It happened again.
One of those moments during a race when I realize, with utter clarity, why I choose prone paddling as sport, if not a lifestyle, and it happened during the 2014 Rock 2 Rock. This post doesn’t get all fluffy about being a ‘waterman,’ but it certainly foregrounds why the men and women with whom I paddle ARE the sport. Not the gear, or the times, or the crappy trucker’s caps—it’s the handshakes before and after races, and the paddle-battles that make the character of paddling a misery stick so great.
Last year’s race was perfect for breaking records. This year, not so much. The wind didn’t want to cooperate, the water was pissed off, and everyone struggled. To put it into context, first place finisher, Max First (the joke writes itself), was 40 minutes off his time last year. Similarly, I went 30 minutes slower than last year…and I was part of relay with the most excellent Ruth Parish. All things the same, we should have gone much faster this year, but it was not in the cards.
Ruth put in an inspired paddle, starting, finishing, and switching out with yours truly every 30 minutes. We passed some strong competition and duked it out with Pete Bagoye for the better part of an hour (the man is a hammer). We crossed the finish in 5:16 and patted ourselves on the back for choosing this year to do the race as a relay.
The real race story, however, happened out in front of us some 45 minutes and defines the nature of the sport. Reno Caldwell (“The Redondo Rocket” – below, on the blue 14’) humbly and succinctly described his paddle-battle with two other amazing sportsmen:
R2R 2014….. Battle paddle. Mid channel. One of the most memorable paddles that I’ve ever been a part of. Pulled the guys all the way across, then they caught me and passed me in the kelp beds just off Cabrillo Point… they felt bad that they drafted me the whole way, so they stopped right before the finish line and they let me catch up. We then paddled in together… great sportsmanship and one heck of a race…!!!
Go turn on your TV. Flip to ESPN, or your favorite sports channel, and I challenge you to find another sport where the elite athletes check up at the line to wait for a fellow competitor that showed the heart of a lion. It’s just not going to happen. Cyclists, triathletes, marathoners…hell no; in fact, it’s their goal to put you away at the finish, even if they’ve been sucking off your draft since 2009. I repeat: it’s about the character of the people with whom I paddle that makes the sport and racing worth it—they have character and they are characters.
What more can I say? My Father’s Day was brilliant, with DST cheering us on as we grinded out the miles and our skipper, Mark Urkov, simply nailing race strategy. In the course of the last year, Mark has become such an invaluable part of my race program that I can’t even begin to thank him enough; but, if I ever have to paddle against him, I’m totally crossing the line in front…no quarter 😉
(Photo credits go to Joel Gitelson, Mike Jackson, and Ruth Parish — amazing images)