Will Schmidt is a paddleboarder on a mission.
The former Marine and Laguna Niguel, California, resident is in the midst of a record-breaking journey for stand-up paddleboarding. Schmidt will spend several weeks navigating the Pacific Ocean in hopes of becoming the first paddleboarder to travel from the Canadian border to the Mexican border, and he's doing it to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project.
Schmidt, who served in the Marines from 1998 to 2002 and was recalled in 2003 during the Iraq War, admits that he dealt with anxiety and debilitating depression after his time in the armed forces had ended. In 2009, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and the recent loss of a close friend, Schmidt nearly did the unthinkable.
"I nearly committed suicide," said a candid Schmidt. "I realized I had to do something to turn my life around and I took up paddleboarding. I believe paddleboarding saved my life."
Now Schmidt, who has already holds several paddle boarding records, aims to complete his longest journey yet.
Last week Schmidt made his way along the Wild Rivers Coast, battling winds up to 35 knots in what he says has been the toughest part of the trip yet.
"It was a bit nerveracking out there," admitted Schmidt who carries 50 pounds of gear on his 16-foot board. "I usually paddleboard a mile to 3 miles offshore and conditions were so bad I had to lay flat on my back to keep from capsizing. It was out of control."
Schmidt was able to push through the rough waves and arrive safely ashore at Prince Island in Smith River, becoming the first SUP athlete to ride from Canada to California.
Along his route Schmidt says that people are often perplexed to see him but have also been helpful and friendly. Upon arriving at a beach in Lincoln City a honeymooning couple offered to pay for his hotel room. He has spent nights in sea caves and been offered room in guest houses.
"Fishing boats come by and ask me if I'm crazy," joked Schmidt. "When they find out why I'm doing it they are very supportive."
Schmidt has set up a website where those interested in supporting his cause or following his progress can do so. Schmidt states 90-percent of the donations go to the Wounded Warrior Project to aid in PTSD and depression research.
To follow Schmidt's journey or make a donation visit www.areyouinspiredyet.com.