An East Coaster Takes On The Pacific Paddle Games 2016

img_1997What do you do when it is time to take it up notch with competing in SUP races?….Well you sign up for the Pacific Paddle Games and that is exactly what I did.

So much excitement and nervousness built up the days before arriving in Dana Point, CA but once I arrived that vibe of a SUP community was felt throughout.  Dana Point has become a location close to my heart but that feeling was a lot stronger with the arrival of all the athletes, many who I have connection with through the SUP community back home.

Day 1 of the PPG was not short of excitement with the Pro Technical Preliminaries in both the SUP and Prone divisions.  Watching the Pros with their beach starts as they cleared the water with one jump onto their board, cut through the massive surf, and ease around each buoy was amazing and gave me a lot to digest for what I would be facing over the next couple of days.  I went to bed that night with my dreams going over each aspect of that technical race…..then the alarm went off and it was game on.

Day 2 started off with more technical racing from the Pros to the Groms, which I will say that those Groms could have taught me a lot.  It was so inspirational to see those boys and girls breaking out through the surf without hesitation.  Meanwhile, my practice session turned into a smack down by the waves of the West Coast which turned put nerves into high gear providing a lot of trembling and fear.  What did I get myself into? I am a long distance paddler not a sprinter and the waves I have been practicing on have nothing on what competitive beach like Doheny Beach had to offer.  One more practice run and my confidence was building back up.  It was time for the racer’s meeting and then we would head to water line for a beach start.  The trembling started again as I looked across at the surf building up. A It was at that moment a voice started to whisper into my ear telling me that “I’ve got this”, that calming familiar voice was my husband who always knows when and what to say to get my head back in the race.  I lined up close to my dear friend and fellow Kialoa/ Cobian Team Rider, Evelyn O’Doherty.  All she needs to do is give me that look of we can do this and I
know I will be ok.  The beach line was ready, the horn goes off and all 40 women
run into the surf ready to take on a 3 lap technical race that already has about 100 men circling the waters in their race (it was a staggered start).  As I approached the loop with my pack, we need to maneuver our way into the ebb that has already been started by the men.  My first thought is this is crazy but then I realize I need to pay attention, I need to know where my paddle is going to and make sure that my board does not hit other boards while getting around each buoy.  No problem, “I’ve got this”…I think.  Lap 1 is done, I am good and still on my board (which I add is a borrowed board and my first time using it). On to Lap 2, the waters had become choppier but we have now caused a current that is just pushing us around the course. Boards are starting to collide and racers are going down.  At this time I kept telling myself I just need to stay on the board and make it to Lap 3,  but then I realized I still have to surf into the finish on a board I am not familiar with.  Do I take my time on Lap 3 or just get it over with? Silly question… it was that moment where my competitive nature came through and I attacked Lap 3 and made that final turn around the last buoy to and the surf into the finish. The wave Gods must have heard my prayers because they were what I call “happy waves” which brought me to the finish line safely.  The second wave on my ride in was close to the shore and I rode it perfectly, but I jumped early and was struggling into the pull of the white wash. Thankfully, there was a race volunteer there who grabbed me and helped me to my feet.  I wish I had the name of that volunteer who told me to hold onto my paddle, I got you. He saved me from being pulled back by the set of waves that were about to come onshore.  Since I don’t know his name, I’ll take this opportunity to thank him and all the volunteers that made sure all of the Paddlers were helped in the surf and their boards were brought into shore.  As I ran up the beach with my paddle in my hand to the finish, I could feel the relief overcome me as I passed through the finish line……I did it!  My emotions took over as I was hugged by my fellow paddlers and then saw my husband who gave me the thumbs up and that look of I knew you could do it.  My emotions got even stronger, bringing tears of joy at the realization that I had accomplished something completely outside of my comfort zone combined with the congratulatory hug from my dear friend and mentor Evelyn.  Day 2 was complete and now I was ready to take on my specialty, the distance race.

Day 3 was an early start with the racers meeting at 7:45 am and the Open Distance Race starting at 11am.  That was fine with me as I like to have that extra time to prepare before the race starts.  The Women’s Pro and Junior Pros distance race went off first, which followed with the Men’s Pro and Junior Pros distance race. Once the pros had finished, it was finally time for over 100 + Open Paddlers to head to the starting line (3 milers and 6 milers).  As we patiently waited at the starting line, the wind and chop started to pick up, so I knew there was going to be challenge ahead of me.  Once Anthony Vela made sure we were all fairly lined up the count down began.  It was a jump up on our boards and we were off, sort of… I would have to say it was one of my worse starts ever in racing.  Between the ocean swell and the wake made by the race boards, it was a challenge to stay on the board and get a decent stroke in with some sort of form.  I was entered in the six mile race so it was going be two laps of this crazy ride.  The first leg to the first buoy turn was a side swell with a mix of wind.  Again it was a conversation with myself of stay on the board and paddle to the best of my ability.  As I approached the first buoy turn and was able to get a nice ride to the buoy, I sat back on my board to take the turn and another paddler falls right in front of me.  I got this, get around him before he gets back on that board and to ensure he does not I yell out that I am coming around don’t jump back on yet.  He heard me and backed off which was a good call as we both would have been in that water.  Coming around that bend was a blessing as we had a slight down winder which was not a break but a different type paddle.  As I headed for the second lap, I saw the three mile racers starting to head in and know I need to make it around one more time through the crazy wind and side swell.  As my mind starts arguing with the cramping in my calves from doing everything to stay on the board I tell myself that you have made it this far, and there is no turning back.  I approach the buoy to start the last leg of the six miles and I keep my eye on the surf as that is the next challenge after completing the six miles.  I make it all the way to the buoy that starts the push into the finish line and it happens, I get knocked off my board.  I made it all this way and now it happens. Now I am mad, so I get back on my board and starting sprinting in.  I turn my head to the side to check for the surf, looking for the right wave and I see it in the distance. I tell myself that this is the push I need to get in.  I set myself up for the perfect ride in so I began to paddle hard to where I could feel the lift. I got into my surfers stance and had the feeling that I’ve got this wave, and then it happens….wipe out.  I pop out of the water and there was another set coming in fast. I told myself not to panic, turn the board around and get back on quick.  I started paddling as hard as I could and it happened again however, this time there wasn’t enough time for me to stand so I came in on my knees.  It was not pretty but I was determined to get in on my own and finish what I started.  With what was left in me, I jumped off my board, paddle in one hand and my pride in the other and ran to the finish line.  All that mattered at that moment is that I did it and I was already planning in my head how my training would change.

My first PPG racing was now in the books. My results were not my best but I can only get better.  I ended up with 11th place in my age group for the Technical and 10th place in age group for the six mile race.  I will take what I learned and only improve on the areas I can do better in.  I experienced a lot of emotions this weekend, met a lot of amazing people and raced with my SUP peeps and am already looking forward to next year to come back to do it again. I could not have done all of it without the support of my husband Brett, and my dear friend Evelyn.  I also want to thank Kialoa Paddles, Cobian Footwear and MOCEAN of Cape Cod for believing in me.  This weekend was an amazing adventure and I am looking forward to coming face to face with the next adventure.

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1 Comment

  1. YOU are a ROCKSTAR! Way to go Michelle, and thank you for sharing it stroke by stroke, stoke by stoke!

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