rebelling against low expectations

Abby Sunderland Makes it Home


Abby Sunderland and her family have come under a lot of criticism in recent weeks — most of it by people who have not met them and never will. We know them personally. They have our full support, prayers, and shared joy as they welcome Abby home and welcome their newest brother — Paul — to the family.

Today Abby and her older brother Zac held a press conference to tell her story and answer questions about her attempt to sail around the world. Catherine Saillant of the Los Angeles Times provides a great account:

Young Sailor Recounts Her Adventures and Defends Her Ability

Abby Sunderland says her difficulties in trying to sail around the world had nothing to do with her age

Facing dozens of cameras, 16-year-old sailor Abby Sunderland thanked her rescuers on Tuesday, recounted how she got through her most terrifying moments at sea and spoke about how her family has gotten through sharp criticism of the voyage.

Responding to those who said she was too young to sail around the world by herself, Abby defended her abilities. On boats since she was a toddler, she has worked as a crew member on sailboats piloted by her father, a shipwright, and her older brother, Zac, who made his own circumnavigation last year at age 17, before departing on her trip in late January.

After she traveled 12,000 nautical miles, her voyage was stopped only because a rogue wave turned her boat upside down and snapped her 60-foot mast, she told reporters at a news conference in Marina del Rey.

“I’ve crossed two oceans and two capes,” she said. “The questions about my age should have been done months ago…. My trip didn’t end because of something I did wrong.”

People who know Abby best say she’s always been a can-do girl. She raised her family’s 25-pound Thanksgiving turkey two years ago. At 13, she decided she wanted to sail around the world. While onboard her 40-foot-sloop, Wild Eyes, she said, she read “Do Hard Things” by Alex and Brett Harris, which rails against society’s low expectations of teenagers.

Last week, while some other teenage girls were camping outside a Los Angeles theater to catch of glimpse of the stars of the latest “Twilight” movie, Abby was on a French patrol boat making her way back to her Thousand Oaks home after her rescue at sea.

“Never much into vampires,” she responded to a question about whether she had seen any of the wildly popular movies based on the “Twilight” books.

Read the rest of the article…

A week and a half ago, we were on the set of the ‘Huckabee’ show, taping an interview with Governor Mike Huckabee. The Governor has met the Sunderland family and personally requested that we respond to the criticism being thrown at them — which we were glad to do. That interview will be broadcast on July 17th — exactly one year to the day after we posted our letter to Zac.

But we also want to speak directly to our fellow rebelutionaries.

The Rebelution movement is not about sailing around the world, but it is about raising expectations for teens. Zac and Abby and their parents share that vision. How many more lives have been wasted because of low expectations and parental neglect, than because of young people who dared to accomplish something greater — and whose parents provided the guidance and support they needed?

Juxtaposed with the story of Abby’s safe return on the L.A. Times website is the tragic headline, “Teen girl, 15, dies of suspected overdose after rave at Coliseum.” More lives are thrown away by teens failing to take responsibility than will ever be lost by teens attempting to take on “too much” responsibility.

What we said to Zac last year remains our position on feats like the ones he and Abby have undertaken. They have a place — if only to force our society to rethink their unbiblical, counter-historical assumptions about what young people can and should accomplish. If not weekend raves, if not rogue waves — what?

God doesn’t call all teens to sail around the world — but He does command us to dream, to dare, and to do. Abby and Zac are doing just that. Many of their peers are not. High-profile or low-profile is not the goal, but faithfulness to Christ and His call. From what we know of the Sunderland family, that is their goal as well.

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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • I must admit.. I’ve been waiting for the Rebelution blog to post something on Abby Sunderland, and I’m not dissappointed! 🙂 I was really dissappointed with the way that the news handled the issue, however, and with some of the stereotypes about competent teens that surfaced. Thanks so much for writing this article!

  • Abby, many people know. Some people just don’t. We admire and love you for what you’ve shown for the past months. We’re glad you’re back home with your family. 🙂

  • I am just amazed at how far Abby got on her voyage! what she accomplished is a huge feat for a young person! People should be amazed not critical.

  • Alex & Brett – Please fix link to “What we said to Zac last year”…


    Great article. Praying for you about your mom.

  • @Alex – You’re welcome. BTW: I know you’re really busy right now (and your mom needs your full attention), but when you have a chance, I sent you an email (to: feedback [at] with a list of links on the blog that are no longer valid or should be updated. I am thinking you probably haven’t checked that address for a while and wanted to mention it here.

    Thank you for promoting the movement.

  • Glad to see you praising young men and women who are strong and courageous. I’m curious though if you think there’s any difference between the call to men and women to “do hard things.” Just because a girl can do something, is it always the case that she should?

  • I saw in WORLD Magazine that she had been rescued, glad God kept her safe. I love her comment about the Twilight books. Thanks for letting us know that she is ok.

  • I was worried when the site wouldn’t come up! That was amazing what she did. I couldn’t sail a raft across a pond.

  • What Abby did was amazing. People shouldn’t tear her (or her family) down because of her age. I stand strong when I say I am proud of her and she should be proud of herself!

    But this topic brings up another question;
    How can we be sure we are doing hard things for God…or doing them for ourselves? We may think “God would be so proud of me for this” but in the back of our minds…might it be more like this? “I wonder how many people will praise me for this? No one else is doing it! Maybe I can become famous!”

