Midwest Paddle League Heads North: The 45th Parallel Paddlefest

by Harrison Withers

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We all have an idea of what the North Pole is like, cold, snow, Santa, and reindeer. Similarly, we have an idea of what the equator is like; miserably hot. 

But have you ever thought of what is halfway between?

If you follow the 45th parallel to where it intersects the west coast of Michigan, you’ll find yourself in the Traverse City area, and what you will find is nothing short of breathtaking natural beauty.

It’s where Lake Michigan meets land in the northern part of lower peninsula, in a jagged series of bays, lakes, and islands. The water cold, blue, and clear. The shoreline a mix between white sugar sand and jagged granite rock. The land, a lush hilly landscape of forest bliss. 

This is where Michigan goes to play. The Traverse City area is home to one of the country’s leading Cherry producing regions, and along the way they discovered that grapes grow pretty well too, making this area Michigan’s equivalent to NAPA valley. In addition to wine, Michigan’s strong brewing culture has made the area home or second home to craft brewers of both beer and cider.  

It is a mecca for sailors, boaters, and beachgoers and also has an incredible biking culture that spans both on pavement as well as an extensive system of mountain bike trails.

This is the home of the 45th Parallel Paddlefest, a multi-disciplinary event featuring paddle craft of all types, as well as a duathlon for those who want to cycle and paddle. The event is the brainchild of Dan Novak, who has been working to build the paddle scene in in the area since 2014.

While the race mostly draws people from the area, and regulars from the Midwest Paddle League, the location and amenities alone position this event well to become a destination event as soon as people catch on to how fantastic of an event it is.

The weekend started out right, with a Friday night gathering and social paddle on the grounds of the Jolly Pumpkin Brewery and Restaurant located on the Old Mission Peninsula. The peninsula is a 19 mile long, 3 mile wide, wooded out cropping the divides Grand Traverse Bay into the east and west bays, and culminates at the Old Mission Lighthouse, an 1870 built lighthouse that reminds us days gone by.   Bluebird sky and 70-degree temps only added to the picturesque scenery. Sutton’s Bay Bikes was on hand offering free paddle board rentals to members of the community. A fair group of racers where on hand to provide tips and tricks to the newbies and demo each other’s equipment. As the sun went down on the longest day of the year, paddlers retreated to the restaurant to enjoy excellent food, some of the best beer Michigan has to offer, and even better company.

The race itself was held in Sutton’s Bay, a protected cove off the west bay. The grounds where a city park with plenty of parking and clean bathrooms. Surfboard shaper and DJ Otto Bengsch was on hand with his Lion’s gate Soundsystem, to fill the air with sweet roots and dub reggae. 

To say race day was perfect, would be the understatement of the century. 

Dan Novak, race organizer, commented at the racer’s meeting: “All of you (the participants) deserve these conditions” making reference to rough, cold, and rainy spring Michigan has experienced. He went on to thank the volunteers and fellow organizers, whose efforts clearly showed in this well-run affair.

Mid 70’s with 0-3mph winds and minimal boat traffic, meant the day’s racing would be fast. The course was a simple 2 buoy affair, 1.5 mile straight across the bay and back for the 3-mile racers and duathlon competitors, with the 6-mile racers doing 2 laps.

There was a single start to the race, with all competitors leaving at the same time. SUP racers started on the beach with Surfskis, kayaks, and out riggers with a tail touching.

Video of the start can be found here courtesy of Amelia Hasenohrl.

The race was without incident and fast.  There was little in the way of drafting as most choose to make their own way. The top two finishers had a great battle finishing within one second of each other. Eventual race winner was Brett Schepman, followed closely Wes Harpham, with Karl Eusgster rounding out the podium on the Men’s side. The women’s long race featured just two competitors but in two different classes. Wendy Anderson was a monster on her 12’6” finishing in 1:16 and Susie Grace was right behind her on a 14’ finishing just a minute behind.

Brett commented: “A beautiful day for a race in near perfect conditions in a picturesque bay and a stark contrast to the Sprint & Splash from only a week ago. This seemed to set the stage for an all-out effort removing any excuses from finial result on circumstances. My Garmin showed that I averaged 163 HR for an hour 10 minutes with better than half of that time in HR zone 5. I could feel Wes pushing from behind and knew it would end with what we had left in the tank. In the end my Garmin mounted in Larry Cain fashion showed 6.1 mph for the last couple hundred yards trying to fend off any chase by Wes.

Although I came out with a win, it’s always the community that keeps me chasing these races every weekend. It was good to meet a few new faces and check in with Mike Bartos to see how we were recovering from last week’s adventures and possible infections. Always a big Thank you to Daniel and his team including Ben (Gareiss) for a great event.”

Third place finisher, and series regular, Karl “El Capitan” Eusgster did so on a 14×22 inflatable Starboard All Star. In case anyone was wondering how far inflatables have come, Karl finished in 1:12. His time on his hard board last year was 1:32 (conditions notwithstanding). (Authors note, he’s as fast if not faster on the inflatable as he is on his 12’6” hardboard).

The short race featured quite a few competitors on 12’6” and 14’ race boards. Laura Kinne took the win for the women with young up-and-comer Ryan Meade less a minute behind.  The Men’s winner was Chad Jordan with a margin of less than 20 seconds ahead of Tom Wernette. Mike “the Machine” Bartos continued his Midwest tear in the surf style class finishing in just a hair over 41 minutes. 

Outrigger canoe competitor Melissa Camphous commented “it wasn’t even like a race, kept finding myself just enjoying the day and watching fish” refereeing to the crystal clear 15-20-foot-deep water.

Full Results at:

https://paddleguru.com/races/45THParallelPaddleFestival2019/results

After paddle festivities and awards were across the street at Hoplot, and excellent craft brewery with outstanding BBQ. Almost everyone stuck around and shared in the camaraderie and stoke.

All in all, this was a well-run event that should be on your bucket list for a destination race. If this sounds great to you, you don’t even have to wait until next year! Dan and crew have another race coming up on August 24. Rapi Nui Features a three-mile paddle from the mainland to an island in the bay, a 2-mile run around there island, and a 3 mile paddle back to shore.

The Midwest Paddle League is back at it again next weekend for the Great Lakes SUP Challenge, a Lake Michigan open water 1.5/3/6 mile race With a FREE technical race.

About the Midwest Paddle League

Welcome to the Midwest Paddle League – designated for SUP paddlers, by SUP paddlers. If you’ve never raced before, or you race most weekends, with kids races, short races, long races, sprints and more… there is an event for YOU! Come for the challenge, stay for the camaraderie. Here in the Midwest, it’s COMMUNITY FIRST. COMPETITION SECOND.

www.midwestpaddleleague.com/

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