Australian surfs for 40 hours to smash world record, braving pitch-black seas and dodging swarms of jellyfish

Australian Blake Johnston broke the world record for the longest surfing session on Friday, fending off a swarm of jellyfish by riding hundreds of waves in 40 punishing hours.

The 40-year-old former surfing pro broke down in tears after breaking South Africa’s Josh Anslin’s previous record of 30 hours and 11 minutes.

Johnston returned to the beach in the evening to a standing ovation from hundreds of supporters who had gathered on Sydney’s Cronulla Beach to watch.

Australian former professional surfer Blake Johnston speaks to the media after breaking the record for the world’s longest surf session at Cronulla Beach in Sydney on March 17, 2023.

Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images

Wearing a black cowboy hat and wrapped in a thermal blanket, he was finally carried off the beach on the shoulders of his friends after hanging up his surfboard.

Johnston raised more than Aus$330,000 (US$221,000) for mental health, a record 10 years since he lost his father to suicide.

He rode more than 700 waves in setting the record, which is home to many species of sharks.

“I still have a job to do. I said 40 (hours) so I’ll go and break it,” he told reporters earlier in the day, after passing the previous 30-hour record.

“I’m very ripe, yes, but we’ll move on.”

Johnston ultimately surfed more than 40 hours — starting at 1:00 a.m. Thursday, using large spotlights to illuminate the water — but his official record time was not immediately known.

Under the rules of the effort, he was allowed to leave the ocean periodically to soothe his eyes with eye drops, refuel with snacks and slather himself in sunscreen.

Doctors will check his heart rate and blood pressure before he returns to the hospital.

With Sydney in the grip of a minor heatwave, water temperatures are hovering around 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit), reducing the risk of hypothermia.

Johnston had originally planned to raise money by tackling the 1,000km race, but settled on surfing when he saw that the previous record was “only” 30 hours.

“I thought I could do it,” he said before the attempt.

“I push myself to the limits with my adventures and to prove to myself that I’m capable and can get through the tough times, and that’s when my lessons are learned.”

He had expected the infected ears, dehydration and lack of sleep to push his body to its limits.

Johnston’s brother Ben said he had also prepared for the possibility of a shark attack, but it wasn’t something that worried him.

“I surfed with it at two in the morning and the lights actually went out so it was pitch black,” he told national broadcaster ABC.

“There was a whole bunch of jellyfish, so it was interesting to say the least.”

Blake Johnston surfs as he sets out to break the world record for the longest surfing session at Cronulla Beach in Sydney on March 16, 2023.

Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images

This isn’t Johnston’s first time competing in a marathon test of human endurance.

In 2020, he ran 100km along the rugged coastline south of Sydney – covering much of the track barefoot.

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