mental strength to get through this event. I had been training a fair amount for this event, but Jess’s support became a major reason that I was able to push through those times I wanted to quit.
The first day was one of the hardest… a 22 mile prone paddle around the island of Bora Bora in every condition you could ask for… pouring down rain, wind, and some sun. After finishing this paddle with spaghetti arms we knew that three more days of this would take more than just physical strength, but even more mental and psychological toughness.
That night we even had a second challenge… a sunset/night SUP paddle… but this became so much more about taking in one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.
We woke up the second day and were greeted with sunshine! It was the swim day and Jess was especially ready for this. The swim ended up being a little over 6 miles completed in four stages all around the island. Thankfully we had a little break to swim with the sharks during this!
It was during the second day we really got to know the local Tahitian competitors. The Tahitians are born and bred water people as the ocean is such a part of their history and daily lives. Outrigger canoe paddling (also called va’a) is the most popular sport in Tahiti and this translates extremely well to SUP paddling as well. Still the Tahitian competitors were extremely strong in the prone paddling and swimming events and most importantly did it all with a positive spirit.
The third day we woke up again to rain in paradise and were greeted with a challenge that involved both forms of paddling, swimming, and running up a motu (small island). This event really allowed those to shine who were good at a wide variety of crafts. We were all still holding our breaths for the final day…
The fourth and final morning we all knew would be the most challenging. We were greeted with a 30 miles SUP paddle (at least it was broken up in 3 different stages!). For me this was the most difficult by far as SUP is my weakest craft of the three we competed in. This was also BY FAR the longest I had ever paddling on a stand up board. But when the physical pain became real, I couldn’t think about how much longer I had to go, but come back to the moment and focus on each stroke at a time. This intense focus allows one to go into a state of FLOW which is a very peaceful psychological state to be in and almost like a meditation. Nothing else matters accept that PRESENT moment on the water. For me, this is why I find so much pleasure in the pain.
Well… Jess and I both made it… and it couldn’t have been any better moment to complete such an intense journey with your best friend. Bora Bora will always have a special place in our hearts as this experience really showed both of us who were really are and why we do the things we do.
I want to give a special thanks to Jolyn for always supporting me in my adventures and keeping me looking and feeling great in the best swimwear out there. Thank you also to all the people who made this trip possible and helped out along the way including Stephan Lambert, Air Tahiti Nui, Sofitel Bora Bora, Surftech Tahiti, SUP the Mag, Donald Miralle, Tim Mckenna, and Tahiti Fly Shoot.