By Michael Haskins
KEY WEST, Florida (Reuters) – A Tennessee musician on Friday became the first paddleboarder to cross the Florida Straits between Cuba and the United States, making the 110 mile journey in 28 hours as his father watched from a support boat.
Ben Friberg, 35, arrived in Key West dehydrated and exhausted but otherwise in good shape.
Before leaving Cuba on Thursday, Friberg said he was “doing this to promote peace and understanding between Cuba and the United States and to promote a healthy lifestyle.”
The guitarist and band leader from Chattanooga stood on his 14-foot-long board for most of the trip, sitting only for quick snacks. The crew of the support boat that accompanied him on the journey included a medic and a navigator.
Friberg was decked out with a long-billed cap for protection from the sun, close-fitting long sleeve shirt, open fingered gloves and shorts cut off below the knee. Special socks shielded his feet.
Last year, Friberg broke the record for the longest distance stand-up paddleboard journey in 24 hours, traveling 238 miles on Canada’s Yukon River.
Friberg is believed to be the first person to cross the entire Straits on a paddleboard.
At least two Cubans have made the trip by surfboard. In 1992, Cuban-born doctor Ernesto Barral completed the journey on a wind surfing board in 19 hours, navigating by the stars at night.
In 2011, Miami lifeguard Cynthia Aguilar made the crossing by paddleboard from 14 miles off Cuba’s coast. She was unable to set off from dry land because she did not have a Cuban government visa. Unlike Friberg, Aguilar completed the crossing on her knees, using her hands to paddle.
Several swimmers have attempted the journey but only Australian Susan Maroney has succeeded, making the crossing in 1997 with the help of a shark cage.
(Writing by David Adams; Additional reporting by Tom Brown and Marc Frank; Editing by Toni Reinhold)
[Image: A tired Ben Friberg rests after arriving in Key West, Florida, following an 111-mile paddleboarding voyage from Cuba across the Florida Straits to the Florida Keys Aug. 2, 2013. REUTERS/Carol Tedesco/Florida Keys News Bureau/Handout via Reuters]