Chris Hopkinson will spend 9 days traveling the Chesapeake Bay.

On September 18, Chris Hopkinson will leave Havre de Grace, MD on a 14-foot paddle board and paddle the entire Chesapeake Bay over a span of nine days. His mission is to raise awareness about the importance of oysters and to raise $200,000 for the Oyster Recovery Partnership to plant oysters in the Bay.

Hopkinson was amazed to discover that a single oyster can filter 50 gallons of water. It’s a fact he learned working on a 6th grade project with his daughter, which included filling a fish tank with water and watching oysters clean it. 

Although Hopkinson was a recreational paddle boarder before he decided to embark on this 240-mile journey, he said the oysters “really are the motivation” for the Bay Paddle.”

He continued, “I didn’t know  they cleaned the water like that, even though I grew up around the Bay eating oysters, and other people should know it too. “So, I thought if someone did this type of fundraiser, it would draw a lot of attention to the oyster story. And I thought people would get behind the Bay Paddle because it was a crazy idea,” he said.

A year of training

Hopkinson started training for the upcoming Bay Paddle last summer. To help prepare him, he participated in ChattaJack, a 31-mile paddleboard race in Chattanooga, TN, which was his first long race. That provided an idea of what it’s going to take for him to cover about 30 miles per day for the upcoming event.

In April, he started a 22-week Bay-specific paddle program with a coach from the Paddle Monster paddling community. He’s currently working on the water four days a week, strength training two days a week, and has a regimen focused on his nutrition and his recovery needs that includes IV infusions and dry needling.

“On this long paddle it’ll be really hard to recover the amount of vitamins, nutrients, electrolytes, aminos and everything else I’m using. I’ll be on the water eight to 10 hours a day, so there’s not that much time before I have to get up the next day and do it again. It’s essentially like a marathon on the water,” Hopkinson said.

On the water

Hopkinson will wear a GoPro and will do a lot social media coverage before going in the water, on the water and afterward each day; people will be able to track and see how he’s doing. A filmmaker is also following the journey.

There will be two support boats a day on the water with him. Each boat will cover half of the day’s course. Thirty volunteers from different areas of the Bay have committed to take on this task. 

Over halfway to the goal

“My goal is to help save the Bay and bring it back as much as we can to the way it was decades ago and certainly make it better for future generations to enjoy,” Hopkinson explained. “And right now, it certainly feels like it’s not going in that direction.” He’s really hoping that other people will see how important this issue is and how small gestures can make a big difference.

“The Bay is such a large part of our lives around here, certainly more than any other natural environment in the country. The Grand Canyon and all of those areas are amazing. But they don’t provide jobs, the seafood industry, serve the military and everything else that is really dependent on the Bay. It’s really more than a recreational habitat,” he said.

“When we say ‘Save the Bay’ it’s really hard to understand what that means because it’s not like any of us are dumping chemicals or intentionally polluting. We hear people like ‘oh my gosh, the health score is going down. It’s not recovering as fast as we’d like, what should we do?’ I think oysters are really the thing we can do.”

“There used to be so many oysters that they could filter that entire Bay in four days. That population is down 99 percent. It’s almost gone. So, it’s almost impossible for the oysters to do their job because there’s not enough of them. But just $10 can buy 1000 oysters,” he explained.

All of the money goes directly to Oyster Recovery Partnership and will be used to support oyster restoration in Maryland and Virginia. The organization will plant oysters in sanctuaries where they can’t be harvested. 

Flying Dog is the event’s title sponsor and there is a slew of other companies from various industries that are supporting the effort. Currently, the Bay Paddle has raised nearly $113,000, exceeding Hopkinson’s expectations of having raised about $100,000 by the time the Bay Paddle starts.

“I think the donations will pick up once I’m on the water. We’re hoping we’ll get a lot of people who donate $10 and have some more sponsors come in as well,” he said.

Don’t get the wrong message

Although this is an oyster restoration effort, people shouldn’t boycott oysters. “Oyster Recovery Partnership not only supports but encourages people to enjoy oysters. We support a balanced and scientifically-managed oyster fishery,” said Karis King, the organizations public relations and event manager.

Oysters are critical to the seafood industry and the regional economy. Recycled oysters are seeded with up to 10 baby oysters then replanted in the waters, and in addition to oyster harvesting being managed by the state, many oysters on the market are now raised by oyster farmers so they are a fully sustainable product, King added.

Anyone who wants to give can donate by visiting baypaddle.org or text Bay Paddle to 44321.