This weekend, paddlers from around the world will gather on Oahu for the Gerry Lopez Rainbow Sandals Battle of the Paddle, Hawaii. In honor of the event, we’re re-running a story from our Winter, 2010 issue at SUPthemag.com where some of the sport’s most passionate female paddlers tell us why they love to battle, and what keeps them coming back for more.
SIX WOMEN BREAKDOWN THEIR BATTLE OF THE PADDLE EXPERIENCE
Standup paddling can involve a leisurely tour, a good core workout, an epic surf, or a whitewater adventure. But twice a year for the sport’s best athletes, it becomes a modern-day blood sport.
In early October, more than 860 competitors from around the world descended on Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, Calif., for the 2010 Battle of the Paddle: California. Viewers in 93 countries tuned in to watch the live Webcast.
The Elite race brought 159 of the sport’s most accomplished athletes to do battle along a five-mile, M-shaped course that included 32 buoy turns, five laps in and out of the 2- to 3-foot surf on carbon-fiber race boards with a 75-foot sand run in between laps. The course requires skill, endurance, and more than a little luck. Waves wreck havoc on the course, clearing out competitors, hurling rider-less boards and rearranging the standings in a single rush of water.
In a sport with a reputation trending more toward Zen, the Battle of the Paddle requires gladiator-like focus. During a stress-free day in beautiful Laguna Beach, Calif., SUP magazine asked six women to break down their races and answer one question: Why Battle? — Jennifer Holcomb
The Battle is the ultimate SUP competition. It’s way too much fun to pass up, and skipping it is not an option if you want to prove yourself as a legit paddler. When I couldn’t race triathlon anymore after I injured my foot, paddling became my outlet, and the Battle my focus. Last year, I’d (only) been paddling for a few months and had no idea what to expect. This year I was way more confident, and just wanted to go out and kick butt. All the work that goes into racing happens beforehand, so the day of the race, I wasn’t stressed out. I was excited.
I took each lap on its own and tried to make sure I avoided people coming at me on their way in and out. It was like a big game of Frogger. [Race announcer] Tracey [Engelking] had the race laid out stroke for stroke: ‘Now Brandi is in the lead. Now Candice Appleby is in the lead.’ I was just as excited to know the outcome. There was one point where I was like, ‘Hey, doesn’t she see that I’m in the lead now? Hey, I’m winning right now!’
Coming around the last outside buoy, I saw the set coming in and knew that Candice was going to catch it. With everything that can happen out there at the Battle, I was just stoked to be on the podium.
I do most of my paddling solo, early in the morning. For me it’s honestly—and it sounds cheesy—to connect with nature, to exercise outside the gym, and for the camaraderie of the sport as a whole.
I’ll do up to eight miles maybe three or four days a week. And I surf too, when there are waves. I can get really lackadaisical without a goal, so the Battle is that goal.
I’m competitive by nature, but I’ve had some health issues that made me nervous about being able to perform the way that I knew I could. I knew that I wasn’t likely going to be top five, but that I’d still be in there and challenge myself. And I love the Battle format, mixing it up, and the paddle-run.
It was a fun to raise the bar for myself. We got a group together that might not have otherwise done it and proved that we could compete at this level. I could have come in dead last, but I had to see what I could do.
I grew up in Massachusetts and started racing standup this year. I’ve been SUP surfing for about three, though. As a lifeguard on Cape Cod, I competed in ocean events: the beach running, open-water swimming, and prone paddling led me naturally to SUP, and now I teach standup surfing and paddling in addition to training and racing myself.
I love SUP because I can do it in any condition, and it’s a great workout. Sometimes with surf, you feel like you’re just sitting out there, waiting for waves.
The Battle was a completely new experience, but I was hooked immediately on the adrenaline. But I didn’t know it was going to be an obstacle course out there, and I didn’t realize there were so many buoy turns. I really liked that part, though, because with SUP surfing you have to get on your tail and turn your board around quickly. I also didn’t realize there would be so much energy, and the drums … like my heart wasn’t going enough, now I had these Hawaiian drums beating.
It was by far the best race I’ve done. The buoy turns and the waves, the surf, it combines the fitness side of SUP with the surfing and waterman sides, even running up the beach—all of it.
I spent years windsurfing and kiteboarding in big conditions off Maui, so SUP has been a great crossover sport for me now living in Portland, Oregon, and especially the endurance part of racing. The Battle is really an endurance surf race, and the surfing is my biggest challenge, but I love it.
Last year’s Battle was only my third race. It was crazy. I saw what I was about to do, and couldn’t believe it. Coming in to the chute for the first time, and the waves were so big, I said to my husband, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ He said, ‘You don’t have to.’ And then, of course, I’m going to do it. I don’t quit.
I focus first on keeping myself out of trouble in the surf and staying on my board. Then I can concentrate on points like an upwind section, or the sections without the wave riding, and I make up time.
With the Battle there is so much luck involved with timing of sets and all sorts of other stuff, that even though I’m super competitive, I just have to know what my strengths are.
I paddle more for the fitness part of it. It’s just fun for me, and it beats going to the gym. Last year I opted out of the Elite race because I got really nervous. I ask myself, ‘Why do I do this if I get this way?’ I know I’d regret it if I didn’t go for it. I still have the competitive edge, even if I’m not a ‘top elite racer.’ I want to give it my best. I want to know where I place, who I’m up against, and how I do.
But I also will take my time during the race, if I need to. Coming in was really funny. I don’t surf. And I especially don’t surf my race board. The sets were tricky, so I asked a friend to help me navigate. We both stopped and he watched, and told me when to paddle. I got in with no problems, paddling hard. My husband, E.J., tells me, ‘Babe, you did so good!’ And I’m laughing, thinking, ‘No I just wanted out of the water before I got wiped out in front of a million people!’ But it was fun, and that’s why I like to race.
At last year’s Battle, I was asked to join a surf relay team. I’d never paddled before. I ended up with seven stitches in my chin after a wave smashed the board into my face. I kind of put the sport away after that. I’ve been an amateur boxer for 12 years. But a surf session on my birthday, May 8, 2010, changed everything.
I was scheduled for a fight on June 26. I was training and was really unhappy. With boxing I’d be looking at the older people and they were kind of haggard. And I would see older paddlers like Mickey and Peggy Muñoz and they’d be laughing. So I left the beach on my birthday, and that was it. I hung up my boxing gloves and haven’t touched them since.
Fast-forward five months and I was on the line for the start of the Elite race, competing again! But there I was, crying. I was struck by so much happy emotion. This was the first time I’d been caught up in something like this. I looked around and I felt it all. I played soccer in college, and then boxing, and I never got that type of support. It’s this community I love. The water aspect attracts me to it, like surfing always has, but it’s about the people.