A lot of exciting things can happen over 91 days and nine hours. Especially when it’s spent kayaking 2,400 miles from California to Hawaii, like Cyril Derreumaux did last summer. There were near misses with cargo ships, a hurricane, mechanical issues, swamped cockpits, tail winds and counter currents, and of course that glorious step onto dry land.
But the most memorable moment of the trip for Derreumaux was much less dramatic. Two months into the expedition, after a week of rough seas and stormy weather, he squeezed out of his sleeping compartment to find the ocean glassy calm and pastel colors lighting up a few puffy clouds.
“Everything was so soft and quiet,” remembers the French-born adventurer and entrepreneur who lives in the San Francisco area. “Then this bird comes out of nowhere and sings to me. It was so amazing. It was a reminder that the simple things are really what we need.”
It’s that kind of humble appreciation that helped the “regular guy” successfully navigate one of the most challenging pieces of ocean under his own power, for 20 days longer than planned, and after so many setbacks. “It was an extraordinary feat of human endurance, survival, and will,” says Dave Shively, author of The Pacific Alone, a book about Ed Gillet—the only other person to kayak across the eastern Pacific. “Cyril has earned his place among the names of great ocean crossing paddlers.”
Derreumaux was already on that list before he’d left California. In 2016 he was part of a four-person team that rowed across the eastern Pacific in a record time of 39 days. When the pain had faded, his mind started to wonder: “Could I do it another way?”
Doing it solo in a kayak with no support, seemed like the ultimate test for the extreme extrovert. “I love people,” Derreumaux says. “I didn’t know how I’d react to being with me, myself, and I.” He planned the paddle for the summer of 2020—with an $80,000, 23-foot, self-righting super-kayak built in England. It had an open cockpit for paddling, as well as a pedal drive system (he split his time pedaling and paddling), water-tight quarters for sleeping and waiting out bad weather, storage for 220 pounds of food, and all the gadgets required for a modern ocean voyage. He called her Valentine, after his sister. “She’s a dreamer like me.”
COVID lockdowns stranded Valentine in England, so Derreumaux postponed his departure for a year. In June 2021, he paddled under San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge with an armada of media and hype in his wake. “With all the attention, I took my eyes off the ball,” he says. Hammered by bad weather, only six days into the trip he called for a Coast Guard rescue.
Chastened but not deterred, he took the failure as an opportunity to improve, both Valentine and himself. A year later, on June 21, 2022, he quietly paddled out of Monterey Harbor with 70 days of food on board. The first day he paddled for 12 hours and knocked off 30 miles. Just 2,370 to go. “I referred to the crossing as eating an elephant,” says Derreumaux. “It’s one bite at a time.”
The next two weeks were tough. Sea sickness, dehydration, sleeplessness, aching muscles, all plagued him. Just as his body started settling into a rhythm, other challenges arose. A leak soaked his sleeping compartment. The remnants of Hurricane Estelle pummeled him with strong winds and heaving seas. The water maker quit and so did the backup. He had to desalinate water by hand. On Day 49 he hit the halfway point. He was two weeks behind schedule and started rationing food.
But “he never doubted the fact that he could do it,” says Dave Loustalot, Derreumaux’s land support. Mostly, he enjoyed the journey. “It was 100 times more fun than my first crossing,” Derreumaux says. “I was so much more connected with the ocean and the birds and enjoying the journey during the moment.” When he stepped out of Valentine on the beach in Hilo, Hawaii on September 20 he became only the second person to cross the Pacific in a kayak. Because Gillet had used a sail, Derreumaux was also the first to do it entirely under human power.
He ate the elephant, but lost 20 pounds. It will have been worth it if he inspires just one person. “I’m just a regular guy, not a crazy athlete,” he says. “I want to show people if you put your mind to it and have the desire, you can accomplish great things.”
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