Gear is flying across the cabin and the ships’ superstructure resonates like a tuning fork under the weight of a single, rogue channel island swell as it storms across the Island Fox, threatening to swallow it. Pat Fraley watches in horror as charging cables, portable hard drives, plugs, laptops, heavy weather gear, loose Doritos, video equipment, tubes of sunscreen and an assortment of random ephemera ballet across the room in a gruesome Busby Berkeley aerial ballet, slow-motion arc, finally clattering to an abrupt stop against the opposite wall. For the first time in days, all the planning, reassurances and safety precautions fade away in the face of the immense challenge they have undertaken and Fraley is beginning to wonder if he hasn’t bitten off more than he can chew. He casts a furtive glance outside, towards the back of the boat where a small, nuggety, blonde-haired figure knees hunched over on a paddle-board in the midst of all this, stroking his tireless arms in and out and into the cold Pacific again, inching himself and his paddle-board in between the moody ocean swells and ever closer to the finish line: San Nicolas island and the end of the fifth stage. For the first time in the voyage, Patrick Fraley is starting to become genuinely concerned for the safety of the hardest man he has ever known; big wave surf-legend Jamie Mitchell.
Jamie Mitchell is as tough a customer as you’re likely to find anywhere, and in any sport. He’s a big wave surfer famous for fearlessly winning oversized contests as well as providing his fair share of extreme wipeouts. If that doesn’t cement your opinion of him as a hard man who is up for a superhuman challenge, Mitchell has also made a habit of winning the Molokai 2 Oahu paddle-board race [ ten times in a row-a solid decade of dominance-of an open ocean paddle race dubbed “The crossing of bones” by Hawaiians and arguably, the most challenging paddle-board race in the world.
The Molokai 2 Oahu crossing is a thirty two mile open ocean paddle-board and stand up paddle-board race between Molokai and Oahu islands with a reputation for stretching the strong beyond their ability and wounding the brave to their very core. The attrition rate is high and it does not do to underestimated oneself nor the temperament of the Pacific in ones’ effort to navigate the channel between these famous islands. As Pat Fraley steadies himself aboard the Island Fox he watches Jamie Mitchell, completely unfazed by the shifting seas wreaking havoc aboard his support vessel, staying hunkered down, glued to his board and paddling like an unstoppable metronome of muscle, gristle and determination. The word which comes to Pat Fraley’s mind to describe Mitchells’ incredible feat of endurance is: Relentless.
The very definition of a modern waterman, Mitchell is attempting something far, far beyond the scope of even the bruising Molokai 2 Oahu race, he is performing seven channel crossings in as many days, a total of around 170 miles of paddling in open ocean between each of the Channel Islands of California, with some crossings as far as 55 miles apart, almost twice a Molokai 2 Oahu race. By Jamie’s own admission it’s further than he’s ever paddled and then there’s the small matter of having a veritable “Crossing of bones” endurance situation on hand every day-for seven straight days-weather permitting of course. Compound this then with the incidental detail that Mitchell is forty now, has just had shoulder surgery and, at least as far as the mainstream surf industry is concerned, is probably past his “athletic prime.” Just don’t tell that to Jamie Mitchell, who has a real taste for the impossible it seems, and who casually completed the first three crossings in the same day, a solid 15 miles of open ocean endurance.
Paddling the open ocean doesn’t just require shoulders of steel; champion paddlers like Mitchell seem to have a preternatural ability to read swells and use the force of the ocean to their benefit, guiding their paddle-boards into optimal positions where they can use the movement of the sea, wind and swell to do-a least a little-of the heavy lifting and drifting for them. Which seems to be a principal Mitchell has harnessed out of the water as well, with the help of Pat Fraley and the Seven Crossings team, to give the idea of sustainable oceans some global attention and to ride the groundswell of interests and engagement around the possibility of a sustainable future for the seas. Jamie’s singleminded concern for the state of the oceans and their future is nothing short of a call to arms, not merely for an enriched and practical global environmental consciousness but, importantly; for a focussed and actionable set of ocean sustainability solutions-a far-reaching and practical set of practices drawing heavily on the excellent research into ocean sustainability set out by the USC Wrigley institute for Environmental Studies, another heavyweight partner behind the Seven Crossings project.
