After two years of chilly temps and challenging upwind conditions, participants in the 3rd annual Round the Rock race in Seattle were stoked to wake up Sunday morning to clear blue skies and nearly glassy conditions. But what competitors thought would be perfect racing weather turned out to be far from that.
“The conditions were tougher than appeared," said racer Tom Hanny. "It was hot and humid– one of the hottest days I’ve paddled,” he added. Beau Whitehead, one of the leading racers in the Northwest and 2nd place finisher in this year's Unlimited class, shared Hanny's perspective: “For 30 minutes I thought I was on my way to dehydration with sweat pouring off me. I was nauseous and had the chills,” he said.
Located at Seattle’s Seward Park on Lake Washington, the Round the Rock is the biggest SUP race in the Northwest. Race co-organizer Dan Eberhardt was excited to see the growth of SUP and last weekend's event: “We are enthusiastic with the growth of this sport in the Northwest. The first year we had just three race boards and 75 competitors, but this year, 80% of competitors were on race boards."
This year, 210 paddlers competed in the marquee 13-mile race around Mercer Island. A total of 400 paddlers participated in the day's events, which included the 3.5-mile race, kids' race, and team relay race. The beach was packed with vendors and an estimated 3,000-5,000 spectators viewed the races from the shore. Other events that took place the day before the races included a viewing of Mike Waltze's “A Stand Up Paddle Movie,” presented by REI, and SUP racing clinics instructed by Chuck Patterson and Karen Wrenn.
As the event fell on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, all participants and spectators shared a pre-race moment of silence with some words spoken by firefighter Beau Whitehead. Beau, along with Bellingham, Wash. neighbor and boat designer, Tom Swetish, made a 19-foot board specifically for the race. Named ‘Rocket’, the board is numbered 343 in honor the 343 firefighters who perished 10 years ago on the tragic date.
The race's a unique Sweep or Weep format was a fun and exciting race. “There were no sweeps, leaving no one weeping,” Eberhardt said. "We were very happy to distribute the $10k in prize money to first, second and third place in all divisions,” he added. Riviera Paddlesurf‘s team swept the first place in Unlimited with Thomas Maximus Shahinian coming in at 2:04:48. Brian Haag took first in the 14′ class at 2:21:07 and Brandon Rambo won the Stock class with a time of 2:23:38. Portland’s Karen Wrenn set a course record on her 14’ board at 2:23:47 and Shannon Bell won women’s Stock class at 2:39:08. For the 3.5-mile race, Kathryn Beiker won overall for women with 11-year-old Eli DeLaunay winning overall for the men. – Rob Casey