Please welcome Harmony Dawn of Urban Ocean with her recap of the Cold Stroke Classic. If you know Harmony, you can hear her telling you this story. Thank you Harmony!
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While driving through North Carolina earlier this month my boyfriend asked if I wanted to come with him to the Cold Stroke Classic. 
Immediately my answer was “NO!” We were on day two of a three day drive from Canada to Florida to go to Surf Expo and then continuing to spend the winter on the beach. I have a severe dislike of car rides, and I was supposed to have flown to Florida but, due to some severe weather, had ended up along for the drive. I did offer him to leave me at the beach and take my car but I absolutely did not want to spend one more minute in the car–especially to drive what would essentially be home since Wrightsvillle is about halfway back to my place in Canada and we would be turning around to go back to Florida after the Cold Stroke was over.

NO NO NO!

I didn’t want to go. It’s cold in North Carolina. The event itself is called “The Cold Stroke Classic.”  Nothing about that sounds warm. I went to it in 2013 with every intention to race but had gotten sick and didn’t paddle. I actually have been to 3 races in Wrightsville, all of them NOT during bikini weather. It was settled. I wasn’t going.
As the drive continued I thought about my previous trips to Wrightsville Beach. During all the events that I went to and didn’t do last year I met amazing people.  From Jeofrey (Coastal Urge), who’s putting on the event, to Jason  (Carolina PaddleBoard Company) who drove me to the bridges to take pictures of the races,  Anne, Glenn, Keith, Greg, Jenny, Charlie, Kate and of course The Mullets: John and Katie.
By the time we were leaving the state heading south an hour later, I had changed my mind and decided to go with him. As much as I dislike the car ride, I don’t know of a community on the East Coast that I like better. The Carolina community is one of the best.

No Board? No problem!

After Surf Expo, my friend Evey and I had a  girls’ week while Dan was doing a trip around Florida with team Starboard.   When I said that I was going to watch Dan race she asked why I wasn’t racing.
“My custom race board is really narrow and the conditions that were expected to be pretty windy,” I said.
“So? Take mine!” she said. “I’m not going! “
“Really? You don’t mind if I take your board across 3 state lines?”
“Nope but you have to race it; it’s not going on a visit!”
We got in the car and drove straight to Wrightville Beach, arriving at 1am Friday.

What to Wear? 

After spending the morning chilling at the Blockade Runner Hotel I decided to do Dan’s Race clinic. It’s not the first time I took his clinic. In fact I try to do it anytime he’s teaching because every time I learn something or meet someone new. I encourage everyone to take clinics as much as possible, because no matter where you are at in your paddling life there is always something to learn!
Plus, I’d never been on Evey’s board and  I didn’t know what I wanted to wear to race so it was a good opportunity to try everything out since it was pretty windy out and the conditions were supposed to be worse the next day.
I put on a farmer john wetsuit, neoprene booties, a fleece shirt, and a jacket and joined the group. Quickly learned I was not the only one feeling a bit overwhelmed by the conditions. Dan went over the basics of racing on the beach, as he always does. He does a great job explaining pre race prep but I wanted to get on the water. He explained where we are going to paddle over to, there was some hesitation in the group about the rollers and crossing the channel so the location was changed and we were off–doing a beach start.
I was up on my board quick  but pretty unsteady, immediately thinking “What was I thinking trying a new board this weekend?” as I paddled across the channel. Once across and heading north the board started shaking more from side to side, the nose diving in and out of the water. I was just hoping not to fall in. “I haven’t paddled 3 miles in the last 2 months and I’m supposed to paddle 3.5 tomorrow?!” I asked myself.    I just want to stay dry, a swim will mean the end for me.  I don’t like being wet.

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

Dan gives everyone in the clinic some personal attention to improve their paddling.  To me he says “Take shorter, quicker strokes.”
UGH he tells me this all the time. “Increase your cadence! Paddle faster!”   Couldn’t he sometimes tell me something easy like “Look forward?” I got that! We paddled back towards the water tower where I  meet Julia, who suggests I do the Elite race with her?!
I tell her that I’m hoping a support boat is near by for me for the rec race because these conditions aren’t anything I’m used to and if I get thru one lap I’ll be stoked and I know I don’t have enough in me for two! Back on the beach, we all chat for a bit and a few people say they may not race?
Ohhh how I wish I didn’t promise I wasn’t taking Evey’s board on a siteseeing trip!
After Dan and I have dinner we meet everyone for a drink, and there’s Katie!  Katie inspires me, she even made me cry at the Carolina Cup last year when she was struggling to get out and John Beausang was encouraging her out. She had trained hard to do this and he knew she could get out she just needed the right set…and off she went.  (Have I mentioned before that the Carolina community is the best!)
So I ask her “What race are you doing?”
“I’m not racing,” she says. “I’m taking pictures.”
“What?!? No! That’s my job!” I say.  “I take pictures you paddle!”
That’s when she suggests I blog about the experience. I think “Ok, now she’s lost her mind!  Not only is she not paddling, she thinks I should blog?”
Hmmm, the view from the back, I can do that, because that is exactly where I’m expecting to be. I tell her as long as she edits my writing we have a deal.  Not exactly one I would usually make.  I’m giving up the camera and the comfort of my feet on the ground in exchange for the windy, wavy waters that  she is accustomed to paddling!

