Shane Perrin officially owns adversity. In 2001, he came through a kidney transplant. For the past three years, he has tamed the toughest river races in the U.S. And this past week, the St. Louis distance paddler set a new first for endurance SUP racing, becoming the first person to complete the arduous unsupported 300-mile Watertribe™ Everglades Challenge from Tampa to Key Largo on a standup paddle board. Oh, and he actually did an extra 100 miles during a couple of post-race paddles, as one does. Once we’d overcome Perrin’s broken cell phone ringer (that’s what happens when you drop your iPhone in the Atlantic Ocean after getting swept off your board), we caught up with him to talk 16-hour paddling days, the theft of his race gear and raising $8,156 to boost awareness for organ and tissue donations. —Phil White
SUP mag: How did this race compare to the MR 340, Texas Water Safari, La Ruta Maya and other water ultramarathons you’ve completed?
Perrin: You know, you learn as you go along and get smarter. It helped my feet to have cushioned gorge shoes this time and water socks so I could keep my feet dry most of the time. And my custom Pau Hana EC 1 board that Todd Caranto shaped for this race was unstoppable. I learned a lot about ocean navigation– tides, winds and waves. One time I got too close to the surf zone and got rolled under the board, and during the Sanibel to Fort Myers stage a rogue wave knocked me off at night when the air temperature was in the low 40s. I was pre-hypothermic and it took six or seven hours to warm up in the hotel. By the end of the race I had a bum ankle, a pull in my lower back and sore shoulders, but the biggest challenge was my gear getting stolen.
Perrin: I slept in a parking lot after I got into San Marco Island following a 14-hour paddle. I was tired, freezing cold, and I just crashed. When I went to get my gear a few hours later, my PFD, locator beacon, medication, dry bags, all my food, and a diving knife my father had bought in 1970 and had given me as a present weren’t there. They didn’t take my board or paddle, but I was sure I was done because everything else was gone. A friend took me to breakfast and I just broke down and cried because all I’d worked for was ruined. I posted to Facebook that I’d have to withdraw, and within minutes it went crazy – people messaging me saying they were donating, friends and family calling me to offer money or to hook me up with local people who could bring me gear. I took a bathroom break and when I got back to the table I said, “I’m gonna try to get back on the water.” I went to West Marine and bought the bare minimum that I needed to start up again and a race official lent me their spot tracker. The response from the SUP and paddling communities was amazing. I’m so thankful.
SUP mag: What were the most satisfying and difficult sections of the race?
Perrin: At 3 p.m. on Wednesday I had the choice of taking open water for 70 miles or the calmer Everglades Wilderness Waterway for about 100. I was done with the ocean at that point– just worn down. When I entered the waterway a sign said that it can take 10 to 14 days by canoe or kayak. I hit it hard and finished in about 36 hours, with just two hours sleep.
The toughest part was the last 30 miles from Flamingo to Key Largo. I was working against the tide and the wind was pounding me. Luckily the board displaced so little water that I could make quick cuts when I needed to. I left Flamingo with two sail boats and actually beat them to Key Largo.
For more on Shane Perrin, click here.