“A look at the father and son board building combo of Joe and Jack Bark. Bark Paddleboards makes some of the most winning paddleboards in the world and they all come from this father and son duo in Southern California.”
The Higginbotham brothers planned to paddle, unassisted, from Alaska to Mexico, a total of 2,200 miles. When they arrived in Mexico, they decided to keep going another 1,100 miles. We caught up with Ryan Higginbotham to hear more about their journey riding BARK down the west coast.
How did you discover paddling?
Really through our friend Pat, the three of us explored most of, if not all of our county’s coastline together, so when Pat bought a stock board one summer and started paddling to new areas of the coast, Casey and started paddling with him on lifeguard rescue boards.
Tell us what made you want to paddle the entire west coast. Has this been a dream for a while?
It all started with the idea to tackle Alaska to Mexico. We were both living in the same area at the end of 2015, and both at a transition point in life, graduating college. The idea came together trying to figure out some sort of massive adventure that would really test our limits and push the boundaries beyond what had been done.
What did you do to prepare for the trip?
Meticulous planning of every location we landed was key. There’s only so much you can control, so we try to limit the chaos. Food and gear was calculated to determine what was necessary. Along with that of course, lots of paddling.
What has been the most incredible moment on the trip?
It’s hard to narrow that down. The journey has brought both us to some highest highs and lowest lows. The amount of wildlife and coastal beauty is always mind blowing. Along with that, meeting some truly amazing people that we would never have run into otherwise.
What has been the hardest/ most terrifying part of the trip?
Each piece of the coastline has had its difficult and more intimidating sections. At the end of the day it’s all in your head. Though I will say, the Washington coastline felt especially brutal. It was a combination of the beat down from already having paddled hundreds of miles and the adverse conditions we encountered. The entire time we kept hearing stories about how dangerous the Columbia Bar was and how many people have lost their lives there, yet we knew we’d have to cross it to move south into Oregon.
Here in Baja, it comes down to water. When you think of a 1,100 mile unassisted prone paddle down the coast of Baja many potential threats come to mind. Injuries, sharks, malnutrition, theft, bad weather and seas filled with unforeseen swell and currents may be at the top of the list. But for us, dehydration was the biggest threat of all. The hand operated desalinator pump you see in the picture below is our only sources of drinkable water on this trip besides digging. It has proven to be a time consuming task as we gather gallons of ocean water every day only to produce about 1 gallon of drinkable water for every 4 gallons of salt water that we pump. Best case scenario is we stumble upon a kind fisherman or family with fresh water before we bust out the pump. Slim chances of that happening on the remote coastline of central Baja.
How do you stay motivated to keep going?
Growing up we were taught that once you start something you’ve got to finish it. When times are rough you just compartmentalize the day into micro goals. Sometimes that means just getting up in the morning, or putting on your wetsuit. When things really suck, the more laughs we have, just try to have fun with it. What else can you do right?
What was a normal day like on the trip?
We get up and boil water for a meal, fill up the camelbaks and pack food bars for the day. We pack up camp into the dry bags. Then carry our board and gear to the shoreline, strap up, punch the surf, and paddle. We keep track of our distance based on our estimated speed, and landmarks, then land at a location we mapped out months ago. Once we land, water is the first priority. Up North, we’d scout a good camp location, then I would go start collecting and purifying water while Casey setup camp. These things vary based on the hazards, and where we were. For example, when we were overly paranoid about brown bears up north one of us would always keep watch while the other collected water. In Baja we were pumping saltwater and it took both of us to continually collect water from the shore and pump it.
Once we eat, we study the following day’s paddle, re-examining distance, landmarks, and location. Camelbaks are filled to drink at night. Once those chores are done, the rest of night is spent, stretching, and if you’ve got the energy reading and writing.
Has this made you closer as brothers and friends?
I think that it’s made us closer as brothers, were less inclined to physically fight each other after the Alaska to Mexico portion. And I know Casey will always have my back, and I’ll have his through whatever. Although, by the end of the journey it’s definitely nice to not see each other for a while.
