Nik Shepheard: Kiting Around the Continent
After many years of planning, Mornington Peninsula kiteboarder Nik Shepheard will shortly cast off the bow lines for an epic kiting adventure. More than a lark, however, Nik is on a mission to connect with people on his way around Australia's great coast.
Swellnet recently spoke to Nik about his coming venture, asking him why he's doing it, and also his plans for crossing treacherous waters.
Swellnet: Nik, word is you've got a bit of a trip ahead of you. When are you heading off?
Nik Shepheard: I'm leaving in maybe two or three weeks.
Really? That's sooner than I thought. How long have you been planning it for?
I've been working on the project for the last eight years, planning to get it done. I've run into a few hurdles with sponsorship and finances and all those sorts of things, but I've managed to secure myself a 34-foot boat. It's an ex-dive charter vessel. There's no car involved with the trip. It's just a boat. Myself and my skipper.
We're going to get deckhands to come in periodically as volunteers to assist, as well.
How long and how far do you intend to kiteboard each day?
That will depend on mother nature. There'll be stretches of the coast that I'll be kiting all day. Maybe 8-10 hours.
I've been training for this for the last seven or eight years, and I've stepped it up a fair bit in the last year. I'm running and I'm off the grog, and I'm just really getting the body right to be able to do these sorta kays. Look, I'm kiting three hours at a stretch now and stepping onto the beach feeling like I haven't even been out there.
OK, you're doing a lap of Oz, tropics in the north, Roaring Forties down south. Does your plan involve timing the right winds at various places?
Yeah but the window of opportunity is getting bleaker and bleaker as the year goes on. Originally, my plan was to leave at the start of January and the reason for that was to give myself, say, three months to get up the East Coast, then once we get to Rockhampton we can give ourselves as much time as possible to get across the top before the wet starts again.
But we've had boat problems and we're getting later and later now, and what it means is I've got to make up that time. Or that distance, I should say.
What about dangerous stretches of water? Can we talk about those for a moment?
Ha, yes we can, because basically wherever you jump in the water in Australia, something wants to either bite you or sting you. And I suppose it's not just animals, you've got sections of the Victorian coast that are pretty hairy. You've got the Great Australian Bight...most people just look at me and say, "You're not going to get through there."
But I just keep doing what I do, and I've got a goal in mind.
What are the plans to cross the Bight? Are you going to hang down near Israelite Bay, or somewhere like that, and wait for good weather?
One of the biggest challenges is getting through there, because there's about...well let's call it 1200 kilometres of nothing. I've spoken to a few people who have circumnavigated Australia in different types of vessels. One particular fellow circumnavigated Australia in two rigid inflatable boats, five metre boats, and said he found safe anchorages in about twenty metres of water. He said he doesn't know whether God was looking after him, or whatever, but he managed to find five of those in a row.
You read a lot of things and there's a lot of people who comment on things when they haven't done it before. Yet you speak to the people who have done it and you realise it's possible. I mean, there are certain times of year that are more favourable - obviously the warmer months down there.
If we can get rolling really soon, then yeah, we'll be able to catch those.
Nik, it's going to be an epic mission, can you explain why you're doing it?
I'm raising awareness for depression and suicide. I was nearly a statistic and my attempt was averted many years ago by my partner, and my then-five year old son.
I look at this whole thing as celebrating my second chance of life and I guess I've got a bit to say about it. I share how I got myself back on track and also how to stay well. That's my message and this is how I'll be spreading it.
You'll be speaking at various times around the coast?
Definitely. That's the biggest part of this thing. My plan is to, wherever we're stopping, try to strike up public speaking engagements anywhere where people congregate. Workplaces, schools, volunteer organisations, surf clubs, RSLs. I joined Rotary about three years ago, so I'm hoping Rotary will assist me with engagements.
We've also got an initiative that we want to start, it's basically leaving a legacy everywhere we go and the initiative is called Beach Reach
Beach Reach is a gathering of people at their local beach. It's for people who suffer mental illness and also for their carers as well - their family and friends. It can be started by one person, and it can be shared through social media and they can meet once a week, once a fortnight, or once a month...whatever they choose. And they can simply swap stories, provide assistance, support, resilience, hope, resources, all those sorts of things
It's such a simple idea, and I believe it can save lives.
How do you plan to start it?
Every place we stop, we're going to try and find somebody and bestow them that role, someone who would like to, say, start that chapter of Beach Reach in their local town. It's a good way for people to meet new people in the town, as well as catch up with old friends and all that sort of stuff.
These people come to the beach, bring whatever it is that they use or do - it could be walking their dog, so they bring their dog, or their surfboard, or their standup paddleboard, or their kites, or whatever - and they share that amongst the group.
That's the starting point for sharing stories and feeling that they're not the only ones, basically. That's what we're trying to do, as we go around Australia.
Have people reached out to you from various parts of the coast already?
Yeah, there has been a few here and there already reach out. I've been head down, bum up for the last six months with this boat and I haven't really pushed the social media side of things much at all. My main aim is just to get on the water and get going. But yeah, over the last five or six years, I've had people contact me about assistance.
I'm hoping we get some media along the way and we get some notoriety and we've got people calling us instead of us calling them, to come and speak and those types of things. It's an evolving thing.
