Female achiever: paddler Shu Pu's great solo quest

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 March, 2015, 6:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 March, 2015, 6:01am


Venturing into the unknown takes courage and perseverance. This month we track three brave women who've tackled extreme adventures across the land, ice and sea, as well as the adventure within themselves.

Last year Simon Holliday swam 35 kilometres from Hong Kong to Macau in 10 hours 20 minutes and 30 seconds, making history by breaking the previous record by almost 10 minutes.

Less known, however, was the journey of the persevering paddler guiding his quest: Shu Pu - the first woman ever to paddle the Pearl River Delta solo.

Her extraordinary effort is one to be measured in patience, not speed. Imagine being fit enough to run a sub-three-hour marathon, but crawling rather than running.

She spent 12 hours in her outrigger canoe that day: paddling to the start, guiding Holliday the length of the swim, stopping him every hour for a feed and helping him negotiate terrifying shipping lanes and threatening currents before finally pulling into Macau.

If you think paddling for that length of time is hard, try sitting still. "After a few hours I went numb, and by the end of the day it was incredibly uncomfortable," says Pu, 34, a fashion entrepreneur.

Their effort in the 2014 "Clean Cross" swim raised more than HK$240,000 towards Grate Art, an art project raising awareness of rubbish in the oceans.

Pu's physical effort wasn't even the most taxing; she had to navigate the multiple layers of bureaucracy across three different jurisdictions (Hong Kong, China and Macau) and get 14 sets of approval before the journey even began.

"Everyone thought I was crazy, but I didn't know when the chance would come again to be a part of something historic and meaningful like this," she says.

The experience has given Pu, originally from Zhejiang province in China, the strength to start dreaming of new ocean endeavours.

Next spring, she hopes to cross the delta again, this time via a route of about 75 to 80 kilometres, with other female paddlers. Again, her quest will be in the name of an ocean-based charity.

"Putting a cause to your quest makes it so much deeper and more meaningful," she says.

And after that, she has her eyes set on even bigger challenges. "I'd like to organise some really ambitious swims or paddles in Hong Kong that have never been done before," she says.

"Hong Kong has a beautiful coastline with so many islands, it really can become a dream place for swimmers and paddlers from around the world … I'd love to loosen up the government and enable more ocean events."

It was an incredible journey, but there were some really nerve-racking moments out there. The first three hours, crossing through Hong Kong's busy shipping lanes, were challenging. Huge container ships kept crossing in front of us and threatened to run us over. But our support boat 'Jade' stayed close and kept us out of harm's way.

The most incredible part of the day was being accompanied by pods of Chinese white dolphins. They followed us for about an hour, diving in and out of the waves. One of them jumped in front of me and we made eye contact. That's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I'm attracted to the purity of these long-distance pursuits. When you're paddling for that long you're not really thinking about anything but the next stroke. It's so beautiful out there.

The entire project taught me to trust my instincts. It proved to me that if I believe in myself, no one can stop me. I heard a lot of 'nos' in those months leading up to the event, but I held my ground. The experience has given me a lot of strength. It was the perfect weather, the perfect day, and Simon broke the record. It didn't matter how much it hurt, sometimes things are just worth it.

If we had started 30 minutes later we might have never made it. Only 500 metres from Macau the current picked up and started pushing us towards the airport. My canoe kept crashing into him. We had to make a split-second decision and stick to it to make landfall. By the time Simon reached the rocks of Macau's Hac Sa Beach, we were only 200 metres from the end of the Macau airport runway.

That was the toughest part of the day: thinking that it may not happen, after how far we had come. But we knew that Simon had it in him and would not let the opportunity pass. And he proved us all right.