It’s not clear which specific cosmic forces aligned Mitchell and Fraley’s fortunes, got them mixed in with the talented environmental and sustainability boffins at Wrigley, arranged for the involvement of, and huge send-off at the Aquarium of the Pacific, and ultimately set Jamie to sea on his paddle-board; drawing an audience of engaged and concerned folk with sustainability and the longevity of the oceans foremost in their minds. In the final analysis it is a superfluous detail in the face of the enormous surge of support for the Seven Crossings project, and the rapid uptake of practical, solutions-focussed behavior within this steadily growing, and concerned group. Part of the focus of Seven Crossings has been to shift the idea of sustainability from simple beach cleanups-a traditional point of action for the surf community-to a deeper, more thoroughgoing praxis involving education and awareness of topics such as sustainable ocean farming like aquaponics; using kelp as a renewable biofuel; drawing attention to water runoff and its impact on harmful algal blooms; tracking carbon dioxide patterns and imaginative alternative solutions to waste management (like deploying Black Soldier Flies to assist in the management of organic food waste). Every stroke of Mitchells’ titanic paddle seems to draw a concerned sustainable-ocean community nearer to a host of fresh and imaginative next-level solutions backed by the world renowned Wrigley institute and focussed on making ocean sustainability a real, actionable choice available to surfers, lifeguards, soccer moms, tourists, school kids, politicians, and you-fill-in-the-blank-here alike. Which is something which made sense to the pragmatic side of brand veteran Pat Fraley, the first time he saw Mitchell discuss the often controversial subject of Aquaculture and ocean sustainability with a live audience.
“The response was incredible,” Pat says, still seemingly a little amazed. His first instinct, obviously informed by his history with marquee action sport brands was to build a range of apparel around the story and to use this to fund the project to some degree. However, as the massive outpouring of support continued to grow it became clear that this wasn’t just another cool piece of well-meaning, karma-soaked apparel rifting through a market already awash with them, there was something more here; something even bigger. Fraley needed to change the business model from a for-profit brand to match the all-in commitment that consumers had for the idea of a sustainable ocean. So, instead of opting for the hackneyed strap-line-you know the one-“some of the proceeds from the sale of these items will go to benefit (insert blank here),” Pat threw down a gauntlet to every other brand aligning themselves to the ocean and the broader project of sustainability: 100% of the sale of a Seven Crossings garment goes to benefit the sustainability project he and Jaime Mitchell started and being fueled by the juggernaut of support from every single event they take it to.
Indicative of the kind of inclusive thinking Mitchell and Fraley are deploying around the Seven Crossings project, was their choice to partner with SpectraUSA who specifically developed a t-shirt for the project constructed entirely from sustainable cottons and using polyester created from recycled plastic bottles. Brian McLaughlin of SpectraUSA, a concerned waterman himself, identified strongly with Mitchells’ proposition: If we don’t take action now, our children will not get to share in the incredible benefits the ocean-and a life spent in the ocean-have provided for our generation. McLaughlin took the bull by the horns and led this aspect of the apparel production with Fraley, committing to delivering a full-package of printed and finished branded garments to Seven Crossings as, and when, the project required them. Again, cosmic forces seem to have aligned beautifully with support for the fledgling project coming directly out of the manufacturing space which has a history of being a little testy when profit margins shrink or, as in the Seven crossings case, when there isn’t one at all. With the commitment of SpectraUSA, Seven Crossings  has on-boarded a major player in the manufacturing space which can both support and ensure the future of Seven Crossings apparel line remains as sustainable as their ocean-sustainability project is.
Mitchell and the Seven Crossings team are currently working on a documentary film of Mitchells’ momentous Channel Islands’ crossing with an eye to furthering the reach of the sustainable oceans project as they steadily build momentum and support behind it. With the momentum already built, many residents of the U.S. are already welcoming the message which Pat and Jamie are preaching, to such an extent that the documentary should become a fixture in the Southern Californian curriculum once it has been completed. Not content to rest on his laurels, however, Fraley is already seeking out more sports personalities and interested partners who can help drive the kind of attention and commitment to Seven Crossings, and generate the kind of momentum that Jamie Mitchell’s epic paddle has already garnered. SpectraUSA is more than a little proud of their enduring commitment to the Seven Crossings project and its apparel line, as well as to be an integral part of this ground-breaking sustainable oceans project.
All photos: Donald Miralle