TJ is a normal guy with a passion for adventure. Regardless of whether it’s on the water, in the water or as far from the sea as you can get, if it’s a challenge and something different from the norm, he’s keen! TJ shares his love for adventure, and the importance of following your dreams - however mad they may seem!...
I’ve a regular job, wear a suit to the office, and take the tube to the office every day. I was born in the Netherlands but London has been home for 25 years now. I’ve no special abilities, but whenever I get the chance I look for adventure. I like to push boundaries and I don’t really think about why something wouldn’t work – it’s more about “How can we make this work?”
When I was paddle boarding across the English Channel, it actually got quite scary. I did have a support boat with me, but when we got to the French waters, suddenly there was a speedboat with a dozen armed officials – and none of us were sure what was going on. I tried to explain I was crossing the Channel on a paddleboard, but they looked confused – not sure if that was my story or my French. The French coastguard was on high alert, on the lookout for refugees from Calais. I could continue, but the support boat had to stay behind for a full search. I didn’t have a compass or phone with me, so I followed the sun. After half an hour, I looked back, and couldn’t see anything – no land, no support boat, no coastguard. I was completely on my own. Times like these are when you really get to know yourself: it was nerve-wracking to say the least. After two hours I finally saw a sign I was close to land: a sailboat. And then another. I couldn’t have been happier when finally the support boat caught up with me and we made it to France.
Laird Hamilton was the first person to ever cross the English Channel on a paddleboard. He’s also the best big wave surfer in the world, an all round water-man. Last year I had the honour to go paddle boarding with Laird in Malibu. I like to push myself but Laird takes everything to a new level. I saw how he trains harder than anyone I’ve ever seen, he’s a also big believer in getting out of your comfort zone to achieve your goals. We swapped stories about our crossings of the English Channel. Turns out when he crossed the Channel on a paddle board, he used only his hands! Clearly there’s always a next level.
With a can-do mentality you will surprise yourself by how much you can achieve. That doesn’t mean you’ll always succeed. You have to prepare as well as you can and take advice from experts. And on my adventures I always make sure I use the best trainers and guides. But even then there is no guarantee for success. When you don’t reach your goal, don’t get too distracted by it, just try to move on and make it work the next time.
Some of the toughest moments and biggest setbacks have spurred me on to my greatest achievements. I was bitterly disappointed when I came back from Denali, the highest mountain in North America. I’d trained so hard but after three weeks we hadn’t summited because bad weather in Alaska had forced us to retreat. The only upside was that I was in the best shape of my life and I knew if ever I wanted to climb the Eiger, one of Europe’s greatest climbing challenges, now was the perfect time. A month later I actually did it and I could hardly believe it.
I have a bucket list, like everyone else. It expands all the time, though sometimes the adventures are more spontaneous. Like escaping from Alcatraz. In 2015 I visited San Francisco for my work, our offices were in a fifty-two storey skyscraper, and from high up I had a great view of the Bay Area. I saw Alcatraz right in the middle, and I could see Angel Island in the distance. Somehow I just thought, I can swim that, I can Escape from Alcatraz… My wife’s from Hawaii and a great swimmer. But I’m definitely not. She thought I was nuts. But I trained hard for a year, she was very supportive and she actually came along on the support boat to see me do it.
When I reach a goal, I’m always incredibly relieved, euphoric. But it doesn’t last that long, and I’m not one to rest on my laurels. Tick the box. What’s next? I’m always looking ahead. But at the same time I have learned that the more adventures I do, the more I’m grateful for what I have. You really start to appreciate your daily comforts, like warm water, hot chocolate, home, family – they shouldn’t be taken for granted.
What else have I learned from my adventures?
- Climb your own mountain in life and fulfil your dreams – whatever those may be.
- Grit pays off.
- It’s important to know you have a base, someone who supports you.
- Also… don’t eat the yellow snow!
Inspired by the response to a talk I gave at Allenburys Adventures, I have written a book, Many Worlds to Conquer, to share my stories and experiences. If any of the 10 adventures in this book – running the New York Marathon, skydiving in Seville, ski-touring the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt, climbing the Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn or the Eiger in the Alps, walking to the North Pole, and then the South Pole – can entertain or inspire you, then I’d be delighted. But I’m also hoping to raise some money for JDRF, the leading global organisation funding type 1 diabetes research. Many Worlds to Conquer is dedicated to my nephew Felix as through him- and from the trip I organised with JDRF to take 8 teenagers with type 1 diabetes to the summit of Ben Nevis – I’ve seen first-hand just what can be achieved with innovative therapies.
What’s next? I’m just back from trekking in Bhutan. And next year I hope to climb Mount Vinson, Antarctica’s highest mountain. Though I haven’t exactly told my wife yet!…
Words – TJ Halbertsma