Simon Whitfield’s team paddles to Victoria from Vancouver

Most would just opt for the ferry, but Victoria Olympian Simon Whitfield and a team of elite athletes travelled the 140 kilometres between Vancouver and Victoria via stand-up paddleboard, floating into the Inner Harbour Saturday after a three-day journey marked by rain, wind and a close encounter with a baby seal.

The four-time Olympic medallist and 10 other athletes left Vancouver’s English Bay on Wednesday morning in the Stand Up Paddle for Men’s Health to raise awareness for the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation.

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The stretch across the Strait of Georgia was the toughest, Whitfield said, with one-metre swells and a northeasterly wind resulting in “a lot of paddling on one side and a lot of falling in.”

At some points, the tide pushed against the group, making the end of the seven-hour journey to Galiano Island quite a slog.

“The wind was at our back and then switched around and was a head wind into a current, so instead of being 2 1/2 hours it took almost four hours,” he said.

The group paddled to Saltspring Island on Thursday, and on Friday headed to Island View beach in Central Saanich.

Whitfield said one of the most surreal moments of the trip was on Friday near Portland Island when a baby seal jumped onto the paddleboard of Jack Bark, a world-champion open water athlete.

“We watched it for 10 minutes. Nobody touched it — we just stared at it,” Whitfield said. “It was a remarkable moment.”

The team left Island View beach about 5 a.m. Saturday to get ahead of strong winds forecast for later in the morning, cruising into Victoria’s Inner Harbour about 10 a.m.

The idea behind the physical feat is to encourage men to make small, healthy lifestyle changes, Whitfield said, like having a salad instead of fries or one less beer at the pub or hitting the gym instead of the couch after the work day.

Whitfield, 39, used the small strokes involved in paddleboarding as a metaphor for the small steps that make a difference toward a healthier life.

“It’s 600 paddle strokes in a kilometre,” he said. “It’s the small things that get you there.”

Another major push is to change men’s mentality around going to the doctor for a checkup, Whitfield said, adding that too many men adopt the “tough it out” or “man up” attitude rather than listening to their bodies.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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