Reflections on Sea Changes

Thoughts on transformation
by Lauralee Alben

What’s at risk? | Part 1: A mythological feat


What is it about water that transforms risk into rewarding experiences?

Risk is an essential component of any sea change. At the Sea Change Design Institute, we work with leaders and organizations who are committed to co-creating life-revering transformations. At the Blue Mind Summit, I searched for sea changes in the intriguing presentations by adventurers, educators, biologists, scientists, neurologists, artists, filmmakers, journalists, entrepreneurs, and athletes. An upwelling of high stakes surfaced from their stories.

For each speaker, taking risks was an essential and even valuable part of their experiences—to gain what? Marine biologist and author Dr. Wallace “J.” Nichols would respond emphatically: Blue Mind. This state of clarity, confidence, creativity, peace, and unity comes from healthy water contributing to human well-being, as well as to our economy and ecology.

Throughout the Blue Mind Summit, a confluence of brain science and conservation flowed, presencing the deep connection we derive from being near, in, on, or under water. Riveting speakers shared their extraordinary leaps of faith to face their fears, embrace freedom, and forge new paths. For some everything was at stake, others had lived a compromised life for too long, and still others were compelled by possibility.

A mythological feat
Waterman, Mavericks champion, and speaker Chris Bertish shared a jaw-dropping story of stand-up paddle-boarding (SUP) 200 miles along the treacherous west coast of South Africa from Cape Point to Lamberts Bay. It was a proof of concept test for the ultimate SUP quest: a solo Atlantic crossing.

His unassisted 8-day adventure seemed one fit for Odysseus, complete with collapsing, not on the shores of Ithaca, but on Dassin Island, midpoint on his journey.

Making it that far was one of many miracles amidst harrowing challenges including two malfunctioning GPS, having to paddle only on one side for more than seven hours in ferocious winds and sea, severely blistered hands and feet, sunburned corneas and blurred vision, dehydration, exhaustion, and sharks. And that wasn’t the end of it.


Chris set out at dawn for the fourth day, sleep-deprived and determined, when a thick fog set in, much like the one sent by the goddess of wisdom, Athena, to cloak Odysseus’ homeland. Soon off course and disoriented without the ability to accurately use his senses, Chris experienced terror hearing the increasing roar of an invisible (but real) ship bearing down on him, and later eerie, otherworldly sounds that led him to a deeper fear of becoming delusional.

Able only to “feel into the aliveness of the water,” Chris continued paddling until the fog began to lift. And there, close by, a humpback whale surfaced. And then a second one appeared on the other side of his board. With visibility clearing, Chris realized a pod of 23 whales surrounded him. Amazed, he began to move in concert with these great denizens of the deep.

“It was a primal experience,” Chris said, “and I don’t know what you believe, but I know that pod guided me back on course.”


What drives an elite waterman like Chris to achieve mythological feats? From childhood, exquisitely attuned to the waves and wind, the sun and the stars, Chris learned long ago to respect the ocean. He didn’t do it for the thrill; and he didn’t underestimate the risk of losing his life. No, I think he risked something more valuable.

A rare kind of change agent, Chris consciously guides others in transforming their own lives by being a role model. He is adept at using intention, the potent catalyst of every sea change. In Sea Change Design, we define an intention as a ground of being (like water is to a whale) that inspires us to manifest great potential.

Chris continually sets the bar higher to prove this intention: the impossible is possible. This time, when he risked the impossible, he was given compassion and wisdom from the wild. When the fierce winds let up and the fog of confusion lifts, whether king or waterman, what is revealed is humility.


Currently in training for the December launch of the first, open ocean, SUP crossing, Chris plans to cover the 4,600 miles between Morocco and Florida by paddling a marathon a day for four months, unassisted and unsupported. His feat will support Operation Smile, the Lunchbox Fund, and Signature of Hope and the Two Oceans Aquarium. You can learn more and support this feat here.


The Blue Mind Movement continues to swell due to this annual summit, a NYT bestselling book, compelling media coverage, and a myriad of opportunities designed by the Blue Mind team to reconnect us with water, like Blue Marbles and Billion Baby Turtles. Currently #100DaysOfBlue is underway in social media; this is our contribution.

Continue reading this 4-part blog post.

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