Rowing Toward a Braver Future with Tez Steinberg and the United World Challenge

Learn about Tez Steinberg’s inspiring solo rowing expedition from Hawaii to Australia and how the United World Challenge is working with partners like Hakkoda to accelerate data-driven solutions to the ocean plastic crisis.
December 27, 2023
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“By rowing across the ocean from Hawaii to Australia,” explains Tez Steinberg, founder and Chief Engine Officer of the United World Challenge, “I hope to inspire people to believe in their own potential to grow toward their goals and to see that we can take action for the environment.” 

Tez has charted a course straight into history, embarking from the Waikiki Yacht Club just over one week ago in an attempt to become the first person in history to complete this solo row. This four-month journey will span over 5,000 miles and take over two million row strokes to complete, but as of the one week mark, Tez has already made it roughly 8% of the way toward his lofty goal. 

As if the journey itself wasn’t already an ambitious undertaking, Tez’s rowing expedition also has another goal in mind: taking on the ocean plastic crisis by collecting data samples along the way. Together with Hakkoda and other key research partners, these samples will provide important data on the microplastics already in our oceans and help us accelerate data-driven solutions and interventions before it’s too late.

Rowing Expedition 1: Origins of the United World Challenge

This is not Tez’s first colossal rowing journey. In 2020, he rowed 2,700 miles from California to Hawaii in 71 days—without previous rowing experience. He is the only person in history to have his first ocean row be such a journey of such an epic magnitude, and is only one of ten people to have ever done so at all! 

Tez first became interested in extreme sports in 2009 as a way of coping with depression, and has since participated in 46 marathons, two triathlons, and one 145-mile ultramarathon. This approach to mental health is also a significant part of what inspired Tez to take on ocean plastic in the first place. Asked about the connection, he reflects: “So many people feel anxiety and depression and their mental health suffers in part because of concern for the environment. And the fact is, we can do something about it.”

During his first expedition, Tez contended with storms, lost oars, broken equipment, and even had to “MacGyver” his broken seat by making new bearings by boiling strips of plastic in his camp stove. Being alone at sea is as much a psychological challenge as it is a physical one, and overcoming homesickness, loneliness, and the fear of being vulnerable and isolated in the midst of the vast Pacific Ocean was an impressive feat in itself. 

Imagine yourself being in Tez’s position: thousands of miles from the nearest populated community, doing something no one has ever done before as you dip and soar on limitless waves that extend to the horizon in every direction, knowing that if you were to encounter a critical issue, there would be no one to assist and little to no resources available to correct it–and all the while seeing the gyres of discarded plastics that have made their way even to the most remote areas of the world’s oceans and how they are endangering the delicate balance of the world’s ecosystem.

Rowing Toward Cleaner Shores

During this first expedition, every single day of his 71-day journey Tez saw first-hand the amount of discarded plastics that have found their way to even the most remote sections of the ocean, which has inspired him to raise awareness of ocean plastics. In his words, “So much beauty, yet so much destruction.” 

His fundraising efforts have already cleared over 5,000 pounds of plastics from the seas. This new expedition will serve to help build river barriers in some of the most polluted areas in the world, to help alleviate the spread of plastics. In addition, the United World Challenge has raised over $70,000 for scholarships for BIPOC American students to attend the United World College and has created an open-source coding curriculum that teaches high school students marine science.

Powering Innovative Solutions with Data for Good

Clearing our oceans of plastic will take more than just awareness of the problem, however. Hakkoda’s decision to join Tez’s mission as an Impact Partner reflects our understanding of the pivotal role data plays in solving our world’s toughest challenges.

As Hakkoda co-founder Kim Heger puts it, “Data for good means leveraging data analytics and insights to drive meaningful change. We recognize that data is a valuable resource, and by ethically collecting, analyzing, and disseminating data, we can unlock innovative solutions that can improve quality of life for people around the world.” 

Like Tez, Hakkoda is also passionate about the future of our world’s oceans and has committed our talent and data expertise to improving ocean health. In addition to our work with Tez, the Data for Good initiative also includes our partnership with the MarViva Foundation to design sustainable fishing practices in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) Ocean via an app that allows fishers to access a database about fish species’ vulnerability and resilience, then provides them with maps showing the distribution maps of the more resilient species, benefitting both the fishers and the vulnerable fish species. 

Rising to the Challenge with Tez and Hakkōda

As of Christmas day, 2023, Tez had already made significant progress in his two-million-oar-stroke journey, reaching 19° 31.590 N, 163° 26.179 W, about halfway between Hawaii and the very remote Johnston Atoll (population: ten). 

As of the same day, Tez has already encountered a leak in his water filtration system, a shoulder injury, and cloud coverage that has prevented his solar batteries from recharging, but he continues to forge ahead, one stroke at a time. His history of perseverance and optimism will serve him well in the months to come, and none of us can wait to see what else his journey has in store. 

You can follow Tez’s latest adventures through the GPS Tracker on Hakkoda’s Data for Good page, which will be updated regularly as he continues his 5,000-mile voyage.

If you’d like to help Tez in his efforts against oceanic microplastics, consider contributing to the United World Challenge Giving Circle today.

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