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How SUNOVA Rider James Casey set a Guinness World Record in SUP foiling

There is a memorable exchange in “Everest” (2015) film where a journalist has to ask ‘the Why question’, “Why do people climb Mount Everest?” and the crew replies, “Because it’s there”.

“Why the extreme?” has been a recurring theme in TotalSUP conversations with riders embarking on and completing extraordinary watersport challenges and we had to ask that question once again. This time we asked SUNOVA Team Rider, James Casey, who officially set a Guinness World Record in foiling (“Longest Distance Hydrofoiling in 12 hours”). It took him 200km and 12 hours of downwind foiling from Kioloa to Bondi Beach, Australia to achieve it. 

But this story simply goes beyond the success itself and the logistic, mental and physical challenges. TotalSUP caught up with James Casey to look back on this awe-inspiring challenge and chat about the tough, the epic and the close to heart.

Photo credit: Ocean Culture Magazine and CASSIDY

Hi James, massive congratulations on this remarkable achievement and setting the World Record! Why did you decide to embark on this challenge?

I spoke to my dad back in 2018 about the capabilities of hydrofoils and how cool it would be to hydrofoil down the roaring 40s and even go around Antarctica. Obviously, that’s a bit different to what I did, but I guess it was the start of something more.

We talked about the Great Australian Bight and then we decided maybe Bass Strait was a good option. And to me, this was logistically, an easier challenge than Bass Strait but it’s definitely something I’d love to do down the track.

So to answer the question, I embarked on this journey, because my dad and I talked about it… He passed away from brain cancer and it just seemed like a good thing to do and to raise awareness for brain cancer and what a horrible disease it is… So just to sort of get close to my dad in some way, being out in the ocean and adventuring on the foil like we’ve discussed.

Have we entered a phase in watersports of pushing beyond what’s possible?

I think that’s always been the case because seeing guys like Chris Bertish paddling across the Atlantic, or kite surfers doing huge jumps for a while now… Also guys like Bart de Zwart, who has been paddling some crazy distances around Maui and between islands… Or events like SUP11 City Tour…

It may be a beginning of longer distance SUP foil challenges but I think it’s also evolution of the sport – seeing what’s possible even though guys are already wind foiling super long distances.
But yeah, it may be the start of people pushing the limits on foils and SUPs and I’m stoked to be a part of that.

Why the extreme? What’s so appealing about pushing yourself to the limits?

For me, it’s just finding out what’s possible. And the distance of 200 kilometres in 12 hours to me was a really good test for Bass Strait, because it’s about 210 kilometres from Tasmania, to Victoria or vice versa. So it was cool to test that, to see if it was possible on our coastline here in Sydney and safer work for Bass Strait.

What’s so appealing about pushing yourself to the limits? I think it’s human nature, we’ve always wanted to see how far we can go. You know, like climbing Mount Everest, or swimming across the English Channel or whatever it is, people are setting themselves challenges because it motivates them. To me during COVID and not being able to travel, this was a really good project to work towards and finally tick it off as COVID starts to become less restricting.

What was the toughest point of this world record attempt?

To start with the logistics was definitely the hardest part. Finding money for a boat that could basically be put on standby for the ideal weather conditions was really hard. Finding the crew to help out and just the whole waiting period made it all really tricky.

In terms of the actual day, the toughest part was the first hour and a half to two hours. The wind didn’t turn up. The wind didn’t really show up the way I’d hoped and while there was some wind it wasn’t as good as and basically the first two hours was just pumping and not much gliding. It was  really hard knowing that there were still ten hours to go. But the wind was still super light. So yeah, the hardest part was that mental challenge but also the physical one with two hours of pumping in light wind knowing I’ve got ten more to go… So trying to conserve the body and make sure I can keep going for the entire day of foiling.

 

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A post shared by James Casey | Ocean Athlete (@james__casey)

What was the most epic point of this world record attempt?

The most epic point of this world record attempt was probably the two to three hours after the wind turned up. I was pretty fatigued after the first two hours and pretty concerned about not being able to make it. And then that next two, three hours the wind turned out perfect for the foil I was using and it allowed me to really conserve energy and there were heaps of wildlife, birds and pods of dolphins. Basically it turned into fun conditions and I was able to shift from pumping to staying up and going to gliding and just enjoying it again. That good groove continued the whole way through.

What were your thoughts along the way?

I was pretty focused on the conditions and the water in front of me, there was obviously a lot to navigate in a lot of different conditions. The start of the day, was really just about trying to stay up on foil and read the swell, the wind and try to manoeuvre so I could save my legs as best I could.

And after that, the next two to three hours, the wind was sort of spot on, so I was just trying to conserve energy but also keep the speed up so I didn’t fall behind too much.

And then towards the end, it got really messy and basically, I was using too big a foil for the last three to four, even five hours. So it was really just focusing on reading the conditions, reading the bumps and not falling off.

So yeah, there weren’t many other thoughts. Really. I did wonder what my wife and son were doing on land, see if they could see me but I was a long way out so they definitely they could not… It was just mainly facing the bumps and drifting off every now and then but I couldn’t afford to think about too much else. Obviously I also thought about my dad and what he would have thought of this journey and  that he was out there looking… looking after me and keeping me safe.

Your future plans…

Next on the agenda is the Great Barrier Reef Ocean Challenge up in Cannes, Northern Queensland. So that’s a forty kilometre race. It’s like the Australian Molokai I guess. I’m excited for that one.

In terms of projects, I still really want to do Bass Strait and foil across, you know, from Tassie back to Victoria. But that’s a longer-term challenge… I’m just sort of coming to terms of what I’ve achieved already. But yeah, I’d love to foil across Bass Strait to experience that water but also see if it’s possible to foil across in a day, which I’m hoping it is.

 

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A post shared by James Casey | Ocean Athlete (@james__casey)

Thank you for your time James and good luck with your future epic attempts!

To find out more about SUNOVA, visit sunovasurfboards.com

Follow James Casey on Instagram and check out his SUP and foil coaching programmes at  caseyaus.com

About the Author

Anna Nadolna

Anna is the Founder of SUPer Whale, a Cambridge(UK!)-based emerging watersports brand and a stand-up paddleboarding community. She is a certified SUP Flat Water Instructor accredited by International Surfing Association (ISA). Anna is also a digital marketing, storytelling aficionado and a growth hacking enthusiast.

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