Gábor Rakonczay, sailor, who has crossed the ocean six times, two-time Guinness World Recorder, ultrarunner, winner of the American Adventurer of the year award and the Hungarian Design Award, writer. He gave talks for thousands of people about how to achieve our goals, on his last expedition he ran across Hungary in a week. I was talking with Gábor – who is ready to get back into the ocean as well - about the real important things of life: about ego, death, love, inner strength, motivation and about life itself.
Here is for the interview:
-What were you dreaming aboutas a child?
- Roughly about what I’m doing right now. The adventure, seeing what’s beyond the horizon, exploring what I‘m capable of. I wanted to sail across the ocean or go to the South Pole as a child. Besides that, I always wanted to leave my mark in the world. Even as a little child, I always felt like our life is finite, that’s why we can’t waste it.
− Did yourparents always supportyourideas?
- Yes, moreover, I was raised fairly free, which - for a purposeful boy like myself - was a huge opportunity.
– What awakenedyouconsciousness at such a young age?
- I can’t say, it feels like it was always within me. So nothing really happened - for example a big tragedy -, what would have triggered it.
– A giftof life perhaps
- Somehow you can observe life’s course from A to B. If we think about it more deeply, this could have a scary side too, because nothing stays forever, our days are pretty much numbered. However, if life is finite, then it’s that valuable as well, so there’s an inspiring side to it too. This motivates me, at least forty percent of my inner drive rises from here.
– So you wereof your ownor not?
- I wouldn’t say death, that’s a pretty scary word, it’s more about the reality, the passing of human existence. No matter what religion we believe in, one thing’s for sure, this state of ‘being’ is temporal. As I experienced in my surroundings, people usually aren’t thinking about this. We live our life as time would be unlimited. That’s when we usually say ‘maybe tomorrow, or next year, or when it gets easier’. But time goes by extremely fast, many times years go by without us knowing what went by. This is scary. Moreover, I would say giving up a childhood dream is more scary than to face something life-threatening. But this is not depressing, it changes from here what you fear and what you don’t.
– You'vebeen to a lot of places in the world.Did you ever experience somewhere that people don’t treat passing as a taboo?
- People eastwards from us see it another way. However, if we look at Hungary, this depends on bringing-up, awareness, religion. There are huge differences, but altogether it’s true, if someone dies in our surroundings, then people usually think about life, they will get sad, they cry and so on, but the fact that it can happen to us as well, and how precious our life is, we aren’t so aware of. Everyone feels like the main character of their own life, and the western mentality made us believe that the main character is ‘for sure’ immortal and will live on to the end of the story. Today’s world cradles the individual, there are no hard consequences of our actions, such as on expeditions. There, in such a situation, where you can’t find a solution, you may not live to see the next day. In normal life we make excuses, hold others responsible, ‘maybe next time it will be easier’. That’s how people wheel their life round and round, meanwhile time goes by.
– Then you'renot afraid
- A while back, as I was crossing the ocean with a canoe, once I tipped over, the boat was sinking under me for 8 minutes. Rationally thinking, I was certain that I wouldn't make it out alive, but I was fighting for my life to the very last minute. And I survived. I wouldn’t say I’ve accepted it, it just burnt in me, that it will happen. But until then, being is valuable. Not just yours or mine, but everyone’s. Every minute is valuable. This raised the extra fire within me. Someone, who has almost died once, gets more excited about the little things and is heading towards the bigger things quicker. It’s obvious, that humanity normally doesn’t go through this - luckily -, but that’s the reason why many people live their life slowly, they get on the train, that makes them believe they've got time.
– Let'sgo back to the beginning.You’ve studied art, is it still present in your life?
- While designing the ship it came handy on several occasions, but for example I have a paper sculptor on my desk right now and I go at it baldheaded, if I have some free time.
– Can you everimaginehaving your own exhibition?
- If I calm down at some point, then yes, eventually, why not. But for me sport is art too, it’s a type of self-expression as well. I get ready for it, I make up the framework, the training plan, it’s like a performance.There’s a community involved, who can gain motivation from it.In this manner I’m an artist too, if I can say it like that.
– After all,our whole is art,right?!
- Yes exactly, as I wrote in my third book, everyone shapes their own life as a work of art. As the sculptor carves the marble block, we carve our life depending on how we decide, where we go, how we relate to another person and to life itself.