Joe is known throughout the paddle and surf industry for making some of, if not the best boards out there. He was the first person we thought to contact when the idea came up. Everyone I know who paddles had or has one of his paddle boards loves it. It’s just a bonus that the guy is a great person and a legendary waterman.
What gear do you carry on your board?
Everything needed to survive is in two bags. The list of what we brought is pretty extensive for Alaska to Mexico: A few clothing items, shirt, wool shirt, puffy jacket, gore-tex, EPIRB, marine flares, flare gun, shotgun, satellite phone, emergency blanket, whistle, waterproof matches, lighters, steel and flint starter. Stove, spork, headlamp, tent, sleeping pad, solar charged blowup lantern, 100’ of paracord, rain boots, thick wool socks, sunglasses, hat, duct tape, epoxy repair kit, extra fin and rudder, screwdriver, sandpaper, extra screws, 12 gauge shotgun shells. Medical kit with roller gauze, and suturing kit, 4”x4”, triangle bandage, medical tape, antiobiotics, Neosporin, bandaids of all sizes, ibprofen, hydrocodone. Bag balm, lots of sunscreen. Voltaic Systems waterproof solar panel and battery kit, two gopros, at most 72 dehydrated meals, cliff bars, coast guard emergency bars, neoprene beanie, backup sunglasses, wetsuits, neoprene wetsuit gloves, booties, and finally two Watershed dry bags per person to hold all of this. When we started out of Alaska the gear totaled about 70 pounds. As we moved south the climate warmed and the seasons changed so we were able to drop much of our cold weather gear. We also find out quickly which things we needed, and which things we only wanted, then dropped anything not required to survive and keep paddling.
For Baja we had to bring a portable desalination unit that we used to pump freshwater. We had less cold weather gear, i.e. swapped rain boots for sandals, gore-tex for windbreakers. No shotgun, we dropped a lot of emergency equipment apart from marine flares. We each carried our own clothing, I (Ryan) typically carried the gun, camera, and water purification equipment. Casey typically carries the bulk of the food and the cooking equipment. In Baja, Casey carried the portable desalinator while I took the camera. We try to balance how much weight we’re each carrying as best as we can. Then we’ll change it up based on circumstance, for example when Casey broke his rudder off in Baja, I took more weight and then we’d switch off boards every hour
We’ve got some ideas for a few brutal journeys to tackle. I think the more difficult, the more appealing. It’s a natural progression in a search for personal limits to endure and learn. Just in regard to paddling, we’ve got a few spots mapped out that look really interesting and are in some really cold climates but I never want to say until it’s a sure thing. You guys will be the first to know.
Thanks Ryan and Casey! Watch the teaser for their upcoming documentary here.
Karl Kruger is preparing for a 1,900 mile journey through the icy the Northwest Passage, unsupported and solo on a custom BARK stand up board. His longest paddle to date is 766 miles, so this will be his longest expedition by far. Last month, Karl met with Joe to discuss the specs for his new board, which will need to carry 200lbs of gear and withstand harsh, icy conditions.
To learn more about his experience paddling and upcoming journey, we interviewed Karl and have shared his answers below.
1. How did you get started paddling?
My father was a talented canoeist. He grew up in the Adirondacks of Upstate New York. He was born in 1909 to an Algonquin mother and Austrian Father. He was fortunate to be born into a very strong paddling/ water culture. He passed that on to me. I don't remember the first time he pressed a paddle into my hands. He shaped me my first paddle. We hunted by canoe, traveled by canoe, and just plan old messed around in canoes a whole lot while I was growing up. He gave me a one-man canoe when I was about 9 years old. That boat and I had some adventures. Rivers, lakes and even on the Ocean one time up on Nova Scotia. That was my first time paddling saltwater...I LOVED IT!!!
