Kayak for Charity duo Dorian Vassallo and Albert Gambina take on a paddle challenge to raise money for the Inspire Foundation.
The Malta Independent Sunday spoke with Vassallo about the duo’s trip, which includes paddling around Malta to benefit the charity.
Asked about the origin of Kayak for Charity, Vassallo said he had known his partner since school, having become interested in the sport at the professional level in 2005.
“We used to go to the same school, but then we separated. In 2005, I was introduced to kayaking by a friend of mine who asked me if I would like to play canoe polo. I was 55 at the time and had started to like kayaking more,” Vassallo said.
Vassallo said he then started sea kayaking for longer distances.
“That year, in December, my first wife was diagnosed with cancer. She died after five months and about two weeks before I realized in my head that I want to paddle to Sicily and raise money for cancer,” he said.
“Friends of mine paid for a kayak and after my wife died I calmed down and started training to paddle around Malta for the first time. I figured if I can first paddle around Malta, then I can paddle all the way to Sicily,” Vassallo said.
It will be the 20e while Vassallo paddles around Malta. He said he and Gambina used the road for training sessions.
“Kayak for Charity started after eight of us paddled to Pozzallo and I had the crazy idea of kayaking to Tunisia. Gambina was on board and it all took off from there,” Vassallo said.
Vassallo and Gambina will go on a trip after the feast of Santa Maria, during the last two weeks of August. The distance of the trip is 42 nautical miles or about 75 km.
“We never give specific dates for events as they are highly weather dependent. The first good day we see, we will leave,” Vassallo said.
This will be the first time the duo have used an outrigger canoe or OC1, a Polynesian-designed boat used primarily in Polynesia or Hawaii due to the larger waves in the region. Asked about it, Vassallo said that this boat would prove more difficult for many reasons.
One of the most obvious challenges is that the stroke and seat are different than in a kayak. The duo may have to endure severe back pain to complete the course, as the canoe has no backrest.
“The canoe’s stabilizer is on one side, which makes it easier to capsize. We tend to lean to the left to gain stability. The kick motion is more intense and can be more tiring on the shoulder and lower back,” he said.
Also, storage space is very limited, so food and drink must be rationed. The couple will paddle unassisted for approximately 12-14 hours. Their general rule is to stop every 20 minutes to drink water and every hour to eat a little something and refuel.
When asked if it has become more difficult to train and overcome challenges over the years, Vassallo said that nowadays recovering from a challenge takes a bit longer.
“I’m 64 and Albert 61. It’s gotten harder but we both like endurance and we both have a ‘never say die’ attitude. We’re both hard-headed and only see the finish line,” Vassallo said.
Vassallo was asked if there was a reason the duo decided to collaborate with Inspire again, after embarking on a 1,000+ kilometer paddle journey from Malta to Sicily and then roaming the island of Sicily last year alone.
“Since 2008, we have organized several events. Pozzallo to Rome, Tunisia to Malta, Sicily to Malta at night, and many more. We have done this for many worthy causes such as Puttinu Cares, Hospice and the Malta Community Chest Fund,” Vassallo said.
He said after last year’s incredible experience with Inspire, who showed a lot of effort and help in their event, the duo felt the need to raise funds for them again.
“When we organize these events, we have to do public relations, raise funds, do interviews and adapt in time to train. Inspire has helped us a lot on the PR side and the cause is doing a fantastic job. It was a no-brainer,” Vassallo said.
When asked how much they were aiming to raise, Vassallo said that despite Inspire’s goal of €25,000, he and Albert never set a target.
“Our philosophy has always been that if we only manage to raise €1,000, that’s €1,000 more than yesterday. We raise funds by word of mouth from people who know us and by sending emails. In this case, Inspire is also promoting the event with its own network,” he said.
“What we hope is that people will look up to us, two old men, and that we encourage people to play sports for charity. It’s more enjoyable and fulfilling to organize these events for a cause,” Vassallo said.
Asked about their motivation for the challenge, Vassallo said the duo were “two crazy kayakers who love endurance, and so far we still feel like we’re 20”.
Vassallo was asked about their plans to continue with these challenges, to which he said it was a difficult matter that the duo discussed.
“The mind says yes, but the body says otherwise. It’s not that we don’t feel up to it, but the reality is that it takes a long time to train, and that’s one of the problems we’re having right now.” he declared.
“We both have other commitments; it became more difficult to adapt to the training. We would still like to continue, even if it is sometimes difficult. It’s something we’ll decide on the spur of the moment,” Vassallo said.
Vassallo was asked what the main message of Kayak for Charity is.
“The main message in a nutshell is to use our sport to help others. We love kayaking and we’ve always said, ‘why not use our energy for a cause,'” Vassallo replied.