5 Million Reasons to Row Across the Atlantic

Daley Ervin / Tech Entrepreneur + Endurance Athelete

This winter, Daley Ervin is embarking on a two man race rowing across the Atlantic, to see if him and his partner Phil Theodore can be the first two Americans to win the Talisker Whiskey Challenge. It's a 3,000 mile race and along the way, their foundation (Team Beyond) has raised close to $5M in food donations ....

We sat down to learn more about how a boy from a small town in Washington who spends his day time in the tech world, got into the world of ultra competetitive racing

BREAKOUT: What was post high school life for you?

DALEY: I got recruited to play for Arizona State, although by the time I graduated high school I was disenchanted with baseball.  In fact, the day after I finished school I boarded a plane to Europe by myself to go backpacking for 10 weeks.  Imagine the coaches’ reactions when I got back to States to discover that I was out of shape and disenchanted.  I ended up redshirting my freshman year and eventually played at a junior college. Half the team was on steroids, most of the players were dreaming of making it to the majors, and I knew I was only going to be a very passionate fan at best. My travels had really opened my eyes to what else was out there and I knew I had to move on.

BREAKOUT: How did a jock get into tech? 

DALEY: I won a business competition that paired me up with a serial entrepreneur who ran a bunch of technology companies. He brought me into a deal that with a pharmaceutical manufacturing company to upgrade their facilities and grow their business online. I had read Wired & Inc. magazine since I was  young and knew that was the environment I wanted to be in. I just started moving around after that.

BREAKOUT: During your career, you’ve been tasked with helping companies like AirBnB, YPlan, and, now, Student.com grow internationally. Where does this stem from?

DALEY: I just kind of fell into it.  My general personality is that I need a lot of stimulus and autonomy.  With AirBnB, I had a blank slate of going to England and just figuring it out.  That’s what I love about tech and the international side:  just because something is successful in one market doesn’t mean it’ll be successful in another.

BREAKOUT: Pick a city: London or New York?

DALEY: New York – it’s not even close. The City has this heat that London doesn’t. Everything closes down early in London; in New York, everyone is hustling and trying to make shit happen all the time.

BREAKOUT: What did you miss the most about the States while living overseas?

DALEY: When I first went to Europe, I was very pro-European.  But after a while I realized that I was unbelievably patriotic.  Oftentimes, people would rib on the US and I would start defending our country. Beyond generally missing the States, it really all comes back to the people. The people working in tech in London were much more conservative and don't push the limits. I also felt like the scene was five years behind America.

BREAKOUT: How did you get involved in the wild world of super endurance challenges?

DALEY: During my time in college, when I was no longer playing baseball, I felt like I was missing something between working and studying.  At the time triathlons and marathons were getting big and someone dared me to do one. I’ve always done things at 150% so I decided to start with an Olympic Triathlon. Next was a half Ironman, then a full Ironman, and then Ultras. Even at this level, there were still people participating that I didn’t feel like were taking it that seriously. From there, I got into mountain racing and fifty and hundred mile marathons. The mindset became: “let’s figure out what the least amount of people are doing with the most amount of cool things.” That led to the fringe and extreme competitions that I’m doing now.

BREAKOUT: What’s been the most intense race thus far?

DALEY: I’m most proud of the Leadville 100.  It’s based in Leadville, Colorado, the highest elevation town in the country: 10,000 feet above sea level. It’s one of the older ultra marathons in the world and it’s amazingly scenic.  It’s a hundred mile race out and back, there’s hardly any flat terrain - there is 29,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. It took me around 29 hours and I ended up hurting my foot at mile 60. It was swollen and I could barely move, but I figured I had already gone 60 miles so I only had another 40 to go. I ended up hobbling for the next 16 hours to finish the race, which is pretty insane.

BREAKOUT: How did you meet your race partner, Phil Theodore?

DALEY: We met in 2008 at Ironman Brazil in Florianopolis.  We were staying at the same hotel and started chatting and we developed an instant “father-son” relationship.

BREAKOUT: How did you start Team Beyond?

DALEY: We had just finished an ultra marathon in Chamonix, France and were having some fun in the pub. Some guy walked up and started telling us about the Talisker Whisky Challenge, a rowing race across the Atlantic Ocean. This was three years ago and we had never rowed in our life.

