Someone once told me that ”You’re in It until you’re not; but, you stay in It right up until that very day.” Well, this is that day.
I officially pulled out of the 2014 Catalina Classic Paddleboard Marathon. *sigh*
Honestly, it had to be done. After a few back-to-back 18-20 mile paddles, a large south swell that had me bodysurfing for 6+ hours, and the Newport Beach 2-mile Pier-2-Pier Ocean Swim, the stabbing pain in my shoulder had me wishing surgery was scheduled for later in the month. Am I bummed? Well, it’s a hard question to answer.
A fellow paddler who had to pull out of last year’s Classic due to back injury put it this way: the decision takes weeks, but the pressure and stress melt away quickly once the ‘announcement’ is made. Then, over the next week, paddling becomes fun again. He also said that watching the start (most of the paddling community helps out with the race regardless of whether or not they are doing it) was/is p-a-i-n-f-u-l. I can say this much for sure, I will be nowhere near the finish, though my respect and support go out to all the racers. So, there it is.
What next? Beer, couches and naps, kick the dog around the yard? Nah. It’s time to focus on some shorter races (Two Harbors, Island-2-Island), a bit of running, and a lot more writing featuring the amazing people who make up the paddling community. Surgery looms large in October, but that, as they say is a whole nother story. Cue the blues…
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)
F5…refresh. When I’m feeling an overwhelming need for change it usually ends up with a shaved head (mine) or some kind of cleaning house (not the actual house). It feels good to go light with an old fashion buzz in spite of the fact that my mom cries big Mexican tears that I “look like a cholo.” It also feels good to file and or delete photos from my phone, but it is not without a small moment of regret when I hit ‘confirm delete’ and watch a year of photos just vanish.
Within the last two weeks, I did both: buzz the head and delete all the images on my phone – the hair was too long and I needed space on my hand-held, life-controlling unit they call a smart phone. As a result, two things happened. The first is that any new photo that I took with a shaved head highlighted an unmistakable feature that before last year went relatively unnoticed: I have a bald spot in the front of my head. A-BALD-SPOT. Lo and behold, not a few people happened to point this out on a blog post and damned if they weren’t right. I told the wife and she laughed. I told the kid and he laughed. I, I did not laugh.
No, I am not losing my hair; yes, there is clearly a spot where no haireth doth grow, but the reason is simple enough: I have a pretty nasty scar in the front of my dome where someone threw a shopping cart on my head during a fight. (That, as they say, is a story for another post.) Whatever the case, it was obvious, looked ridiculous, and it was clear that shaving my head is no longer an option unless it’s down to the scalp and it stays that way.
Interestingly, deleting photos also came with the realization that, in some small way, I was figuratively about to leave behind a bunch of past memories. The little phone, its camera, its tiny little storage card now just sat there as a reminder that I was obliged to make and capture new memories — to fill it back up with beautiful images of friends, trips, dog photos, dumb signs, social media downloads, family, selfies for which my son would tease me, food I’ve made, and the inevitable grainy photos of the ground, my finger, space…all of which resulted from just hitting the wrong button.
It didn’t take long to realize that the scar and my hair were not coming back on the silver-dollar sized patch on the front of my head, and it took less than five seconds to delete all of the photos that I had amassed over the last year or so.
Now, I guess, I grow out the hair and let a few curls hide the landing pad…and begin to grow new memories to replace the ones that I no longer call up to explain my raison de etré. I’m okay with that.
Just be sure to duck when someone throws a shopping cart at your head…and backup the photos you mistakenly feel you won’t miss. Backup…it’s the new sunscreen.
Horsepower Weekend (Pt. 3): Arrived at The Horsepower Ranch
Had no idea what to expect at the Ranch, but it was pretty spectacular. 150+ acres that was once a nudist colony, including a great pool, several mission-style outbuildings, and a grand hall all nestled in the rolling hills above Ensenada. In a matter of hours, Todd Clement, owner of the HP Ranch and former head of Baja Wide Open Tours, had a party going for more than 150 people, including their cars, buggies, trucks, and motorcycles. Good times.