This past weekend, North Carolina's Wrightsville Beach hosted the fifth annual Cold Stroke Classic. In addition to challenging competitors with 3.5- and 7-mile races, the event also raised funds for SUP Cleanup, a non-profit organization founded by event organizer Jeoffrey Nathan to remove trash from Wilmington-area waterways.
Rather than tackling the open ocean, paddlers started and finished their races at the Blockade-Runner Beach Resort, with the 3.5-mile event being one lap of the intra-coastal waterway and the 7-miler two laps. It was chilly, but with minimal wind compared to previous years' events – particularly compared to the 30 mph squall that buffeted riders last year.
"I'm excited that after five years of the event, this was still the first Cold Stroke Classic for many people and for some of these, their first SUP race," Jeoffrey Nathan said. "It was also nice to see people coming from New England, California and all over to compete."
This year's Cold Stroke Classic welcomed a record 120 paddlers, and, as Nathan revealed, every skill level from novices to pros participating. In the latter category, elite paddler Dan Gavere, who has taken whitewater paddling to new heights in the past few years and hosted a paddling clinic before his race, finished ahead of all competitors in the elite men's 14' class. His win was no sure thing though, until right at the line, where he edged out Chris Johnson by just 5 seconds and William Grant by 8, with Jarrod Covington and Jeremy Whitted only a little more than a board's length behind.
"I had an excellent start and lead most of the race, but I became concerned at the 6-mile mark looking over my shoulder to see the draft train starting to catch me," Gavere said. "I dug deep, sprinting all the way to the finish and managing to run up the beach just seconds in front of the 2nd and 3rd place racers, who'd made a huge charge."
In the men's elite 12'6' category, Basil Tydings topped the podium in 1:23:25, with Chris Gragtmans and John Heidel in second and third. In the women's equivalent, Karen Wilson came home in 1:30:24, with Kate Lewis and Kimberly James following.
In addition to the SUP events, there were three other race categories. Dave Baker won the prone paddleboard class, John Pollock the surfski and William Pope the OC unlimited. —Phil White