– Do you feel like the expeditions are independent creations or ‘teamwork’?
- Well, I’m quite obstinate. (meanwhile laughing).
– You need to be – I imagine.
- Yes you need to be. For example, a lot of times I get that I’m modest and reserved compared to other athletes, but it comes from the fact that this branch of extreme sport takes place in nature, and nature confronts people, what part they play in existence. And it is not too big. So this puts your ego in its place. But to be honest, for someone to think that he will go to the South Pole, you need ego for that. Honestly you need ego for every sport, but what’s important is that you can say it out loud, because then your ego gets smaller and the self-interest will be different
– And oftentimes it just isn't worth it.thought that if someone conquers himself, then he does not feed upon ego anymore.According to this, ego is useful after all?
- Of course! If you don’t have ego, then you will be destroyed in a storm, there’s no glory to it. You can achieve a lot with ego, and obviously it makes a great deal of trouble in someone’s life as well.
– Did you ever offer your journey to someone or somethingfor someone?
- It is a very important part of my journeys today, that whoever follows me, can get motivation out of it. For example after my last failed journey I felt the responsibility that I didn’t do good to those who followed the expedition. Do you understand? They believe there’s ‘no impossible, you can cross over the ocean too’, then it turns out, it’s not true. On the other hand it was a gratification for those, who waited 15 years for me to fail, but for those, who are important, it’s my duty to show that you can get up from this as well and that you can do it.
– Who is part of yourcommunity?
- Everyone is fighting on their own battlefield, which doesn’t have to look spectacular, the TV won’t showcase it, as they did for me at the South Pole, but someone else’s goal is just as beautiful and intricate for him, as mine is for me. Moreover, I wouldn’t be capable of achieving their goal, because it’s not as simple. On the ocean you only have to head for the western direction, but here, in the civilised world it’s hard to go in one specific direction, there are so many distractions. Of course, information is important, but you can easily switch onto consumer mode. So I want to contribute to the progress of those who want to move forward in their own field. That’s what I mean when I say community.
– Anyway,younever liedto yourself?Is this possible?
- I owe it to myself first of all to account for my actions. Since I was a child, I’ve been running away from any kind of system, where they tell you what and how you should think. I was never a fan of school institutions, even so the knowledge I gained there was a huge help, for example I couldn’t design ships, so I’m grateful for all my teachers, but I was never able to go along with somebody else telling me what to think.
– Were you arebel?
- No. I was the quiet guy, but on the inside I couldn’t wait to be an adult and to go my own way. Although I waited a fairly long time for that, because I started my first ocean ride at university.
– When did youbecome an adult?
- At university, when we managed to support ourselves with my partner back then, the idea came: ‘hey, we’re adults now, why don’t we take a break from school and go sail across the ocean.’ This idea could have come much earlier. That’s why I hold a lot of talks and even caritative ones in schools, so that youth can take responsibility and realise that everyone is a different being and you can only take from there, where you put energy in. I first managed to do so at the age of 23.
– What’s your take on the current youngergeneration?
-I think it’s torn very badly. There are some, who have completely lost reality, because they live on their phones, and there are some, who heavily use the reachable information. There are big differences, bigger dispersion, but those who want, they can make it happen in a split second. Back then, for example planning an expedition took years, today - obviously except the knowledge from experience - you can reach anything online. You can get the equipment, which was extremely hard back then, and you can hit the road. For those who can keep up, this accelerating world is interesting, and for those who can’t, they consume the information from others and constantly feel like they’re missing out on it.
Did you havesomeone to look up to in yourin your life?
- Of course, and I still do. People who are outstanding in their own field, they can really inspire me.
– Who’s a good role model in youropinion?
- A role model is someone, whose part of life and path you agree with and that’s why you follow him. This way you can gather knowledge easier, but we for sure need to exceed our role models at some point. Our parents are like that as well, so we raise our children well, if this happens. If you choose a role model for yourself, you need to get close to him, make the acquaintance, be friends, but without idolizing him, and at some point you need to exceed him. That’s how our world evolves.
– Have you ever beena role modelfor someone?
- Yes. I have my friend Norbert Ádám Szabó, who read my first book back then. He wrote to me to meet, he was a really nice little guy. He wanted to row as well, then a couple of years later he crossed over the ocean as well. Today, he is a serious man, who has been around a lot and we share a great friendship with each other.
– Was the media catching upon him back then,that he wants to make an advance usingyour name?
