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Innovation

Smart Guy, Crazy Trip, Great Cause

Written by Vince Thompson, Contributing Editor on

By any measure Richard Wolpert has been a wildly successful technology executive. He's founded and sold several successful companies, served as the President of Disney Online, Chief Strategy Officer at Real Networks and as a venture capitalist has invested in over thirty companies; many well known brands. Clearly Smart…but this interview isn’t about those accomplishments. It’s about setting a record at sea….on a Waverunner! We’ll let you be the judge…Smart?, Crazy?…or Smart in the way he turned his fun into a bigger win?

Richard, Why did you do this?

I have been riding Waverunners for about 25 years and just got into long distance ocean riding 3 or so years ago. I’ve enjoyed several trips to the Channel Islands, which are about 25 miles off the California Coast, and got to thinking that people do these long walks and runs for charity and what if I were to do a kind of crazy Waverunner trip for charity? So I started looking on maps and realized that it was possible, difficult but possible, to cross the Gulfstream from Florida to the Bahamas, cruise around the islands and make it back.

Is there a community of people who do long Waverunner rides? How did you get interested in this?

There are some groups that organize rides but I do not know of any taking on rides like this. I did this journey solo. Some people have asked if I used a chase boat in case something could go wrong but I chose to go completely solo. I do go ridiculously equipped. I have a tracking devise that uploads my position every 20 minutes and another device to alert the coast guard as well as a satellite phone.

How did you know it was a record?

From talking to locals as well as Yamaha, who was very helpful. Certainly customs in the Bahamas had never seen anyone arrive on a Waverunner. They assumed I had come on a boat and then jumped on my Waveruner for the last part in. When they realized I’d come all the way on my Waverunner they thought I was crazy.

What was the Longest stretch?

The longest stretch was about 120 miles. The hardest stretch was about 100 miles because I got caught in a couple rainstorms with swells of 4-5 feet. It took me about 7 hours.

Tell us about the journey?

I was on the water traveling for 8 days. I covered 500-600 miles total. I started in West Palm Beach and crossed from there to West End Grand Bahama…about a 70 mile crossing. On that type of stretch you don’t see land for 40-50 miles. I had good weather on that crossing. It took about 3.5 hours with a break for lunch.

What scared you most?

People have asked if I was scared or if it was fun. I wouldn’t say it as fun. I’d say it was great. I was not scared but nervous many, many times. On that second day…when I got caught in those two storms I could only go 5-7 miles an hour. I was tired but I persevered.

Why Chrohn’s and Colitis as a cause?

I have Chrone’s disease and was diagnosed when I was 13, 33 years ago. I was quite ill as a teen. I had most of colon and part of my small intestine removed. I’ve been fortunate and haven’t had surgeries since. I’m on the board of Crone’s America. With teens struggling with their regular teen social issues, having these additional challenges are lot to deal with. So, I co-founded a camp called Camp Oasis where kids can get with other kids who suffer from Chrones and Collitis in a comfortable environment. A place where they can get to know each other and talk about their disease. The camp started 9 years ago with about 12 kids and this year it had 220 attend. It has also branched into about 9 different states.

In what ways do these challenges make you smarter at your day job?

The Chrones’s disease has taught me a lot of perseverance. My mother always said things happen for a reason. This didn’t make sense as a kid. It makes more sense now. Chrone’s has taught me about perseverance. I’m thankful for that.

There is a business metaphor here. On the second day of the trip I knew where I was starting. I knew where I wanted to end up. Just like starting a business. Then I had several surprises…the fuel dock didn’t open on time…the weather and currents aren’t what I expected. I was able to adapt to the end goal and just take the goal one mile at a time. I think this applies to starting a business. You’ll have surprises and unexpected challenges and you need to learn to get around them. You have to persevere.

What’s next???

I’m not sure…but my wife says this may be a little bit like having a baby. After the pain and memory fades I may want to do it again. (laughing)

To see more photos and video from Richard’s journey Click Here:

To check out Richard’s Bahama Challenge website Click Here:

To learn more about Camp Oasis, Cedars Sinai and IBD Support Click Here:

To make a donation Click Here:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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