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icebergs

A Stand Up Paddleboard is a great way to get to places that are less travelled and on SUPboarder we’re lucky to see the world through other people’s words and images, experiencing places that we might not have thought about visiting. How about SUPing Antartica for example?! Meghan Roberts explains that’s its not always a bleak, cold and inhospitable place to go and hang out with penguins;

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Before we leave the Beagle Channel in Argentina for Antarctica, I make sure my dresser and table in my cabin are cleared off. I shove some things into my drawer and secure it closed with Duct tape; Other items I know I’ll use in the next two days I put on the floor. This is what we call “Drake Proofing.” The Drake Passage is an infamous 600-mile stretch of ocean, known for being some of the roughest seas in the world. It is the shortest way to get to Antarctica by boat, taking us about two days to cross it. On Drake days I enjoy standing up at the Bridge, watching. I become completely mesmerized by the crashing waves, like staring into a campfire. The dark swells slam against the side of the ship dispersing white splashes into the air and spreading a beautiful turquoise whitewash behind it. The ship rolls back and forth relentlessly with slight jolts breaking up the rolls as the waves crash into the ship, causing me to hold onto the counter as I watch. It is hard to believe, while in the rough seas of the Drake, that I will soon be in Antarctica, with glassy calm conditions, stand up paddling.

Arriving in Antarctica never disappoints. I get my first reminder of where I am going at the sight of Icebergs floating in the Ocean soon after we cross the Antarctic convergence. The Antarctic convergence marks the beginning of the Southern Ocean and has a sudden temperature drop of 3-5 degrees. Each time I see land for the first time I can’t help but think of early explorers and what they must have felt once they saw land after navigating through the rough, uncharted waters. The sights are breathtaking. It is incredible that a land with such a lack of colours can be so absolutely colourful. I don’t think I have ever noticed how many different shades of black, grey and white there are. The second we get to the rugged, rocky, black mountains, outlined with snow, with glaciers running down their valleys, I get excited to get off the ship and explore the waters on my paddle board.

SUP Antartica
A stunning place to paddle. Image David Merron

Weather in Antarctica is very unpredictable and can change drastically without warning. There are forecasts, but they are often unreliable. I start my mornings off with a cup of coffee at the Bridge. I sit for about 45mins looking at the water, clouds, and wind. I’m trying to assess if the conditions will be suitable for a paddle. In a place so remote, it is important to make a good assessment before paddling. If it looks like a system may be coming through, it is best to hold off on your paddle.

People’s perception of Antarctica is often of an ice cold, windy, miserable place. At times, it is this, but in it’s summer months it can be very pleasant. I have had several above freezing, bluebird sky, sun shining hot days, where the sea is a big glassy mirror. These are my favorite days to paddle. I load the boards from the Heli Deck onto a zodiac, held suspended in the air by a crane. The zodiac driver picks me up at the side door and we zip away from the ship to find a remote protected area to paddle; away from the ship, away from people, hundreds of miles from civilization.

SUP Wildlife Encounters

My favorite place to paddle is Pleneau Bay. It is a bay just outside the Limaire Channel. The zodiac takes us to our spot, maneuvering through the maze of icebergs over to the northern side of Pleneau Island. We search for an open spot in the bay, free of ice, so we can launch our boards. Paddling here is amazing on the senses; the crisp air bites at my face and hands but the warmth of the sun sooths the skin. The ice sounds like Rice Crispy cereal, constantly crackling and popping as air escapes from it. Every direction my head turns there is some of the most incredible sites. To my left, Pleneau Island is alive with Gentoo penguin, Cormorant, and Skua. The rocky island slopes down to the water and I can paddle right to the land to visit the wildlife. Behind me are the towering mountains of Booth Island; a giant, rocky, dark wall, stretching over 900 meters into the sky. The white, shining, glaciers running down Booth Island, to the waters edge, contrast against the dark rock. To my right and in front of me is the maze of icebergs and sea ice.

The icebergs add a unique bit of colour to Antarctica; shinning a bright, vibrant blue. Some ‘bergs have slight highlights of blue through their cracks and crevasses, while others radiate blue throughout. The sea ice isn’t as colourful, but just as beautiful. It stretches out flat across the top of the water and has several seals and penguins lounging about on it. I like to paddle the nose of my board onto the sea ice, lie down, and watch the seals scratch their head with their flippers and the penguins dive into the water, off the ice.

Paddle boarding is one of the most intimate ways to explore Antarctica. On a board, you get the opportunity to maneuver to different places than on a ship or zodiac. You don’t have a motor or a ton of people to cause the wildlife to be alert. It is you and a few others, on boards, peacefully fitting in with your surroundings.

Words – Meghan Roberts

Images – David Merron unless otherwise stated.

About the Author:

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Meghan has worked in the outdoor industry since 2005 working in Hong Kong, New Zealand and throughout the USA. As whitewater rafting guide in West Virginia she started SUP river surfing around 2013 and was offered the chance to run a SUP program in Antartica with Quark Expeditions that was impossible to turn down. She is the owner of Mountain Surf Paddle Sports LLC and you can read more about her and her exploits here and on Facebook here.

SUP Patigonia

Aussie Chris Theobald is a stand up paddleboarder, mountain guide and journalist in the Torres del Paine, Chile, Patagonia. Driven by a desire to paddle in incredible places Chris left behind his beautiful home, headed to Santiago to buy a board and then set off on a glacial ice SUP adventure. 

This incredible SUP Patagonia experience is shared with us thanks to the mind blowing photography by Marcel Urbina Tarifeño. And with an important environmental message, to ensure we sustain such beautiful environments to paddle in. Chris tells his SUP story…

SUP Patigonia
Photographer: MARCIAL URBINA TARIFEÑO

I love Chile, particularly the far south – Patagonia. There are many differences between the culture here and my home country – Australia. To kiss a woman on the cheek when you first meet her or to greet a random person you pass on the street are the norm here.