- Yes, there was a whole lot of trouble.
– Is he a friend thenor not?
- He is a friend now, absolutely. Before they were rescued out in the ocean, they went by saying ‘we’re better than Gábor’, but all is settled by now and I’m really proud of him. This country is too small for rivalries saying ‘oh wow, you crossed over the ocean as well, but I was better’. That would be funny. By the way, the other day someone wrote to me too, who was at one of my talks in high school. He put away a scrap of paper with my signature on it and set it out in his room, time went by and he became an athlete. Now, 10 years later, he wrote me a nice message that he would like to thank me, how much I‘ve given to him. This is such a great feedback
– Was your inner balanceput torights?
- Yes. You know, when you go to a caritative event in a high school, you tell them about the whales, sharks and storms. They enjoy it, but don’t necessarily get it. It’s good for your conscience, that you did something for the world, but it’s not certain, that the world receives this message. So getting feedback like that after 10 years is huge.
– Do you have other resources that go beyond you?
- No. I think what you can achieve, you already have within you. We can’t do as much, if the motivation is outside of us. Something is within us that is unstoppable. If you want to be good enough, at some point it’s not worth it anymore and you stop. But if this power comes from the inside, no matter the hurdle you have to face, there will always be a solution for that and the sky's the limit.
– Did fame never temptyou?
- It depends on what you understand by fame.
– Obviously Gábor Rakonczay is a name,let’s not deny it!
- It would be nice sometimes to observe myself from the outside. I’m not interested about what others think of me, but to see myself as a name, as a brand. I can’t say anything about that, because I’m in it. There are good parts, for example the first article in a boulevard magazine about the students, who sailed across the ocean, I was proud of that. Then a couple of years later, this headed to another direction. People are nice, it feels good when they congratulate you, there’s always a common topic, a lot of doors open. I love it, but I figured out that it's good to be silent. When I'm out on an expedition, I’m all alone, so you can’t do it for publicity.
– What was the longest time you’ve spent alone
-From the 77 day tour I spent 60 days alone in a canoe between the Canarian and Caribbean and then in the 5 month long sailing journey there was 2 months loneliness.
– You didn'ttalkto anyone?
- After tipping over with the canoe the phone didn’t work for 44 days, but I wouldn’t want that for me or for anyone else. You can go nuts easily. This doesn’t seem logical in the actual world’s perspective, unless you choose to be a monk, but if it’s in case of an emergency, you don’t want to live through it.
– So despite goingan expeditionfor months,you're a social type?
- So you’ve found your place in society?
– So you’ve found your place in society?
- Yes. As they say about sailing: ‘What’s the boatman’s biggest desire? Dropping the anchor. What does he want to do once on land? Leaving the port.’ That’s a good life. You can see the middle part from the two extremes. The comfort zone is right in the middle. If you go to the one extreme, where you need to spare and your life is on the thread, then you go to the other extreme, where everyone loves you, you’re safe and thousands clap for you at an event, then from these two extremes you catch a perfect glimpse of reality, of the everyday life. Only then you can accept this whole thing. I was extremely lucky in this sense.
– You can go out into the ocean and return to shore as well.
- That’s right!
Let’s pretend for the sake of the game that every tech gadget disappears from the world, we have no idea about numbers, calories or time. How would you find your goals in such a world?
- For the most part it would go on as now, all my expeditions aim at simplicity. I especially like minimalist things. It’s another question, if in today’s world, where an expedition depends on sponsorships, you couldn’t do without technically supporting for example the communication of the challenge.
– What’s your stance at spirituality? Have you ever had a convincing experience?
- Well, I really-really want to believe that our being is not a coincidence and that there is a meaning of all this.
– You want to believe, but you don’t?
- I would rather say, I’m still looking. Deep down I think there has to be. Wow, how should I say this…. I didn’t find anything concrete, I couldn’t identify with a religion or philosophy.
– All clear...
- I find something in every such thought, that says ‘we can’t be just flesh and bone, 90 years and then the shutters go down, we have to be more than that’ and I agree with them.
– But you have no certainty about it?
- It’s more about the fact, how it can’t be normal that I lived through all the absurd things that happened to me.
– I’m so happy you said it first! (meanwhile we’re laughing)
- There are a couple of things that go beyond my 65 kilogram body that I’m in.
– Is this your ideal body weight for competitions by the way?
