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An adventurer’s world-first to support children’s welfare

On 6 December 2016, South African big-wave surfer Chris Bertish left the Agadir Marina in Morocco and set off for Antigua – a journey of 6,517 kilometres. He was on a custom-made stand up paddleboard, known as an SUP. 93 days later, he arrived in Antigua’s English Harbour, heavily bearded, exhausted and weather-beaten. But he held his paddle and a burning red flare aloft in triumph. He had achieved a world first, completing the open-ocean passage unsupported and unassisted. He had completed two million paddle strokes, averaging 70km a day, paddling mostly at night to avoid exposure to the harsh sun. His main steering broke in the first week, which left him with no ability to change course, whilst getting blown in 6-8m seas and 30-40 knot winds. He survived this particular storm in his firsts week which threatened to dash him against the rocks off the Canary Islands. On another occasion his retriever line got caught around the centreboard which meant his craft was getting semi-inverted 90 degrees to the water every time he was hit by 6-8ft waves. Chris was left with no option but to dive down in the middle of the night and try cut the paraline off during which time his finger got trapped and almost ripped off.  There were sharks which charged and bumped him in the middle of the night, at one stage a giant squid or giant shark got caught in the para-anker which could only be described as mind-blowing and very scary, to a leaking craft which threatened to sink, and injuries including a torn rotator cuff. He said “everything that could possibly have gone wrong, went wrong”. Despite these insurmountable challenging obstacles he achieved this remarkable feat. Backing his exploit was Carrick Wealth, which believed they and Chris Bertish were united in their quest to become pioneers. Carrick became the official title sponsor of The SUP Crossing “to back the brave and the revolutionary, the pioneering and the professional in a truly exceptional feat”. But there was more to the project than a transatlantic crossing in a stand-up paddleboard. Carrick Wealth is using the SUP Crossing to support the vital work of three charities – Operation Smile, the Lunchbox Fund and The Signature of Hope Trust. For Carrick Wealth CEO Craig Featherby this is a valuable opportunity to encourage philanthropy in big business. David O’Sullivan spoke to him about the SUP Crossing and Carrick Wealth’s philanthropic goals.

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Craig, take me back, how did the relationship between Chris Bertish and Carrick Wealth originate in the first place?

I hold a conference for my organisation at the beginning of every year and we titled the conference at the beginning of last year “Finding Courage” and I was seeking a guest speaker at our gala dinner, which was basically a summary of the last year’s performances and so forth and I did a lot of research into many, many guest speakers and came across Chris Bertish and basically read his book. Chris Bertish’s claim to fame prior to the SUP crossing was and is that he is a big wave surfer and he won a competition in 2010 called Mavericks which for anyone who has the understanding of what an astonishing triumph this is knows it is something immense to marvel at.

So, I contacted Chris and he was actually over in the States at the time that I spoke to him and I said, “Look, I’ve got a conference in four days’ time, I haven’t been able to find a suitable speaker. Your story just totally summarises what I’m trying to capture and that’s finding courage. Would you consider jumping on a plane and flying back” and he said, “Without a doubt, I’ll be there in two days”. I met him on the 4th of January 2016 and it was that night after he inspired the audience of about 250 people, that I got speaking to him about his next absolutely unbelievably crazy adventure and that was to stand up on a paddleboard and paddle from Morocco across to the Caribbean.

Why did you feel that there was synergy between Chris Bertish’s SUP crossing and Carrick Wealth?

The SUP crossing can be summarised in one very brief sentence, “Performance with a purpose”. Carrick Wealth was founded on the principle of revolutionising the financial services industry in terms of professionalism, transparency, and integrity, particularly in the offshore space. The goal that unites Chris and Carrick is exactly that. I think we are both pioneers in the offshore space, Chris on water, but Carrick in offshore jurisdictions.

From L-R: Kieron McRae, Chris Bertish, Craig Featherby

I’m passionate about Africa and I’m passionate about the people and making a real difference in the lives of many. David, I love the land of Africa, I love the value of education, but most importantly, I love being able to make use of money to change a child’s potential overnight through simple, but necessary intervention. Chris shares a very similar goal in that we both wanted to change the lives of millions of children and therefore, we needed a story. It’s not about long-term sustainable philanthropy, it’s about coming up with a story to get people behind the concept of philanthropy and giving back, and this is exactly why I’m calling on businesses people today to become philanthropists, to love humanity and the causes that are motivated to serve strategic and beneficial benefaction.

As for the crossing itself, Craig, were you able to stay in touch with Chris as he was out on the waves?