    There is a difference between trying to prove that God can work through you, and that you are willing to step out of your comfort zone for HIM…and between just wanting to show off. Now please don’t think I’m saying this is Abby’s case…I don’t think in any way she was wanting to show off.

    But I know people who have held charity drives and said “It’s to show God how much I care. And to prove that I am serving HIM.” When behind closed doors, they are just wanting to be recognized, and pat on the back.

    Sadly, too many times people will “Do hard things” for their own selfish reasons. I, unfortunately, have done this a few times. But the thing I’ve learned is, God won’t bless your hard thing, unless HE is involved in it, or you are doing it to serve HIM.

    I am proud of those who are making a difference. Whether building well’s or sailing solo around the world. Good for them!

    But those of us who are still working on our hard things…remember one thing; Do it for God…and you will most definitely be blessed through it!

    God Bless

  • I have nothing against a 16 year old trying to sail around the world solo. But Abby and her team were woefully prepared. They sent her out in a boat that, in the words of an experienced sailor friend of mine, “Is the sort of boat you take out around an island for the afternoon, not across an ocean”. Sure, go and do something hard if you’re young. But be better prepared.

  • Doing difficult and challenging things is great, and taking on a daunting task well prepared to be encouraged, but that said, there should be a tangible constructive end result for taking on that challenge, and especially for risking your life.

    Life is precious, and at any age, there should be a compelling reason to risk it.

    The drive to do great and hard things is good, but the potential cost should be equal to the end result. Not just a question of age and experience, but of cost.

  • WOW! That is awesome that she is part of the Rebelution! I’ve always thought what she was doing was great, but I didn’t know that.

    I do have a question for anyone who would like to answer…

    When I see other teens do stuff like this it makes me think the hard things I’m doing aren’t “hard enough”. Abby and Zac have both accomplished amazing things while I’m (for example) just trying to reach out to a hurting girl at youth group. I don’t know… it seems like one “outweighs” the other. I don’t think it should… what do you think?

  • @Lindsay K.S. Those hard things shouldn’t outweigh each other. But in our culture, people get great publicity if they are going to do something extreme. Abby and Zac are doing a hard thing, but sometimes doing smaller hard things are way harder. Smaller hard things do not get publicity, not a lot of people praise you, so it is not as easy to do them.

    I don’t know if you have seen this post, but on the right column under the title “Do Hard Things” there is a post called “Hard Things in Small Packages”. You might want to look at it. Here is the link if you can’t find it.

  • I think that’s really cool! I haven’t heard about Abby yet and thanks for posting her story. I think it really cool what you accomplished and disagree with all the criticism.

  • I think Abby handled the situation very well. I have been reading her blog, and she was always very humble. She also never said anything bad about her team (even after the accident). I am also very mad at the way the media portrayed the incident

  • What a great post! It is really ridiculous that society thinks that teens are of little value. It is important that the church recognizes that we are the church of today, not tomorrow! Teens can do amazing things if they are in it for God!

  • Abby is an awesome friend! I know her, and was at the pier when she was sent off. She absolutely is capable of completing the voyage around the world (as dangerous as it is) due to her training, experience, and mental strength. Just because this attempt was thwarted doesn’t mean she isn’t a skilled sailor.

    Love her!! She is an inspiration to us all! She reminds us that teens should take responsibility for their actions and attempt hard things (both small and large).

  • You go, Abby! She’s a great example of a teen who steps out and takes charge.

    I read the comment section of an article on her I found on Fox News website and it was filled with people trashing homeschool families and accusing her father of using her to make money. It was horrible, and I hope she’s not listening to those trash talkers. It just shows how much they know about people who dare to raise the bar.

  • A lot of my friends tell me that her parents are jerks, and just wanted glory for themselves. Others tell me that it’s the Dad’s job to not let his kids do dangerous things, cause according to the Bible, he’s supposed to protect them. I’m new here, but I think that it’s similar to driving. When your parents think that you are mentally, physically, and spiritually ready, they let you go get your permit. You don’t drive by yourself till you’ve had at least a year of driving “training”. Abby had more experience on a boat than most 20+ year old drivers. Her parents are awesome christians, and would not have let there daughter go around the world unless she could handle it.

    I do admit that her parents could have been better prepared incase of an emergency, disaster, or rescue, but the fact that her boat flipped, broke her mast, and then she righted it herself and survived till help arrived really proves her experience and training.

  • I was soooo scared for her when I found out that she was circumnavigating by HERSELF. I know my parents would NEVER let me do that…. But i’m praying for her.

    @Lindsay K.S. I think that what you’re doing is great! (the girl in the youth group) And it shouldn’t outweigh the other. Sometimes doing “smaller” hard things is harder to do than “big” hard things…. Hope I helped!

    Love in Christ,

  • ok, so this is really COOL! but I still got a question.
    why did she sail?? I don’t want to sound critical, I’m just wondering…a lot.

  • Is there any way that we can contact her and let her know that we are praying for her? She is facing so much criticism right now, it would probably be nice to have an encouraging note. 😉

  • I would like to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this site. I am hoping to view the same high-grade blog posts from you later on as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has encouraged me to get my own blog now 😉

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →