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When it comes to extreme sports, more people have climbed to the top of Mount Everest than have rowed a boat across the Pacific from the US mainland to Hawaii. A new competition hopes to turn the tide. The inaugural Great Pacific Race got underway this morning from California's Central Coast. There are four - there are 34 competitors, some rowing in teams others going solo. Krista Almanzan of member station KAZU met some of the rowers before the race started.
KRISTA ALMANZAN, BYLINE: Jim Bauer's muscles are all that power his bright yellow ocean rowboat. He sits on a gliding seat, pushing his legs back and pulling the oars toward him. He's headed out into the Monterey Bay.
JIM BAUER: It's going to be windy out there. I can feel it.
ALMANZAN: This is a test run for a 2400 mile human-powered trip. The Great Pacific Race goes from Monterey, California to Honolulu, Hawaii.
BAUER: Just having this view from the ocean, it's a feeling of isolation, of course, but it's a good feeling. It's freedom.
ALMANZAN: Bauer is a 65-year-old pool maintenance man from San Diego. He's dreamed of this journey since he was 11. That is when he read about the first pair to row an ocean back in 1896.
BAUER: The fact that they had the courage to do something like that...
ALMANZAN: Bauer is the oldest competitor in this race some will row in teams of four or two, and a few, like Bauer, will row solo. So making sure everything on this boat works is all up to him.
BAUER: Let's see if we can make the water-maker function.
ALMANZAN: The boat is equipped with a machine to desalinate seawater. It also has a satellite phone, GPS and anticollision equipment.
CHRIS MARTIN: Most of these boats are actually better equipped than several trans-ocean yachts.
ALMANZAN: Race director, Chris Martin.
MARTIN: You can see these black sheets all over the cabin roofs. Those are solar panels, which power everything on board.
ALMANZAN: Martin says crews will leave Monterey with everything they need to survive the 30 to 90 day journey. That includes freeze-dried food, an emergency water supply and backup equipment, like an extra set of oars. Once out on the ocean, they'll be in communication with the shore but any physical support disqualifies rowers. Martin understands the challenges and rewards ahead. He's rowed across the Atlantic and North Pacific.
MARTIN: So much has been done in the world. There's been more people in space than have rowed an ocean. It's one of the last great firsts left on the planet.
ELSA HAMMOND: Hi, I'm Elsa Hammond. I'm rowing solo in this race. I'm 29. I'm from Bristol in England.
ALMANZAN: For Hammond, and many of the competitors, figuring out how to pay for this adventure has taken as much time as the mental and physical preparations.
HAMMOND: My budget was Â£100,000 - British pounds - which, I'm coming in under that.
REPORTER: The largest cost is the boat. Then there's supplies, insurance and the entrance fee. To help cover it all, Hammond is selling mile sponsorships, each honoring an inspirational woman.
HAMMOND: We've got a whole section on the website with names of the women and all the reasons why people have dedicated miles to them.
ALMANZAN: As Jim Bauer rows his boat back to the dock, he knows there's some long days ahead. But he has some audio books and music to pass the time. That, and the joy of never giving up on his childhood dream.
BAUER: I want to cry now, sometimes. Sometimes when I really think about doing it I'm very emotional because it is something I thought about my whole life.
ALMANZAN: Bauer expects to complete his row in 70 days or less. If he does, he'll become the oldest person on record to row an ocean solo. For NPR News, I'm Krista Almanzan in Monterey.
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