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Seth Warren in action; Photograph courtesy Seth Warren

Two Friends Set Out to SUP and Kiteboard from Mozambique to Zanzibar

The KUZI Project is a 500-mile, self-supported stand-up paddle boarding and kite boarding journey up the coast of East Africa. Photographer-filmmaker Seth Warren and his good friend South African adventurer Kirk Hollis will travel a stretch of the Indian Ocean coastline—from Pemba, Mozambique to Zanzibar, Tanzania—that is world renowned for its wildlife, marine life, and ancient historical significance.

The Quirimbas Archipelago—a string of 31 islands extending northward—were once part of the trade routes for the Arabs and Portuguese for centuries, but have been largely uninhabited in recent history.

In July, Seth and Kirk will embark on an expedition pulled primarily by the Kuzi tradewind—a summertime force that pushes wind and swell from the Indian Ocean northward. The team will stand-up paddle (SUP) and kite board the entire stretch of coastline, exploring the islands and remote, pristine coastal areas.

Seth took a break from packing and planning to answer a few questions.

I’ve heard of this kind of expedition for kayaking and sailing, but this is one of the first I’ve heard about for stand-up paddle boarding. Five hundred miles seems like a huge distance…
Seth Warren: The difference between stand-up paddling and kayaking is that SUP is more comfortable for long periods of time. The problem with it, however, is that typically it’s really difficult to do in wind. Paddling into the wind can be fierce because of your body’s surface area. However, for this project, we will follow a tradewind from south to north using the wind to our advantage. We will have the wind at our backs using our bodies as a sail to gain speed in the direction of travel, plus, we will have the added advantage of wind swell; our boards are designed to surf swell for great distances. We have the potential to move along quite quickly. Granted, neither one of us have ever really done this though… so it’s still a bit of a theory.Generally speaking, we’ll go roughly 500 miles over the course of the trip, and our goal to sustain an average of ten miles a day for six or seven weeks. Really, the stand-up paddle boards are the vessels that are going to get us from place to place to some of the most remote kiteboarding locations anywhere. That said, we have to be prepared to make some difficult crossings occasionally in crosswinds. Additionally, one big logistic is that everything we are bringing with us has to fit on the board: food, water, kiteboarding equipment, camping gear, fishing gear, snorkeling and film/camera gear. All in all, the boards are designed to carry us plus 100 pounds of gear. We’ll carry some food with us, but for the most part we’ll be spear fishing and buying fish and supplies from local fisherman in the villages along the way.

What has been the biggest challenge getting ready for this trip?
SW: Probably the biggest logistical hurdle was building and shipping the boards to Africa. They’re so big that we literally had to send them on a ship—and to meet that deadline, they needed to be done several months in advance. The guys at Glide, who custom built the boards, were really instrumental in getting that off the ground.The other challenge is that no matter how much research I do, no matter how many times I look at Google Earth, there’s no way I can anticipate or plan all of the details of this trip. I’m a planner, and I like to have everything worked out before I go … but I’m trying to let go of that tendency on this one and leave the decisions and logistics to the wind.One thing that definitely needs a solid plan is the documentation. I have an assignment for a five-part series for that will be produced when I return this fall. Designing a lightweight and efficient system for shooting and storing media is constantly on my mind.

What are you most excited about?
SW: I love putting myself at the mercy of the elements. There’s nothing like the unique rush of not knowing what’s around the next corner. The key ingredient of a real adventure. A large part of this is relying on nature to get us from place to place—and that’s very core to the story of this trip. We will be traveling and playing in paradise for almost two months, and I’m so excited to have the opportunity to live, explore and get to know this environment intimately.

Tell us a bit about your partner in this project, Kirk Hollis.
SW: Kirk is the mastermind behind this whole project. In 2010, he kiteboarded 3,500 kilometers from South Africa to Kenya over the course of eight months with just a small backpack of his belongings. As this is his second project in the region, he dreamed this up as the ultimate adventure during the best winds in the most beautiful part of the East African coastline.

As a character, Kirk is an African legend. Charming, good-looking, and a classic South African accent. There’s a group of people that built their lives around the White Nile in Uganda, and Kirk spent much of his life in this environment of endless summer working as a river guide. Since the Nile was dammed last year, he moved to Zanzibar and is currently working at a dive shop. He is a perpetual entertainer, a great athlete, and he likes to have a really good time. I’ve only seen his serious side a few times and I’m looking forward to experiencing that side of him more on this trip.

Can you give us a glimpse into the packing/preparation for a trip like this?
SW: It’s interesting because I’m flying in and out of airports on completely different sides of the African continent. Everything I’m bringing with me is coming on the board—so I don’t have to worry about bringing an excruciating amount of gear, and that is a nice change from previous expeditions I’ve done. I’m going light in certain areas—like clothes, and other areas seems a bit excessive—like camera and kiting gear. The documentation system is pretty simple: two identical hard drive systems that I can dump my memory cards right on to, so I have it all backed up. Plus an iPad for web and media updates when we have Internet along the way, as well as digital SLR equipment for photo, video and sound, and all the accessories that go along with that. We have a solar charger from Goal Zero that will be great, as well as some prototype gear from Sea to Summit, like compact sleeping shelters, as well as cooking and camping gear. We are bringing a spear gun and free-diving system for hunting. We also have five kites and two boards shared between the two of us. Other than that, we’re packing lots of sunscreen, an extra paddle, and a Spot device.

At the end of this, what do you hope to accomplish?
SW: This is adventure for the sake of adventure. Nothing more, nothing less. We’re going to explore and to have fun.

Follow along with the Kuzi Project here.