Solo Adventure Across Sweden by way of the Gota Canal


Photographs credit: Jessica Johansson

Starboard SUP caught up with Todd Phillips, an American expat living in the Netherlands to talk to him about his latest adventure that concluded a few weeks ago; a six day, 190 km solo adventure across Sweden by way of the Göta Canal.
Built between 1810 and 1832, the Göta Canal is one of the most remarkable waterways in the world and one of the founding communication and trade links between Sweden’s two largest cities; Stockholm and Gothenburg. This canal also connects several larger lakes along the way as well, including Lake Vattern; one of the deepest, most treacherous lakes in Europe.

Photographs credit: Jessica Johansson

Starboard SUP (SB)- So, how did you get into SUP?
Todd Phillips (TP)- I was introduced to SUP by my sister while on holiday visiting her in Thailand this past January. She had been bugging me to try it for a while and now I don’t know why I waited.
SB- Wait, you have only been SUP-ing since January?
TP- Yeah.
SB- Incredible. So, why choose to do something like the Göta Canal?
TP- After Thailand, I was visiting a friend in Sweden during February who introduced me to some of the history and landscape of Sweden; which included the Göta Canal. I was really excited about the possibility for adventure that SUP touring could offer me, and this seemed like a good start. I had done other crazy solo adventures before, so this just seemed like a perfect fit for me.”

Photographs credit: Jessica Johansson

SB- What other preparations did you make for this trip?
TP- My prior adventures have all been land-based; I had never done anything like SUP touring before. I did a lot of research on the web to see if it was even possible. I had seen what people like Bart were doing with SUP touring and it really appealed to me. I like to be sure to research the local area for its culture and landscape as well. I like getting into what makes this area special, and the history of the Göta Canal is pretty
remarkable as well.

Photographs credit: Jessica Johansson

SB- In what way?
TP- Some 58 000 soldiers removed 300,000 cubic meters of rock and earth in order to create the three meter deep and approximately 14 meter wide canal. They were assisted by locals as well as prisoners. One community, Tatorp, even bought their own bridge from the former East Germany after living for 20 years with only a footpath over the Canal. There are many other stories of how stoic and resolute the Swedes are, and that really impressed me.

Photographs credit: Jessica Johansson

SB- Isn’t it cold in Sweden in May? What did you do to prepare for that?
TP- I was concerned about that as well. My friend assured me that spring in Sweden was beautiful. I looked at what the temperatures were (between 10-20 Celsius) and found that although the weather can be npredictable, it was doable. I spoke to the Swedish Starboard distributer (James Venimore) who gave me some valuable insight as well as providing me a Kokotat dry suit, which was a saving grace of several days.
SB- A drysuit? How bad did it get?
TP- When most people think of SUP, they thinking surfing, sun, shorts, and summer. SUP touring is much different; you need to be prepared for anything. The dry suit was crucial on several days when the wind really kicked up to around 7-9 meters/second and tossed me around pretty bad.

Photographs credit: Jessica Johansson

SB- What other equipment did you take?
TP- Since the water freezes in winter, the Göta Canal doesn’t open until early May, when they fill the locks for the first time. So without the traffic, many of the businesses normally open to tourists later in the summer aren’t open yet. I didn’t know what to expect, so I went completely self-supported. I had a 35 liter dry bag with my tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, clothes, food, cookstove, etc. The board I chose was a 14
foot Coast Runner which has a place to secure gear up front, but space is limited.
SB- Any problems along the way? How did the weather and water treat you?
TP- I know my mom is going to read this and she worries when I do adventures like this…so I will just say I did have some challenges, but nothing I wasn’t prepared for.
SB- Ah, come on, give us something.
TP- OK….on day two I was battling a pretty harsh headwind. It was so bad that no matter how much I paddled, I was going backwards. Just as I was considering pulling off the water, a gust blew up unexpectedly and knocked me off my board into the frigid waters. This was followed by rain and sleet that didn’t let up for 45 minutes. I was passing through farmland, so I had only a tree to hide behind. Once it let up a bit, I had to paddle for another 20 minutes before I could find a shelter where I changed my clothes, made some coffee, and crawled into my sleeping bag. I didn’t have the dry suit on, so I was pretty hypothermic and it took me about 2 hours to warm up enough to continue. If I hadn’t had all my equipment with me, it would have turned out differently.
SB- I never thought to put SUP and hypothermia in the same sentence. Did you have any good weather?
TP- I had lots of wind and rough water the first few days that really challenged me, but after that, things evened out and the water was picture perfect. I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried. Granted, I was vigilant about scanning the weather patterns. But honestly, I think I got pretty lucky on some days.

Photographs credit:David Holmqvist

SB- What else about the trip stands out in your mind?
TP- The people and the landscape; both are truly incredible. I was overwhelmed by the generous outpouring of support from everyone I met. They have such a love and respect for their environment and it really shows. One of my pet peeves is trash that people discard, especially plastic bags. I hardly saw any, even in the larger cities I went through. It is so refreshing to see how well they care for nature.
SB- So, are you going to do anything like this again?
TP- I am hooked. I am trying to find another waterway that is suitable for a similar trip. I really had such a great time. Until then, I am training for the SUP 11-City Tour here in the Netherlands which will have me paddling 220 km over 5 days. I have proven that I can do the distance, now I want to up the challenge a bit.
SB- Well, we will surely look forward to seeing you there.
If you want to see Todd’s trip in more detail, you can check out the blog he wrote along the way at www.toddmanout.org.
Congratulations Todd… a journey you will never forget!

Photographs credit:David Holmqvist

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