SUP AROUND THE WORLD

The best thing about travelling with a Stand Up Paddle Board is that just by getting around with such a simple means of transport, you are suddenly able to make real contacts with the locals anywhere in the world.

When you arrive somewhere on the water and on a simple board, all cultural barriers immediately fall away. Everyone is ready to cheer you on, their kids want to try, the fishermen are interested in you and ask you for details about the board, suddenly it's like you are part of the life of the community. This is a recurring pattern I've observed around the world, and it's exactly what prevents me from seeing the world through SUP.

This is a short story about what it meant for me to see the world in just over three weeks, travelling through some of the most incredible Stand Up Paddle places in the world with my inflatable tent and inflatable SUP board. It's actually about visiting the corners of the world to meet people who are connected by the water, just as we Stand Up Paddlers naturally are. In total we took 19 flights and visited 5 continents until I returned home full of memories and life experiences.

YAP, Micronesia

Grass skirts, stone money and western influences

After a night in Japan, I'm on my way to Yap, a tiny island in the North Pacific that belongs to Micronesia. Yap has a lush green interior full of palm and betel nut trees. The coast is mostly covered with mangroves, and there is a protective reef all around the island where manta rays up to one metre wide can be found. A large oasis with only 10,000 inhabitants and no industry. So here I am standing in front of my tent on the shore, waiting for the tide to come in so we can explore the island with our SUP boards. Most of the islanders, like us, live right on the beach and fish and gather from the forest right behind their houses. It's a really laid-back lifestyle that's hard to get used to.

But today the traditional wooden outriggers lie among the palm trees as a remnant of a former real water culture. In the past, the only way to leave the island was by outrigger boat. On these trips, you had to rely on the stars to keep you on course. You need exceptional navigation skills not to miss the next tiny island!

Even though it has been mostly lost, this tradition of seafaring lives on throughout the island and is a historical reference point and an example of bravery for those of us who paddle and navigate for recreational purposes and not for survival. In a way, we immediately feel connected to these people who are connected by the sea and nature. And we understood the reason why we came here, to connect with them. It's a journey back to the roots of what we love, to the culture that built an entire maritime empire based on their sailing techniques, navigation skills and lots of paddling!

Meanwhile, we are already busy fantasising about our next destination, Nepal. From the sea to the summit, to understand how the dynamics of the largest river basin in the world affect the lives of the people who live along these rivers.

NEPAL

Himalayas, earthquakes and white water

When I travel, I am always surprised by the contrasts. Like this time, when I travelled from Micronesia to Nepal: The contrasts could not have been sharper. As soon as I arrive in Kathmandu, I feel catapulted into a buzzing world of honking cars and motorbikes driving chaotically through the dusty and dirty streets. It's shocking, but I enjoy it. And besides, I feel at home here. This is the land of discovery. The land of white water rivers, the highest peaks in the world and long hiking trails.

Due to the melting snow in the Himalayas, there are quite a few rivers that can be explored by SUP board. However, only a few of the rivers are calm enough to paddle down with our equipment (I even brought my cameras and laptop!). Anyway, after a little research we find a valley that seems interesting and a river that is supposed to be navigable with the SUP.

This is the moment when disaster strikes. Suddenly the ground begins to shake. People start screaming and as we look up, we see the buildings moving violently and about to collapse. We run to the other side of the street, away from anything that could fall on us. Another strong quake, a second wave, this time I am sure that the hotel I am looking at will collapse, but miraculously none of the buildings do.

Suddenly it is quiet again. We have just survived one of the strongest earthquakes in Nepal's recent history, luckily no one around us was injured, but from that moment on our journey to Nepal took a different turn. The following night we are greeted with many aftershocks. Every 20 minutes we have a small quake. Luckily we are camping in the wilderness, where it is safer than in a building. Where we are, far away from the rest of the world, everyone sleeps in tents in front of their houses.

The fear of another earthquake brings the village closer together and makes it easier for us to get in touch. One family after another invites us for tea, food and many stories. They are as interested in us as we are in them. Immediately we are labelled as the ones staying in a tent in the middle of nowhere; suddenly we are all the same.

As we descend downstream, we pass beautiful villages and small farms. The river is an important source of water and life. It is the highway that connects all these places in the valley. From the water we have such a privileged view of one of the most untouched valleys in Nepal.

However, when we return to Kathmandu, we see the devastation of the earthquake at its peak: collapsed buildings that have fallen to the ground and many homeless people camping on the streets. Certainly a sad sight, but here too we see that the difficulties bring people together and they help each other. Even in this situation, the Nepalese are proving to be a very resilient people.

We are leaving a country in a difficult situation, but the positive attitude of the majority of the citizens is remarkable. Although the situation has brought them to their knees, they are already getting back up and rebuilding what they have just lost. In our minds remains the vivid image of a beautiful country with beautiful people and the nights we shared stories about life in a tent while waiting for the next aftershock.

The best thing about travelling with a Stand Up Paddle Board is that just by getting around with such a simple means of transport, you are suddenly able to make real contact with the locals anywhere in the world. When you arrive somewhere on the water and on a simple board, all cultural barriers immediately fall away. Everyone is ready to cheer you on, their kids want to try, the fishermen are interested in you and ask you for details about the board, suddenly it's like you're part of the community's life. This is a recurring pattern I've observed around the world, and it's exactly what prevents me from seeing the world through SUP.

This is a short story about what it meant for me to see the world in just over three weeks, travelling through some of the most incredible Stand Up Paddle places in the world with my inflatable tent and inflatable SUP board. It's actually about visiting the corners of the world to meet people who are connected by the water, just as we Stand Up Paddlers naturally are. In total we took 19 flights and visited 5 continents until I returned home full of memories and life experiences.

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