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Paddle boarder, Marine shares his 61-day paddling adventure from Canada to Mexico in documentary

By ERIKA I. RITCHIE | The Orange County Register | Published: August 1, 2018

SANTA ANA, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — At many times in his life, Will Schmidt said he has suffered from depression and anxiety.

Mostly, he said, he found ways to cope by calming his mind with something outdoors such as stand-up paddling or running.

In 2009, when a high school friend, who had served in the U.S. Army and had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, killed himself, Schmidt said it hit him hard because he understood battling those demons.

“I knew I had to do something to turn my life around,” said Schmidt, a Marine veteran who was based at Camp Pendleton. “The fact that I found something I loved was what saved me.”

Schmidt took his passion for stand-up paddling and struck out on an adventure from Catalina Island’s Avalon to Dana Point in 2010. The 40-mile trip raised $6,000 for his friend’s wife and daughters.

Then he looked around for his next opportunity to help and decided to start a nonprofit called AreYouInspiredYet.com that would be dedicated to helping others. Since then, he’s raised more than $50,000 for causes including depression and cancer.

On Saturday, Aug. 4, Schmidt, 38, of Dana Point, will debut his documentary, “Through My Eyes,” chronicling his ultimate challenge so far. In the film, to be shown at the Starlight Triangle Square Cinemas in Costa Mesa, he provides an inside glimpse into his 2014 solo and unassisted stand-up paddle of the Pacific Coast from Canada to Mexico. The film has taken him nearly four years to complete.

He hopes those who see his film will be inspired to do “the impossible.”

“It’s shaky, wet and dark,” Schmidt said. “But it’s 100 percent exactly how it happened.”

How it began

Schmidt started his trip on May 24, 2014 in Neah Bay, Washington, and paddled out to the Swifsure Bank (the latitude and longitude that separates Canada and the U.S.), then around Cape Flattery to Makah Bay and then down the coast landing at Border Field State Park in San Diego on July 27. The trip raised $10,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project.

The adventure took 61 days, with 58 days spent on the water along the 1,386 route.

And it all started as a rumor.

Schmidt had barely mentioned the idea of a coastal trip to some friends and soon the word that had spread left him little opportunity to dismiss it. When someone else said it would be “impossible,” Schmidt was in.

“I get a kick out of foamy water and big bumps,” he said. “I can’t think of any sport where the playing-field constantly changes. It’s a dance where you’re on borrowed time. If the ocean doesn’t want you, it will tell you.”

As a Marine, Schmidt said he wasn’t one to back away from a challenge. He also saw it as an opportunity to raise more awareness of PTSD and its place in the lives of many who served in the U.S. military.

Schmidt, who when he’s not paddling works in the dental research field in Newport Beach, spent 10 months training and planning. He does much of his training in Dana Point outside the harbor in what’s left of the Killer Dana break outside the Headlands.

He traveled up the coast and talked with locals to get perspective on the coastline. He planned how to carry all his gear, including a tent and sleeping bag that packed into a 12 ounce Shaker bottle. He also practiced making repairs to his 16-foot SIC F16 downwind board in the surf and water off Dana Point.

“I ripped out my cable system, took out all the screws and put it back together again,” he said. ” I unpacked and re-packed all my gear in the water.”

He also sent himself care packages to await him along the coast. He said he considered getting a chase boat to accompany him, but realized the cost would defeat his purposes.

His goal was to paddle 30 miles a day, but he averaged 24.5. Some days he’d do as little as six miles, others like going along Big Sur, he caught a good wind and did 44 miles.

On board, he also carried three Go Pros and two cell phones to capture his adventures.

Challenges along the way

The trip wasn’t easy. Besides dealing with churning waves, rain, fog and wind, Schmidt said he had some interesting encounters with marine life. An elephant seal attacked while he was paddling through bull kelp near Cape Medecino.

He also got raked across a clam reef where he cracked two ribs and broke a toe.

That set him back a day.

He used bungee cords to wrap his chest, holding his ribs in place.

“You could never get complacent,” he said. “The days I thought were starting out as the nice ones were the ones I thought, ‘I’m going to die today.”

Still, he stayed committed to his cause.

“There were moments when I thought it was the greatest idea and I wrestled demons,” he said. “Never once, did I deal with the demons of anxiety and depression.

“The hardest part was finishing,” he said. “It’s like you’re in the limelight and then it’s ‘what’s next?’”

What’s next, is Schmidt has his eyes set on the Channel Islands again. This time he wants to complete touching all eight of the islands.

“It’s a personal vendetta,” he said. “I haven’t stopped thinking about it and won’t until I get another chance at it.”

©2018 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
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