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Paddle for Purpose

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Prevailing winds, coastal dunes and three months of soggy clothes and sandy sleeping bags.

In March, four kiwi boys will embark on a three-month kayak journey from Cape Reinga to Wellington down the east coast of the North Island (about 2200 km).

The team is made up of three Stewart brothers, Kurt, Connor and Drew, all originally from Whangarei, and a close friend, Cared Blackham, from Eastbourne, Wellington.

Drew, the youngest of the Stewart brothers, had the idea to navigate the east coast of the North Island by kayak after completing the South Island portion of the Te Araroa Trail back in 2019. He felt that walking the North Island portion of the Trail would miss the North Island’s true beauty: its coastline. 

Drew’s wild idea was a seed planted with his two older brothers, Kurt and Connor, and now four years on, that seed is starting to bear fruit. In the intervening years, Drew studied Environmental Planning at the University of Waikato, and began working as an environmental consultant. Meanwhile, Kurt and Connor completed an adventure tourism diploma at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT), which is where they met Cared, who was stoked on the idea of an epic kayak trip down the North Island coastline. Kurt, Connor and Cared are all now kayak guides working across the country in Wanaka, Whangarei and Abel Tasman respectively.

None of the four have undertaken a sea kayak expedition of this magnitude, and with all living in separate locations in Aotearoa, planning and preparation has been no easy task. But each of them are committed to the journey.

A key driver for the boys is using the trip to make a positive contribution to two things that mattered to them most; the health of people and the environment. “These two go hand in hand for us. Exercise in and on the water, bush and mountains has a massive positive effect on my physical and mental wellbeing, as well as for many others. I think that a lot of people have forgotten or are yet to discover this”, Kurt says. Through their Givealittle campaign, they are hoping to make a positive impact on mental health awareness and marine conservation. The Mental Health Foundation of NZ and Live Ocean are both charities supporting causes close to their hearts.

Having experienced their own mental struggles and watching friends and family also navigate the choppy waters of mental health, they would like to help make this process easier and more accessible by supporting the Mental Health Foundation of NZ. They hope to inspire others to start their own journey towards an improved wellbeing and to help remove some of the stigma around getting support for mental health. They believe the simplicity of nature can take us away from all the stresses that follow us day-to-day, and that time and exercise in the natural world can help heal the mind, body and soul.

The four boys have all found that getting out into the natural environment has helped them grow, explore their identity and find solace. Cared realised the importance of being active out in nature while studying at NMIT/Te Pukenga. The personal development he saw in himself and his peers was eye opening. “I saw friends develop a sound understanding of their own personal identity and discover what values matter most to them. I think this correlates with the time they spent either alone or with others walking in the bush, floating down rivers or paddling on the ocean.” He hopes to inspire and empower people to explore the natural environment as a way of improving mental health.

Ocean conservation is also an important issue for the boys. Like many Kiwis, the four grew up on the coast, nourished by the sand, salt and the waves. The ocean was instrumental in their childhoods and continues to play a guiding role now. For this reason they believe it is essential we preserve and protect our ocean for the future. Funds raised will also go to Live Ocean which supports exceptional marine scientists, innovators and communicators to champion and improve the health of our coastline and marine ecosystems.

 

The team understands the magnitude of the challenge ahead of them. Attempting to kayak +2000km along the coastline, with variable winds, weather, temperatures and ocean conditions is nothing to take lightly. “This will undoubtedly be one of the most physically and mentally demanding trips we have attempted”, Drew reflects, “but that is what excites me, the challenge is why we are attracted to it.” Training and preparation are key for the boys to make sure their bodies and skills are in top form before they set off. Spread across the country, the team have been preparing individually for the trip. Running guided tours, Cared, Kurt and Connor are out paddling most days for work, however all jump at an opportunity to paddle further afield in their own time. Drews’ preparation on the other hand, has him on the water most mornings and afternoons, spending as much time in the kayak in between work.

 

A journey of this nature is made easier with support. A few generous sponsors have already got on board to help the boys out with the expeditions; NMIT has lent them the use of four kayaks and Chris from Kayak HQ in Nelson, a huge advocate for mental health, has generously assisted the four boys with some CKER paddles, transport of the kayaks, and other sea kayaking gear.

The boys welcome every little bit of new support, whether that means following them on Instagram or Facebook, spreading the word, contributing to their Givealittle or supporting through some kind of sponsorship. You can contact them through their email or their socials.

[email protected]                    @paddleforpurpose

 

Kurt, Connor, Drew and Cared

Paddle for Purpose team

 

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