The Carolina Cup: It’s the People, Stupid
Races grow, hopefully. And with growth comes change. As more and more people discover SUP, more and more of them are discovering that there is such a thing as SUP racing. And with that comes new blood and a new vibe to events that have been pivotal in the development of our community. But one thing remains the same, the spirit of Aloha. You find that in the Joes and Jane Paddlers. You find it with the seasoned racers who’ve been in it from the start and who understand it’s connection with the Joes and Janes that make these events unique.
Graveyard Did Not Disappoint
You could definitely find it on the beach at the Blockade Runner this past weekend.
I’m not going to recap the Graveyard elite race – you can find detailed accounts of that and the list of winners (Michael Booth and Sonni Honscheid) here. This year, I chose not to race, wanting to focus on the downwind races this week and next on Maui. That gave me the opportunity to stand back and watch. It was nice for a change, not to feel the anxiety of the race start. At least not personally. On the beach at the start of the Graveyard, facing a stereotypical gnarly shorebreak, the energy was electric. You could definitely feel it vibrating up through the cold sand through your feet. While it was amazing to see the pros charge those waves – especially Starboard’s Fiona Wylde who was in total Hood River beast mode – it was inspiring to see people I have trained with and commiserated with all winter long hit the water with as much determination and grit as the pros. Their finishes were just as exciting, just as meaningful, and perhaps in some ways, so much more triumphant. Seeing the faces of Nathan, Rob, Ken, LouAnne, and 15-year-old Dylan Geiger as they came up the beach and through the gantry, priceless, just priceless. They, and so many others, are my heroes.
Harbor and Money
On the other side of the Blockade Runner resort – which is rapidly becoming one of the best paddle event host sites on the planet thanks to General Manager Nicholas Montoya – the energy and excitement in the Harbor Island and Money Island courses was just as palatable. This is the place where the first time racers dip their blades into the water and get a feel that is every bit as challenging and difficult to them as the Graveyard can be for more advanced paddlers. They feel the current/tide and wind too. And their battle is just as hard and their finishes just as valiant. Watching a friend of mind who I helped figure out her stroke get a great first race time was thrilling.
Same with Money. I saw so many friends crush that course. I got to stand on the dock and cheer them on as they came into the finish. I saw the Mullet himself get a personal best on the Money Island course in his surfski. He did it in 57 minutes and some change. The smile on his face….also priceless.
Sunday OC Fun Day
One of the biggest changes this year was the running of the longboat Graveyard race on Sunday. and starting from the flatwater, not the beach. Yes, it was a bit disappointing not to see the outriggers and skis hit the waves with everyone else, and yes, the crowd watching the end of the race was thin, since many folks had to leave Sunday. But that bit of scheduling did allow people who race both SUP and OC to participate in both. And, as someone who knows first hand how frustrating, scary and hard getting a 20 foot canoe out through that shorebreak, it’s a welcome change from the beach start. April Zilg crushed it in the OC, much to the delight of her hometown fans. Seeing Travis Grant and Danny Ching battle it out sitting down was a thrill, too. But again, there were local folks racing too, and watching them triumph on that challenging course and seeing the smiles on their faces at the end – well, that’s when I felt the first tinge of regret that I didn’t paddle that day.
And the best moment of the day, if not the entire weekend? Seeing John’s daughter Stella run across the beach and grab her daddy’s hand and run across the finish line with him.
That, my friends, says it all.
As I got in the car to make the two hour drive back home, seeing my paddle ohana so stoked has renewed my commitment to train. I may not want to do as many flatwater races as I one did, but I am addicted to the stoke. And I am encouraged and inspired by the determination and grit of all the warriors who took the water this past weekend. I don’t want to let that go.
And I hope that stoke never goes away.