Isaac Giesen has spent 143 days at sea in the past year, so you'd think a few more days on the beach wouldn't faze him.
Not so. When the Taylors Mistake clubbie turned up to the recent TSB New Zealand surf lifesaving championships, he was shocked to find how ill-prepared he was.
It's not really surprising, given the 26-year-old's recent exploits. After rowing the Atlantic with a team early in 2018, he turned around and became the first Kiwi to row it solo, finishing in mid-February after an additional 70 days, 19 hours and 37 minutes at sea.
After losing 11kg during the solo crossing, turning up to race double ski and canoe events at nationals was a tough ask.
"My fast-twitch fibres had definitely gone - my body went into a survival state and was definitely not ready for a 5min burst of going for it in a ski race!" he laughed. "Physically, it's like everything's broken. The first three days off the boat were spent just regaining balance, then my calves blew out and swelled up. It's like I'm starting again - I went to the gym the other day and struggled to lift a 20kg bar, where I was snatching 100kg before I left."
The physical torment, however, was worth every ache for the trained winemaker, who started at Taylors Mistake as an 8-year-old nipper.
His quest wasn't about exploring the limits of his body but of his mind, using it as a vehicle to raise awareness of mental health.
The reasons are deeply personal; seven years ago, he lost two close friends and an aunty to suicide.
"As a young, male New Zealander, I'm trying to point out that something's not really right here - why did I have to lose three people close to me? We need to keep the conversation going and we need to bring about the mentality of just having a yarn in the locker rooms and in the clubs. It's just a simple recipe, asking someone how they're going or how they're feeling, and then just taking the time to listen. I've found talking to my mates and telling them I feel like crap is like a weight off my shoulders. Telling the story of my aunty and two mates has helped me breathe again and I can move on with my life."
Rowing by himself for hours upon hours each day, month after month, surrounded by waves and stars and whales helped Giesen learn a lot about himself, while he also had online support from a sports psychologist along the way.
He feels like New Zealand may have turned a corner, especially after the recent terror attack in his home town, and is looking forward to a future where people are more tolerant and open.
Ironically, last year's team row across the Atlantic taught him just as much about self-reliance as anything; that trip was fraught with crew disharmony, equipment failure and poor planning. To sum things up, the team row took just over 73 days - three days more than when he did it all himself.
"Even though the weather wasn't ideal and I had to row half of it with no wind pushing me along, it was just so much nicer. Going solo after rowing in a team boat was just chalk and cheese - it was so nice rowing doing what I wanted and having to make decisions just for myself and no-one else. The team row was a massive learning curve that I was able to apply to my solo row."
Having got his first surf lifesaving nationals in three years behind him - his Taylors canoe crew even finished fifth in a highly-competitive open men's long-course final - Giesen's immediate focus is rest and relaxation.
But be prepared for more adventures from him - and a whole lot more conversation-starters to come.
Find out more about Isaac Giesen's journey here: www.thebluerower.com
Caption: Isaac Giesen had a blast at the recent TSB New Zealand surf lifesaving championships in Mount Maunganui, despite one of the more unusual preparations undertaken. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media.
SLSNZ Media Team
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