Cali Paddler welcomes back awesome Team Writer Tiffany who took a trip to South Lake Tahoe to see what racing on this famous location was like. Altitude. Fresh Water. Fun crowd. Amazing scenery. If you weren't there, see what you missed. If you were, well...relive it!
As I headed up to Lake Tahoe in the early hours of the morning - 4:15am to be exact - on the day before the first Tahoe Sup Series race of 2016, all I could think of was the lakes majestic blue and green waters. I had only been to Tahoe with my parents when I was maybe eight, so this in many ways was my first time getting to experience Tahoe. For those who have made the 8-10 hour drive you know it’s a long one but so worth it. Side note – it’s a crap shoot trying to drive there in the summer as many highways have construction going on to repair the roads from the winter and wild fires can be an issue causing long delays and/or detours.
Race the Lake of the Sky is the usual race held at the South Lake Tahoe waterfront, but was cancelled/postponed till next year due to many different reasons. But that didn’t stop over 50 racers from showing up to do the monthly summer Saturday series race AKA “ The 6th Annual Gathering of The Tribes”. Chris Brackett, owner of South Tahoe Standup Paddle store put on a fabulous race, with a full spread that one would expect at a BIG race even though it was considered a small race to those who are experienced racers. As someone who is still new to the race scene of SUP paddling, this was the first time for me to not only race at elevation but to be in fresh water racing as well.
The race venue is a one of a kind; participants had a beautiful view of the lake as they raced. Spectators had the choice of watching from the stadium style seating leading down to the sandy El Dorado beach or from the warm waters on the long shallow shelf 1-3 feet deep. The water on the South Shore along the shallow shelf was a warm 75-80 degrees but paddle to the dark green and blue waters and it’s a brisk 48-55 degree water temp.
As the race time approached, racers were warming up the muscles but some of us decided to cool off in the waters before we started; even at altitude in June the air temps were in the low 80’s mid-day. Our pre-race meeting was a gathering in itself, many people already knew each other but we saw some new faces and we said our hellos. A few people had not raced at Tahoe before making it all the more exciting and less pressure, as this was a much smaller venue than other races. Over 60 racers, along with many families and friends took note of the race course of 2.5 laps, which also included a lot of out and backs with quite a few buoy turns. Before we all headed to the water, a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner was sang and our military men and women were honored, and the hoots, hollers and cheers could be herd a ways away.
Everyone who was racing gathered up their boards and paddles and walked out to knee deep water, the shallow waters were cleared out for the racers on the course. Yet many onlookers were standing in the cool waters cheering the racers on for a good part of the race. The race began as usual; the fastest front-runners took the hole shot. With almost half of the racers from Southern California’s Performance Paddling Training group on the water, it was no surprise the leaderboard included Dale Marnati, Kristin Thomas (Cali Paddler rider), Mel Wygal, Terri Plunkett, Bill McGrath, Mick Vollmer, Jason Meffe, Kathy Lynch and from South Lake Tahoe Luca Genasci (who took first overall) and Josiah Brackett (second overall) gave the SoCal ladies and gents a run for the bling… and the trophies were beautiful! The Great State of California had a very strong showing at the race, 22 from Southern California, 9 from Northern California, and 9 from the local Tahoe area! Racers also traveled in from Nevada, Florida, Illinois, Alaska, Puerto Rico and Brazil!
The race venue was one of the most beautiful settings to race in, and since it was all within a quarter mile of the start finish, we could see our competition as well. Anthony Vela was announcing the race and giving a full play-by-play of the entire race, along with some singing to the music at times, but who could blame him, it was a great playlist. Everyone who raced had a much longer race than we anticipated; we were all told it was a 2.5-mile race. It was 2 ½ laps and was almost 5 miles – talk about a lung buster for those who live at sea level… Overall everyone was glad they did it and learned even on short races at elevation, water is key.
The new location for South Tahoe Standup Paddle shop was doing its grand opening on the same day as the race, and so fitting the after party was there. Revive Coffee & Wine shares the walls with the Standup Paddle store (same owners) and a delicious spread of Chicken, salad and pasta was part of the race ticket. Nothing like a gourmet home cooked style meal after a long race. As we finished up a great meal, chatting with friends and making new ones, award winners were announced. The Southern California peeps took a hard sweep of the awards, 26 of them and the Performance Paddle crew took 11 awards home… So we can say a testament to Anthony Vela’s paddle training regiments :-). The Cali Paddler Tribe had a great showing as well, and also took some podium spots as well.
Jonas Letieri from Brazil was the inspiration of the event, and at every race he has paddled at. A few years ago he was volunteering at his local church, while working on a roof an electrical malfunction sent a shock so great through his arms and burned them, that lead to amputation of both arms bellow the elbow. Jonas had a special paddle made to allow for his arms to rest into two rings on each side of the shaft. This newly designed handle has allowed him to paddle and not only can he paddle, he is a force to be reckoned with! Jonas took 4th place in the 12’6 men’s category and he was up against some very fierce competition. Jonas received the most inspirational award for the event and for good reason, you never see the guy without a smile! He is just full of life and just wants to live it everyday to its fullest and gives all his Glory to God.
This was the first of the Saturday Sup Race Series that will take place the rest of the summer. If your up for a lung buster and some of the most beautiful paddling the shores of California can provide, I would recommend doing a race at Tahoe once if possible.