Compiled: Tracy Knox | Photos: Mike Baker & tourismZA
Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds.” Orison Swett Marden
South Africa is blessed with many big-hearted individuals who have done incredible things for the causes they believe in. But not many can say they have actually put their life on the line for it. Richard Kohler is one such good Samaritan who has looked death in the face and come out smiling.
For Richard Kohler, the ocean is an adventure waiting to be explored! Born in 1970, Richard started sailing at the tender age of six. With a love for the ocean and adventure, his paddling career kicked off in 2000, and he achieved his Provincial colours in 2004 and 2010. Richard's paddling career continued to flourish and he was asked to try out for SA’s Americas Cup team, and went on to sail for the Americas Cup team 'Shosholoza' in 2006-2007. He then added the 2010 WP Vets Presidents Trophy to his trophy cabinet, and has completed four Port Elizabeth to East London Surf Ski Challenges, as well as six Berg River Marathons. Richard also has a soft spot for the youth and has founded a number of development programmes, including the successful Milnerton Canoe Club programme.
In December last year, Richard launched from a beach in Mozambique with aim of being the first solo-surfski paddler to paddle the entire 3,600 km South African coastline between Mozambique and Namibia; he was unsupported at sea, but had a land-based team assisting with daily beach landings and surf condition advice. With this journey he had his sights firmly set on raising R1.1million for Miles for Smiles, which would be used to finance the reconstructive surgery of 200 children born with cleft palates or lips, enabling them to smile for the first time. But then everything that could go wrong went wrong …
His worst nightmare came true on day three while surfing down a wave; the ski was flung forwards and Richard was thrown into the water. “I knew instantly it was a shark,” he said. “I was utterly amazed at the force with which it hit me,” said Richard. The specially reinforced ski was still in one piece, but the rudder had been smashed forward with such energy that the whole shaft fitting had been ripped off its mountings, tearing a hole in the bottom of the hull. "I was about 30 km into the planned 70km paddle, and about 4 km out to sea when it happened," he said. Heading back to the beach, he managed to source some duct tape and slow the intake of water. Rattled and more than a little anxious he tentatively put out to sea again, but had to return to shore twice more to drain the ski. Then about 10 km from Cape Vidal the rudder blade totally detached from the shaft, leaving the ski with no steering at all. Using his leg to try and keep straight, Richard paddled back to the shore once more to empty his craft. Unable to contact his support team, nor could he walk the 24 km to Cape Vidal, he was left with no alternative but to put out to sea once more. By chance, Richard came across ski-boat fishermen who lent him repair materials, and he eventually limped into Cape Vidal, completing his planned 70km haul.
Within a week of getting started the KwaZulu-Natal coastline swallowed him up, worked him over and unceremoniously spat him out as a buckled man on a remote beach at the Amatikulu River Mouth. But despite the battering headwinds, the shark attack and punishment his body was taking, he kept going and gingerly set out once more.
However, disaster struck for a third time. Three weeks into his journey, at Winklespruit, Richard was robbed of all the expedition equipment, including safety gear, navigational equipment, radios, cameras, irreplaceable photographs and video footage, and computers ... and he couldn’t continue without it. For all intent purposes this was it for Richard, who had given it more than his best shot.
Down but not out, Richard was not ready to throw in the towel. "I have no intention of giving up!" he said in his quiet, resolute way, "With the support I have received from family, friends, and people I have never met, I am more determined than ever to paddle the entire 3,600 km South African coastline. Together, where each of us do what we can to make this expedition work, we will give the gift of a smile to 200 children."
Saturday 14 October 2012 was set as the relaunch date. However, the delivery of Richard's boat was delayed due to the truck driver's strikes, so he only launched from Alexander Bay at 08h00 on Sunday, 21 October 2012, where he paddled up to the Orange River Mouth, which marks the border of South Africa and Namibia, made a ceremonious U-turn and arrived back at Alexander Bay to overnight. He set off into the great blue yonder at sunrise on 23 October 2012, and plans to do an average of 30 km per day, with the aim of completing his journey in four months.
Miles for Smiles
The Cipla Miles for Smiles Foundation was formed to assist Operation Smile in creating awareness for the plight of children born with cleft lips and palates, and raise funds to perform corrective surgery on them. For every R5 500.00 donated to Operation Smile South Africa, they can facilitate corrective facial surgery on a child and give them their God-given right to a smile. With a simple operation of some 45 minutes, a child's life can be changed forever.
The foundation has a fundamental aim, to inspire and challenge individuals to go out and make a difference in the lives of those around them, by challenging themselves to achieve the impossible and by doing so, make a difference.
Show your support by following Richard on Facebook (www.facebook.com/Paddlingforsmiles) or subscribe to the Paddling for Smiles newsletter (http://ow.ly/eBcAu)
If you would like to get behind Richard and Paddling for Smiles, and help 'give a smile back' to 200 children, a small donation can make all the difference in the world! To make a donation visit www.paddlingforsmiles.co.za and click on the ‘donate’ button at the top.