Meet Tez Steinberg – founder of United World Challenge and Friend of Ned. Tez was the first person in history to solo row from California to Hawaii with now prior experience. Now he’s taking on an even bigger challenge to help solve the ocean plastic crisis.
Ned: Tell us about The United World Challenge and your commitment to solving the ocean plastic crisis.
Tez: In 2020 I became the first person ever to row a boat from California to Hawaii with no prior rowing experience. I spent 71 days alone at sea. The ocean was incredibly beautiful, but I also saw plastic everyday. When I came home to Colorado, I began learning about the best solutions to ocean plastic, and discovered that simple, low-cost solutions exist. They just need to be scaled. That’s why United World Challenge is leading Expedition 2: Rowing 5,000 miles solo and non-stop from Hawaii to Australia, beginning November 2023. I’ll gather data for science across the 4-month expedition, and share the story live on social media to raise funds and action to help solve ocean plastic.
Ned: It’s impossible to overstate what a feat it was to become the first person in history to solo row from California to Hawaii as a novice. The fact that more people have walked on the moon only begins to put it in perspective. There must have been times when your strength and courage were shaken. What kept you going?
Tez: There were days where I desperately wanted to quit. What kept me going was telling myself: “I can quit – but not today.” On the hardest of days, I reminded myself to find the beauty. To soak up the little details of the ocean’s wonder. And most of all, what inspired me to keep going was my mission: The first United World Challenge expedition was dedicated to raising scholarships to an international school that changed my life, the United World College. I knew that by continuing the expedition, no matter the setbacks, I could inspire others and raise funds to send students to this incredible international school. And together with supporters from around the world, we succeeded and raised $77,000 for 3 students of color to attend United World College of the USA with full scholarships.
Ned: You spent 71 days alone – with your thoughts. No wonder you called it a “crash course in transcending your mental blocks.” What were those mental blocks and how did you overcome them?
Tez: I’m a very self-assured person, but being out alone on the ocean – and without any prior rowing or sailing experience, and having never been to sea – challenged me to my core. In my first days at sea I began doubting if I made the right choice. I kept thinking, there’s no way I can pull this off – I’m such an idiot for trying something so insanely difficult! But the magic of spending all that time alone is that you have the time to try on other lines of thought for size. I started by taking things one day, one hour, one moment at a time. Just take another stroke, focus on the beauty, and trust the situation will somehow improve. And slowly, over the course of several weeks, I began to get the hang of the expedition. I rowed on average about 10 to 12 hours per day, all the while keeping myself occupied by repairing broken equipment, sending photos and videos back to followers online, and focusing on the little moments.
Ned: Nature is full of wisdom. What lessons did the ocean teach you?
Tez: The biggest lesson I took from the ocean is a powerful model for servant leadership: to be both demanding of others’ greatness, and fully giving of your own. The ocean is relentless in its might and fury, but also so abundant and generous. This dichotomy taught me that to become the leader I aim to be, I should challenge others to rise to their full potential, while also committing myself 100%.
Ned: I shared your story with my eight year old daughter and, needless to say, she had A LOT of questions. For the sake of brevity, I narrowed it down to just a dozen!
Why did you spend 71 days alone on a boat?
Tez: In 2016, my father died by suicide. I decided to row across an ocean alone to process the grief. In the nearly 4 years that the project took to completion, I transformed my loss into a gift to myself and the world through the impact of the United World Challenge campaign.
Did you bring a teddy along for company?
Tez: I brought a Wilson ball, but he didn’t say much. Think he’ll stay home for Expedition 2.
Did you bring treats?
Tez: My favorites were Jelly Bellies. I would eat them one-by-one, eyes closed, imagining the flavors were the real thing.
Where’s your bed?
Tez: Inside my cabin there’s a small bunk. In rough seas, I strap myself down to the bunk and don a helmet to stay safe as the boat gets tossed around in waves.
How did you sleep?
Tez: Poorly! I slept about 5 or 6 hours per night, waking up every hour or so to check my drift and stay alert for other boats.
Where’s the toilet?
Tez: The “head” as it’s called in marine-speak is a humble bucket. I fill with a bit of seawater, sit down and do my business, and then dump overboard.
Why is your boat pink?
Tez: Why not? Pink is a delightful color. And Moderation (my boat’s name) is not just regular pink – it’s a glitter coat that shimmers in the sun. The playful color reminds me not to take life too seriously.
Do you own the boat?
Tez: Sure do! I put half of every paycheck into the project from 2017 through 2020, which helped build the boat from scratch. It’s fully carbon fiber, loaded with all specialized equipment: solar panels, chartplotter (GPS), VHF radios, desalinator to produce drinking water, and other kit to support a safe and successful voyage.
When’s your birthday?
Tez: August 13. (Yes, I’m a Leo.)
What did you eat and drink?
Tez: Dehydrated meals, protein shakes, snack bars. It gets boring, but I need to eat around 4000 calories per day, and still, I lose weight.
Do you like hotdogs?
Tez: Not a fan of hot dogs. But I really like miniature dachshunds.
What’s the coolest thing you saw?
Tez: Humpback whales breaching on Day 1, rowing out of Monterey Bay. At the end of the day, two mothers and their calves came and circled my boat, just feet away. It was magic.
Ned: Which Ned products do you use and how do they support you, particularly with regard to sleep, stress, inflammation/pain?
Tez: I am so thrilled to have discovered Ned. On land and at sea, Ned helps me rest, perform my best, and find the inner strength to pursue my boldest dreams. Ned is a fundamental part of my daily routine. I take Daily or Brain Blend tinctures in the morning, plus the Daily Capsules. I take Sleep capsules and drink Mello before bed. And I use the Relief Balm to soothe my sore muscles after training. In moments of stress, I will pull in the Destress Tincture.
Ned: Your advice to people is to “set a goal so big you have to grow into the person who can achieve it.” Tell us about your next big goal and how our community can follow along.
Tez: United World Challenge is about to embark on our most ambitious mission yet: Rowing 5,000 miles from Hawaii to Australia, solo and nonstop, to raise funds and action to help solve ocean plastic. I’ll spend 4 months alone at sea, cross the equator, and experience some of the hottest parts of the planet in the period of time they’re hotter than ever. The El Niño system is raising ocean temperatures to records on a near-daily basis, and while at sea, I’ll gather data on ocean health for researchers and scientists. If all goes to plan, I’ll reach Cairns, Australia in March 2024. To follow the journey, visit unitedworldchallenge.org and follow @unitedworldchallenge on socials (Instagram / Facebook / YouTube) .