"The first time I tried it, I broke my nose,” says Bob Purdy, remembering his virgin stand-up paddleboard experience.
Despite the inauspicious start, he may now be the most persistent SUP paddler on Earth. Barring any other nosedives, by the time you read this the Kelowna, British Columbia, resident will have paddled 1,500 days in a row. Amazingly the streak, which began on January 1, 2011, started as a joke, but Purdy’s quest has helped raise thousands of dollars in charitable donations and fostered a worldwide effort to enact change through paddling.
“People tell me I’m making a difference,” he says. “I enjoy it, most of the time. I’m going to keep going.”
He discovered SUP early, after seeing a photo of pioneer SUP-surfer Laird Hamilton. Even after the nose-plant on his first try, “I recognized instantly it was the sport for me,” Purdy says. “It’s the easiest way for anyone who wants a taste of the surf culture to get it. It’s so versatile — you can literally do it anywhere there’s water.”
In fact, Purdy was so hooked he opened one of Canada’s first stand-up paddle surf shops in 2007, selling boards out of his home. It grew exponentially as the sport took off and he eventually sold the shop in 2010.
“I wanted to stay involved in the community — it’s such a great group of people,” he remembers. “I joked with the guy who bought the shop that I should paddle for 1,000 days in a row.”
Purdy also has a passion for improving the world; ensuring there’s a healthy and vibrant planet for the future, as he puts it. He decided to combine the two, naming his quest: Paddle for the Planet. His idea was simple: his persistent quest would hopefully inspire people to make a change socially, economically or environmentally to help improve the planet. It could be anything from donating, to volunteering, to refusing single-use packaging.
“I purposefully left it open,” he says. “What resonates with me might not [resonate] with the person I’m talking to. Whatever it is, I’m saying ‘do it.’”
And so he started paddling. He set a threshold of an hour a day. With a background in sport coaching, he knew it was going to be mentally and physically draining. But he figured these hurdles would take weeks or months to surface, not days.
“The biggest challenge so far came on day 10,” he remembers. “A job had fallen through, so I was unemployed, it was cold and the gravity of what I was trying to do hit me full force. I lost it.” He announced on social media that he was going to quit. “All of a sudden all these messages kept coming in, encouraging me to keep going. Everyone rallied around me and I haven’t looked back.”
It hasn’t been easy. Once his shoes froze to his board without him knowing. When he went to step off, he fell flat. He weathered 15 days in a row of headwinds. He paddled in the darkness through most of the winter. Yet, every day he went out again.
When he reached his 1,000-day goal, it was a few weeks shy of the 2013 World Paddle for the Planet Day, an annual event Purdy organized where people all over the world join him and paddle for a cause of their own. He decided to keep going. Then it was just a couple of months to the end of year — might as well make it an even three years. Why stop there?
Through donations, he has raised thousands of dollars for charities such as Clayoquot Action, David Suzuki Foundation and Mother Ocean.
“My experience is that people don’t know where to start to make a meaningful impact,” he says. “But once they make one little change, then they start to look for more that they can do. It has a ripple effect that hits the people around them. Mine started with a paddle stroke and as long as I feel like I’m making a positive contribution, I don’t plan on stopping.”