Odell Lake: The Wind is Free

John Milandin wrapping up the 33rd Annual Odell Lake downwind race

John Milandin wrapping up the 33rd Annual Odell Lake downwind race

Nestled between the peaks and tall pines of Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest, and offering a vast shoreline access to a plethora of water borne activities and breathtaking vistas, Odell Lake Lodge & Resort is every sportsman’s paradise, lover’s hideaway, and family recreation cornucopia. It’s also the home of a 33 year-long tradition of laid back, down-wind “races” across the lake -followed by tall tales, a great BBQ and warm hospitality from John and Janet Milandin.

Central Oregon SUP paddlers join surf skis, canoes, kayaks, outriggers – anything that can be paddled – for this annual event.  In windy Central Oregon we often curse the blasting winter blizzards that hit us while we ski, toss us around as we cycle and push us back as we paddle upstream in the Deschutes.  This same wind becomes our friend when we plan to let it hit our backs and give us some great glides as we paddle the 6 miles from Shelter Cove to the Odell Lodge.

In the mix of paddle craft on the water, there were 11 standup boards. That group consisted of 10 guys and one grandma (yup, me).  For the life of me I annot figure out why there weren’t 3-4 times as many SUP paddlers and at least a few dozen women.  Here’s the opportunity missed (but easy to access almost any time.  The “race” is not a competitive monster in which anyone needs to grind out a personal best time. John Milandin specifically guides the “race” spirit.

11 SUP paddlers at the start

11 SUP paddlers at the start

Go Granny! We need 15-20 women for Odell Lake 2014.

Go Granny! We need 15-20 women for Odell Lake 2014.

We all get on the water and hunt for little waves here and there to play on for a delicious 6-mile paddle. The wind always seems to bolster up a bit by mid-course, so the glides get longer and the assistance gets stronger.  If you have never tried a down winder there couldn’t be a better (and safer) situation.  Everyone is required to have a PFD and a whistle. Crash boats circle the course and watch out for wipeouts or stragglers.  The more participants the greater the chance you will be paddling for an hour or so nearby someone who’s all, “Wooohooo!!!!” after a glide. The energy is refreshing.

A number of us had so much fun that we are returning to Odell Lake on the next windy weekend with our own shuttle planned just so we can ride the glides again.

Catching a finish line wave

Catching a finish line wave

Take a look at the video below to get a sense of the spirit of fun at Odell Lake. If you are looking for the results of the”race,” you won’t find them here.  Grins and friends set the tone of the day, not times or wins. Search your local paddling community for a similar lake event this summer. Register, prepare and then go have fun. It’s a win-win for sure.

SUP, Quads and TRX

I am gaining new respect for the collection of muscles that make up the quads. After a full 5 months of paddling 90-120 minutes 5 X a week I imagined that I was in really good shape. I have been honing my technique according to insights, blogs and experts since late last spring. Driving the board forward with my legs while using the core, lats and good measure of  “reach, dammit reach ala Dave Kalama” I really believed my fitness was balanced and solid. 

The summer included down wind runs across Odell Lake and a great experience at the Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge. It was a first time for me to SUP in the Columbia River.  When the winds picked up to 30+ knots and the swells reached 5+ feet I actually felt ready. Deciding to race in the surfboard class instead of the 12’6″ raceboard class was likely a good decision.

Overall Age
1 130 Horn Todd 31 M Victoria, BC 1:34:30 0:11:07 0
2 233 Shasek Judy 63 F   1:47:01 0:12:35 12.5
3 142 Mebus Brady 17 M 1:47:18 0:12:37 25
4 231 Cunard Sam 20 M 1:47:57 0:12:42 37.5
5 253 Willems Brandon 24 M 1:49:37 0:12:54 50
6 222 Jerry Ohlson 50 M 1:50:06 0:12:57 62.5
7 143 Mebus Leanne 48 F Gig Harbor, WA 1:52:04 0:13:11 75
8 227 Thomas Mark 37 M 1:52:26 0:13:14 87.5
9 259 Rieke Anna 44 F 2:00:33 0:14:11 100

The only reason I put those results in there is to indicate that I was actually prepared and trained by late summer. Building on that training, I decided to connect with Suzie Cooney of Suzie Trains Maui to stay fit all winter and to be ready to do the Olukai Ho’olaule’a in Maliko Gulch next May. Suzie suggested we get an Indo Board and Gigante cushion and the TRX RIP Trainer.

