A row for the world.
A row for our oceans.
A call for transformation.
Our mission is to accelerate solutions for ocean innovation and inspire a more courageous world.
The United World Challenge?
Have you ever experienced something so special, you knew you had to share it with others?
That’s how I felt after spending two years at the United World College (UWC) of the Adriatic in Duino, Italy, where alongside peers from 85 countries, I received a full scholarship that changed my life. And ever since graduating in 2006, I dreamed of passing the UWC experience on to new students.
That’s why ten years later when I decided to row solo across an ocean, I founded the United World Challenge and dedicated the expedition to raising scholarships for new UWC students.
But I also realized the United World Challenge could grow into something much larger.
My journey with depression and endurance sports taught me that we all have an “ocean” we face – a challenge that seems too daunting to dare attempt. I thought by rowing across an ocean, and sharing the honest story, I could inspire others to find their ocean and the courage to cross it.
After four years of preparing for the United World Challenge, I left Monterey, California, on July 3, 2020. For the next 10 weeks, I rowed up to 12 hours per day, until I touched land in Oahu, Hawaii on September 11, 2020, becoming the first person ever to row this treacherous route with no prior sailing or rowing experience. For comparison, over 5,000 people have climbed Everest. 11 people have walked on the moon. Only 9 have solo rowed to Hawaii, including me.
The United World Challenge isn’t over yet. Stay tuned for a major announcement later this year.
The Ripple Effects of our Impact
2020 Expedition Impact
A Glimpse into the 71-Day Saga
3 Life Lessons the Journey Taught Me
Stage 1: The most challenging month of my life
Day 1: I rowed out of Monterey, CA at midnight on July 3, 2020. When the sun rose six hours later, I watched humpback whales breach in every direction, while superpods of dolphins swam beneath me. It felt like a magical welcome, but the day ended with an ominous feeling – as if, now that I had a taste of what the ocean could offer, I had to prove my commitment to endure the challenges ahead.
Day 3: Extreme weather rolled in, and in a twist of fate my phone factory reset in my pocket. I lost all my music, photos, and audiobooks. I desperately wanted to turn back. The sea state was becoming dangerous, and besides, how could I cross an ocean without music?
With waves crashing and winds whipping, I lost control of my boat and took shelter inside my small cabin. I spent Days 3 through 7 strapped down to my bunk with a helmet on my head – like living inside a washing machine tumbling down a never-ending staircase.
During the mayhem, a key part of my steering system broke, my storage hatches flooded, and water began pooling in my stern cabin.
I kept thinking, there’s no way I’ll make it to Hawaii. I’m a failure and a total embarrassment to everyone who supported me. I should just quit and try again next year after I’ve had more time to train.
Day 7: I encouraged myself to keep an open mind, and I began rowing again. But soon, I faced a week of counter-currents that pushed me backwards when I rested, and then my rowing seat broke. I faced obstacle after obstacle.
Every day in the first four weeks, doubts and demons raged inside me, shouting at me to go home before it’s too late. Whenever I woke up from sleep, I began to cry as soon as I remembered my situation.
But I knew I could choose to listen to my doubts, or replace them with something else. So I started to tell myself — out loud:
“I can quit, but not today.”
You know that voice that tells you to just give up? It can be so convincing. You’ve probably experienced this yourself – you’re working so hard and not seeing any results.
But then all of a sudden, you get a glimmer of hope. And that grows into a flicker, and then a small flame. And you keep going, keep investing, and eventually the fire rages and even lights others up, too.
As I shifted my focus to the present moment, something surprising happened: I began covering more ground. And finally after one month, I started to enjoy being at sea.
That’s the result of compounding impact. When you show up every day, you will surpass your wildest dreams. Your effort compounds into exponential growth – and then nothing can stop you.
When we show up every day we compound our impact.
Stage 2: Turning Point
Ever since a bolt snapped in my rowing seat on Day 15, keeping the seat in motion presented constant challenges. I used scrap wood, spare bolts – anything to keep moving. But my repairs often lasted a day or less. And time was running out. The seat’s bearings were grinding to dust, and I didn’t have spares.
Day 45: I got a wild idea: what if I could make new parts from scratch? I got out my camp stove and began boiling strips of plastic, then shaped them into new bearings, one by one.
And as crazy as this idea was, it actually worked! The new bearings lasted days, and I had enough plastic to make dozens more. Suddenly, a massive cloud was lifted from my experience – I no longer had to MacGyver my seat – I just had to row!
From that Day 45 onwards, although tendonitis, salt burns, and bone-deep fatigue were my closest companions, I loved being at sea with all my heart.
And most of all, it was no longer a matter of if I would reach Hawaii – it was a matter of when.
When we turn the challenge into a game, we tap into a wellspring of creativity
Stage 3: Understanding Our Gem
Whenever I felt overwhelmed by the enormity of my task, I reminded myself to find the beauty. And beauty in the ocean is everywhere.
The first time I saw true Blue Ocean, with light streaming down hundreds of feet into the clearest water on earth, I just cried. I realized: we live on a gem. A living gem. That moment inspired me to keep going. I have to share this with others, I told myself.
And as I rowed on, my relationship to the “Challenge” evolved. I thought the mission was to cross the ocean. But after months alone at sea, I realized the true challenge is to follow the ocean’s example.
Before my row, I thought of the ocean as some dark, dangerous mystery. Something to fear. But while alone with the ocean for 71 days, I came to realize the ocean is so much more.
The ocean is not only fierce and powerful – but also soft, gentle, and caring.
The ocean’s not only relentless, but also patient and giving.
The ocean’s not only demanding, but also generous beyond words.
When we follow the ocean’s example in how we live, we tap into a whole new paradigm for courageous action.
Finally, after more than ten weeks alone, I reached Hawaii as a new person and with a lifetime of stories and game-changing insights. And I can’t wait to share them with you.
The greatest challenge is to embody the ocean.
Hi! I’m Tez Steinberg, Chief Engine Officer of the United World Challenge, and a passionate social entrepreneur, storyteller, and endurance artist.
If you’re new to “endurance art,” it’s my craft of weaving together adventure, business, storytelling and social impact to create a better world.
To support this work I call upon 14+ years as an ultra-endurance athlete, a long background in theater and multimedia communications, and deep experience in management consulting and organizational partnerships.
My leadership has been recognized by some of the world’s foremost organizations. I’m a Global Shaper alum of the World Economic Forum, former Fellow of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and an active member of NEXUS Global and The Explorers Club of New York (famous for members such as Teddy Roosevelt, Neil Armstrong and Sylvia Earle). I have 5 years experience leading complex projects with Deloitte Consulting, 8 years experience founding and growing my own social enterprises, and an MBA from London Business School.
My career’s “North Star” vision is to create positive social impact and maximize growth opportunities for myself and my teams. As a result, I’ve honed a potent set of mental and leadership skills that can support anyone’s journey in work and personal life.
Whether I’m speaking to 3,000 business leaders or a small group of entrepreneurs, I aim to move each audience from ambition to action in pursuit of their most audacious goals. Packed with poignant stories and actionable takeaways, Tez Talks are an audience’s opportunity to embrace the unknown and radically elevate their team’s and organizations’ performance.