Race Day!

After a good night’s sleep I wake up Saturday morning, and look outside and it’s blowing more than the afternoon before, fantastic!  Let’s have breakfast.  I eat but not a lot I’m already feeling nauseated. I decide to get dressed in the same thing I wore for the clinic, because I was a little bit cool but I don’t really want to add anymore layers because all I can think about is how uncomfortable they will all be when I fall in.  What if the support boat isn’t right there when it happens?  Than I’m going to be stuck paddling soaked until the boat arrives to save me!  “Ok no more layers!” I tell myself.  “Just do what you did yesterday and stay on your board!”
Down at the beach I listen to racers meeting, the course direction is changed from the one I watched last year,  and Jeoffrey is apologizing for little delay in getting started because he has brought in additional support boats due to the conditions. That’s awesome!   He instructs the rec race to get their boards and get lined up on the beach quickly he will start as soon as everyone’s numbers are verified.
Dan gives me some last minute instructions based on the change of course direction to do the opposite of what he told me earlier in the morning. “Hug the left shore, not the right.”
What? Now I have to think about my left and right, I get them confused when I’m not under pressure. No it’s the It’s the same side he says, the side with the houses, it’s just going to be on your other side. Right I knew that!
“Use the choke stroke to help you in the wind, you’ll be fine.”   Fine?  I’ll be fine?  I’m not fine. My hands are cold.  I can’t paddle my hands are cold. I can’t handle being cold it’s all I think about. Dan runs back to the car gets my gloves and I’m ready.
Pick up the board put it down do this a few more times while we wait to start for what seems like forever, they are just making sure they get out numbers.
Finally: GO!
I ran out, and jumped on my board landing on my knees and not in plank which I usually pop up from.  I’m fumbling with my paddle while others knee paddle beside me, I decide to do the same for a stroke,  “Get up Harmony! This is stand up paddling!” I tell myself.   Up I go, struggling to find my balance a bit, I realize I’m not going to get across right away so I go right.
Looking ahead I see the  Mullet’s rear!    Awesome this is his home water, so I’ll follow him. I try to follow his path for while. He’s paddling really fast and doing a great job at feathering, I need  to remember to feather.
As I look over to my right, just before the first bridge,  I see a naish board with this little girl on it. As she passes me I think to myself “She’s like 13 or 14. You can’t draft her, Harmony!”  
I’m not a fan of drafting anyway. Mainly because I’ve been drafted at every race I’ve done by a guy and there haven’t been any girls around to draft.  So as we go under the bridge I hear people cheering us on, I hear hear her name, go  Hanna, or vannah? Finally I realize it’s Anna.  Oh, Anna, I watched her race last year, she’s strong.
I stick close to her past the second bridge and as we’re rounding the corner by the marsh a Starboard starts passing me as the rider yells “You’re doing awesome babe! Keep paddling” as he zipped by followed closely by some more of the elite.  I  realize that I would be going faster if I do the choke down stroke  so I do that for awhile which helps keeps me from hitting more than a few docks.

Hitting a Wall

At some point I look down at my watch and my heart rate is 133. “That’s great,” I think then quickly glance again because it seems rather impossible for me since my lungs are hurting. At second glance it’s 178!  133 is the distance!  I’m not even halfway.
It’s getting harder and people ahead of me don’t even look like they are moving. I see that they are in the middle.  “Don’t go in the middle, stick to the sides,” I remember Dan saying.  I’m on the wrong side. What am I doing on the grass side? Now I have to cross over, Anna is up ahead about 50 meters crossing over, so I start my cross. It’s so much work, I never paddle this hard, I don’t like paddling this hard, I need to remember to thank Evey again for her board, I would surely be in the water by now if I was on my board.
The wind is almost blowing me back, annoying!  I just want to get across to where that girl is. Who is that girl?   She’s on the side I’m trying to get to and she is cruising. She’s on a Naish. I didn’t see her at the start, maybe she is doing elite, good for anyone doing elite, I’ll just be happy to finish at this point.
I see another support boat, “Good don’t fall in and you wont need them, paddle Harmony, focus,” I tell myself. I lose sight of the girl I don’t know and Anna at this point but am finally across.
I’m glad I wore all these layers. I thought I was going to be too hot, and I could probably unzip my jacket but that would require stopping I’d end up going backwards with this wind, I’m not over heating I’ll probably just get cold if I undo it, and I think “Just keep paddling never mind your clothes.”

