Chris Hopkinson and his support crew cross the "finish line" of the Bay Paddle in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo: Bay Paddle

Bay Paddle Success: Epic Journey from Havre de Grace to the Atlantic

After nine days of pushing his body to the limit, a teacher from outside Annapolis has completed the first known stand-up paddleboard trip down the entire length of the Chesapeake Bay. In doing so, Chris Hopkinson has raised more than $176,700 (and counting) to support oyster restoration in the Bay.

Bay Bulletin was there as Hopkinson launched his board from Concord Lighthouse in Havre de Grace on a brutally windy day. Hopkinson would later tell us that first day was the most daunting, as he battled 15-plus knot winds and three-foot waves, eventually developing hypothermic symptoms. He says it was the only day he questioned being able to complete the paddle:

“I’ve never been more physically or mentally exhausted. I’ve completed two Ironmans in 12-plus hours and the almost eight hours it took to paddle that day was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

With more tough conditions in the forecast for the days to follow (a “trifecta of winds, waves and cool air,”) Hopkinson and his crew opted to hug the Eastern Shore the entire way down the Bay. They modified the course daily to paddle with the tide as long as possible, stay ahead of the wind when possible, and end each day in a spot that would set up well for the next morning’s launch conditions.

Each of his nine days on the water, Hopkinson was heavily geared up with wetsuit, dry jacket/PFD (he averaged about eight falls into the water per day), hydration vest, GoPro cameras on both his body and boat, GPS watch, phone, and SUP trainer tracking speed, time and distance.

Proper fueling was key, as Hopkinson burned about 3,500 calories per day. During a typical day on the water, he ate four or five protein bars, two to three Sunbutter, banana, honey and cinnamon sandwiches, and over 200 fluid ounces of water with electrolytes and aminos. He took vitamins and supplements, and even had IV treatments after the second and fifth days of the paddle.

In the last few days of paddling, Hopkinson’s daily mileage ranged from 17 miles (on a choppy run from Crisfield to Pungateague Creek) to nearly 36 miles (the very next day, flying all the way to Cape Charles). Hopkinson tells Bay Bulletin, that tough 17-mile day drove his motivation to reach record-high mileage the next. “It felt like I was getting the crap kicked out of me all day and I still had over 50 miles to go in two days. I took that beating personally and was determined to make up for it the next day.”

Hopkinson (L) and Gomes celebrate on the dock in Cape Charles with paddles raised high.
Photo: Oyster Recovery Partnership

Hopkinson credits a lot of his motivation to the “team effort” of kayaker Bryan Gomes (of Bay nonprofit ClearSharkH20), paddle coach Chris Norman (of Capital SUP in Annapolis) and friend Dr. Milford Marchant, as well as the boat support crews that followed him throughout the legs of his journey.

After a final-day, 21-mile paddle out to the Atlantic, officially leaving the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, Hopkinson and his team returned to Cape Charles to celebrate with Oyster Recovery Partnership—which will now be able to put at least 17.7 million new oysters into the Chesapeake—and title sponsor Flying Dog beer.

Other well-known Bay region companies threw their support behind Hopkinson’s effort, including Old Bay seasoning, Perdue Farms, and several others. Chesapeake Bay Media has been proud to serve as media sponsor Hopkinson’s incredible achievement.

Hopkinson says, “I was completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and encouragement I received. It pushed me more than I could have ever pushed myself. There was no way I was going to let all these people down. I’m certain I would not have been able to finish without it.”

The Bay Paddle is still about $23,000 away from its fundraising goal, and donations are still being accepted. You can give at https://oysterrecovery.org/donatebaypaddle/.

-Meg Walburn Viviano