2. What have you learned about yourself in the process?
I've learned about every nook and cranny. The water life, much like climbing or any other endeavor where you are forced to bump into and mingle with the infinite power of nature. I've learned how to ask for help at the same time as learning how to be self-sufficient. I've learned the value of surrounding myself with like-minded people. Namely, I've learned about the power of community. I have also learned that I do my best work when I am swimming in the unknown...when I wake up and have NO IDEA what is going to happen next. It can be scary, but also incredibly liberating experience. It is pointless to worry...you just simply DO. Just keep DOING. It feels really good to be in that stripped down place.
3. What excursion are you preparing for?
I am preparing to SUP the Northwest Passage. The route I am aiming to accomplish is about 1,900 miles. Depending on ice conditions, I will leave in late June or early July.
4. What does the Northwest Passage represent for you?
The Northwest Passage represents a challenge of immense proportions. Nobody has ever Stand Up Paddleboarded through the passage. The sense of the unknown is very strong. I am reading all the books I can get my hands on to learn all I can. I have a lot to figure out. There is a lot of mental preparation, as well as logistics planning. This trip also represents the potential for me to add my voice to the chorus of voices speaking up about the realities of Climate Change. Climate Change is real, and the Arctic is changing more rapidly than anyplace else.
5. What gear are you bringing with you?
Not much. A gun for the bears...a RO water maker, tent, stove, clothing, bear fences for sleeping time, a SatPhone, GPSs, solar panel, VHF Radio, two paddles, and a bunch of food...
6. Why BARK?
Joe is a master. The first time I ever paddled one of his boards, it was an immediate fit. The fact Joe has been a prone paddler and Waterman for so long is evident in his shapes. I believe there is a strong connection between his years prone paddling, and the fact that his shapes are so good. His knowledge of water and board shape is visceral. Starting with his hands. Not to mention, he's just a damn good human. I'm proud to know him.
7. What are some achievements you are proud of?
I am insanely proud of my Daughter Dagny. She is a strong Watergirl, sailor, and paddler. She has a mean stroke, and is a promising little Grom. She has a beautiful seat on her horse, Tappy, also. I'm proud of my paddle up the Inside Passage to Alaska during the 2017 R2AK also. That was an incredible trip. I had a lot of fun.
8. What are 3 things you hope to accomplish in the future?
First...I want to SUP the Northwest Passage. After that, I am looking forward to captaining a two-year science expedition aboard SV Ocean Watch. THAT will be a fulfilling trip. I'm excited to be supporting scientists as they gather data about the health of our oceans, and communities that depend on them. I really want to sail to Greenland...and do some Skiing and Standup Paddling there.
More on this exciting adventure to come- stay tuned.
You can check out more of what Karl and his family are up to here on his website. We’re so excited to see what’s to come!
We recently teamed up with EcoBoard to set up Zane Schweitzer with a new quiver for 2019. We spoke with him on why he wanted these boards, and why this technology!
-Why all these different boards?
”Success is when preparation meets opportunity. So it’s really nice to rock up to the beach on any day not only being confident in our own abilities but also allowing that confidence to translate into my equipment. Just as a golfer has the right club for any shot, having a quiver of boards like this allows me to be ready for a variety of waves and conditions!”
What is this sustainable technology?
”Last year in 2018 I approached uncle Joe sharing my interest to use more ocean friendly materials for my quiver of big wave boards. Most my crafts including the boards I compete on the world tour with are already EcoBoards, so I am confident in many of these new innovations in sustainable surf technologies and they are proving to be at the forefront of our new generation in high performance surf sports. Not only are these performing at world class levels but they are sharing the importance for us surfers to take responsibility for our personal environmental impact. As a surfer who likes to work hands on with shapers, these materials are much more comfortable to work with as they are not nearly as harmful for our health.
All these new boards for my 2019 quiver are Level One ECOBOARDS, made with Bioscience resin from Resin Research!”
Where are you going to be surfing these boards?
