Don’t ask her to arm wrestle. Paddling an 18-foot expedition kayak by Sweden’s Point 65, Germany’s Freya Hoffmeister made history by completing the first–ever solo circumnavigation of South America, taking her final strokes into Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Friday, May 1, finishing right where she started nearly four years ago.
Hoffmeister, who has already set records for the fastest circumnavigations of New Zealand and Australia, departed Buenos Aires on August 30, 2011. Paddling into the same port four years later, Hoffmeister completed a voyage never before attempted, arriving with an escort from the Argentinean Coast Guard. Hoffmeister’s four-year journey ended at the historic Argentine ship Fregata Sarmiento, where she was welcomed by dignitaries as the Naval Prefecture Band played Puente de la Mujer.
Crediting her Point 65 expedition kayak as helping her quest, Hoffmeister’s success in the southern hemisphere is the latest in a string of blister-causing kayaking accomplishments, including the fastest kayak circumnavigation of Australia (and the first by a woman) and the fastest circumnavigation of New Zealand. Her Australian journey is chronicled in Joe Glickman’s “Fearless: One Woman, One Kayak, One Continent.”
Hoffmeister—a former sky diver, gymnast, marksman, and Miss Germany contestant—paddled more than 15,000 miles along the coastline of 11 countries on her voyage, calling it the most difficult circumnavigation she has ever attempted. She took several long breaks from her attempt, returning each time to the exact spot where she left off.
En route, Paddling Life reached her in her tent in Barreiras, a city located in the west of the state of Bahia, Brazil, where she said the trip “is two and a half times longer and tougher” than any other circumnavigation she’s completed. The crux, she says, came 2,333 miles into her trip as she rounded treacherous Cape Horn. Gale-force winds and breaking waves damaged the rudder of her kayak and snapped her carbon paddle in half, forcing her to retreat. Calling paddling in those conditions “the worst decision of my kayaking life,” she waited out the storm for nearly a week before continuing on New Year’s Day, eventually rounding the tip.
Last summer, after taking her break, she told Grind affiliate Canoe & Kayak magazine, “When I’m done I’m not sure I’ll do another continent.”