We’re both very Type A and we realized what a big deal this race was, but also what an opportunity we had to use it as a platform to raise a lot of money.  At that time, the most anybody had ever raised was $800,000.  We went on this exploratory phase to meet with large foundations. At the end of the day, we were too small for them and they mainly wanted to how much money could we raise for them as opposed to what type of impact we were making. This was frustrating for us and as a result, Phil and I decided to create our own foundation with the focus being on impact rather than revenue.

BREAKOUT: The Team Beyond Foundation developed a huge partnership with ReadyPac. Tell us how that came about:

Phil became the CEO of ReadyPac a few years ago, charged with turning the company around.. He discovered that when there is a consumption scare in the world, the produce that is not impacted is oftentimes still sold off for pennies-on-the-dollar to farmers who feed it to their livestock. We are talking perfectly fine, delicious, bags of salad. The ReadyPac deal takes that food and will serve $5M in fresh produce over three years to underserved communities.

BREAKOUT: Tell us about the race:

DALEY: The race started in 1997. It’s rowing race comprised of solo rowers, pairs, and fours.  Team Beyond is in the pairs class.  The race starts in La Gomera in the Canary Islands and covers 3,000 miles across the Atlantic, ending in the English Harbor in the Virgin Islands.  The average pair has completed the race in 45-70 days.  We hope to win the race in the pairs class and break the world record of 39 days and 20 hours.  To do so, we need to average about 80-90 miles per day.

The standard for rowing is two hours on two hours off during the day and 4 hours on, four hours off at night.  All being equal, the only thing you can change is the time spent on the oars together.  The more we row together, the faster the boat will go. So we are aligning and designing our sleep schedule and pattern around those factors to improve our chances of winning the race.

BREAKOUT: How do the simple things work while you are on the boat?

DALEY: The boat is shaped like a giant canoe with a cabin on one side. The cabin is about the size of a two-man tent. It’s comfortable, but it’s certainly not the Four Seasons.  We don’t have a shower so we’ll have to wipe ourselves down with baby wipes to take care of the salt.  We’ll use buckets or medical bottles to dispose of waste.  We’ll be carrying 500,000 calories of food.  Each of us will be eating five or six meals a day, excluding chocolate bars and snacks.  We have two jet boils that can boil water in 30-seconds.  We need to eat 4,000-6,000 calories a day because we’ll be burning 10,000 to 12,000 calories daily.  We’re bulking up now and expect to lose 20% of our body mass during this race.  We are sponsored by Bulletproof, famous for their butter coffee, and Justin’s Peanut Butter to take in as many calories as possible in the lightest form.

 BREAKOUT: What scares you the most about this?

DALEY: There are so many unknowns. We’ve tried simulating wave conditions before by going out to the North Sea with 40-50 foot waves, but there are so many variables. I probably would be scared shitless if we didn’t have such confidence and ignorance of what we don’t know. Our boat could be bitten by a shark, we could capsize, we could get ridden over by a cruise ship, we could pitch pole, we could have too many cloudy days knocking out our solar panel and our ability to make water. Last year there was a boat that was speared by a swordfish. We simply just don’t know all the shit that can go wrong.

BREAKOUT: What are some tricks of the trade to pass the time?

DALEY: It’s about breaking down the race into very compartmentalized chunks.  When we rowed the North Sea, I would give myself tiny milestones to look forward to: a peanut butter cup, a glass of water, stretching every few minutes. It’s completely monotonous and mundane. We have speakers on the boat so we’ll have a couple of Spotify playlists and podcasts.  The routine on the boat becomes our new normal.  We’ve heard that after the first week you become a machine. Phil and I probably won’t talk as much as people think we will because what do you talk about after 40 days of only seeing one another?  Phil wants to bring a fishing rod.

BREAKOUT: Why do you do what you do?

DALEY: I feel complacent if I’m not busy.  I feel complacent if I’m not consistently challenging myself. I always have to challenge myself outside of work.  Take this race, it was never a question of “should we do it?” It was always “we are absolutely going to do it.”  We both love to accomplish things and that feeling of doing something that other’s can’t do. I guess that’s what feeds it.  We want to see what we’re made of.


Graham CohenComment