Epic | Lost to the Winds of Curacao
By Noah Lederman
Losing a board in the open ocean. Finishing a race after losing your fin. Getting lost at sea after dark. We've all heard standup paddling stories like these. Many of us have them. And that's what our feature series, Epic, is about. These are the stories--straight from the mouths of SUP’s top pros--from when things go wrong and what happens after. Epic recounts the hairy escapades, priceless encounters and pinnacle moments of those who live the SUP life, and live it hard.
The winds of Curacao rushed into the Santa Anna Bay as we paddled out from the protective waters in front of our resort. I laid on the board and slipped beneath the metal bridge into the great expanse of water. However, it looked more like a river than the calm body of water that a bay connotes.
Most of the paddlers in my group were novices and did weird, cat-like things on their boards–digging in toes and arching backs–for balance. Not surprisingly, the wind blew them straight toward a rocky appendix, a half-kilometer away.
Our guide, assigned to us by the hotel, sat on the dock with his feet on a board and shouted for the group to paddle back to him. But the wind was too fierce and few were in control.
I paddled over to where my fellow paddlers were struggling and attempted to coach them away from the rocks. But my attempts were in vain as the paddlers continued spinning in circles and went nowhere. On account of the wind, I knew the group would be stuck there for the better part of our excursion. So I left the group with another paddler and headed for open waters.
When we rounded the corner, the wind howled. We were like sails to our boards and with hardly a committed stroke, we covered a kilometer in no time. We were getting sucked deeper down the bay and farther from the hotel.
I realized that we needed to change course and saw an island ahead. If we could sneak behind the island, we could regroup and aim for the other shore, where it looked more protected from the wind. But by the time we lined ourselves up with the island, it was too late and we were sent farther into the bay.
Perhaps if I were up for a good three hours of work, I would have been able to fight through the winds. But we were on a tight schedule and my companion, although confident, was still new to the sport.
“We need to catch a ride,” I shouted.
The relenting winds continued to drag us farther and farther away. At this point, in under twenty minutes, we were at least four kilometers from our launch site.
There were a few dozen yachts in the bay and I spotted a woman walking the deck of her boat and shouted for a ride. But on this Dutch island, where most people were from Holland, my request was either lost to the wind, translation or a feigned inability to hear. Soon we found ourselves being blown toward a second ship with a Dutch woman tidying her deck.
“Can you give us a ride back upstream?” I shouted to her.
She held up a finger and disappeared below deck. I paddled to hold my place and glanced behind me to find my friend losing all control.
The winds had pushed her board into the hull of another yacht and she was grasping onto their anchor chain for dear life. All the while, the Dutch couple who owned the boat were shouting for her to detach.
“I’m not letting go,” she hollered.
I looked back to the boat that I had been paddling behind to find an old Dutchman and the woman who had fetched him.
“We can’t paddle back,” I told him. “Can we get a ride?”
He studied me and leaned over, taking note of my tangled up friend and his compatriots hurling profanities. He walked to his inflatable speed boat hanging off the port side and lowered it into the water.
We were not going to fit into the craft with the paddleboards. So the captain held my leg rope and towed me toward the angry vessel, where my friend still clung to the anchor chain.
After nearly decapitating me on the chain and then almost swinging both of us into his running motor, our rescuer grabbed hold of our leg ropes and began towing us back. Unfortunately, my friend capsized her board on the first turn. So we decided it would be better if she got into the boat and I rode both boards, tail fins first.
On our journey back, I fought to hug the boards together and placed all my weight on the noses so that the boards would plane across the waters. Soon we had been towed past everything we had lost to the wind, including our group who was somehow still paddling in circles by the rocks.