- Yeah-yeah, this comes with ultrarunning. So I think that there is a constant open-mindedness, interest in me, but as for myself, the best thing is not to set out any ideals, but to renew every time.
– We all see how many problems these ‘ideals’ can cause...
- That’s right. What I think today, 5 years ago was completely different and if we were to talk 5 years later, it could happen that by then I would take other things more seriously.
– But if someone was to ask, what your identity is, what would you say then?
- What do you mean?
– For example you wouldn’t say ‘I’m a left-wing Christian’, but something different? Who are you?
- I would say that I’m trying to feel good in my own skin and enjoy the time that I have, to transfer the knowledge that I’ve collected and experienced and that it’s important for me to make the world a better place, than it was before me. Besides of course there’s a part of inspiring people and raising questions in them. I see it as my mission, but my life would crumble, if I would just get in the line, in one specific direction, for example if I would represent just one particular sport.
– And oftentimes it just isn't worth it.
- No. I like it better rebuilding myself here and there too. That makes sense. In our world everything changes constantly, this is a sort of necessity.
– But accepting change is a question of courage, right?
- I have worse phases as well, but someone who had to decide between life and death before, then he has nothing more to be afraid of. Do you understand? What could I possibly do wrong? It’s more frightening to be useless than to risk doing something. Life itself is a risk, and we all take immense risk in our everyday life, but we just don’t know about it. It’s how fast food restaurants work: I know what long term consequences it has, but for some weird reason I still go to them. On the contrary, life doesn’t submit the invoice right away, although everything gets noted down somewhere. Everything is a great risk, but people say, ‘it’s worth it’.
– And oftentimes it just isn't worth it.
- Many times. From this point of view, it’s not a bigger risk to go to the South Pole, then to go across the red light. In addition to that, one is a childhood dream, the other is neat irresponsibility.
In one of the interviews you mentioned music. What kind of style awakes the motivation in you in the hardest moments?
- It’s really mixed, sometimes it helps, for example at 2 am, when I’m running beyond 100 km, but to the Antarctic I deliberately chose not to take music with me, because it’s such a special place, that I wanted to live through that moment as much as possible, in order to soak in that brutal low-stimulus.
– Was there any music that has ‘saved’ you?
- No. Though sometimes I do miss it. How easier would it be to have an outside support like that.
– It looks as if you wouldn’t allow yourself this kind of outside support...
- After the canoe expedition I was thinking a lot about this. My world collapsed there. At home I had to start over from 0. Back then I thought to myself, how easier it would be, if this or that would be my religion. I go out for a run a lot of times, and I watch how many runners are listening to music and I say to myself, how great it would be to do so, but the inner side of me thinks, it’s extremely precious, that I’m not listening to music, because then I’m with myself. Not to despise the value of music, but nothing is more precious than this. Days go by smoothly without one knowing, what’s what and who’s who, how certain things function, because we simply don’t spend enough time with ourselves.
– Some live their whole life like that.
- Yes, there are some, who don’t even know what would go through their head if they would spend 5 hours somewhere in silence or where to look for motivation if it would be extremely difficult. Not from the outside, but from the inside. Although it’s there, but you got to get to it. And you need to practice that.
– Your answers are extremely instructive. It might seem mediocre, but I have to ask this: You do love yourself, right?
- This is a really important question. The way I estimate this - particularly if I have greater struggles, I ask myself if I would just swap with someone else. If the answer is ‘no’, then everything’s great. If you feel good in your reality even with all your struggles, then that’s your answer to the question whether ‘you love yourself’. In case you live with compromises, then your situation is not that bright.
– So I take it that you live in love?
- Yeah, absolutely, uhum.
– - I’m happy to hear that and I wish for you that it stays this way!
- Thanks, and thank you for the talk!
After reading the lines above over and over again, I believe even more, that life - which is according to Gábor an extremely finite, but wonderful creation - gives us the opportunity to discover the endless force of nature, and the endlessness of our inner power within.
We don’t even need to cross the ocean for that, it’s enough to ‘just’ follow our own dreams and to start on our journey, which that inner voice is telling us. No matter if we’re longing for the farest mountain or for the nearest hill. More importantly, we have to grave this creation along the way, so that we make the world a better place: more affectionate, more honest and more self-identical.
Let’s not forget: „It’s more frightening to be useless, than to risk doing something.”! GáborThanks to you and thank you!