Team members: Stuart Sugden
Hometown: Kalaru, New South Wales, AU
Race vessel: Stellar S18S Expedition Surfski
Human propulsion: Paddle
You only have to look as far as their name to know that Team Bella Bella and Beyond has dreams. Specifically, the “beyond” part. This is their third R2AK swing for the finish line, and the first two landed somewhat south of there. Swing one: Bella Bella. Swing two: Bella Bella. 2023 has them with their sights on Ketchikan. In a “harder must be easier” logic, they’ve landed on the following strategy: less boat + less crew = more miles?
We interviewed Team Bella Bella and Beyond over a hypothetical bowl of soup to hear their thoughts on this year’s race, soup, and why do this at all:
What are the necessary components of a good adventure?
Moments of challenge, awe, happiness, sadness and desperation.
What’s a lesson you learned the hard way?
Last month I broke my leg in the final moments of a surfski race, with a brief loss of concentration, so I guess, the lesson is; it’s not over till it’s over. Scraping to the start of R2AK seems to be a recurring theme and I am strangely reassured by the pattern holding true.
What’s your claim to fame?
Not having a claim to fame.
Forget the 10k or the steak knives. What does success look like for you and your team?
Finishing . . . or stopping the race at the same moment you have that well-satiated post-meal feeling but in an adventure sort of way.
Defend your vessel. What makes it worthy?
As a light touring surfski, I feel like it’s the gravel bike of kayaking, and the gravel bike industry is booming, so it must be good.
Safe blank space, baby. Share some things:
This is my third R2AK, my second solo.
In my first attempt, I made it just past Bella Bella in a home-built trimaran. I finished building it at the last minute, took it apart, tied it to the roof of my car and later propelled northwards from Port Townsend by a canoe paddle and sails. Exhausted, and with the repairs list growing, I made it just past Bella Bella before turning back with the feeling of uncertainty outweighing the drive forward.
The second attempt was in a Cal 20 sailboat whose main redeeming quality was that it was not quite as old as the 3 R2AK souls onboard. It’s debatable if the boat or one of the participants was the most crusty. We all landed in Vancouver, Canada from Australia 2 weeks before the race start, refitted a covid-neglected boat and managed to get to race start with our hastily-fitted pedal drive and a good sprinkling of luck. Leg 1 almost never happened for us and we scrapped into Victoria right at the cut off. We spent two weeks in drizzling, freezing cold, and missed the tide often. The cabin leaked but the stove lit on demand. Good food, great company, spectacular scenery makes a world of difference. Once again Bella Bella set its comfort trap and the pedal drive said enough is enough. So we finished our race, grabbed an engine and explored the nearby waterways to finish a great trip.
I am hoping to have another grand adventure and if that gets me past Bella Bella this time, that would be kind of nice.
Broken bones, broken pedal drives, and half a coastline of fresh regret just waiting to be discovered—welcome [back] to the R2AK, Team Bella Bella and Beyond. We’re rooting for your 2023 claim to fame to involve at least two of the following: Ketchikan, chapstick, clown noses, dipping sauce.