So Long, 2017 Paddle Racing Season

And just like that…boom! The time changes (for most of us) and the daylight departs way too early and the stand up paddle race season is over.

For many of us in the South and Mid-Atlantic, our last hurrah of the year is the Wrightsville Beach Paddle Club’s Surf to Sound event.  It bookends the club’s season opening paddle extravaganza, the Carolina Cup.  Same venue – the Blockade Runner resort – with a similar variety of options for beginners, intermediates and elites, a mix of ocean and sound side courses and varying lengths.

It follows on the heels of the Chattjack 31 and for me, it’s how I remind myself of why I paddle and why I continue to go to races.

It’s the ohana.

I’m too tapped out from paddling 32 miles in the Tennessee River Gorge to even be serious about competing in the S2S. In fact, I started this year, took about five paddle strokes on my sup race board and decided I just didn’t want to.  I knew what was waiting inside the Masonboro Inlet and my body was telling me I’d suffered enough a week ago.  Call it Delayed Onset Post Chattajack Fatigue. And because this is just the way our ohana is, that was a good thing.  No judgement, no second guessing my decision. Just laughter and talk of getting Bloody Marys instead.  Where else, in what other sport, does that exist? Who cares about how your placed, or your time. We just love to paddle and be together.

Each year, I go to this event because it’s the last time we’ll  paddle, laugh and hug and share our passion until the next year. That’s what’s important.

Leaving at the end of the weekend is always bittersweet.

And this year, especially.

Change is coming to our local paddle community.

In some pretty significant ways.

Carolina Paddleboard Company, which has been at the heart of the Wrightsville Beach paddle world is being forced to relocate. In a dispute with landlords who seem to not recognize how much impact that small local business has had on the area’s economy, and community in general,  essentially shut down Jason Colclough’s ability to rent boards and do lessons on the commercial slip he owns and forced him out of the retail space.  After hastily moving all his inventory into his warehouse, where he’ll operate until he can find a new space, he was still at the S2S all weekend long, supporting the racers, helping folks with last minute gear needs and generally being the awesome, stoked up guy he is.

At the same time, local pro and NC native April Zilg is moving to the West Coast next week. Good opportunities for both April and her husband Corey are ushering the next chapter in the lives of these two Wrightsville Beach paddle community stalwarts. April’s career has been amazing to watch and I have benefitted greatly from both her friendship and her instruction.  If it weren’t for April, I might not have pushed myself in certain situations, like the start of my first Graveyard race in my OC, when I huli’d four times. And all I could hear was her yelling on the beach for me to GO!  Or when I didn’t want to start the Paddle Imua on Maui because conditions were awful but I went anyway because April would have.  I have learned to embrace neoprene and paddling in colder weather because of April.  There’s Facebook and texting, and I’m excited to hopefully be in some Maui races with her, since she’ll be closer to the Valley Isle. And she promised to come back for the Carolina Cup.  But things won’t be the same at the coast without her.   I’m glad I got to share some waves with her Friday.

Likewise, another Wrightsville Beach family, the Deisroths, are leaving for Hawaii.  Robert serves our country in the Army and has been reassigned. It seems like they only arrived, but in the short time they’ve lived in the area, they have been instrumental in the growth of outrigger canoeing here. They were key in building up the Wrightsville Beach Outrigger Canoe Club and in encouraging so many to try six-man and OC1.  Robert and Emily’s kids are amazing…Cameron is an accomplished paddler and photographer and Harrison has already, at age 17 made his mark on the OC world. And yet, as we’ve seen so many times over in races this season, he is the consummate sportsman. It would be real easy for someone in his position to become cocky or arrogant, but Harry paddles with Aloha and with pono,   which means that he paddles with respect.  He is a fantastic influence on the juniors and a role model for all of us. I got to share some waves with him on Friday too, And like April, I will look so forward to paddling Maliko with him next year.

Another member of the local paddle ohana is also moving – to Baltimore.  Jessica Kennedy was part of our original Vanilla Wafers training group with April Zilg.  I’ve seen her grow as a paddler, face her fears head on and demolish them.  In the Surf to Sound course Saturday, she launched off the beach for the first time in her OC and absolutely crush it.  She came in second in the entire outrigger field – male and female. At least she won’t be a continent away!

The Future of our Sport is Bright

This weekend at the S2S the Wrightsville Beach Junior Elite Team of young paddlers stood out – not only for their efforts on the water – but for their support of a fellow paddler all the way across the country.  All weekend long they “paddled for Kira” Buchanan, a 14-year-old in Oregon who has been diagnosed with a rare, rare form of cancer. They passed buckets asking for donations for Kira’s GoFundMe page, they gave TV interviews about their cause, and they touched all of our hearts with their devotion to a friend miles away.  April followed their lead and donated her prize winning from the S2S race to Kira.  Similar efforts by other groms are underway elsewhere, including Florida and in Hood River – lead there by our friend Coli Yang. The folks who coach these kids, including Erin and Eric  Carter, and others, are instilling great community values in these kids.  It’s all not about being the fastest or the best or getting on the podium at whatever cut throat cost, it’s about taking care of each other because we are connected by water.


Pains of Growth

Our sport is suffering growing pains, for sure. As more and more people decide to get into paddling and try racing, there are going to be issues that have to be sorted.  And we’ve discussed those at length here at the Mullet and will continue to do so. It’s a double edged sword – as a paddling fanatic who wants to spread the stoke and share this sport with others, I also fear that the spirit of paddling– that Aloha — will somehow get lost.  And it could,  as races grow in participation, and people bored with other types of  so-called “extreme” competition start gravitating our way.  I sure hope that our paddle ethic, that almost spiritual connection to the water and each other, is not diluted. I have never been more embraced, supported or welcomed into a community of people who do an athletic activity than the way I have been in our sport.  That’s why I race.

It’s the Aloha, y’all.


Photos by Mark Sumner, Sarah Muir Westbrook, Lisa Schell


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