The Next Thing is an adventure documentary about the world’s first standup paddleboard (SUP) crossing of the Northwest Passage.
After an unsupported, 766 mile SUP journey from Washington to Alaska Karl Krüger was still searching for the limit of his capabilities as an athlete and adventurer. This summer he’s setting out to find it. Through his 1900 mile Arctic journey, the film explores the human condition, the history of the Northwest Passage (NWP), the indigenous people who have lived there for millennia, and the climate change that not only threatens it, but allows Karl to navigate it. It’s a new take on the human explorer tradition, addressing immense challenges with vulnerability and curiosity.
The expedition will mark the first attempt of its kind. Following this journey across the norther edge of the North America, the feature film explores the human condition, the history of the NWP, Inuit who have lived there for millennia, and the climate change that paradoxically threatens it and allows our protagonist, Karl Kruger, to navigate it.
Traveling through the NWP in a single season. Small craft have navigated there for millennia. Consistent ice-free seasons started in 2007, and are reliable enough that one could contemplate going through on something as minimal as a SUP. This is exactly what’s been running through Karl Kruger’s brain since 2017 after his 766 mile record-setting SUP run up the Inside Passage during the Race to Alaska. Still searching for the limits of his capabilities as an athlete and an adventurer, he set his mind to the next thing: a 1900 mile, solo arctic journey through the Northwest Passage.
Vulnerability is at the core of this story. Karl will not only navigate the passage mostly unsupported, but he will do so while exposed to some of the harshest elements on earth. Traveling with minimal gear, only six inches from the frigid water, he will work in concert with nature, facing his challenges creatively. Through the humanity of Karl’s experiences, we will open ourselves to the abundant life surrounding him. Working to connect the dots between climate scientists, Inuit leader, and political experts, the film will weave through icebergs as well as the stories and global impact of the region. This is an ode to isolation, to vulnerability and to our environment.
When asked how Karl paddled 766 miles in two weeks during The Race to Alaska, he said “I did that by putting my blade in the water, and then putting it in again, and again.: This is a story about the countless small steps we take to effectively tackle big issues. By detailing a small fraction of the region’s problems through Karl’s direct experience and interviews with positive change makers, the film will inspire and motivate action in a new way. The Next Thing is antidote to an epidemic of cynicism and resignation.
Our visual palate will viscerally link the beauty of a vast landscape with the emotional experience of a lone adventurer. A mix of micro an macro, and a distillation of the elements of life. What sustains Karl each day? What sustains the ecosystem of the NWP? Cutting from sweeping majestic drone footage, we will gain intimacy with Karl through self documentation while he’s on the expedition, as well as footage of his training, family, and regular life in the Pacific Northwest. Where Karl goes, we will go with him, seeing what he sees and learning what he learns.
Karl Kruger first had a paddle in his hands and skis on his feet at 2-years old. He climbed his first Adirondack Peak at age 3, and summited all 46 Adirondack Peaks by the age of 12.
At home, however, life was turbulent. His father was abusive and his parents were divorced by the time he was 12. Along with the physical and emotional scars, Karl’s father left him with an innate connection to the outdoors. Karl moved out of his mom’s house at 16 and split his time between living in his car and lean-to in the woods as he finished high school.
While living and working in some of the most stunning and dangerous locations in North America, Karl spent every waking moment skiing, climbing, ice climbing, sailing, and windsurfing. It was during this time he met his climbing partner and mentor. But after the tragic loss of his mentor to a climbing accident in Alaska, Karl drifted away from climbing towards a future on the sea, windsurfing and racing small sailboats.
In 2008, Karl bought a sailboat and started a company called “Kruger Escapes,” a sailing, surfing, skiing charter and SUP business, living abroad with his then-wife Jessica, and their daughter, Dagny.
In 2017 Karl wanted to see how far he could push himself on a SUP. He entered the Race to Alaska and became the first and only stand up paddler to finish the 750-mile non-motorized ocean journey from Washington Stare to Southeast Alaska.
Upon finishing the race, Karl felt like he could just keep going. In his mind, the next thing he could do to text his limits would be to paddle the grueling Northwest Passage.
The story of the passage is as old as our planet, and in the western world is deeply intertwined with the Age of Exploration. The quest to find a water route through North America would lead to wealth and fame for whomever discovered it. It would connect Europe to the West Coast of North America and in turn to lucrative trade routes in China and the Far East. For nearly 400 years men died on expedition to cross it.
Now, it represents the nexus of climate change, the geopolitics that can fix it but won’t, and Inuit that we must learn from to survive. Karl will travel straight through this microcosm of global issues, and we have the opportunity to go with him.
Climate change is the most urgent topic facing the Earth today. Forest fires, hurricanes, and shifting coast lines affect communities across the globe. Not only are the effects amplified in the Arctic, but Karl’s journey through the Northwest Passage is only possible because of the increased Arctic ice melt in the last 10 years.
Those with the resources to curb the effects of climate change are the same forces that see this newly opened waterway as a market ripe for exploration. It is a disputed area: Russia planted a flag 4000 meters below the ice at the North Pole to claim it as their own; China now boasts a fleet of icebreakers; Canada claims jurisdiction over the shipping lanes, while the United States maintains these are international waters. As you move farther north, the borders and motives between Russia, Canada, and the United States increasingly overlap.
