Iraq, Afghanistan War Veteran makes incredible 300 Mile Paddle Journey to Keys - A group of people rowing a boat in the water - Rowing
Baste and Collins say paddling together helped through some hairy situations. CONTRIBUTED

Veteran Josh Collins and local paddleboard legend Scott Baste have completed the Everglades Challenge once before. Besides Baste and Collins, only two others have completed the long, daunting, yet exhilarating paddle down the Florida Bay.

Recently, the two set out trying to conquer the journey for the second time. Paddling 307 miles in five days and 22 hours, the two made it yet again, but this time it was a bit more special. 

Collins and Baste took off from Tampa Bay on March 2 en route to Key Largo. The journey, completed on the evening of March 8, brought some fun times and some challenging moments with some wicked headwinds. 

A special operations combat veteran, with multiple rotations to Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia, Collins is a wounded warrior with four documented traumatic brain injuries. He retired out of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment in 2008, but he continued to support the military as a contractor stateside and abroad. During a training exercise in 2013, he sustained a major concussion.

He spent months in the hospital for sustained traumatic brain injury therapy and subsequently retired. Following his hospitalization, his wife, Tonia, got him a stand-up paddleboard. 

“I’ve been paddleboarding for about three years, almost four,” said Collins, who did this challenge for the military charity Black Dagger Military Hunt Club. “They help get people together in a sport they’re comfortable doing. They were the first organization to reach out to me about going hunting. We got out there, and the next thing you know you’re with the boys again for a three-day weekend.”

Setting out on the paddle March 2, Collins and Baste say it was an interesting rivalry, as they were both vying to be the first one to complete it twice. The two met during last year’s Everglades Challenge, which Baste completed for the first time. Collins completed it in 2017.  

“He had a partner who fell out,” Collins said. “We wound up at Charlotte Harbor where we started paddling together. Then I decided to go outside from Sanibel because it got rough for me, but we caught up with each other.”

“At first we paddled separately until the third day,” Baste said. “We went back and forth and decided to go together and consolidate abilities so we could increase our chances of finishing.”

Baste and Collins say paddling together helped through some hairy situations. CONTRIBUTED

The two would paddle for about 20 hours before getting some rest. Baste noted that Collins had strong navigational skills during the night, and Baste had better feel of the course’s bottom section with his local knowledge. Collins said paddling together was beneficial for using each other’s strengths and being there for one another’s weaknesses. 

“With two people, it cuts down on the workload,” Collins said. “And an extra set of eyes is nice. There were times where it was tough, but we were able to relax along the way.”

While there were some mistakes and hairy situations, Baste said they worked together and game-planned quickly.

“Over the course, things change and you have to reset your goals and route,” Baste said. “We paddle the same speed, so that helps, too. We weren’t pushing each other too hard and we didn’t have to play keep up and wait up.”

This was Collins’ seventh expedition in the past three years. He does it for different charities in a journey to inspire and raise awareness about veterans’ suicide. As for this year’s Everglades Challenge, he said he was glad to have Baste with him along the way. 

“Selfless is a word that comes to mind,” Collins said about Baste. “He’s very passionate and I really enjoyed having him as a teammate because he is a strong supporter.”

Baste and Collins say they both hope to complete the challenge for a third time, and do so with a few others.

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