Here the people are friendly and simple – some of these people have never left their hometown, and are content in not doing so. To be fair, they do live in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

So as you can imagine, a “gringo” arriving to Patagonia, especially to Torres Del Paine national park, with a giant 12 foot stand up paddle board would turn some heads!

I have always wanted to do an extreme sport in an exotic place, ever since my days (years ago) as a sponsored skateboarder. And what’s more exotic than paddling next to glacial ice!?

SUP Patagonia
Photographer: MARCIAL URBINA TARIFEÑO

The adventure started after I left Punta Arenas to collect my new toy.

Santiago

Waiting at the bus station at 3pm I called to confirm that it should have arrived about 2pm from the surf town Pichilemu. “It will be sent tomorrow to the airport, as it didn’t fit in today’s bus.” A quick (and expensive!) call to my airline changed my flight to the next afternoon and I was off to Bella Vista for a cold beer.

Next day, wheeling my board to the LAN Airline desk I saw the stewardesses giggling at the sheer size of my check in luggage. Trying to avoid an extra charge I asked the girl her name. “Paula hey? Well, I just got this new board and she needs a name – can I call her Paula?” Another giggle and my board was on the conveyor belt – at no extra cost!

Returning to Punta Arenas

After putting the board on the roof-racks of a friend’s Jeep, I was off to the bus terminal for the next part of the trip – three hours to the quaint and comfy little town of Puerto Natales.

“The board won’t fit in the bus, you can’t get on with that,”

Said the guy behind the desk, bewildered by the surfboard-like monstrosity going to a freezing, wave-less place at the bottom of the world.

I made a call to a friend (whose girlfriend’s dad runs the transport department) and “Paula” was allowed on. Gracias Basilio and Cony!

Puerto Natales

The hotel, Tierra Patagonia, where I guide for in the National Park Torres del Paine had organised transport for its staff with another company to the hotel (another hour’s drive away) across a valley known for its extremely strong and dangerous Patagonian winds.

As we were waiting for bus to arrive, a dark-haired and beautiful girl crossed the road and asked if we were going to the same hotel. This particular day turned out to be one of the most important and special days of my life – I met my now girlfriend Catalina who was about to join our team of guides – perfect! Although I knew I would make this girl mine I tried to play it cool and casual. What didn’t help my cause was that the boss of the transport refused to let my board in the van due to safety and size. An Aussie guy trying (unsuccessfully) to persuade a rather obstinate and increasingly irate local was not “playing it cool”. So with all eyes on me (including Catalina’s) I needed to resolve the situation and get my SUP on that bus.

My last resort was to ask if I could fix it to the roof (a potential risk due to the winds I mentioned earlier – gusts can get to over 150km/h). The answer was a strained and matter-of-fact “yes, but you don’t have any rope and the bus leaves in five minutes!” I quickly ran to find a taxi but none were in sight so I jumped in the first “collectivo” (a car which runs a set route for a fraction of the price) hoping it would get me to where I needed to go. The driver confirmed we would pass a hardware store – luck was on my side! Two minutes later I was buying rope and calling a friend to do a speedy pick-up outside. When we arrived everyone on the bus was waiting to leave.

‘I climbed up on the roof like a monkey on heat and with some help from my fellow workmates secured the SUP and we were on the road.’

Content with my success and that the show must have been entertaining for a lovely lady sitting in the back behind me, I enjoyed watching the pampas fly past (with no sign of wind!).

Torres del Paine national park in May – expedition time

On a ranch near the entrance to the park, we slept in a freezing farm house with no electricity, heating or hot water. It was the beginning of a Patagonian winter. The trip was made up of two well known photographers, Marcial Urbina and Daniel Bruhin W, and one eager young stand up paddle boarder ready to get some incredible shots – weather and light permitting.

We woke to a freezing, crisp, fresh and windless day, like many days in winter.

With a quick visit to the administration area of the park I was granted permission by the rangers (CONAF) and superintendent Federico Hechenleitner Carrasco. They re-informed me of the increasing risk of  a growing disease – the horrible snot-like algae called Didymo that spreads through waterways, covering the entire river or lake bed, due to the lack of cleaning of boats, fishing gear and kayaks after and before entering waterways. It has actually affected over 70% of the bodies of water in New Zealand and is threatening to hit Torres del Paine after contaminating Chile’s Lake district and Patagonian Aysen. Remember, we must look after our environment to ensure we can continue to paddle, fish and navigate incredible places such as this!

SUP Patigonia
Photographer: MARCIAL URBINA TARIFEÑO

The sun was setting as we walked from the end of the road down to the Grey Lake. At the end of a peninsula I saw what looked to be a huge iceberg which had broken off Glacier Grey, a finger of the huge 13500 square kilometre southern Patagonian icefield – the third biggest water source in the world after Antarctica and Greenland.

I paddled from the shore on that smooth cream coloured lake heading towards the end of the point. The iceberg was even bigger than I first thought and within minutes I was going in and out of huge ice caves standing proud on my new toy while the crew shot photos ecstatically before the sun disappeared behind the mountains. Feeling the drops of cool glacial water on my head while listening to the cracks of the smooth ice around me is something I will never forget.

SUP Patigonia
Photographer: MARCIAL URBINA TARIFEÑO

Paddling away from the huge chunk of electric blue ice, with almost frozen feet under my wetsuit boots, I literally thought to myself – if I die today, I will die a happy man!

If you’re interested in paddleboarding Torres del Paine email christophertheobald@hotmail.co.uk and check out www.facebook.com/patagoniaoeste


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