We've had fundraising events, plus I've got a GoFundMe page happening. We've got heaps of little sponsors, but no major partners yet.
A lot of it I've funded myself, and I'll be continuing to do that until we can get other people to step in. I'd really like to get some government funding for Beach Reach. I'd like to employ some professionals, some counsellors and psychologists who are able to travel up and down the coast and meet up with these groups and provide support that way.
OK Nik, we'll keep track of your journey and finger's crossed you get to leave soon. How long do you expect it will take?
If I end up making it back, it'll be anything from 12 to 15 months all up.
Visit Nik's GoFundMe page
Readers seeking support and information about depression can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
"Celebrating my second chance of life" - that's great he was able to turn things around so much. Mental health recovery can be a lifelong process because it's origins are so multilayered - negative childhood experiences, drugs/alcohol, gene based nutrient imbalances, ridiculous social pressures, long term fatigue, trauma etc etc. Good on him for getting off the grog though, major cause of depression right there, a vicious cycle.
I used to volunteer on the phones at Lifeline for a few years and spoke to a wide range of people with all different types of mental illness, self harm and suicidal thoughts. An issue they all had in common was really high levels of self criticism. Real hostility towards themselves, usually from negative childhood experiences. This criticism became a lifelong habit undermining all their efforts to get better. We live in a society where kindness and compassion towards yourself is seen as a sign of weakness, so people don't make the effort.
I'm not a fan of his slogan "Help us fight depression". Your mental illness won't go away by fighting it. The 'fight everything you don't like' attitude perpetuates mental illness. Any good psychologist would help their client understand this and learn to work with their painful thoughts and feelings rather than against them.
Pretty wild trip. Fuck falling off your board around the top end.
Good message he trying to get out there too.
Astounding and audacious!
Sitting here doing a mental lap of our coastline and every few moments I’d be flabbergasted at the challenges presented by one stretch or another. No doubt you’ve researched it intensively but have you seen the coastline for yourself?
Regardless of viability , you are taking it on and making the world better for yourself and others. Inspirational stuff and I’m sure everyone you encounter on your journey will be impressed and given to reassessing what’s possible in their own lives. Not least important outcome of all is the rekindling of life’s spark within yourself as you rise to the challenge. Congratulations on deciding to do something grand. Win, lose or draw you’ve already succeeded by taking positive steps beyond mere contemplation of this outrageous endeavour.
Best of luck and thanks for personally stepping up to the task of of expanding the realms of human accomplishment.
Much admiration from this quarter!
Bit of a question: How many kilometres per hour you averaging ?
Bloody inspiring stuff. I loved what he said about lots of advice from people who haven't done it before. I took 18 months to travel by land across the planet with my wife and there young kids a few years back....everyone you met on the road or who had done it were optimistic and supportive. The most suspicious, judgemental or pessimistic were all those back home who had never done it.
I love your mission and drive. May the wind be always at your back!!!
Good luck mate
I’ll be chipping in for sure ….
Stop at Cactus and have some fun …
Amazing kiting opportunities there in the arvos
Go Nik! May the force of Joseph Banks be with you.
I'd be keen to get a gig up for you when you make it to Fremantle, WA. Coincidently, there's a local musician here by the name "Nic Sheppard", who played with The Clash (not in the original line-up). I can smell a benefit gig for you within that coincidence.
PS: don't fight it - if it swells ride it.
'Stop at Cactus and have some fun …' Yeah but don't fall off whatever you do!
Good luck buddy.
May the wind and waves be with you.)
Sick. Enjoy the adventure. I reckon the kite communities should get the kites out and support rider and cause. Going to see a lot. A few mars bars and encouragement needed no doubt. Epic adventure. If it can be paddled it can be kited. enjoy.
cool, keep the publicity flowing. The closest sport to surfing, you can use exactly the same board on the same waves and do teh same things but no paddling! - well as long as there is enough and clean enough wind.
Good Stuff Nik, we will be following your progress from the safety of Mt Martha!
G'day Nik ,
epic sounding trip ahead of you mate . No matter how long it takes you , your doing something a lot of us ocean addicts would love to do . Just being outside in raw nature is an epic deal , so yours will be an incredible experience .
I just read an article about a Vicco local who just crossed Bass Straight in a similar fashion to your plan .
Mabey it would be good for you to touch base with him and get some insights from his trip . Its in today's ABC NEWS online . Blokes name is Andrew Englisch .
Anyhow best of luck champ .
If Nik makes it I'll paddle my blow-up SUP to NZ if I can get enough support. No cause to push, just the challenge. Anyone want to join me? PS Good luck Nik
Nik has hit a bit of a speedhump in getting his support vessel into the water. As expected in a project of this undertaking, there are many moving parts and when I last spoke to him he was wishfully thinking they could all come together in time.
They didn't, and while dissappointed about the delay he's still resolute about lapping our little island continent.
So, he's gonna wait, which means he's bought himself a bit more time to get the boat ready, and then he'll set off early next year.
I'll have another chat with him later this year.
When you are Perth way I am sure many of our the local WA frothers would love to join you for day on the water and some donations to be able to join you on your amazing journey. Also we have quite a few local kite shops who I would feel sure would love to take the opportunity to set up some displays on the beach to help generate interest in their stores and our wonderful sport.