Shane Perrin on La Ruta Maya
By: Conor Mihell
Shane Perrin is used to being a sideshow at ultramarathon paddling races for insisting to compete on an SUP. Critics said the St. Louis-based paddler didn’t stand a chance at the MR 340, a 340-mile epic on the Missouri River, but Perrin has finished it twice, finishing with an impressive time of less than 67 hours in 2011. So when Todd Caranto of Pau Hana suggested that Perrin, one of his team riders, compete at the La Ruta Maya canoe race in Belize earlier this month, Perrin expected the usual backlash.
In the past, La Ruta Maya organizers have restricted entry into the four-day, 170-mile stage race to canoe racers in teams of three. Race officials were baffled when Caranto pitched the SUP idea; despite their popularity at island resorts amidst Belize’s Great Barrier Reef, SUPs are virtually unknown on the mainland. “Todd tried to explain it but they didn’t really get the paddleboard,” says Perrin. “I don’t think they really knew what it was until I arrived, but he managed to get them to agree to let me in as an exposition.”
Entry secured, Perrin faced a second challenge: Less than six weeks of prep time instead of his usual three months. Perrin’s accelerated training regime consisted of early morning strength workouts, evening cardio and weekend sessions on the water. “I was really cramming,” he admits. “We were cutting it close and I had no idea if I would be ready to compete.”
Finally, he faced the difficulties of the race itself. He traveled to Belize early for a crash course in whitewater with professional kayaker and fellow Pau Hana athlete Nick Troutman to prepare for the moving water segments of the race. Then, on March 9, Perrin lined up against 72 canoes and charged down the Belize River on his 14-foot Pau Hana Crossfit, putting his new skills to use in 50 miles of Class 1 and 2 whitewater. “Sometimes I got hit by canoes and knocked off balance,” says Perrin, who finished the first day in eight hours. “It was a psychological thing at first, but after a few hours the whitewater was no big deal.”
In between days on the river Perrin either camped out or stayed in local accommodations. Caranto, Troutman and Pau Hana co-owner Royce Hanamaikai served as his pit crew throughout, and the entire team spent their off hours demoing SUPs to locals. By day, Perrin kept cranking, covering 60 miles in 7.5 hours on Day Two and paddling another 36 miles in a vicious headwind on Day Three. As he approached Belize’s Caribbean coast, Perrin was blasted by more winds yet still managed a speedy six mile-per-hour pace on the race’s final day. Each day he managed to beat seven to 12 canoe teams to the finish line. Between Perrin’s performance and the evening demos, SUP is now on the Belize radar.
All this year, Perrin is dedicating his race efforts to Paddle4Peace, a nonprofit organized by his friend, Dwayne VanHoose, that aims to raise public awareness of Middle East issues through the Euphrates Institute and to encourage outdoor activity in American youth. He’s already hearing the warnings for his next race, the Texas Water Safari, an intense 261-mile, downriver race across the Lone Star State in June that’s billed as “the world’s toughest boat race.” But he’s not listening.
“There’s been so much negative feedback and people saying it can’t be done, that my board’s going to get destroyed or that the race will kill me,” says Perrin. “But I’m primed now. Belize was a great way to open the season, and for once in my life I feel like I’m affecting people. That gives me the extra drive.”