Consequently, Inuit who have lived there for millennia are more vulnerable than ever. Karl’s expedition plans to stop at only 7 small villages along the way to resupply. While there, he will listen to a collection of voices on the frontline of climate change. 2007 Noble Peace prize Nominee and Inuk, Shelia Watt-Cloutier, stresses that we must look to the “experiences of Inuit as a harbinger of what is to come, and seek their guidance on how to live more sustainably.”
Team Heart of Gold was/is Karl Kruger’s solo team name for the 2016 and 2017 Race to Alaska. Team Heart of Gold was conceived of one dark and rainy night in late April 2015, when the decision was made that if Karl entered the R2AK he would do it solo, relying only on himself to withstand the rigors of the race. That way, no one else could pull out, cancel, or shake up his plans. It would be just him, on a Stand Up Paddleboard.
Would you sign up for 750 MILES of paddling on a Stand Up Paddleboard? Karl Kruger of TEAM HEART OF GOLD did.
In June 2016, Karl joined a riotous array of watercraft bound from Port Townsend, WA to Ketchikan, AK. The second annual Race to Alaska (R2AK) had just begun, and the field of racers was entering “The Proving Grounds,” a 40 miles stretch of open water, two sets of shipping lanes, and an international border. Successful completion of this first race leg, across the Straits of Juan de Fuca, would qualify racers for the second stage of the race….the remaining 710 miles to Alaska.
The Race to Alaska’s website describes it like this: “It’s like the Iditarod, on a boat, with a chance of drowning, being run down by a freighter, or eaten by a grizzly bear. There are squalls, killer whales, tidal currents that run upwards of 20 miles an hour, and some of the most beautiful scenery on god’s green earth.” And there are only two rules: No Engines, and No Support.
Karl, the solo member of TEAM HEART OF GOLD, registered for the race as the first and only Stand Up Paddle Boarder. Burly? Yes. Crazy? Just the right amount. In the words of the fantastic writers at R2AK, “Team Heart of Gold’s Karl Kruger wasn’t a guy with a board and a paddle and a delusional dream, he had planned and trained for a year—more than that, he had done the math. Lots of math. From calculating weight to knowing how far and how fast he could travel in every condition, to exactly how many calories he could subsist on and how he would get them.”
Yes. The preparation and training for racing R2AK on a paddle board was intense. And there was absolutely nothing cavalier in the undertaking, nor in the doing. By day three of the second leg of the race, Team Heart of Gold’s solo performance was ahead of even some of the trimarans (say whaaaatt!?!?)… and the level of emotional support we received via Facebook, email, and social media was incredible, heart-warming, and–just like the race that inspired it all–intense.
We were completely blown away by just how serious of a support squad TEAM HEART OF GOLD was blessed with. There were the R2AK Race Trackers following him every moment of the day. There were community members and friends who contributed financially to the undertaking. There were strangers on the dock who became new friends and unexpected benefactors. We were riding high on a wave of enthusiasm, Karl was paddling with great endurance… until it all unraveled. In planning for the race, Karl chose the best board he could… given that no one was making an expedition race board at the time. With an increased load and heavy chop in the Straits, the board’s behavior changed, suffered hairline cracks, and began taking on water. This in turn negatively affected how the board handled, and exacerbated the vulnerability of his weaker side. Ultimately paddling four times more on his left side than he was on his right, Karl began suffering severe knee pain and chose to retire from the race before permanently injuring himself. It was time to go home, and time to start planning…R2AK 2017.
This time, things would be different, starting with the board. TEAM HEART OF GOLD needed an expedition race Stand Up Paddle Board designed specifically to the demanding parameters of R2AK. To build the golden SUP, Karl worked closely with Joe Bark of Bark Paddle Boards, the designer of more race winning boards than any other brand. Beyond that, Joe promised the board wouldn’t break… and it didn’t. Beyond that, it excelled.
Which might raise the question; “Why would you do this race on a paddle board??”
The waters along this coast have been plied by paddle driven craft for millennia. Anyone who has dipped a blade in these waters can attest to that fact. The SUP is an attractive tool for this race because of its ruthless austerity, speed, simplicity and unfiltered experience.
SUP is a distillation of a millennia of evolution…hence, it is a powerful tool. It is not useful for moving much cargo…but it is potently useful for moving a person and their personal gear, very quickly, in a wide range of conditions…all traits that the Race to Alaska requires. Additionally, SUP provides many options for different stances and strokes to give the body a chance to recover.
Karl’s race approach was modeled on his years as an alpine climber…go light, go fast, and all discomforts will pass eventually. Every ounce is carefully considered.
Lastly, to crack the code of this coast by any craft is an achievement. To do it unsupported, ALONE, on a SUP… Yes, alone, but at once supported by the incredible community who was inspired by Karl’s first attempt… This is the “Success of Failure”. This is R2AK. This is Karl Kruger’s posse.
Karl Kruger is the first person to complete the Inside Passage on a SUP. He completed the entire race course in just 15 days, averaging 50 miles a day. His longest day was 72 miles. His shortest 29.
What happens when you know you can do something that people say is impossible, or crazy? What happens while you’re doing it? After you do it?