“Chica libre”: Paddleboarding from Havana to Key West

With just a board and a paddle to sail in the open sea, Victoria Burgess aims to achieve what no other woman has done before: cross the Straits of Florida, from Cuba to Key West, in a surf variant.

Burgess named her historic attempt to make the 90-mile journey the Chica Libre Crossing (Free girl crossing), because “I wanted a name that would represent the strength in women who ‘set themselves free’ of anything that is holding them back and go out there and chase their dreams,” she said to SUP The Mag.

They will be some 30 exhausting hours of Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP).

Victoria Burgess has completed both the M2O and the Molokai to Maui. Photo: Roray Kam
Victoria Burgess has completed both the M2O and the Molokai to Maui. Photo: Roray Kam

On the day of the crossing, June 26, Burgess will have a support boat and a team for her nutrition and safety. The boat will have two captains, a paramedic and a videographer, as well as a personal friend and her boyfriend onboard.

“It won’t be easy but having faith in yourself and pressing forward with persistence, patience and grace will get you to where you need to be,” she said. She even expects to complete the crossing in 25 hours, in much less time than the previewed.

Victoria is a coach and nutritionist and wants to raise awareness about women in sport. In her work with female athletes she finds that oftentimes they aren’t aware of their own strength and are hesitant to push themselves to their limits for fear of failure.

“I want to show young girls that anything is possible, regardless of your situation,” says Burgess. “You just have to go for it.”

She is 33 years old and throughout her youth she participated in soccer, basketball, volleyball and water polo before converting to surfing and SUP. However, she never considered herself a resistance athlete until she saw herself standing and paddling on the water.

Burgess competed in famous distance SUP races like the Molokai to Oahu as well as Maui to Molokai. But, after spending some time in Hawaii’s waters, she decided it was time to do a crossing on her home turf.

One of her training sessions. Photo: Marko Photo.
One of her training sessions. Photo: Marko Photo.

“I love the uncertainty of it all,” says Burgess. “I love having to be ready for whatever presents itself. I like the challenge of ever-changing conditions. And I really love the fact that you are this little thing out there in this big thing,” she said when referring to the ocean.

As a curious data, her longest paddle to date is seven hours but she plans to do a 12-hour paddle before the big day.

“I want to see how far I can push my body, not only physically but mentally as well,” says Burgess. “I also want people to see that it is possible to do wild things even if you work and have a family and bills to pay. You don’t always have to quit your job or your current life to go reach for your biggest dreams. If you plan right and don’t quit, anything is possible.”

In 2013, guitarist Ben Friberg, from Tennessee, was the first person to paddleboard cross the distance from Cuba to the United States. The 35-year-old musician completed the crossing in 28 hours, also accompanied by a support boat.

This sport originated in Polynesia and was used by its inhabitants as a way of moving from one place to the other. In addition to the open sea, it is practiced in lakes, rivers and bays.

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