Yes, remarkably so, he had incredible technology backing him up. I think, primarily because he needed to understand what the weather was going to do for the days ahead, but I spoke to Chris probably once a week or if not once a weekend day and it was such a refreshing surprise just to receive phone calls from him, but more importantly, the encouragement. More often than not he would be telling me how important it is to keep going and keep pushing, he would wish me well for the week ahead, and very rarely did he tell me about the hardships that he was going through and those hardships were many. So, yes, it was fantastic chatting to him, 93 days, he started on the 6th of December 2016 and finished in the Caribbean on the 9th of March 2017, so 93 days of being completely alone in the deep, often cruel ocean unsupported, a remarkable achievement.

It is absolutely remarkable, were there ever concerns after you had spoken to him that he wasn’t going to see this through? Did he ever give you the indication that the hardships and as you say, they were many, a lot of leaking of the paddleboard occurred. Did you ever feel that this might not end successfully?

Honestly, no, after getting to know Chris, you get to know that this individual is just superhuman and if anyone was going to achieve it and specifically through the hardships that he was going through, he was going to do it and I actually spoke to him about 30 minutes after he completed the voyage and he was sitting down eating a hamburger for the first time. The first thing that he said to me is, “Craig, thank you so much for your support and thanks very much for everything that you’ve done and together we’re changing the lives of so many people”. So, it was about other people, not about Chris Bertish and what he was going through, which I found just so incredible.

The object for Carrick Wealth, was not just simply to brand his stand-up paddleboard and share in the glory when he finally arrived in Antigua, it was also to raise money to be part of a bigger process, to raise money for three South African charities that you were involved with, The Lunchbox Fund, Operation Smile South Africa, and Signature of Hope Trust. Explain to me how that all works.

The principle reason why I chose to get involved with Chris Bertish was for the charity. We’ve chosen to collaborate with three unique charities and the charities all have stories behind them. Sadly, in South Africa, 700 infants alone are born every year with a cleft lip or a cleft palate and if we put that into context, David, out of the million infants born on an annual basis, 1,428 are affected with some form of medical condition. Now if you multiply that by the number of infants that are usually born on the continent, there is clearly a major problem. A donation of R5,500 can pay the operating costs to repair an infant’s mouth and in turn change a community.

My objectives in partnering with Operation Smile is to have the single biggest impact on a child’s life and therefore, by repairing an infant who has a terrible medical condition, does exactly that, it changes the lives of these little children who are often ostracized by family and the villagers. Secondly, Chris and I are passionate about education and therefore, we’ve chosen to partner with The Lunchbox Fund. They do absolutely amazing work in South Africa. Thousands and thousands of children in the country are orphans who are struggling to make it without the support of parents and relatives. Where there is parental presence, some are so desperately poor, that children go to bed starving and wake up starving.

Starving children cannot be educated because they are just too listless to concentrate and The Lunchbox Fund operates around the motto, “Education through nutrition”. Therefore, they provide four to five meals for thousands of children on a daily basis to encourage them to got to school, but more importantly, the draw card being for them to stay in school and get an education. The last charity is actually the CSI division of Carrick Wealth, known as Signature of Hope Trust and it’s going back to the concept of education.

We have a strategy to build five early childhood development pre-schools in rural areas of South Africa and administer them with partners and partner professional bodies here in South Africa. So, the story of the SUP crossing in itself is a monumental story. What Chris achieved is just mind blowing, but the story has just begun. We’ve currently raised R5.5m through private and corporate donations and our goal is to get to R20m by December 31st of this year.

You could just go to big donors and say, “Give us money. Here are three incredibly worthwhile causes to support”. Could you have just done this without involving Chris Bertish, could you have still got the money? How critical is Chris Bertish and the SUP crossing to this fundraising initiative?

I think it’s been incredibly important. We started three weeks ago, a campaign called “Hashtag Stand Up”, which basically is mobilising South Africans to stand up and to be counted and the synergy between standing up and standing up for smiles and standing up for education is exactly what Chris Bertish did for 93 days. He stood up; he’s basically put his life on the line on numerous occasions for the principal reason of standing up for what he believes in and raising a whole pile of money. Yes, we could have just gone to corporates directly but we wanted this project to have real meaning behind it and the idea of standing up on a paddleboard to raise the awareness of three incredible charities is exactly what it’s all about.

Do you find it’s easier to raise awareness through something as dramatic as the SUP crossing, as a man who stands up on a paddleboard and does something phenomenal, becomes a superhuman? Is it just easier to have that kind of story to appeal to people’s philanthropic souls?

