Back in 2004, when standup paddling was still in its infancy, waterman Giles Finlayson held the Island to Island Waterman Relay for prone paddleboards and surf skis. After a seven-year absence from the racing world and Finlayson’s own personal struggles, he’s bringing back the race on Oct. 8th with the addition of the OC-1 and 14’ SUP divisions, as well as a new beneficiary.
Meet Finlayson just once and he’s bound to leave an impression. His positive attitude is undeniable. You’d hardly know that every single day for the past two years has been personal hell for the man.
It all started with an epic sailing trip around the world. “I left on a sailboat to find secret surf spots,” Finlayson said. The waterman was circumnavigating the globe on a solo mission and seeking out waves when his trip of a lifetime came to a sudden halt.
On December 28, 2009, while out on a 10-ft dingy with Aussie friend, Geoffrey Moore, Finlayson was run over by a Malaysian fishing boat in Telaga Harbor, Langakwi. “I just tried to cover my head as the fishing boat came over the dingy,” Finlayson recalls. “As the boat came over me, the propeller hit both of my arms, chopping them off,” Finlayson said.
Finlayson’s life was saved only because of Moore, who rushed into survival mode. Finlayson ended up in a hospital over 100 miles away, where he was put on a breathing machine, barely clinging to life. For three days, the Malaysian doctors didn’t know if he would make it. Finlayson was transferred to a state of the art hospital in Panang, where he spent two months trying to recover to make the flight back to California.
“When I got home, I found an orthopedic surgeon in Newport Beach who performed two surgeries to re-do the work that I’d gotten in Malaysia,” said Finlayson. Now, a year and 9 months later, Finlayson has had 8 surgeries to fix his damaged body.
“I’ve had so much support, but in particular, Jamie Mitchell and his family have been my biggest fans,” Finlayson said. “He took me to my second to last surgery and then took care of me in the days following. He just has such a positive attitude,” Finlayson added.
After such a horrific and life-changing accident, Finlayson believes he had to bring the Island to Island Waterman Relay back. “I brought the race back because I wanted to give back to a good charity. The City of Hope Prostate Cancer Program took great care of my dad who lost his life (to cancer), so they are this year’s beneficiary,” Finlayson explained.
With 20 3-person teams already registered for the channel crossing that starts from Santa Barbara Island and ends at the Isthmus in Two Harbors at Catalina Island (a true California downwinder), Finlayson says he’s excited. “I had hoped for more teams to race, but it should be really fun with good weather,” he chimed.
On the day of the 28-mile open ocean race, Finlayson will be trolling near the pack of competitors on a Search and Rescue boat and then a paramedic boat because nobody understands more than him that, “safety is the number one issue on the water.” – Shari Coble
6:30 a.m.: Check-in at the south end of Santa Barbara Island
7:00 a.m.: Race start on the water, 100 yards from the landing
3:00 p.m.: Official race cut-off time
3:30 p.m.: Race Party begins
To register for the Island to Island Waterman Relay, click here
For more info: IslandtoIslandWatermanRelay.com