”The biggest boards in this quiver 8’8”- 10’7” will be called to action for XXL days 15-20ft+ at Pe’ahi, Waimea and other spots right at home, along with Mavericks, Nazare and Pico Alto to name a few locations around the world. My step up range from 6’2”-8’ will be the boards I ride on the rising swell anywhere from Pipeline and Puerto Escondito, to Teahupoo and Honolua Bay on waves anywhere from 3-15ft Hawaiian. The Longboard will be my go to board for those days I feel like staying busy in small waves and working my footwork. All these boards vary in not only size, but as well the style they are ridden with! For 2019 I plan to use my Bark Boards in competition at Pe’ahi for the Ultimate Waterman Competition. I’ll also be making my first appearance to the WSL Big Wave World Tour events with hopes to qualify!
There’s another big wave paddle in and/or tow surf event I’ve been invited to this year in Oregon and Spain.
Aloha and Mahalo,
Zane Kekoa Schweitzer”
We’re pretty stoked on how these boards came out, and can not wait to see the waves Zane will be riding on them very soon.
This last month, Hunter Pflueger and many more top paddle athletes raced for their countries at the 2018 ISA SUP and Paddleboards World Championship in Wanning, China. Australia took home the gold, the US won silver, and Hunter raced like he never raced before. Here’s what he had to say about his trip and his first, (and definitely not last) gold medal!
“This whole crazy adventure to China began one night while I was sitting in my dorm at the University of San Diego. My phone rang, and it was my dad. He asked if I had seen the message from him (I hadn't yet), he told me Steve Shlens called, USA needs a male prone paddler for 2018 ISA in China. Right when I heard those words so many thoughts started running through my mind. Right when I got off the phone with my dad I Immediately contacted Steve. He filled me in on what the logistics would be. Fast forward to November 22nd and I am boarding the plane to China. The forecast was looking good, almost a little too good to be true. We would have 20-30mph winds for the distance race, ideal for some mental downwind runs. Turns out the reason why the wind was so good was because there was a typhoon on the way. This flipped the script and now competition dates would be moved around. First, we would race the technical (3 miles) then we would race the distance (11 miles).
On the morning of the technical momentum was with Team USA. Before my race, our junior Sup racers, Ryan Funk and Jade Howson, both put on a show taking home the gold. I was pumped.
The tech race began with Lachie Lansdown (Australia), Daniel Hart (New Zealand), Jadon Wessels (South Africa) and I taking charge and breaking the pack. Last time I raced in the ISA tech race I had been dropped right off the start so just to be up there and to be able to hang with the top pack was super cool. As the race went on the positions between the four of us rotated constantly, but somehow, I was able to stick in there. When the final lap came all of us were still neck to neck. I was on the far left, closest to the buoy, but farthest from the waves that we had been catching to get to the buoy faster. I was about half way to that buoy when I looked back. I didn't see any waves, but I also knew that even a small bump could change everything. I decided to gamble and skip the waves and straight shot it to buoy. It paid off as my competition had to paddle farther to come back toward the buoy as I made a break for it. Lachie was hot on my heels though. I had maybe 10-15 yards on him. As I sprinted in toward the finish line, I thought I had it, my first gold medal. Mother nature had other plans though. A quick glance to my left and here comes Lachie on the smallest little swell possible. So small in fact that it does not reach me. We hit the beach, he was about half a board length in front and from there I watched him out sprint me, winning by three seconds. Exhausted from 30 minutes of racing I was too tired to be upset, I had just got my first ISA World Championship Podium! More importantly though, I had finally challenged Lachie, something I had been trying to do ever since I first raced him. That was the real victory for me that day.
