The Malta Independent 27 September 2023, Wednesday
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Kayaking duo take on new challenge: ‘We both have a never-say-die attitude’

Semira Abbas Shalan Sunday, 14 August 2022, 09:30 Last update: about 2 years ago

Kayak for Charity duo Dorian Vassallo and Albert Gambina are taking on a paddling challenge to raise funds for the Inspire Foundation.

The Malta Independent on Sunday spoke with Vassallo about the duo’s journey, which includes paddling around Malta in aid of the charity.

Asked about the origin of Kayak for Charity, Vassallo said he’s known his partner since school days, having taken an interest in the sport at a professional level in 2005.

“We used to frequent the same school, but then went our separate ways. In 2005 I was introduced to kayaking by a friend of mine who had asked me if I would like to play canoe polo. I was 55 at the time, and had started enjoyed kayaking more,” Vassallo said.

Vassallo said he then started kayaking at sea for longer distances.

“That year in December, my first wife was diagnosed with cancer. She passed away after five months and about two weeks before I got it in my head that I want to paddle to Sicily and raise funds for cancer,” he said.

“Friends of mine paid for a kayak and after my wife passed away, I calmed down and started training to paddle around Malta for the first time. I told myself that if I can paddle around Malta first, then I can paddle to Sicily,” Vassallo said.

This will be the 20th time that Vassallo will paddle round Malta. He said that he and Gambina use the route for training sessions.

“Kayak for Charity started after eight of us paddled to Pozzallo and I had the crazy idea to kayak to Tunisia. Gambina was on board, and it took off from there,” Vassallo said.

Vassallo and Gambina will set off on their journey after the Santa Maria feast, some time in the last two weeks of August. The distance of the journey is 42 nautical miles or approximately 75km.

“We never give a specific date for the events as they heavily dependent on the weather. The first good day we see, we will head off,” Vassallo said.

This will be the first time the duo will use an outrigger canoe or OC1, a boat of Polynesian design used mainly in Polynesia or Hawaii due to the larger waves in the area. Asked about this, Vassallo said that this boat will prove more challenging for many reasons.

One of the most obvious challenges is that the stroke and seating are different from that of a kayak. The duo may have to withstand severe back pain in order to complete the route, as the canoe does not have a back rest.

“The canoe’s stabilizer is on one side, which makes it easier to capsize. There is a tendency to lean towards the left to gain stability. The movement of the stroke is more intense and can be more tiring on the shoulder and the lower back,” he said.

Additionally, there is very limited storage space, so any food and drinks must be rationed. The pair will paddle unassisted for around 12 to 14 hours. Their general rule is to stop every 20 minutes to drink water and every hour to eat something small and refuel.

Asked if it has become harder to take on training and challenges over the years, Vassallo said that nowadays, recovery from a challenge takes a bit longer.

“I am 64 and Albert is 61. It has become harder but we both love endurance and we both have a ‘never-say-die’ attitude. We’re both hard-headed and only see the finish line,” Vassallo said.


Why Inspire?

Vassallo was asked if there is a reason the duo decided to collaborate with Inspire once again, after having undertaken a paddling journey of more than 1,000 kilometres starting from Malta to Sicily, and then journeying all around the island of Sicily only last year.

“Since 2008 we have done a number of events. Pozzallo to Rome, Tunisia to Malta, from Sicily to Malta at night, and many more. We have done it for many worthy causes such as Puttinu Cares, Hospice and the Malta Community Chest Fund,” Vassallo said.

He said that after last year’s incredible experience with Inspire, who have shown a great amount of effort and help in their event, the duo felt the urge to raise funds for them again.

“When we do these events, we must do PR, raise funds, carry out interviews as well as fit in time to train. Inspire has helped us greatly from the PR side and the cause does fantastic work. It was a no-brainer,” Vassallo said.

Asked how much they aim to raise, Vassallo said that despite Inspire’s target of €25,000, he and Albert never set a target.

“Our philosophy has always been that if we only manage to raise €1,000, then it is €1,000 more than they had yesterday. The way we raise funds is through word of mouth of people who know us and sending out emails. In this case, Inspire promotes the event with their own network as well,” he said.

“What we hope is that people will look at us, two old men, and that we inspire people to do sports for charity. It’s nicer and more fulfilling to organise these events for a cause,” Vassallo said.

Asked how motivated they feel for this challenge, Vassallo said that the pair are “two crazy kayakers who love endurance, and so far, we still feel like we are 20 years old.”

Vassallo was asked about their plans to continue on with these challenges, to which he said that this was a tough question which the duo has discussed.

“The mind says yes, but the body says other things. It is not that we don’t feel up to it, but the reality is that you need a lot of time to train, and that is one of the problems we are having at the moment,” he said.

“We both have other commitments; it has become harder to fit in training. We would still, however, like to continue, despite it being tough sometimes. It is something we will 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 using our sport to help others. We enjoy the kayaking and we always said: ‘why not use our energy for a cause’,” Vassallo replied.

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