Champion Australian paddleboarder Jackson English has set a record by paddling across the second busiest shipping lane in the world – from Singapore to Indonesia and back again – to raise money for a non-profit humanitarian aid organisation, SurfAid International.
Jackson English, who turned 32 on the first day of the paddle on Saturday 31 March, became the first person to paddle a board across Singapore Strait between Sentosa Island, Singapore and Batam, Indonesia – a roundtrip of 75 kilometres (just under 50 miles).
English, a schoolteacher at Singapore’s United World College of South East Asia, did the first leg to Batam on Saturday 31st March in three and a half hours. He left Batam for Sentosa early Sunday morning on 1st April but found the going much tougher as he encountered 15-knot headwinds from a storm, which also created wind swell and whitecaps on the sea.
The storm also cut visibility and his support safety boat had to keep a close eye out for container ships and warn English of their approach, and also to make sure that he stayed on course for Singapore using their GPS navigation system.
“It was a bit of a slog coming back into the breeze and because of the storm we couldn’t see Singapore for awhile,” he said. “Plus it was whitecapping in the middle of the ocean and I was dodging container ships. Crew on my support boat yelled out at one stage: ‘You have to give way to this one coming here, Jackson’.”
Tired, sore and sunburnt English made land at Sentosa Beach at 11am after another three and a half hour paddle, a total of seven hours, to be greeted by his wife Anna and two-year-old daughter, Grace. He had averaged a speed of 10-12 kilometres per hour.
SurfAid is conducting a fundraising campaign to raise US$300,000 for a work boat to enable the delivery of life-saving mosquito nets and aid staff to the remote villages of the Mentawai Islands, off Indonesia’s West Sumatran coast. The islands are only accessible by boat or plane. The Mentawai Islands, with a population of about 70,000 people, have some of the worst childhood death rates in the world.
In villages surveyed by UNESCO, up to 53 per cent of families have lost at least one child from treatable and preventable diseases like malaria, measles, tetanus and diarrhoea. “The Mentawais are a difficult and dangerous environment in which to work and a dedicated SurfAid boat will make the program delivery more efficient and a lot safer,” English said.
SurfAid, which was founded seven years ago by New Zealand doctor Dave Jenkins, has developed sustainable programs such as Malaria Free Mentawai and the Community-Based Health Program. SurfAid’s goal is to empower people to help themselves through disease prevention, education, training, treatment and integration with local health departments – to improve the quality of the villagers’ lives forever.
In his fundraising effort, English, who has vast experience in international paddleboard races, ironman events and triathlons, paddled a specialised 18 foot (5.5m) epoxy board, similar to a streamlined surfboard, that has been designed for open ocean swells. Arm paddling in alternating prone and kneeling positions, English was prepared for difficult crossings and the storm he encountered added another dimension.
English, who is originally from Avoca Beach, on the NSW Central Coast, is now contemplating his next fundraising adventure for SurfAid. “Next year I’m thinking of paddling from Singapore to the Equator, a distance of 130km, which would take a week to complete,” he said. But first, he needs a good rest.
You can support English’s endurance feat by donating to SurfAid International at: surfaidinternational.org. Or cheques can be made out to: United World College of South East Asia. Attention: Anthony Skillicorn at UWCSEA, 1207 Dover Road, Singapore, 139654. The school ran a 24-hour fundraising swimathon for SurfAid the previous weekend with more than 800 students, family, friends and supporting companies participating.