Chattanooga native Ben Friberg is no stranger to adventures.
Just last year, the 35-year-old waterman set the Guinness World Record for the longest distance traveled on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) trip in a 24-hour period — 238 miles along the Yukon River, shattering the previous record.
An impressive feat, sure, but nothing compared to his next challenge.
Someday next week — depending on a host of variables — Friberg will attempt to become the first person to travel the Straits of Florida — Havana, Cuba to Key West, Fla. — on an SUP.
“I’m sailing from Key West to Cuba on Sunday, and I’ll get there Monday,” Friberg said. “Depending on the weather I may spend a couple days in Havana. Really what I’ll be looking at is wind, current, gulf stream, the tides on Cuba and Key West, and the direction of the swell.”
Many have attempted the journey, but Friberg would be the first to go from soil to soil.
Cynthia Aguilar, a Miami Beach lifeguard, has attempted the feat twice on a prone paddleboard. She came up short her first try, but completed the 29-hour, 13-minute journey on her second attempt in 2011. On both of Aguilar’s attempts, though, she started in international waters.
But that’s not good enough for Friberg, whose spent thousands of dollars making his attempt a reality, and several months attaining the numerous licenses and permissions required for the journey.
“It was difficult; it took many months,” he said. “Even doing that you’re still at a gamble. You aren’t entitled. I went through numerous departments in [Washington] D.C.. The longest one took five months from the time submitted to the time it came back.
“The only way I would do this is to have permission to go soil to soil.”
But it’s only about 90 miles from shore to shore — less than half the distance Friberg traveled in Canada last July. It should be a piece of cake for him, right?
Not exactly. This time, he’ll be on the open sea, and even for a watersport veteran like Friberg, that spells trouble. Between battling fatigue and the ocean current, that 90 miles is an extremely tall order.
“I’ll end up going over 100 miles,” Friberg said. “Maybe 110 because you can’t just go straight across. I’ll be dealing with many variables — what’s coming next. When you hit the gulf stream, it’s changing constantly.
“You’re constantly looking at what mother nature is doing to you.”
Let’s not forget about the jellyfish, either.
Just ask Australian Chloe McCardel, who attempted to swim the crossing last month. Her journey ended after just four hours in the water — a result of too many jellyfish stings. American long-distance swimmer Dina Nyad fared a little better when she attempted the feat in 2011, lasting 29 hours. But the strong ocean currents, which had taken her miles off course, combined with a pair of painful jelly fish stings, resulted in her throwing in the towel.
Assisting Friberg on his journey will be a 10-member team aboard a support boat — which Friberg isn’t allowed to board — including Ben’s father, Russell Friberg. Chattanooga natives Sam Silvey, Hugh Huffaker and Hunt Jennings will also be along for the ride, in addition to Capt. Bob Olin, medic Kathy Zerkle, a team navigator and a team cook.
Silvey and Huffaker, who together run Silvey+Huffaker Creative, a Chattanooga marketing company, will document the adventure.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.