The End is Near

 Heading towards the last bridge I hear someone yelling my name   I think it’s Jason, it sounds like Jason.  “Why am I not up there with him, instead of killing myself?”
A tleast this is the last bridge and it looks like it’s flat for a bit!  I hear them say another girls name she’s just to the right of me  behind a few strokes.  Oh, I know her too!  I just met her yesterday!  I slow down to say “Hi, I’m so happy to see a face I know!”
She’s like “That last part was awful! I watched you look like you weren’t even moving!” I think “Good, someone to back me up on that, cause I didn’t feel like I was moving!”
“Are you still  doing the elite?” I ask!.  “No,” she said.  She decided when she saw the conditions in the morning to switch to rec.  I tell her I don’t blame her, I’m pretty much done, let’s paddle together!
I’m not just happy to see a face I know, I’m overjoyed  to have someone to paddle with because at this point I’m exhausted.  We chat for a bit, she tells me some of her friends didn’t want to come out in these conditions, and I wish I was them at this moment.  I tell her “I’m in so much pain because I feel like I have an extra 20 pounds on my left hip.  My water pack has twisted  around and the cord holding it to close to my mouth to drink got caught under my arm at the start and I’ve had no water, I need water!”
 I’m complaining to someone that doesn’t even have any water with her but I never race with out my camelback and I usually keep it in my mouth the whole time spitting out water as I go. It’s a comfort thing– I think it helps with my asthma, a tleast it helps in my head!    I let Dan use mine because it’s the back style and not a hip pack w which I now see the absolute uselessness in it.  I’m so frustrated I cant get it off either.   |Note to self never give it away again!]  “Glad he has it though,” I told Julia. “I can’t imagine doing 2 laps without water.”
We talk about which side to stick to as we round the corner.  It’s just us, there’s no one right behind us and we can barely see those in front of us crossing back to the beach now.
Julia says to me “I don’t really know much, but if I can offer you any advice from what I got out of Dan’s clinic yesterday it’s that you should take shorter strokes.”   “OMG!!!”  I think to myself.  “She’s the kick in the pants I need.” A reminder that I’m not paddling like I could be, like I should be.  I tell her I know I’m just too exhausted, I’m hurting.  I have a horrible habit of over gripping my paddle on the right side and I’ve been paddling on that side for what now feels like forever but I take her advice and I quicken my stroke hoping to catch some bumps in, now that we can see the beach.    As I near the beach  can see the timer: 59:55.
Holy shit.  It’s only been an hour?
How is that possible I feel like I’ve been out here all morning, maybe I can just coast in now? “No Harmony, paddle” I tell myself just as I hear “Go girl go!”  It’s Julia, she’s yelling at me from behind! I hit the beach jumping off my board, my leash attached to my lifejacket around my waist is stuck I drop the pack and run up the beach. “What’s your number?” the girls yell at me. “I don’t know! 272, I think, yes, it’s 272!”  I walk back towards where my stuff is to get my warm clothes.

Killing Katie

There’s Katie! “Hey did you paddle?” she asks. Did I paddle? IS SHE KIDDING ME?  I’m sure she got quite the look from me. “YES!  I just got in!”

Aftermath

I see Julia. She’s come in seconds behind me and I give her a hug and thank her.  She kept me going that last mile and pushed me in when I needed it.  I’m so grateful.  I can’t believe I even finished.

We enjoy the after party. At the awards we find out that Anna, the pint-sized powerhouse is first, I’m second, and Julie is third.

I don’t like racing and this race didn’t change that, but I’m happy that I did it! It was my first race of 2014, my first race in North Carolina, and my first time racing in rough conditions.

Thank Yous

Jeofrey and Kat, You put on an awesome well-run event. I want to say a special thank you for increasing the number of safety boats because of the conditions.

To all the volunteers who worked with coastal urge to make this event possible, the Blockade Runner and the Carolina community for doing what you do best, making everyone feel welcome.
The Cold Stroke may be cold, but it’s worth the trip.
To my sponsors, for all of your support throughout the year in all my adventures. Thank You.   To Dan’s sponsors,  Trident Sports, Coast Urge and Blockade runner thank you for also taking care of me at this event.
To Evey Hammond for lending me her board to race and to Julia Nicohols for pushing me to paddle it faster, Thank you both.
To Megan, cant wait to see you on the water at Carolina CUP!!
To Katie I take pictures-you paddle!  😉 
Dragged kicking and screaming to the Cold Stroke Classic–and nailing it!