Dave Cornthwaite SUP Interview

One man, one river, 2,400 miles, 1.24 million strokes, this is the story of Dave Cornthwaite and his extraordinary Stand up Paddle Board Challenge down one of the most iconic rivers in the world – The Mississippi River.

It’s the first day for Dave Cornthwaite and his Mississippi River Stand up Paddle (SUP) expedition and one of the first things the adventurer has to face on the river is a black bear.

“On day one I saw a 450 pound black bear, and up there (Minnesota) the Mississippi River is only a couple of metres wide.

“I just told myself that it was smiling at me and laughing too,” explains 31-year-old Dave.

Start of the SUP Mississippi

Dave Cornthwaite is best known as the man who skateboarded across Australia but all this is about to change as he undertakes the next stage of his adventure project called Expedition 1000.

The idea is for Dave to embark on 25 separate journeys, each at least 1000 miles in distance, and each using a different form of non-motorised transport.

Dave explains how he never felt he was particularly good at any one thing so he decided to spread his bets and stretch himself in all directions, whether it’s mentally or physically and to try as many different forms of travel.

But it is stand up paddling which really captured Dave’s imagination, so much so he says he will never kayak again. And this is from a man who kayaked down the great Murray River in Australia last year.

The idea to SUP first came to Dave when a UK representative for a Hawaiian SUP company hard about his skateboarding exploits.

“He said you’d love this, so sent me a board,” explains Dave. “I potted around on the Kennet and Avon Canal and six minutes later I thought I’m gonna do a journey on this. That was April 2009.”

Having decided to make SUP part of his Expedition 1000 project, Dave had the small matter of a 1,500 kayak trip down the Murray River in Australia to get out of the way first. A trip he completed in December 2009.

Dave crossed Lake Geneva and paddled from Bath to London on a SUP to test whether it was possible to go long distances on it.

“It was enjoyable. I needed to get back on a river after the Murray expedition, I was missing it. And the Mississippi jumped right out. I chose a big one,” Dave explains.

Having never been to Middle America the attraction of one of the world’s grandest rivers was clear. Despite never setting sight on the Mississippi before starting his journey, Dave says the river ticked all the right boxes.

“The Mississippi River just made sense,” he said.

Every adventure be it a round-the-world-trip, holiday, journey, or expedition will invariably have its high and low points and Dave’s SUP Mississippi Challenge was no different, but it’s fair to say the highs easily outweighed the lows, in fact, Dave is still buzzing a week and a half after returning from the USA.

Mississippi River SUP

One of Dave’s favourite moments on the Mississippi actually had its roots in a natural disaster. “I passed this little town called La Grange in Missouri; it was still early about 6 am. There had been flooding upriver and there were all kinds of branches and trees floating down the river.

“I had to keep my eyes open and there was an entire tree floating down the river. And in this tree, there were just all kinds of stuff that had been collected – a couple of dead Asian Carp, plastic bottles and an American football.

“I paddled over to the football and lo and behold it was made by Wilson. Sadly, just like Tom Hank’s Wilson, my Wilson eventually escaped without saying goodbye.”

Dave’s lowest point on the Mississippi came towards the end of the trip, the last week of the expedition in fact. Possessing only a 90-day tourist visa Dave had just left Baton Rouge in Louisiana knowing there was a climate depression in the Gulf.

By the end of that day, the depression had been given a name, Tropical Storm Lee. When they name a storm, you know it’s got the potential for havoc, says Dave.

The storm hit Dave head on. “It was amazing; the storm hit me on a five-mile stretch of the river. I could see it coming; it was a wall of mist and hard rain.”

Dave Cornthwaite prepares for another day on the Mississippi River

The strength of the wind was forcing the trees to bend over double. And while Dave never felt in any danger on the Mississippi, the wind meant paddling was a futile exercise so he decided to get off the river and allow the storm to pass.

“The storm raged for three days and I couldn’t paddle, for the first time on the entire expedition I was considering the distance I had left,” explains Dave.

With 190 miles to go and with a time limit as his visa only had a few days left, suddenly, Dave explains, the distance suddenly felt incredibly daunting.

Dave spent his nights either taking up the kind offers of accommodation from strangers he met on the river or, more often than not, sleeping out under the stars on sandbars.

“Just like paradise you have your own beach in the middle of nowhere. You share it with nothing but birds, snakes and possibly the odd bear.”

Dave’s future is looking bright as he plans more adventures and expeditions. The incredible Whike (google it, trust me it looks awesome), paragliding in the Himalayas and cycling across the USA are just a few the man has in mind.

But for now Dave is still buzzing about the Mississippi River, you can tell he has a real connection with the mighty river.

All pictures appear courtesy of Dave Cornthwaite.

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