[ We have wondered about this race for years. And with the wonderful experience recap below by Team Ambassador Loraine Gruber, we now have an idea about the vibe and scene is like. All craft, rippin wind, point-to-point? Sounds pretty epic! ~CP ]
I’ve not been this anxious or nervous about a paddleboard race as I was before this past weekend’s Davenport Downwinder, an iconic event organized by the Ghostryders Waterman Club out of Santa Cruz. The 14-mile race starts in Davenport Landing and heads south, finishing alongside the Santa Cruz Wharf. It is a true community event supporting the Santa Cruz Junior Lifeguards and bringing together all types of paddlers...prone, stand up, surfski and OC1.
For years I’ve heard stories about the epic and challenging course, with extreme cold water temps, great white shark sightings and a high caliber of competitors. Driving with Wally Buckingham, my partner, from our home in Cardiff by the Sea up to Santa Cruz, my stomach was topsy-turvy and my mind kept running in circles, was I ready for this race?
Not having raced the Davenport Downwinder in the past I really didn’t know what to expect. The night before the race, we met up at the Ideal Bar & Grill with the Ghostryder crew, Joe Bark and a bunch of competitors, including my buddies with North County Paddlers. Everyone provided much needed encouragement, sharing stories about their experience racing Davenport and info about the course. Wally told me to “trust my training”.
[Competitors gathering before the race]
Race Day! The race doesn’t start until 1:30 in the afternoon...when the winds pick up. All I kept hearing all day was how much the wind was nuking and how epic conditions would be. We loaded everyone’s boards in the Surftech van and the NCP crew in Wally’s SURFUBR minivan and drove up to Davenport, getting eyes on the course for the first time.
Carrying my Surftech/Barkboard Commander Lite Ghost Carbon prone paddleboard down to the beach, I could feel the excitement building, and it was infectious. I knelt down to strap on my Garmin and put bottles in my water bottle cage, glancing at the nose of my board with its Ocean of Hope sticker and six butterflies representing loved ones who had passed from cancer. I was reminded that the race wasn’t just about me...as an Ocean of Hope team ambassador I paddle to send hope and support to those living with cancer and engaged in the cancer battle.
[Loraine and her board on the beach at race start.]
When the race director gathered everyone together for our pre-race meeting, he emphasized the challenging conditions, saying not everyone would start and not everyone would finish. And if anyone signed up for the race felt overwhelmed and not confident about their abilities or the conditions, he advised they shouldn’t start and they would still get their race shirt! I watched a couple of guys grab their boards and walk off the beach. Not me! I knelt next to my board, looked first at the Ocean of Hope sticker and then out to the ocean, and I dedicated my race to support and give hope to Kim, Gerhard and Grant, friends who are currently battling cancer.
The countdown began and starting siren went off! I ran off the beach at Davenport Landing, hit the water prone paddling as fast as I could fighting a cross current to get out past the waves, and began heading south to the Santa Cruz Wharf. Winds were firing from the north at 15-20 mph and gusting to 30, with three to four foot waves pushing behind me. The water was cold, and I realized that I should have worn thicker neoprene. I looked up as I hit the first mile and realized that I wasn’t the last paddler and was in the mix with a few other guys on prone and stand up paddleboards.
[Prone and SUP board race start]
Pushing on, I navigated the unpredictability of the wind and waves, much like cancer patients navigate through their diagnosis and treatments. I relaxed, found my paddling groove, and started riding bumps, watching as my Garmin speed increased every time I caught a wave … first 6 miles, then 7, 8, 9 and even over 11 mph! Wow, this was fun … albeit freezing cold! I was even able to link a few runners!
Keeping pace with three other prone guys, the camaraderie on the water was awesome. Miles ticked by, and we all got rolled off our boards by the big swell several times. We never saw the support boat and kept checking in with each other to be sure we were doing okay. I never really warmed up, and didn’t stop paddling, determined to finish the race. Soon I saw the spire of the Santa Cruz Surf Museum and the kelp bed outside Steamer Lane. It was just two miles to the finish!
Endorphins were off the chart as I paddled along the Santa Cruz Wharf. As I drew near the beach, I could hear Wally screaming “Go Loraine”. Finally hitting land, I was freezing and shivering as I ran up the beach and through the finish line to be congratulated and enveloped in a warm Joe Bark and Reno Caldwell bear hug!
[Top two female prone paddleboarders, Marisa Kuiken 1st (right) and Loraine Gruber 2nd (left)]
The after party at the Ideal Bar & Grill was a blast, sharing stories of an epic day on the water and celebrating with margaritas. I was stoked not only to finish in second place for women prone paddlers, but to win two raffle prizes: a REVL camera... AND...a free entry to next year’s Davenport Downwinder. YES, I will be back!
Huge thanks to the Ghostryders Waterman Club crew and volunteers for an awesome event! And congratulations and hats off to all racers!
- Full 2018 Davenport Downwinder race results at: http://www.finishlineproduction.com/ResultsFiles/2018%20Results/DownwindRyderCup.htm
- Visit the GRWC facebook page for race photos at https://www.facebook.com/ghostryders/
- Team Ocean of Hope’s mission is to raise much needed funds for The Sarcoma Alliance, who provides free of charge services to those battling cancer by assisting them to find the guidance, education, support and crucial second opinion grants. Donations are appreciated and can be made at https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/ocean-of-hope-team-2018/lorainegruber
All photo credits and gratitude to Ghostryders Waterman Club.
About Loraine Gruber (Cali Paddler Team Ambassador) - For Loraine, any day spent on the water is a good day. An avid outdoor woman, Loraine discovered stand up paddleboarding while living in Colorado. As a Pisces and water lover, the feeling of reconnecting to the water in the landlocked Rocky Mountains was amazing and brought back memories of growing up playing in the water on Long Island, NY.
In 2013 while in California for a business trip, she raced the Battle of the Paddle at Doheny State Beach. Paddling through the surf for the first time, she discovered the Pacific Ocean’s vast playground. Paddling with dolphins and seeing her first whale spout sealed the deal.
Less than two months later, Loraine loaded her board on her car and moved to Cardiff by the Sea, California. She surfs both regular and stand up paddle, and her favorite breaks are Cardiff Reef and SanO. Loraine is an avid prone paddler, training with North County Paddlers and has set the Hanohano Huki Ocean Challenge, the Carolina Cup Graveyard 13 miler, the Jay Moriarity Memorial Race, and the Chattajack 31 as her goal races for this year. She recently started 6-man outrigger canoe training with the Hanohano Outrigger Club. Loraine has been team ambassador with Ocean of Hope for the last three years, raising money to support the Sarcoma Alliance and the sea of people affected by cancer.
With over 20 years of experience working in marketing and event organization for the outdoor, snow and paddlesports industries, Loraine feels extremely fortunate to have married her lifestyle with her career and share her passions to positively influence others to get outside and on the water to play.