Absolutely, I think you need a story in anything in life. Whilst you can easily just go out into the marketplace and ask people to support three incredible charities, many people are reluctant because it’s just another request for another Rand to go to another charity. So, the idea was to create the story because philanthropy should be about meaningful, trustworthy, and sustainable partnerships. All giving is good and there’s nothing inherently wrong with the spray and pray type charity. I give a Rand today, but nothing tomorrow. What we are trying to do is to try to create this awareness of standing up and doing your bit for society and for the underprivileged people of South Africa.

Do you find corporate South Africa understands this notion of philanthropy a lot better? I know that CSI is very much part of corporate DNA these days, but you really are putting a different idea on this word ‘philanthropy’. It’s so much more emotive, so much more powerful; does corporate South Africa appreciate it?

I don’t think so yet unfortunately. In business at this time, there’s much discussion, as you said, about CSR or corporate social responsibility. In South Africa where our businesses are headquartered, the CSR legislation covers Black Economic Empowerment and skills development. However, CSR is not philanthropy; CSR is discretionary and represented degree of hard spending to create immediate changes for its beneficiaries. On the other hand, many local philanthropic efforts are, as I said to you, the spray and pray variety without strategic plans or investments or no sustainable financial goals. What we’re trying to do is raise the awareness of the importance of giving back and I think, as I said to you, you need to have a story and Chris’s voyage across the Atlantic was the story that we required.

It’s a very good fit, Craig. I would imagine though that it would have required a fair amount of soul searching, a fair amount of consultation with your team because you did describe this as a crazy notion. When he first approached you with this crazy notion, you’re not really going to get involved in something that’s crazy. How much soul searching did you do before you signed on the deal?

Many people who I consulted beforehand said, “Okay, Craig, so let’s think about the worst case scenario. The worst case scenario is you’re a financial advisory organisation in the wealth management business, your name is on a boat and the boat ends up sinking halfway across the journey”, but it took me two weeks consultation with Chris Bertish himself and I realised that one of the objectives of this expedition is to redefine what is possible by pushing the limits and the boundaries of the human body, mind, and spirit. The core goal was to create a positive impact, to leave a legacy by changing the lives of millions of children across the African continent.

So that in itself was a bigger driving force than thinking about the negativity. After spending two or three days with Chris I realised that if anybody was going to do it, he was going to be the type of person to do it and Carrick Wealth was just so proud to be associated with an inspirational human being prepared to do something just so ‘out there and incredible’ for the lives of so many other people.

Well, now that he’s achieved this and created world headlines for himself and for Carrick Wealth, the initiative gets so much more exposure, there can only be benefits. The journey might be finished for Chris Bertish, but in terms of your goals, they’ve really just started haven’t they? You now have to exploit this wonderful achievement to ensure that the goals of raising money for all those organisations (for Operation Smile, for Lunchbox Fund, and for Signature of Hope Trust), that really has to kick into high gear now.

Yes, absolutely, the SUP crossing and Chris’s journey was really chapter one. Now getting him back home and raising the awareness here within South Africa is chapter two. He is currently in the States on a media tour, raising awareness in the US and on the way home going via the UK. Why, because international donors and the strength of the Pound and the Dollar are so much better than the Rand and that is chapter three, it’s not about the SUP crossing. The SUP crossing was a part of it.

It’s all about raising the awareness and giving back. Corporate business needs to become philanthropists. I encourage South Africans to become more philanthropic. To get behind what motivates you in giving back and doing your bit and if we can achieve that by not only raising R20m, but then equally so, creating more and more philanthropists in this wonderful country that we all belong to, then I think that it’s been a journey well completed.

I hope that your call for corporate South Africa to become more philanthropic is well heard and for those people listening to this interview now who feel they would like to contribute to these incredible organisations, Operation Smile, The Lunchbox Fund, and the Signature of Hope Trust, how can they get involved, Craig?

Basically, really three ways: SMS the word ‘standup’ to 42146 at a cost of R30. I would also like to raise the awareness, so I’ve encouraged people to make a sign #standup, take a photo of yourself and post it to as many social media stations and social media channels which you have access to and lastly, it’s a fantastic website, tells you all about his captain’s log and the journey that he went through. I would encourage people to go to www.thesupcrossing.com. There you can learn about his expedition, but you can also learn about ways to buy a PayPal or SnapScan and PayFast on how to contribute to our beneficiaries. We are grateful for every penny raised for these remarkable Charities.

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