When perilous waves arise, many pull ashore and rest. If you're Charlie Howden, 36, you paddle on. Since Howden has seen a lot of seas, including the Northwest Passage and the Bering Sea, it's not waves of water that challenge him, but rather waves of exhaustion from chemotherapy. Howden, born in Eastbourne, East Sussex, was planning to SUP the 400-mile Costa Rican coast to raise money for the William Guy Forbeck Research Foundation (WGFRF), a nonprofit dedicated to cancer research, when he was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer.
Michael Leason, a WGFRF board member said, "Charlie became aware of the foundation through MHL Custom, a manufacturer of surf boards in Puerto Rico. He is an elite paddler and one night, after a race in San Juan, he shared a goal with me to do a fundraiser paddle for a good cause. I suggested the WGFRF as the recipient of his ambition and I offered my support. We had no idea that Charlie would get diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer months later. Today he is still in treatment, training for his trip, and raising money for the fight against cancer."
So, Howden undergoes chemo one week and trains the next, steeling himself for late April when he'll begin his two-week coastal SUP journey.
[Want to help Charlie fight cancer and put the wind behind his back? Visit http://www.gofundme.com/lev494]
"I'm just trying to get out and train as much as possible. It's not a race and the coastline is beautiful, so I'll be paddling 25-30 miles a day. I'm trying to build up calluses and get my legs stronger since I'll be standing for long periods of time. I try to paddle three or four times a week and mountain bike once or twice. Dalya Vidal, my fiancé, helps me with stretching."
He'll paddle a mile or so off-shore to be beyond the surf.
Howden said, "April is the ideal time. I'll be heading south and the plan is to have the mild northerly wind behind me. I'll find the sweet spots beyond the surf line, paddling beyond the sand banks. At that time of year, it's the start of the rainy season, so hopefully I'll have some patches of rain with fairly consistent weather. Once you hit July and August, you get the southerly swells."
Howden has a Costa Rican friend who will be trailing in a car and they'll be staying in hostels rather than camping to ease the strain. Vidal has convinced him to check in with a doctor along the way. She also reminded him of the importance of going for it, whatever your circumstances.
"Dayla keeps saying that I could be hit by a bus tomorrow. Cancer makes me aware that I have to go for stuff. I hope it also gives people some hope and raises some money too. Having that goal is a huge thing."
Leason notes that it didn't take cancer for Howden to go for it: "Charlie lives like Charlie paddles: flat out. He is an inspiration of positive energy for a very good cause."
As Howden hopes to inspire, he has also been inspired.
Howden said, "I've been inspired by the unexpected things, the things between, such as all the amazing people I meet along the way in the last year and a half of therapy. They inspire me and I'm trying to return the favor."
Of course, there are challenges beyond cancer and chemo.
"Costa Rica has sharks and crocodiles in the estuaries, but I've paddled a lot in Florida and they have plenty of sharks too. To avoid the crocodiles, I'll stay away from the estuary mouths. There's plenty of food for them down there without tasting me."
Howden's humor comes from his comfort at sea.
"I don't really have any fears about this trip. I've spent so many years aboard boats at sea that I'm comfortable there. I want to make sure I stay strong and hydrated. I'll take eight liters each day and dried fruit, nuts, and bars."
Howden will also take along the hopes of many.
Jamie Collins, Executive Director of WGFRF, said, "A paddle of 400-plus miles in the ocean is impressive. A 400-mile paddle while undergoing treatment for stage IV pancreatic cancer is truly inspiring. Charlie's journey on the paddle board and through his treatment will teach us all to persevere in the face of extreme difficulty. This journey will also shed light on the fact that unlike the majority of cancers, the prognosis for pancreatic cancer has not improved in the last 40 years, yet funding remains a trickle."
And what does Charlie think of his impending trip?
"There are plenty of people who think I'm crazy to do this, but they thought that even before I was diagnosed."
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