A Maui man believes he's set a record as the first person to make a solo crossing from the Big Island to Kauai on a stand-up paddleboard.
Bart de Zwart ended his 300-mile journey Sunday night, paddling into Kauai's Kalapaki Beach a few minutes before sunset. A day later, as he relaxed and recovered from the event, he said he felt surprisingly good physically, but reflected that the effort and concentration that went in to surviving alone at sea for five days and nights had been harder than he expected.
"I have to say, I think this is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life," he said Monday. "Just being with the elements for 24 hours for five days - being wet for so many days."
Bart de Zwart, of Maui, is greeted by his wife, Dagmar, and daughter Soleil on Sunday, in Nawiliwil, Kauai, after completing a 300-mile solo, unsupported crossing from the Big Island to Kauai aboard a stand-up paddleboard. The journey took five days and five nights.
De Zwart, 41, lives in Haiku and owns the Kanaha Kai Maui surf shop. In addition to other ocean sports, he is an experienced sailor who has sailed around the world.
De Zwart said he was inspired to plan the journey by learning about ancient Hawaiian voyagers, who paddled and sailed canoes from island to island and even across the Pacific.
"I also like to do something really hard and challenging," he said. "You appreciate people and life and food and the things around you a lot more."
He began preparing for the trip about six months ago, gathering the gear and safety equipment he would need and modifying a standard paddleboard with changes including a front rudder that would allow him to paddle through strong winds without having to strain himself by paddling only on one side.
After weeks of unusually windy conditions, de Zwart took advantage of a calm period and departed from the Big Island on June 21, launching at 8:30 p.m. in the hope that he could avoid strong daytime winds as he crossed the difficult Alenuihaha Channel.
"It worked, but at night it's also a lot harder, with the cross-chop," he said. "That was one of the harder parts of the trip."
Being unable to see the big swells as he paddled over them through the night also exacerbated a bout of seasickness, he said, which lasted around 24 to 36 hours.
By the next day, he was able to rest and eat as he passed Hana and cruised along Maui's north shore.
De Zwart said he made the decision to navigate to the north of the island chain, hoping that if he got into trouble the winds and ocean currents would blow him toward land - instead of out to sea.
Without a support boat, de Zwart had to be completely self-sufficient.
He packed about 120 pounds of water, food and gear on his board, eating freeze-dried meals he prepared in a special "oven" that used a chemical reaction to create heat. During the day, he snacked on granola bars, nuts, dried fruit, chocolate and sports drinks.
At night he raised navigation lights to avoid collisions with larger boats, then inflated a makeshift bed he had formed by gluing together several inflatable pool mattresses.
They made a comfortable bed, and de Zwart fastened some along the sides to form a "cradle," but he still had a hard time staying dry.
"When it's really rough and the waves start rolling in, then they sometimes pull you over," he said.
Off the coast of Molokai on his second night, de Zwart was washed overboard four times.
He took to sleeping in his wetsuit, and, for safety, he used at least two leashes at all times to keep himself fastened to his board and gear.
De Zwart also had to account for a significant amount of drift each night. He estimated he drifted about 10 to 15 miles as he slept, and planned ahead by paddling farther north so he would stay on course.
But aside from the rough water and the wildlife - de Zwart said he was awakened once when a flying fish leapt into his bed and flopped around - he said he was able to sleep soundly each night from around 8 p.m. to dawn.
"I was well rested," he said.
De Zwart also brought critical safety equipment with him, including an EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon), a transmitter which could be activated if he became lost or was critically in danger. The device also had a nonemergency button he could press which would transmit his location to friends via email, and de Zwart used the device to update family and friends on his progress and reassure them he was OK.
De Zwart said he was also surprised by how well his cellphone worked offshore, and he was able to call his family once a day to let them know how he was doing.
But even as he found the conditions challenging, there were moments of enjoyment on the trip.
De Zwart savored the hours he spent paddling along the northern coasts of Maui and Molokai, where waterfalls plunged down the sheer cliffs.
"It was beautiful," he said.
He also spotted what he believes were false killer whales and dolphins while at sea, was surrounded by a school of mahimahi, and attracted the attention of passing birds.
"They came really close," he said. "Sometimes they even sat down on the board."
But de Zwart said the best moment came when he approached Kauai and greeted his wife and 12-year-old daughter, who were waiting for him on the beach with a crowd of people.
"It was emotional," he said. "Somehow you're always more emotional if you did something hard."
While de Zwart said the experience was "rewarding," he warned it was not something the casual paddler should attempt.
"I would say, 'don't try this at home,' " he said. "You have to know what you're doing, you have to have the safety gear and you have to have the knowledge. I wouldn't do this trip if I wasn't 100 percent sure I was going to make it."
De Zwart planned to return to Maui with his family today.
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at email@example.com.