Fearless, or Foolish? Kayaker Freya Hoffmeister Attempts to Circumnavigate South America Alone...Again (Interview)

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Photo: Freya Hoffmeister

In 2009 German kayaker Freya Hoffmeister completed a 332-day, 8,565-mile solo, unsupported paddle around Australia. Not only was she the first woman to survive the shark-infested waters, Hoffmeister was also the fastest person — beating Paul Caffyn, the only other human to accomplish the feat — by 28 days. (Hoffmeister shaved off 855 miles from the distances of his trip by paddling straight across the Gulf of Carpentaria.) At the moment the unflappable former Miss Germany contestant is 150 days into her attempt to circumnavigate South America. As she waited out the wind on Isla Brecknock off southern Chile, we checked in with writer and expert kayaker Joe Glickman whose book about Hoffmeister, Fearless: One Woman, One Kayak, One Continent, hits book stores February 12.

Photo: Freya Hoffmeister

Discovery: Is Hoffmeister crazy?

Joe Glickman: Freya’s outsized ego allows her to think such impossible trips are accessible, if not downright pedestrian. She wants to be known as “the greatest sea kayaker of all time,” so she’s fascinating to observe and discuss, but she’s tiresome to be around. She’s also polarizing: She left her 12-year-old son behind for a year and she’s often rude. But she’s also incredibly inspiring as she’s a living example of “no limits.”

Photo: Freya Hoffmeister

D: Is circumnavigating Australia considered to be the Holy Grail for kayakers?

JG: Yes it is. Before Paul Caffyn did it (supported) in 1982, it was considered impossible, as there are three 100-plus miles of unbroken cliffs, crocs, cyclones, huge water, and enough poisonous stuff to take out a staff of EMTs. Freya and Caffyn, a geologist who lives alone on the west coast of New Zealand, got cozy on her trip around the South Island and when she read his book about the trip she decided that if he could do it, then so could she—only she decided to do it alone and unsupported.

D: You’ve paddled many of the same places Hoffmeister paddled around Australia. What was it like?

JG: I got to see firsthand how dynamic the waters are in Oz. Paddling with friends just north of Sydney I hung my legs over the side of the boat only to be told “If you value your feet, put ’em back in the boat, mate!” There have been a few attacks on surfers and kayakers by great whites and so I quickly complied. I got stung by a bluebottle jellyfish and it hurt like a MF. Freya got stung a lot, but never complained. On the Gold Coast I got hammered so hard in the face by a breaking wave that I had a sore neck for a week. In short, I saw why all the so-called experts told me she’d die trying to round Australia alone.

D: Give us an analogy of what it’s like to be in your kayak paddling day after day after day…

JG: Distance-wise it’s like walking from New York to L.A, touching the ocean and walking back to New York, then returning to L.A. However, when you’re walking, you’re not likely to get attacked by a crocodile or a shark or be consumed by a cyclone.

Photo: Freya Hoffmeister

 

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