Jack Bark of Palos Verdes, and Zeb Walsh and Brad Gaul of Australia Waterloo Bay on the east coast of Wilsons Prom, prior to setting out for Tasmania. Photo by Cormac Hanrahan
Jack Bark grew up in a household obsessed. His father Joe Bark, the legendary waterman and founder of Bark Paddleboards, taught him the beauty of the ocean at an early age. Now, 20-year-old Jack has become a legendary paddleboarder himself, conquering races across the globe while passing competitors atop his family’s boards.
“I’ve been paddleboarding forever,” Jack said. “Since I was four or five I would watch the end of paddle races, and it always seemed like such a huge task. But that’s what I wanted to do.”
Instead of picking up a soccer ball or baseball like most of his classmates, Jack picked up a paddleboard.
“It isn’t really something that younger people get into,” said Jack. “But being around it all the time growing up helped me get to where I am now.”
Since starting competitive prone paddleboarding, Jack has finished third in the 2012 Catalina Classic stock division, first in the 2012 Molokai 2 Oahu stock division, second in the 2013 Molokai 2 Oahu stock division, first in the 2014 Malibu Downwinder and first in the 2014 Carolina Cup.
“I enjoy prone a lot more than SUP [stand up paddleboarding] because I’ve been around it a lot longer,” Jack said. “SUPs are fun for cross training, but prone is more fun in the water.”
Jack Bark, Brad Gaul and Zeb Walsh start their crossing of the Bass Strait. Photos by Cormac Hanrahan
In late February, he tackled the Bass Strait, a 190-mile stretch from Australia to Tasmania, in six days with fellow competitive paddle boarders Brad Gaul and Zeb Walsh.
“It was Zeb’s idea,” Jack said. “… I felt honored to be invited to join. I said yes automatically, before even realizing what the Bass Strait was. Turns out it’s not just 190 miles, but also one of the most treacherous channels in the world.”
The Strait’s shallow waters – typically 30 to 50-metres deep – combine with changing currents and high winds to produce large swells..
“I thought, ‘Oh, we’re going a long way, it will be tough,’” said Jack. “But when I got to Australia and told people what we were doing, the Australian’s were like, ‘You’re in trouble. That’s gnarly.’”
The trio paddled 25 to 40 miles a day and were followed by a support boat, carrying a camera crew. They spent nights on islands dotted along the route.
“Mentally, it was one of the toughest things I’ve done in my life,” said Jack. “There were a couple of times when I was ready to be done and quit. We had some pretty bad weather. The key was to have the three of us there. If it was just one of us there is no way we could have gotten through it.”
Paddleboarding excursions usually last a few hours or at most, a day. This time, he was paddling almost continuously for six days straight, with only a night of rest in between.
“It was kind of cool to just go and not exactly know what I was getting into,” Bark said. “But I felt super relieved when we were done. After eight days on a boat, it was nice to be done.”
Bark took a semester sabbatical from his sophomore year at California State Dominguez Hills to undertake the adventure. Since coming home, he has spent his time either in the water or helping his father shape boards.
Jack Bark, Zeb Walsh and Brad Gaul with the end in sight. Photo by Cormac Hanrahan
“I’m down there almost every day helping him,” said Bark, who started shaping boards about four years ago. “It’s really fun. It’s especially fun to paddle the boards you’re shaping. It helps fill my creative side.”
Bark said he never felt forced by his father to join the family business.
“He’s definitely stoked it’s something we’re into,” said Jack, who added that his favorite thing about paddleboarding is surfing down wind and the friends he’s made. “Most of my best friends are people I paddle with on a daily basis. I just love paddle boarding and enjoying the ocean.”
He plans on continuing to paddle in races across the globe as well as help his father in the Bark Paddleboards shop.
“He’s just enjoying it and riding this train for as long as he can,” his father Joe said. “He helps me at the shop and it really has opened up the doors to do some really cool stuff.” B