Nature calls to certain people. For some, the sea and rivers call the loudest, beckoning them to aquatic exploration and experiences, and they answer fervently. In rare cases, this passion leads to amazing things. Julieta “Jules” Gismondi and LouAnne Harris, river guides and paddling instructors at Manhattan Kayak + SUP [Stand Up Paddling], in New York, NY, are two such people. Together, the friends are known as the Atlantic SUPergirls, and as their story proves, the name is apt.
Just over a year ago, on October 12, 2015, they embarked on the journey of a lifetime: a four-month paddle-boarding trip from New York City to Miami, FL—a distance of 1,500 miles. During the expedition, they raised more than $16,000 for two charities: Mission Blue, dedicated to exploration and conservation of the oceans, and First Descents, which provides outdoor adventures to people impacted by cancer.
Given the expansion of the B&H Outdoor department, and the addition of paddleboards to our lineup, the Atlantic SUPergirls’ inspirational trip seemed like a perfect topic for a story. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gismondi about their fantastic voyage.
Originally from Argentina, Gismondi began paddleboarding eight or nine years ago, and was into aquatic activities long before that. “I used to row. I grew up doing watersports. I started kayaking in 2000, and then paddleboarding,” she says. “I also surf ski [a type of kayaking done on a special craft in rough water].” Harris, who hails from Alaska, started paddleboarding about six or seven years ago. The two began teaching in 2007-08.
As Gismondi explains, the sport hasn’t been around very long. “We got into it way, way at the beginning,” she says. “Paddleboarding was exploding in Hawaii, so we got three boards shipped to us from there, just to have some toys in the boathouse.” As the sport grew, they got more and more involved. After playing around with their new “toys” for a while, she notes, “We started figuring out proper technique and the science behind it. Then, we started teaching and doing trips.”
Having done some rowing, but never having used a paddleboard myself, I knew it was good exercise; but I wanted to ask Gismondi for a master’s opinion of the benefits. “It’s well-rounded, and a full-body workout if you’re standing,” she says. And even if you’re not, you’re still engaging your upper body and your core. If you’re standing and paddling close to 20 miles a day, like the Atlantic SUPergirls did during their expedition, it’s a great workout. Speaking about the mental and emotional benefits, Gismondi adds, “Being on the water is super-therapeutic.”
One of the major differences between paddleboarding and other watersports, she explains, is that “paddleboarding has a very low entry-level skill requirement. You don’t need to know anything to get started.” And compared to the other sports, there’s less to think about. “For instance, you don’t need to worry about capsizing and how to right yourself like you do in a kayak,” she adds. Emphasizing that the activity is friendly to beginners and people of all ages and shapes, she notes, “It’s really the watersport for anyone and everyone.”
Another major benefit is that there’s minimal gear required, so you have a lot of freedom. You also have the ability to segue right from your board to diving, or snorkeling, or another activity with ease—a convenience you don’t have with other aquatic sports. “Because you’re not loaded up with equipment, you can connect more to the environment,” Gismondi adds.
Knowing how devoted the SUPergirls were, and being an athlete myself, I was eager to hear about their exercise regimen. They’re hardcore: Gismondi trains for one to two hours every day. When I spoke to her, she was gearing up for a race in Tennessee. “I’m doing two-hour sessions four times a week and one-hour sessions the other three days. I also bike two hours a day,” she reports. Sometimes she runs, too. “I just love being outside, even if it’s bad weather,” she says. Living an hour from the boathouse helps; it’s a short trip for someone who’s paddled the entire length of the United States.
Gismondi first came up with the idea to paddle from New York to Miami after doing a solo trip around Long Island in May of last year. “I did that, and I survived,” she says. “The night I got back, a friend asked me, ‘Jules, what’s next?!’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’” During the summer, she got the itch to do a longer excursion, but didn’t want to do it alone.
She knew Harris would be keen on joining her. “We had a million ideas about where we wanted to go. We settled on a trip down the coast because we thought it would be a lot warmer as we went south—but that turned out not to be true,” she admits. When the pair left, it was unseasonably warm, but about a week later, it became unseasonably cold. Fortunately, it stayed in the 50s while they were in the Outer Banks, where it got really windy. “And then it snowed when we got to Florida,” Gismondi adds.
Facing the Elements
The inclement weather, and the expedition as a whole, certainly tested their mettle. “Our feet were constantly frozen and thawed,” Gismondi recalls. “I had nerve damage in my left foot for a couple of months after the trip.” She also broke a toe along the way, while Harris suffered persistent joint pain in her knees, elbows, and hands. But they weren’t going to let that stop them.
Considering all these difficult elements of the mission, I wanted to find out which was the biggest challenge of all. “The windy days were the hardest. And getting up at 4:30 a.m. day after day to go out in the cold,” says Gismondi. “The Northeast wind was really wild for a couple of days around Georgia,” she adds. “The swells were huge; the sea was tossing us around. That was the most dangerous part.” They had to take a few days off, and then left one day too early and got caught in the storm again. It was an extreme test for the pair, but their training, determination, and friendship got them through it. Through the highs and lows of the journey they supported one another fully, whether they were rescuing each other from pilings, helping each other up after rough beach landings, or “hugging it out” at the end of every day.
The adventurers generally camped on the beach overnight. They brought along cookware, as well as 20 days’ worth of dry food. Once a week or so, they’d get a hotel so they could take a shower, do laundry, and sleep on a bed. They were fortunate to meet a lot of kind people, and social media was a big help to them in making these connections. “People would tag each other on Facebook and say, ‘These girls are on their way to you,’” Gismondi explains. “So, we had folks following us along the way and pointing us in the right direction. They would tell their friends about us and their friends would get involved.” Good Samaritans would pick them up to take them to the supermarket and out to dinner. “We even had someone put us up in a hotel at one point. The people were amazing,” she says.
Future Journeys and Gear Tips
Now that they’ve accomplished such a great feat, I was curious to find out what’s next on the SUPergirls’ list. “Lou[Anne] and I are going to paddle the Keys in January—Miami to Key West,” Gismondi says. “We want to do the Gulf Coast in a variety of vessels, all the way to the Yucatan Peninsula.” She also has her sights set on paddling from Montreal to New York one day. As for races, she’s heading home to Argentina in February for one in Patagonia.
According to Gismondi, the sport of paddleboarding is growing. “People are still trying it for the first time and getting into it. There are SUP races every single weekend and they're all well attended.” To those who want to join the movement and are looking for help choosing a board, she gives this advice: “It's important to understand where you'll paddle the most and what use you'll give your board. Buying a race board to do yoga on might not be the best purchase.”
I asked her to check out our stock at B&H and give me her thoughts. She recommends a 10' all-around board like the Isle Surf & SUP for beginners, fitness enthusiasts, and families. For going beyond stationary play, she suggests a longer touring board, such as the Surf & SUP 12.5'. The 12' Ten Toes Board Emporium Globetrotter is a particularly versatile option because it can cut through flat and choppy water effectively, and it’s also stable enough to be a good choice for beginners.
Do you have a favorite type of paddleboard, or other kind of outdoor gear from the B&H website? If so, please add your voice in the Comments section, below.
Does B&H sell water skis?
Hi Ralph -
We are not currently offering water skis. But not long ago, B&H didn't offer any products for water sports either. Maybe one day...
Water Sports at B&H
Thanks, Mark. Good point! And thanks for reading, Ralph!