Last year, Tavernier resident Chris Bell’s mind was set on a paddle challenge that takes participants 80 miles across the Gulf Stream from Bimini, Bahamas, back to the Florida mainland.
Fast-forward to June 3, 2019, Bell is resting up for the week following months of preparation and some hard training sessions that ensued in April.
On Saturday, June 15, Bell will be one of 200 taking part in The Crossing For A Cure long-distance endurance paddle challenge, which was inspired because of the health benefits of the ocean for those living with cystic fibrosis, a terminal lung disease. The challenge, which began four years ago with four participants, has grown immensely from its inception. The race will feature a mixture of paddleboarders, including Bell, and out-rigger canoes.
“It’s hectic. It’s getting close,” Bell told the Weekly during a recent interview. “I feel good and I’m ready to go.”
Bell loves paddling and has quite a bit of experience, but says he hasn’t done much long distance paddling — especially of this magnitude. He ended up reaching out to well-known paddler Scott Baste, of Paddle the Florida Keys, last September for some training.
“I had already looked at doing the crossing,” Bell said. “He (Scott) put a lot of time into me. I’ve done multiple trips paddling basically around Islamorada from Tavernier Creek to Whale Harbor. I’ve done that loop twice in a day before.”
Training with Baste, Bell says he also went through some hard workout sessions with Fernando at Froggies Gym in Tavernier. Bell, who’s normally an early riser, wakes up during the week at 4:30 a.m., heads to the gym for training, goes to work in Miami and comes home to eat and rest. Paddle days are Saturdays and Sundays.
“I told myself, ‘If you want to do it, you’re going to have to dial in,’” he said. “September, I became really focused.”
Bell is now working to get the logistics of his journey together, from food and gear to preparing for the unknowns. Bell will have a boat with a captain and two crew members following him.
‘They are pivotal,” he said. “They’ll give me food and water.”
Bell says the biggest thing throughout the whole endeavor is bringing awareness to cystic fibrosis. He credited the work of Redbone and Susan Ellis for bringing awareness in the Keys of what it does to children.
“My hat’s off to them, and I support them any way I can,” he said. “I would challenge anyone to get involved with it.”
Bell said he’s also amazed at the level of support from family, friends with boats who dropped him at the reef to paddle back and the Keys community as a whole — even those he sees on the water who don’t know what he’s doing.
“There would be times paddling around the island, boaters would see me with my backpack and wonder what I’m doing. They’d pull up beside me and ask what I’m doing. Once you start telling them what you’re doing, boats start talking and cruising with you.”
Overall, Bell said, he’s amped up and ready to go. He said he will be spending a lot of time with family and friends this week before the big paddle June 15.
“I’m going to see friends and give some love back, because they’ve been so loving to me,” he said. “That’s been the coolest thing. I’ve trained so hard and worked so hard, but the amount of support has been amazing.”