Victoria Burgess shines like a beacon for female athletes the world over. On June 27th, 2018 she set a world record as she crossed from Cuba to Florida on a standup paddleboard (SUP). After a grueling 27 hours 48 minutes paddling the 115 miles, she not only became the first woman to SUP across the Florida Straits, but also broke the men’s Guinness World Record by 12 minutes.
An avid surfer for most of her adult life, Victoria transitioned to the SUP world in late 2013 since the waves off of Florida often match its flat landscape and she wanted more of a challenge. A month after she started, she participated in her first SUP race and won. She was hooked and hasn’t stopped since.
Seize the Day
Victoria kept trying to find fresh ways to push herself to new heights. Among the 50+ races that she’s participated in, she completed two channel crossings in Hawaii – including the Molokai to Oahu world championship SUP race, a 32 mile crossing, and the Maui to Molokai race, a 27 miler. She wanted to find a challenge that would take her to another level, but was also looking for a way to do it in the Florida waters.
During this time, a friend of hers named Charlie Howden wanted to SUP around Costa Rica. Though he started his journey, he tragically never fulfilled his dream since he got sick and eventually died of cancer. This was a catalyst that motivated Victoria to seize the day now while she was at the peak of health, and not wait a moment longer.
She knew that crossing the Florida Straits was possible since another beacon female athlete, Diana Nyad, had swum it in 2013 at the age of 64. Sure, it was three times longer than anything Victoria had ever attempted before, but she believed that with the right training she could do it.
Sharks, Jellyfish & Wind – Oh My!
Victoria spent six months preparing for her epic Florida Straights SUP crossing. Since she had a full-time job as a fire inspector, and was finishing her PHD in Health and Human Performance, she needed to squeeze hours out of every day. She had foundational fitness due to her racing schedule, and used her lunch hour to maintain her condition by doing yoga, CrossFit or running. Plus every weekend she would do long distance SUP training.
She found a boat captain who regularly sailed back and forth from Florida to Cuba who could deal with all of the permits, put together an incredible support crew, and tried to think about everything that could go wrong so that she could prepare for it. For example, she got special footwear that could protect her feet from the notorious jellyfish and studied the Gulf Stream to find routes to avoid the most dangerous currents.
The Tailwind Boost
“In the end” Victoria says, “it all came down to nutrition.” She was able to take the nutritional knowledge that she was learning for her PHD and apply it to her own preparation. She started regularly using Tailwind fuel about 3 years ago and used it throughout her training and during her Cuba-Florida SUP crossing. “I used Tailwind the entire time. Every pack I drank had two scoops in it.” Her favorite flavor? Raspberry Buzz.
In addition to Tailwind, Victoria ate PB&J sandwiches and cookies. “I’m a physical eater and need to feel the food or else I don’t feel full.”
Apart from the sheer distance, there were many other challenges facing Victoria during her Florida Straits crossing. The wind pummeled her from her right side the entire time forcing her to paddle on her left side the whole way. The tough-as-nails athlete even got nerve damage on a couple fingers on her left hand as a result.
During the night, a storm hit and rough seas battered her about. The darkness felt like it would never end and she fought through the mental struggle. “Anytime I thought about how I wanted to quit, I thought about how many people would love to be doing this right now, and about how many people supported me to get to this point. So I said to myself, ‘Just shut up and paddle.’”
Dealing with the rough waters, however, gave Victoria little time to do anything but stay focused on the end of her board. Once the storm cleared and dawn broke, Victoria knew she was almost there. Then once she got to the Florida Keys there was seaweed to slow her pace, and the wind. Always the wind. Her right knee hurt and her feet swelled up, but she made it. And broke a world record for her efforts.
Victoria wants aspiring female athletes to know, “there’s going to be a lot of hurdles to get over, but if you keep on pushing you’ll achieve your goals.” She set out on this epic adventure in order to raise awareness about equality for women in sports. Check and done!