After a couple days rest, we all lined up again for the distance race...and there were bumps. I knew I had to seize every opportunity to put pressure on the other guys. Three laps totaling 11 miles, it was going to be a grind, with flat, down and side wind all mixed together. The race played out similar to the tech race. The same pack of four separating, shooting off at the start. One lap down and we all stayed together. I was feeling fresh. As we finished the second lap, I knew I would have to make my move soon. I was not about to leave it to a sprint finish again. When the time came I executed my plan. Lachie stuck right next to me though as we made our way into the downwind section, where he excels. There I had to focus on every little detail to not give him any ground or opportunity to break away. Finishing the downwind and going into the upwind I had to put my head down and grind. I had a little gap and over the course of the final third lap, I was able to grow it slowly. I ran up the beach completely stunned at what had happened. I had won the 2018 ISA Paddleboard World Championships distance race. Not really sure what to feel, I was just content with how everything went.
All in all, China was amazing. It is always great to catch up with friends from other countries and to be a part of Team USA and take home an overall of 2nd out of 26 countries was the cherry on top. A huge thank you to Bark Boards for always looking after to me. Best boards and even better people.”
***All photos by ISA.
Surftech ands BARK came together to create a Paddleboard that we c Ould taker anywhere. Any car ride, and flight, any hike. This board pumps up in 5 minutes and paddles just about as good as a non-inflatable board, but it’s not.
Jack and friends pushed this board to its limits in the Kern river to get Surftech feedback on durability, functionality, and how this board goes in some solid rapids. Check out the photos to see what the boys got into.
Photo: Jedd Hasey
Chris Aguilar captured the action from this years grueling, current filled Catalina Classic. It was a tough year of racing with everyone who crossed the line leaving a winner. Max First took the win for his third time, Katie Hazelrigg took home the women's stock victory, and Lachie Landsdown also won his third stock victory. congratulations everyone who was out there!
Jack was up in Oregon this last week for the Gorge Paddle Race, and ended up scoring some pretty fun conditions. This is what he had to say about his paddles up there.
"Pat Towersey and I got up to Oregon Wednesday afternoon, and immeditaly wanted to hop in the water. The wind was blowing 15-25, which looked epic, but the locals were saying it was nothing. We borrowed some stock boards from Big Wind Paddle Shop and got a ride to the start of the 8 mile downwind course. We had a fun paddle, feeling out the course and getting some sweet runs. Thursday we had to go work in Portland, but Friday was when I scored. Pat had to leave town, and so Kai and Ridge Lenny and myself got in the water at around 11:30 for a run. It was blowing about 30-40 this day and was absolutely going bonkers. There were breaking waves all over, and it was just stacking up. I've never seen waves like this before, and having them in a river running against the current made them really stand up and hold a lot longer. It was so fun that after this run I went straight back up and met Slater and Dave for another run. This one was a bit smaller, but equally as fun! 100 yard runs all the way down the course.
Saturday we were treated with glassy conditions, and a sky that looked like something out of Star Wars. It was bright orange from all the fires around the area, and it made it super hard to breathe. I decided to enter the SUP race, and borrowed a Surftech D2 to race on. That race was so brutal, and i was happy just to finish and bring up the rear.Ate that, and with the expected forecast for Sundays downwind race, I wasn't too stoked to race more flat water.
We woke up Sunday to glass again, and they kept pushing the start time back hoping for wind, but it was useless, it was going to be another flat day. Thats when I decide to call it and I paddled across the Gorge into the White Salmon River in Washington. It was so fun paddling up the river, and eventually turning around and riding the flow and a few rapids back down. Its all about the adventure! Cant wait to get back up there next year, or sooner!" #weliveforthis #keeppaddling
This last week, Team USA went down to compete in the SUP and Paddle board World Championships in Mexico. Included in the team was Candice Appleby, Carter Graves, Jack Bark, and Steve Shlens, along with many other amazing athletes! The team dominated, winning 6 individual gold medals, 2 silver medals, and 2 bronze medals. The team won overall, for the first time in 4 years, taking the title off of reigning champions from Australia. Here are some photos from Bark paddlers from the week long event! Congrats team USA!
All photos from ISA. You can check out video highlights and the full gallery here.
Scotty has been spending the past few summers in Mexico and looks to us that he's been scoring!