So, on October 10, yesterday, I did my Beginner Workout with the RIP Trainer and then spent about 5 minutes doing a paddling move on the Indo Board (30 pulls each side X 5 sets). BY that night I began to feel that “sore but not hurting” sensation that indicates that a muscle has been sincerely worked. Oddly, in conventional strength training a particular muscle gets that feeling.  In this case it was a total collection of seemingly equal fatigue and muscle soreness throughout the entire quad – front, inside, and deep in the central  thigh. Oddly enough, even though I did not do any sit-ups or convention ab-work, my upper abs were also sore.

This did not happen on the first two sessions with the TRX RIP Trainer. Interestingly enough, as my skill in setting up my position and neutral back became more effective, the range of muscles engaged increased.

This morning dawned sunny and warm so I decided to head out to the river for a medium intensity 4 miles. Holy cow! Moving through my paddle stroke with care during the warm up and then with an intensity of about 60% of what a fast interval might be I could feel plenty of new muscles engaged. My quads let me know when they were working. Lats and upper abs, same thing.  It was a challenge to do this relatively easy paddle as so many areas were soundly fatigued from the past 4 days of land training.

This was great insights. As fall comes to Oregon and the freezing months of snow, ice and gray are due, it’s awesome to realize how sport-specific an exercise program done inside, in my home garage, can be. Can’t wait for the events and fun of 2013.


Showing Up – Make it Matter

By 2 PM on Saturday, July 28 2012 the winds across Odell Lake (Oregon) were cranking. White caps (big for a lake) were hammering the shore alongside our campsite. And the downwind race was over hours before.  Just after 11 am, the red calico flag waved the casual start of the 32nd year of this annual event in light winds that assured safe passage for all competitors from canoes to SUP race boards to kayaks. The spirit of this race is all about the group. While the standup paddlers were wishing for a start the coincided with the predictable afternoon winds and waves to glide on, John Milandin (the race organizer) enthusiastically ushered us into the water as he has for 32 years. And we all had a blast.

Odell Lake Pioneer Cup 2008

The light winds for the first 30 minutes or so, gave way to a more steady breeze and some fun on the growing white caps as we approached Shelter Cove for the finish.  During the race on my 11’3″ Amundson surfboard I had plenty of time for reflecting on past races since all the other SUPers were far ahead on an array of sleek 12’6″ to 14′ race boards.  I paddled hard and tried to stay with the pack, but just didn’t cut it. So with my sweat and heavy breathing came thoughts of past years and friends we miss. The first time I paddled Odell Lake with Randall, Cristina and Isabella Barna we were joined by my husband, Ed and friends including  Eddy Miller. It was just a casual practice paddle that day, a cold windy August that found us all falling in and laughing often. By the time the 2008 Pioneer Cup came around we were way more prepared. We sorely miss the joyful love of life and adventure Eddy shared in everything he did through a life cut way too short.

Over the years we all have changed, standup paddling and boards have changed, but the consistent spirit of the Odell Lake Pioneer Cup stays steady. Each year no matter where we place or what the conditions, we all know that a BBQ on the deck of the lodge will be delicious. Some years a front of the pack ribbon was part of the take-away for me. This year it was quite the opposite. After all the awards were given out John turned toward me with a mischievious grin and said, “Each year we hand out a questionably prestigious award, the ‘sightseer award,’ to the person who just sticks with it and finishes the race no matter how long it takes.” 

Me: GULP! A little embarrassing to be dead last, but when confronted with John’s pure joy in handing out the award I couldn’t help but grin. After all, I regularly write about the joy of the process of honing skills and training for more than the race results. Thinking back on how it felt to dig that last paddle stroke at the finish (woooohoooo) was pretty cool.  Like in life, simply showing up is a big part of what makes us who we are. John is one wise person to consistently celebrate that “showing up” and sticking with it to the end.

