Surf ski saviour

2011-01-22 00:00

A DURBAN-BASED world surf-ski champion is to paddle around Madagascar in an epic journey under extreme conditions, to raise awareness of the devastation of the sea around Madagascar due to pollution and global warming.

Veteran paddler Jenny Cullinan (41), who holds three World Surf-Ski Championship titles, will take up the 5 000-kilometre-long challenge in May this year on her six-metre-long racing surf ski, which is the fastest kayak boat in the world. Her paddle around the world’s fourth largest island is likely to take four to five months along a coastline that is often battered by tropical cyclones that bring torrential rains.

She aims to infuse healing energy in the water via positive messages handwritten on her surf ski with indelible ink. “People who are concerned about what’s going on in Madagascar will be writing messages of hope and gratitude, and these are currently pouring in from all around the world. I’ll be taking this global energy and infusing it into the water around the island in an attempt to create balance again,” she said.

She has been inspired by the scientist Dr Masaru Emoto, who has shown that placing positive messages into water improves its health. The Japanese author proposed that water is affected by human intent, in that “beautiful” crystals form when the water is frozen if it has been exposed to positive words or thoughts, while “ugly” crystals result from negative words or thoughts.

Cullinan aims to bring this new science of energy into conservation efforts — via her organisation for marine conservation, SeaHope. She has dubbed this concept “connective conservation”.

The sculptor, natural healer and environmental campaigner who won the World Surf-Ski Championships mixed-doubles title in 2006, and the women’s doubles title in 2007 and 2008, plans to paddle about 50 km a day for around nine hours. At night she will sleep on a support vessel that will remain with her on the trip.

The challenges she faces are immense: electrical storms, big seas, gale force winds, sharks, possible sunstroke and dehydration, plus jellyfish, bluebottles, fireweed and box-jellyfish. Her biggest concerns are cyclones and infected cuts or wounds that will take a while to heal and can deplete her energy levels. The east coast is notoriously rough at that time of year, and she also expects huge swells and strong winds in the southern and northern regions.

The island nation of Madagascar off south-eastern Africa has been in a state of turmoil since a violent coup in March 2009 that saw all foreign donors — which provided half the country’s budget — pull out. In November last year, a group of military officers seized power from then President Andry Rajoelina.

With its current lack of environmental policies and coastguards, the seas off the island are being plundered at present and rapid deforestation is taking place, adding to global warming. This has a profound impact on South Africa’s weather patterns because of the huge island’s proximity, Cullinan said.

She aims to raise awareness of the plundering of the island’s natural resources and the need to protect its natural environment from current high levels of exploitation. “Madagascar is one of our planet’s highly threatened ‘hot spots’. We need to embrace and protect the island. If you care about the oceans you can participate by sending a message to me via my website, to be written on my ski,” she said. She is currently working to secure sponsorship for her journey.

Claire Janisch of Biomimicry South Africa is to use the opportunity to conduct research on the organisms and ecosystems (mostly coastal) of Madagascar. Biomimicry involves learning from and then emulating nature’s genius to solve human problems and create more sustainable designs.

Cullinan aims to blog her progress at

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