There was a moment during the 2013 Battle of the Paddle that will probably remain etched in my memory for a very long time. We were all packed like sardines 4-5 levels deep, shoulder to shoulder with our boards in hand. There were 400+ of us all waiting to hear the horn for “GO!” The sky was clear, the sun was warm and the set that was rolling in was waist high and beautiful. I felt the sand under my bare feet and the light weight of my KIALOA Hulu paddle in my hand.
That paddle and I had hundreds of hours and many, many miles of paddling together. We had surfed gnarly Pacific City in cold, chaotic waves. We’d gone up and down the Deschutes rRver through town and around High Cascade lakes all summer long. For several years I’d dreamed of being in that spot – at the start of the BOP. The stars had aligned and here I was! The usual pre-race butterflies simply didn’t hit me – I was super-charged with energy and happiness just being in the midst of so many people prepared to do a pretty challenging event. There was a possibility of a wave set hitting us all at the Hammer buoy turn, sort of like we had just seen with the elite paddlers . Whatever, I was ready!
To most, Battle of the Paddle is the race of the year. People flock to Dana Point, California to participate and watch the carnage of the elite race and to witness the top athletes of standup paddling battle it out. The event itself is one of the largest SUP races in the world with over 450 open competitors and close to 200 elite competitors. For me, it was a “bucket list” dream come true.
Suddenly the horn sounded and we were off! People were bumping boards, falling off, and running into each other. It was mayhem! I got hit from behind. I was being drafted by a guy who later told me he drafted me the entire race. That was cool since he was about 20 years younger. Did he realize he was drafting Granny? (LOL). I didn’t fall and somehow paddled up and over a few waves with a clear shot to the first buoy. That first turn was sketchy with people crowding and falling. I took a wide line far from the buoy and made a clean turn – the race was ON!
People were unbelievably friendly, apologizing for bumps, making way at buoys and generally chatting and laughing. Parents and kids on separate boards were using the event for a truly great shared experience. They were giving guidance, confidence and support when things got tough on the upwind and side chop legs. Time sped by, as did the 4.08 miles – too fast. I was savoring every moment from the feel of the waves breaking over my feet, to the pounding of my heart as I paddled hard, and the wonderful salty air and sunshine.
Before I knew it I was rounding buoy #1 for the last time and it was time for the sprint for the shore. I was shoulder to shoulder with another paddler and we were both giving it our all. A few hundred yards from shore a set came in and we both felt the first wave billow under our boards. We were ready as the second wave came up we paddled like crazy – I got it! What exhilaration to be propelled with a glassy wave all the way to the shore – holy cow!
A quick back step at the shore break allowed the wave to flow under my board, then it was JUMP ON THE BEACH – LEAVE THE BOARD, KEEP THE PADDLE AND RUN TO THE FINISH! Too soon it was over. But the epic adventure was just starting for the elite racers. With the OPEN class completed it was time for the elite finals. Spectators stood spellbound as the elite women, in their separate start, showed us what they were made of. It was absolute athleticism and SUP thrills. The elite men came next. If you haven’t followed the many videos and photos of that event Google it now! Kai Lenny, Connor Baxter, Danny Ching and every competitor gave us a show to remember.
Other dramas played out in the Open course and during the kids’ events. There were wins for all. One paddler in particular was Charles Webb. From an injury sustained in a motorcycle accident, Charlie competed as a paraplegic athlete and an “I can” champion inspiring us all. Riding out on an adaptive board, Charles Webb wheeled onto his vessel and with a nudge from the shore, embarked on the open water course. I saw him managing balance and paddling precision at the #1 buoy during the second lap of the course. Do yourself a favor and read about Charlie’s journey from rehab, to surfing to the Battle of the Paddle (article here)
At the awards ceremony I received a beautiful wooden paddle as a 1st Place trophy for my age group. I finished somewhere in the top 70% of racers – with about 300 in front of my finish and about 140 behind.
SO who won the Battle of the Paddle? You only had to be on the beach at any point during the entire weekend to know the answer. Every single person who was walking around with paddle in hand had a “win.”
Winners All! We were all part of a gathering of the best in the world and hundreds who were at their personal best. We had amazing weather, brilliant sun and epic events to watch. We took our paddles and our skills to the ocean and showed up. We put our paddles to the water and self-propelled ourselves over a course full of chaos and unknowns. We came from near and far to add our energy to a celebration of so many things we love about SUP, surfing, paddling, wind, waves, competition, tradition and camaraderie. We all won! Thanks to Sparky Longley and Gerry Lopez, the Rainbow Sandals family and all the sponsors who made the 6th Battle of the Paddle all that it is. (some stats)