Features | Paddlers Pushing Boundaries in Endurance River Races

Shane Perrin pic 6_credit Elissa Perrin
It takes a lot of training to paddle hundreds of miles at a time. Photo: Elissa Perrin

Paddlers Pushing Boundaries in Endurance River Races

When Shane Perrin showed up as the lone SUP board among dozens of canoes and kayaks at the start line of the MR 340 in 2010, everyone thought he was nuts. OK, the dragon boaters were kind of kooky, but a standup paddler going 340 miles down the Missouri River? No way. Then Perrin finished 34th out of 117 solo entrants and nobody was laughing anymore.

After breaking a barrier in that race, Perrin's sponsors encouraged the St. Louis resident to take on even bigger challenges. First up was La Ruta Maya through the jungles of Belize. Then came the Texas Water Safari, which even Perrin underestimated before getting caught up in its myriad obstacles.

"The MR 340 is no joke and I love the race, but the Texas Water Safari is 10 times harder," he said. "There's debris in the water, you finish up with an ocean crossing and there are a lot of long portages."

Despite several setbacks, Perrin became the first standup paddler to conquer the course. He then returned to set a new best mark at the MR 340, completed the Everglades Challenge, and set two world records for most flatwater miles paddled in 24 hours. Not to mention, some ultra-marathon charity paddles with Nate Dub and Nathan Woods.

Endurance races, . Photo: Elissa Perrin
Endurance races, world records and charity paddles are all part of Sean Perrin’s schedule. Photo: Elissa Perrin

Though he would like to reclaim his solo SUP record in the future, Perrin is taking on a bigger challenge in this year's MR 340 – literally. Rather than going at it alone, he's part of the first four-person SUP team to enter the race and is custom building an 18-foot-long, 58-inch board to accommodate himself, Nathan Woods, Jericho LeFort and Dale Sanders. Last year, Sanders became the oldest person to paddle the entire Mississippi River from source-to-sea, completing it at the age of 82 and raising money for juvenile diabetes research along the way. Now 83, he will soon become the oldest competitor in the history of the MR 340.

The team jokes about being a band of misfits, as Perrin survived a kidney transplant, Woods came back from losing part of his leg and according to Perrin, "Dale says he's just old." They have even given themselves the nickname "The Gens" to signify their multi-generational makeup – Woods in his 30s, Perrin his 40s, LeFort his 50s and Sanders his 80s.

"I'm most excited for my teammates to experience a race like this," Perrin said. "I'm also looking forward to seeing if Bart or Nate Dub can break the solo record and would love to compete against them next year. It'd be great if we could have half a dozen men and women taking aim at the record each summer. That's what's going to push SUP endurance racing forward."

Photo: Elissa Perrin
Perrin and three friends will make up the first four-man SUP team at this year’s MR 340. Photo: Elissa Perrin

Bart de Zwart is another SUP distance pioneer who's redefining what's possible in distance river racing and standup paddling expeditions. This summer, de Zwart is paddling an average of 191 miles per race as he sets his sights on the planet's most grueling challenges. As with the ultra-contests that Perrin has set benchmarks for, many of the races de Zwart is targeting have traditionally featured canoeists, kayakers and just about every other watersports discipline except SUP. But de Zwart is determined to show that standup belongs, and is taking on the 444-mile Yukon River Quest next week, before recovering and reloading for the MR 340 next month.

Lina Augaitis is also taking a crack at the Yukon River Quest (YQR), as part of her competitive comeback following the birth of her first child–Tav–in late 2015. In 2011, she also became one of the first women to compete in the YRQ on a SUP. No matter what the leaderboard shows at the end, it's the unique experience of racing through hundreds of miles of unspoiled wilderness that will make all those strokes worthwhile.

"The Yukon River is rich in history and beauty," she said. "It's remote and wild and to me this is why it's so attractive. I enjoy being up and about in nature at odd times of the day like 3 a.m. while the rest of the world is sleeping, and seeing and experiencing what many people never will. The best part is making it through to the end and being a better, more confident person for it."

Related

An inside look into Lina Augaitis’ road back to racing after having a baby.

Shane Perrin’s epic 535-mile SUP odyssey.