I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it go down with my own eyes.
Local Jacksonville Beach surfer and design professional, Kurtis Loftus, surfed for 31 hours, 16 minutes and 35 continuous seconds last week, unofficially breaking the Guinness World Record for longest surf session, previously held by Bill Laity from Huntington Beach, CA. Documentation has been submitted to Guinness for official certification. Kurtis was surfing to raise money for 26.2 With Donna, The National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer, a hugely successful foundation established by beloved local newscaster Donna Deegan, who battled the disease herself.
I was stoked to be able to assist Kurtis, who needed a minimum of two certified eyewitnesses at all times throughout his attempt to document his effort, while also providing support and encouragement. After a hectic week in which the schedule was moved several times to coordinate with the most favorable weather/surf conditions (tricky in North Florida during late October), the event was finally launched on Wednesday the 26th at 1:00 pm, ending at about 8:15 pm on Thursday the 27th.
I surfed with Kurtis from 9:00 pm – 1:30 am on Wednesday night into Thursday morning. As Kurtis notes in this article, surfing at night was extremely challenging. There was no moon at all and only minimal lighting that the local Jacksonville Beach Lifeguard Station had set up (Shout-outs to them- something was better than nothing.)
I can affirm that after 4.5 straight hours of surfing, I don’t know how Kurtis pulled fully 7x that amount. It was superhuman. Check out his gnarly zombie hands in the photo above. I understand that Kurtis slept for 7 hours afterwards, then was right back at it, alert and smiling at his desk in his office. Incredible.
Surfing at night was an interesting experience. It was extremely difficult to see, and the waves would get right up on you before you knew it. I’m a shortboarder, but I brought a longboard to sit up as high as possible out of the water and have a lot of board beneath me in the event that we encountered unwelcomed sealife. In California, there are creatures that can swallow you whole. In Florida, they’re more apt to snack on you like appetizers, but there are a lot more of them. Additionally, places like the Huntington Beach Pier are set up well with lights for night surfing. Not so, here. Generally, conditions were very peaceful. The surf was about 1-2 ft., perhaps a little bigger on sets, and the water warm in a fullsuit. During the evening, I saw three good-sized dorsal fins, but I believe all of them were dolphins. One was questionable, but I wasn’t going to be the one to disrupt Kurtis’ attempt in any way. There were also 4-5 guys in the water at most times, so I figured my odds were alright.
One of the things that I loved about Kurtis’ attempt is that for him, this really wasn’t about a world record, but rather about genuinely trying to raise money for a cause he is truly passionate about. Kurtis loves to help people, loves surfing and very clearly loves challenges. He’s also a devout Christian, and I love all those things about him, because I relate to all of them.
Coincidentally, just one day following Kurtis’ successful finish, my wife and I went to drop off a meal to some friends of ours – a lady (and her husband) who used to oversee the children’s ministry for our church, who has been undergoing chemotherapy for several months for breast cancer. While we were there, we asked them if they had heard about Kurtis’ world record attempt and fundraising effort. Of course, they had. They also immediately proceeded to share how much help Donna Deegan’s foundation had been to them, providing significant financial assistance for treatment that without, might have resulted in financial calamity, or worse – no treatment at all. And just that quick, we had sound affirmation about the tangible importance of Donna’s foundation; why Kurtis did what he did; and why it is important for all of us to look for similar opportunities to use our own passions, imaginations and energies to help others.
You may not break a world record, but you can change the world around you and make it a better place for all of us.
Postcript: I think it important to note the critical role of Kurtis’ wife, Margaret. In all the various press I’ve seen, I think I’ve seen just one article that mentioned her presence. Like Kurtis, Margaret stayed awake for the entire 31+ hours. I was out there for the kickoff; checking in and out of my own time slot; and at the end; and I don’t think I ever saw Margaret sitting down one time.
This was possibly even more challenging than being out in the line-up, where you are buoyed by adrenaline and much less susceptible to the temptation to just lie down, or go home and take a short nap.
Margaret also spearheaded the pre- and post-event coordination of scheduling and paperwork, of which there was more than you could imagine. I don’t believe that people accomplish feats of these sorts without extraordinary support from those closest to them- the kind of support that comes from relationships like the one Kurtis and Margaret, now well into their second decade of marriage, seem to share. I know I have always blessed with a similar force (my wife, Gretchen) in my life, who has always been there for every big and small effort I’ve ever seen fit to pursue, working as hard as she can to lift me up and help me achieve my goals.
As I am sure Kurtis will relate, it is almost an unfair advantage. Hopefully Guinness will overlook Margaret, too.
To check more from the event (photos, videos and blog entries) and to DONATE ($8,000 raised so far out of a $10,000 goal), go to: www.marathonsurfer.com. Kurtis, a talented artist, also has a beautiful board that he designed himself, that was brought to life by Jim Dunlop of Mystic Surfboards. He plans to auction it.