Photo by Ed Shasek

Can’t wait for next year! In the meantime, there will be plenty of training days working on getting more fit. There will be lots of camping trips and paddles with friends and family. There will be trips to surf, watch beach sunsets and wait expectantly for the “green flash.” More than that there will be plenty of opportunities to embrace life, show up, look around and make a difference. In life I have been very fortunate to be surrounded by so many people whose spirit, love of life and people in that life continue to inspire. For those of you who read this, you know who you are!

Randall Barna: Insights and Imagination

My education and 17 years in the classroom provided me with the title of “teacher” for a great part of my life.  As all good teachers know, the best learning often comes (surprisingly?) from the students.  Last week I took an early morning paddle through the Old Mill section of the Deschutes River in Bend with Randall. We talked about teaching. My first week as an SUP-er I met Randall as my husband, Ed, and I were launching our boards in the river -full of beginner trepidation and wonder.

Randall and his family happened to be paddling that evening as well.  Off went Ed, Cristina and Bella while Randall hung back and gave me 2 miles of coaching, SUP stories and exactly the confidence I needed.  It makes good sense that when we talked for this article that teaching would be a topic we discussed.

Growing up in Oregon, Randall much of his youth in, around and on the Columbia River and then during college he moved on to surfing.  His move to Bend in the 70’s did little to dampen his enthusiasm for surfing. Winters were busy with work in his ski shop, summers were constant trips to the coast for waves or up to Elk Lake for some great sailing. In time, work (as it seems to love to do) took over as a full time endeavor, so Randall sought a way to continue  his summer “surfing” without so much driving to the coast.  Luckily for him, windsurfing (which became sail-boarding) had hit the Pacific NW.

No one seemed to be leading the way in Central Oregon so Randall added sailboards to his inventory. Unlike SUP which can be taught in a few minutes – at least enough for some good fun – sailboarding took quite a bit of training. if Randall was to ever sell a sailboard he was going to have to teach each customer the skills they’d need for fun. That was usually a 5-6 lesson challenge. Sharing his enthusiasm through teaching is a constant. Randall became a certified instructor, developed curriculum, racing opps and solid community around the sport out in our high lakes. He enjoyed racing and honing his skills – so much so that he sailed in three Nationals and gained both friends, skills and a community built around another watersport.

What Randall learns from his students is that in these sports people like to gather in groups, talk story, refine skills and build a community. While Randall has the competitive drive and ambition to race, he realizes that many SUP-ers simply like to gather – building community more than building a shelf full of race trophies. You will not shake the “racer” out of Randall though. From his early days of sailing, then on to surfing, he has learned that the best way to home your sport skills and be the safest participant you can be, it pays to compete. Not to win, but to better your own level.

Randall Barna cruising to a win on his 60+++ birthday

Randall Barna cruising to a win on his 60+++ birthday

One thing Randall hopes to see more of in the community-building potential of the SUP race scene is a balanced focus on both the high-level racers and the social-just-for-fun racers.  Trophies, yes! Ranking, of course! But just as important is a great after race gathering, some opportunity to eat, maybe share a beer and story as part of the event. One example of a “race” that built community and was a powerful good time was the Bend Paddleboard Challenge. More recently in July 2013 was the 33rd annual Odell Lake Race with its own “SUP community” flavor (read more here).

Benefitting the Bend Parks and Rec’s Recreational Scholarship Fund and the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance’s efforts to raise money for the Colorado Dam Improvement Project.  It included a 2 mile short course for beginner racers and a 6 mile long course for serious racers.  It was part of the WPA NorthWest Regional SUP Race Series. What isn’t mentioned in the blog was the months of community-building, sponsor-developing, enthusiasm-building efforts of Chip and Lainey.  Take a look at the array of local sponsors who came together to make this as much fun for the families and spectators as it was for the racers.  Winner, losers, speed-racers and cruisers alike had a blast on and off the water. We all sport our shirts with the cool logo, we all (almost) won some sort of door prize, and we all gained a few new paddling friends along the way.

Randall imagines more of this for a sport that can bring almost anyone out for a few hours enjoying the natural resource that our lakes, rivers and ocean provide.