For those who have not been obsessively scouring Paddleguru waiting for a local race to pop up you may have missed out on the Friday Night Brights race at the Newport Aquatic Center this past Friday. Now, if I’m being honest, I missed racing so much that the listing on Paddleguru could have said that we would race on inflatable rubber ducks in a puddle in the parking lot and I still would have signed up. Fortunately, however, I got to use my Starboard Sprint that hadn’t seen a race since I bought it the first week of March 2020. As promised, the race was informal, no awards and no shirts, but still organized and well run. In a rare paddle race feat it even started on time. The course, for those who never attended a previous Friday Night Brights, is a fun five miles from NAC to Linda’s bridge that, at least on June 11, saw up, side, and downwind bumps and the occasional boat swell from a wayward direction to help keep you on your game. Additionally, the free burgers from the TK food truck were just as good as one could hope.
As great as a Friday night race can be, it was not the well planned course or the weather that made this memorable. The first time I ever entered a SUP race I was amazed at the combination of competitiveness and camaraderie that was almost palpable as you walked around the beach waiting for the race to start. Everyone was happy to see each other, but it was also clear that everyone was there to compete, and that plenty of high level athletes were on the beach ready to unleash their weeks/months of training post starting horn. Never has this been so apparent as it was on Friday night. I could hear excitedly raised voices of greeting even before I got out of my car. Since I live pretty far inland I got to see friends I hadn’t seen in over a year, but there were plenty of OC natives greeting others with happily raised voices and smiling faces that were clear from across the beach.
As was expected, however, this all shifted as we moved to the water. Like any water start, the start line was pretty malleable as we all took half strokes to try to gain a little advantage before the whistle. Then the whistle came, the craft took off and the churn of all the paddle strokes and boat wakes were everyone’s main concern. All the thoughts I hadn’t had in over a year came back. Did I want to try and catch up with that draft train of four teenage/twenty somethings? What kind of pace can I maintain? Am I allowed to draft off this OC-1 in front of me even though I’m on a SUP. Then that rhythm that is equal parts pain and joy set in as I found my place and my pace and remembered why paddling has taken up so much of my brain for so much of my life. There were definitely some bright spots throughout. Not falling off my 21.5 inch wide board in the side chop, trying to chase down the silhouette of the OC-1 that passed me as we turned into the setting sun. (I didn’t catch him, I came close though), finishing and seeing my buddy who I paddle with every Wednesday look as happy as I was to return to racing, and of course, that burger at the end.
In case you all had any doubts, racing is just as fun as you remembered it. I look forward to seeing you all out there, and to the guy in the surfski I bumped into early in the race I’m still sorry. I caught a funny wake and lost myself in the excitement a bit.
(Image and video credit to Kristin Thomas of KT Outside. Thank you!
Team Writer Bret Warner - Paddling truly got its hooks into me when I, on a whim, watched the 1999 Santa Cruz Paddlefest with my dad. I had kayaked a little before, but from then on the addiction was palpable. My first kayak, a purple and turquoise Necky Rip, came soon after. The following year I was that kid at UCSD who had a surf kayak in the common study area instead of a surfboard in my dorm room. I also taught sea kayaking all through college in San Diego, and up in Santa Cruz after I graduated.
When SUP came around, however, the paddling addiction became even more rabid. The garage started to fill up with different types of boards, and is now more than half full of hollow wood boards I have built myself,both for environmental reasons, and because it’s awesome to get to talk about how you built your own board when people ask you about it after a race. I love the paddle racing scene in California right now. Everyone is so stoked to be on the water competing, and the fierce competition is matched by the smiling faces when the race is over. I have gotten to paddle crafts that I never really considered before, and can see myself getting hooked all over again on something else: prone, OC-1, surfski,whatever, I just need more garage space.
Three years ago I founded the non-profit Stand up to Alzheimer’s. An organization that raises money and awareness for Alzheimer’s research through paddle races. This organization was born from lacking a tangible way of dealing with my father’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s, but has now become a way, hopefully, for other to help cope as well. Our next event is on July 9 in Monterey at Del Monte Beach, just a little north from Monterey Bay Kayaks. Visit us at www.sup2alzh.weebly.com.