Sonya Baumstein: The First Woman to Row 5,700 Miles?
February 23rd, 2015, WomensMovement.com
In just 45 days, Sonya Baumstein will embark upon the adventure of a lifetime.
The accomplished paddler will dip her oars in at Choshi, Japan in the first paddle stroke on the way to becoming the first woman to complete a 5,700-nautical mile solo row from Chosi to San Francisco.
Here, we check in with Sonya to learn more about Expedition Pacific, her intense training regimen, get her 3 best exercises to gain rowing strength, and find out the eco-inspired motivations behind her journey.
WomensMovement.com: We love your upcoming adventure! What is inspiring you to row 5,700 nautical miles from Japan to San Francisco?
Sonya Baumstein: The single-most important thing, in my mind, is the larger effect that an expedition like this can have on the people’s awareness of ocean conservation and climate change. I am collecting first-time data for Earth and Space Research, a nonprofit that monitors ocean changes for NASA, and engaging groups and schools through a program I’ve created called Ocean Ambassadors.
I was actually on expedition when the idea first crossed my mind—tour cycling from Mexico to Seattle—I’m pretty sure it was in Oregon that I committed to starting to say it out loud, “I want to row from Japan to San Francisco.” That’s a huge part of my process, speaking things into existence; it makes me commit. I reserve all of my heavy thinking about future projects for the monotony of expeditions, it gives me a lot to think about. It was on that cycle I started to plan. I had finished rowing the Atlantic a few months before and, upon completing it I thought, “I never want to see salt ever again.” I spent 10 days in Barbados healing after finishing and only got in the ocean once—I was over the ocean. Until I wasn’t.
On a personal level, it’s the most challenging and illuminating thing I’ve ever done in the harshest and loneliest environment on earth. It turned me into a hopeless optimist and taught me how to live completely in the moment. You don’t have the luxury of feeling sorry for yourself or the capacity for long-lasting negativity on a small boat during a huge crossing. There are challenges, you deal with them as they happen…the good moments you remember for a lifetime.
If I complete it, I’ll be the first woman to do the crossing and first American (2 solo French men and 1 pair of British men have also completed the passage over the last 25 years), so the exposure of a woman doing something big in an arena (sailing/boating) that is very traditionally male is a massive driving factor for me, as well. A lot of people don’t get the draw because water-related expeditions don’t seem to get much of a spotlight—I like to tell people it’s “my Everest” (the early 1900s version).
WM: What draws you to the water?
Sonya Baumstein: There’s no amount of talent or preparedness that will get you across an ocean in a bad weather year. Sure, there’s definitely a lot you can do to increase your chances for success, but the ocean has to allow it almost. It’s hard to explain, but there’s something beautiful and almost archetypal about survival on the ocean. The ocean is very much a living part of the journey in all of it’s unrelenting glory. The water feels like home – that’s the easiest way for me to explain it. And it’s pretty great there are no bears, cars or people—those are all unknown quantities when you are on land that I can’t account for.
WM: What’s your training regimen for this upcoming trip?
Sonya Baumstein: I’m up to about 10 hours on the rowing machine per week. I do heavy weights (a lot of kettle bell carrying and weight drags), yoga and hike/bike for hours to break up the monotony. Acupuncture has become an integral part of the regime, too, to tend to the nerve and body tweaks that decrease productivity.
WM: Can you please give us 3 key exercises to gain rowing strength?
1. Rowing strength is mental strength: It’s either a battle or a partnership between your brain and your muscles and it’s totally up to you to decide. Just sitting down and being comfortable with long distances is important, then short distance sprints feel like nothing. Training idea one for rowing strength is definitely to just suck it up and get on the erg (just like marathon running).
2. Balance out your muscle work: Rowing very specifically has you pulling against tension but not pushing. Doing exercises like hamstring curls and variations on military and bench press for your upper body is important
3. Posture: Being supported is a huge factor in being able to row well. The stronger your abs and lower back the less likely you are to have problems with your hip flexors and upper body from hunching. I try to do 10 minutes of 50 seconds on, 10 seconds off for transition, of 10 different ab exercises to help my posture (plank, iron cross, toe touches, etc). I also think about it when I am working or driving and sitting for long periods of time and clench the old abs to keep them firing.
WM: What’s your go-to recovery meal?
Sonya Baumstein: I love bacon anytime, so this might be a trick question? Just kidding. My favorite recovery meals are typically hearty soups or sweet potatoes with anything. I limit gluten intake because it just doesn’t sit well with me. Right now, pumpkin chili with tons of beef and vegetables is my favorite recovery meal.
WM: Favorite in-the-boat energy snack?
Sonya Baumstein: I end up having a diet very high in carbohydrates and sugar to keep my energy levels high, so protein becomes a treat. My favorite non-rotting energy snack is definitely sweet and spicy Perky Jerky beef jerky or dried fruit mixes.