I’m much too hot. A thin bead of sweat is dripping into my left eye. My mouth is parched. I need a drink of water, quick. Nothing would be better than to stop, dive off my stand up paddle board and cool off. But I can’t. Far off in the distance, nice little waves are begging to be surfed. Flailing away in the deep end of the ocean, I’m about to have a heat stroke. Why am I in such a big hurry? Oh yeah. It’s my first SUP race.
It was my fourth year of stand up paddling back in 2011. I had never entered a race before that day. For some unknown reason that seemed like a good idea at the time, I signed up for a small local Santa Cruz race with 50 or so racers entered. More than half of them were lean, buffed-out race vets. I was not in that half. My half consisted of people that you’d find in line at Dunkin’ Donuts. Most boards in my group were stock 12 -foot and under all-rounders with even a Costco Wavestorm or two, all garden variety weekend cruisers. We were foregoing the long 6.5 mile course for a more comfortable 3.5 miles … or so we were told.
Race day dawned perfectly sunny and glassy. I borrowed a 12-foot original Laird. The big red 12 footer was one of the first production stand up boards that made this sport popular back in 2007. We, the competitors, grouped up on the beach for the skippers meeting to go over the course. Off the beach, up the coast, out to sea, down the coast, and back home to the beach for the finish. Check, check and check. Can do. It’s good to pay attention at these little meetings.
Many years prior, my friend Big Jeff needed ballast to race his Hobie 16. I was proud that he asked me. Big Jeff stood tall, Paul Bunyan-like at 6’8”, and a legend when it came to sailing in heavy weather. the rougher the better.
Our race day was blowing a gale. Big black clouds combined with a cold, gusty wind whipped the water into a frenzy. Big Jeff was the odds-on favorite because of the gnarly conditions. The howling wind and blowing sand made it difficult to pay attention during the pre-race instructions. One long distance race with two different starts for the “A” and “B” fleets. … we got that much.
We had just a few moments before the starting gun sounded. A bit of liquid courage was needed before the onslaught. Sitting in the back of Big Jeff’s van, we both threw back a shot of 151 rum (the swill of pirates) while the van rocked and the wind howled. The alcohol boosted our bravado (and stupidity) like it tends to do in all men. Chock full of fist pumps and back slaps, we threw open the van doors to an empty beach. “What the hell?” Both “A” and “B” fleets were off the beach and underway. "No, it can’t be! They started without us? I’m sure I heard two different starts.”
Paul Bunyan and myself as Babe the Blue Ox were defeated before even getting wet. A premature hangover made worse by an anticlimax, and with heads hanging low, we shuffled back to our cars. Big Jeff and I drove home our separate ways. This dynamic duo basked in shame before any racers even returned to the beach ... no trophies, no high fives, no nothing.
So today I’m glad I listened to the pre-race instructions. I'm headed in the right direction during my first actual SUP race. The good guys on race boards are pulling ahead of the pack and blazing the trail. The rest of us kooks are playing follow the leader. With a lucky start off the beach and through the shore break, I’m in the front part of the pack. For a moment, I’m leading the “B” team! People keep passing me, but these are all good guys on fast boards. By mile two, rounding the second buoy, I see out of the corner of my eye, the distinctive blue and white tip of a Costco Wavestorm. The Stormtrooper is so close to me that I can hear him breathing. He sure got his money's worth for that chunk of foam. For 300 bucks, not only did he buy himself a board, paddle, fins, leash, soft racks and a lifestyle, but now the lead. After he passes me, I chase him until another person in the kook division passes me. This time it’s a guy in a floppy hat and wearing tennis shoes. It was at that moment I came to the realization that I don’t have to be a racer. I have the time to not be in a hurry. So, I ended up finishing in the top half of the “Senior Men’s Amateur Short Course 12 foot and Under Surfboard Class.” A lack-luster result at best.
With only one race under my belt, I proudly retire from the SUP racing circuit with no regrets. From that moment on, I leave racing to qualified people who don’t mind being in a hurry. I am now content to surf my wave SUP in fun little nuggets. If it takes 5 minutes longer to reach the surf spot across the channel, that’s fine by me. I’m in this for the long run. Like I said, I’ve got the time. Nothing but time…