What a difference a few weeks makes between The West End Loop Race and the 2014, Island to Island Waterman Challenge. The Loop was brutal slugfest wherein nature punished all of the paddlers and reminded me why the heck we do these things–it takes heart. I2I, at 32 miles, could have thrown us anything this year, but what we got was a perfectly glassy day, a great paddle battle with the 1st place unlimited team, and the overall win in under six hours.
The AlexSeal OC-1 was the perfect weapon for the day and I couldn’t ask for a better bunch of teammates…thank you Ryan Voci and Mark Urkov for hammering the paddle, as well as the pre- and after-party–total chargers (#teamthoseguys). Video and additional pictures to come…stay tuned.
Things I saw at the conclusion of The West End Loop Race: 1.) Vacant stares; 2.) Blood; 3.) Folks with hypothermia; 4.) Silly, slightly bewildered smiles. It was no cake walk to be sure. For those that thought they still had a good base and that they could throw in an easy 16 miles (myself included), well, they got their asses handed to them.
The 11:00 start set the tone for the day. At 11:05 the wind came on and didn’t stop, and the NW swell had us clawing up some solid rollers (which was about the only time I could see any other paddlers). Honestly, I’ve never come off the board more during a race in my life and I don’t know how the SUP guys did it–they looked miserable paddling most of the first 8 miles on their knees. Keep in mind, these guys are all excellent paddlers, on their knees, just surviving the first leg. At mile 6 the conditions got a bit better (we could see the turn at the end of the island), but the damage was done–attrition pulled a number of folks out of the race.
What was supposed to be a fast down-winder on the front side of the island just wasn’t. If you stopped paddling there was a good chance that you were going backward…against the wind. At 13 miles, I just had to laugh at how spent I was and, had it not been for the support boats, that were carrying extra food and water, I think a good many people would not have finished.
Crossed the line 3rd stock…but the operative phrase in this case was “crossed the line.” The Flying Fish did a hell of a job keeping everyone safe and the race proved to be one that could be technical, punishing, and on my list again for next year. Now if I can just convince them to start it a few hours earlier.
The Catalina Classic is a difficult race to recap (what, you’ve notice the delay?). I’ve never been able to write more than a few lines and post pictures–it’s just an enormous moment that comes down to strategy and performance. Throw in some foul weather and all bets are off–the race can quickly descend into a simple story of surviving with body in tact.
The 2014 Catalina Classic was, in a word, perfect. We had a veritable feast of glassy water, paddle-battles, dolphin, shark, whales, tanker drive-by, and, yes, PAIN.
Reno Caldwell’s new PR of 6:01 was a testament to both his preparation and his execution; he pushed when he needed to, stayed relaxed and happy, knee paddled with consistency and strength, and in the end put in what we all considered an inspired effort. It was a little bittersweet to come up a minute short of breaking six hours, but that’s just how it breaks. A special thanks to Tyler Resh, whose experience with going fast on a paddleboard made decision making that much more precise, and Mark Urkov, skipper of The Rough House. Mark’s focus on bringing out the best in paddlers is becoming something of a ‘thing’ among the paddling set–not to mention that he is one of the funniest guys around.
Was it hard not to be in the race this year? I thought so until about the 24-mile mark and then I watched as Suffering came to visit the faces of ALL of the paddlers that we passed. The final mile of the paddle is beyond words. Yes, there’s a crowd on the beach waiting, and boats and cheering, and even a number of photogs on pier, but there are so few paddlers who come in with the race written on their faces–a testimony to going up against your on mind and body for hour after hour. 2015 will come soon enough and I’ll be there, on the line or in a boat, because the channel keeps beckoning.
Congratulations to all the 2014, M2O competitors. Hammers…all of you.
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)