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Be First Recipients Attempt First Kiteboard Trip Across the Bering Strait – Part 1
Posted on August 27, 2010

Be First recipients Troy Henkels and Geza Scholtz set out to kiteboard from the United States to Russia over the Bering Strait, widely considered one of the most dangerous bodies of water in the world. Our Be First program is an opportunity to get sponsored when you go for your own summit, whatever that may be. To learn more and submit your proposals, visit Be First.

By Troy Henkels

Standing on the westernmost point of North America is daunting. Looking across 56 miles of open water known as the Bering Strait and contemplating crossing this precarious stretch of water by kiteboard is mind-boggling, to say the least. Kiting across the Bering Strait from Alaska to Russia was not a new idea to me. I had first thought about it in the winter of 2005, when I tried to walk across the Bering Strait from Alaska to Russia. The super-dynamic conditions that the Strait offers thwarted our attempts, and after 8 days and being pushed 60 miles south due to the strong currents, we called it quits.

A year ago Geza Scholtz (Switzerland) and I began talking about making an attempt to cross the Strait using kiteboards. Geza was well traveled and extremely passionate about kiting. We both had been kiteboarding in various places around the planet for the better part of 10 years. This made us an ideal team to attempt this never-before-done feat. The challenges and dangers of attempting such an endeavor are far ranging, but possibly the biggest challenge is negotiating the labyrinth of insane logistics required for an expedition on the Bering Strait. I knew if we could manage that, the actual kiting across would seem like the easy part, despite the extreme dangers. The Bering Strait offers extremely cold waters (40 degrees F), strong currents, and some of the most severe and unpredictable weather anywhere on the planet. Because of this, we had to expect and prepare for the worst conditions that we could possibly encounter. This could include low visibility, changing winds, huge seas, variable (and always cold) water temperatures, and the very real possibility of being stranded in the middle of the Strait, where a rescue is not guaranteed.

The biggest difficulty was securing the proper permitting to enter into Russia legally at an unofficial border crossing. After eight months, the inroads into the Russian bureaucracy were proving to be a bit perplexing. With time running short and several major roadblocks, a sponsor’s Moscow-based PR agency stepped in and was able to push our permits through in the nick of time. We were both astounded at the amount of chaos, effort and frustration involved in trying to secure permits to kite just 56 miles.

With a year of hard work behind us, and as recipients of a “Be First” sponsorship from First Ascent/Eddie Bauer, we headed for the most western point on the North American continent: Wales, Alaska. This native village is a remote outpost of 150 residents, most of whom don’t have running water or flush toilets. It’s on a desolate beach in the middle of nowhere, in a place that is subjected to consistently miserable weather. Several geographical features come together here to create extreme ocean currents, unpredictable seas, and wind and weather that change quickly. Standing on this beach, looking out to the ocean and being able to see our goal, Russia, was exhilarating and nerve racking at best. Russia looked so very close and so within reach, but we also knew the extreme dangers and weather that the Strait is capable of would always be working against us. Just showing up at the Bering Strait was no guarantee that we would be able to make it across to Russia. Our only hope was that our perseverance and hard work would be enough to pull it off.

Author: - Friday, August 27th, 2010

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