[EDITOR’S NOTE: Please welcome my “brotha from anotha motha” Chris Aguilar of Fin Film Company fame. Turns out he’s a great storyteller with words, too. Show him some love so he’ll come back 🙂 ~Cousin Mullet]
Endurance experts say that the first mile of any race is the most important mile. That is where you set the pace, where you collect your thoughts and hopefully check into your “zone”. This year, at the Rock 2 Rock, my first mile started with me jumping onto my board and promptly rolling right off onto the other side in what can only be described as a “one touch dismount belly flop” into the ocean. And that is why, I suppose, I was asked to be a contributor for this new “View From the Back” section for prone paddling.
What the heck is the Rock 2 Rock? – well it is a 22 mile paddle from one Rock – Catalina Island to another Rock – The Palos Verdes Peninsula. I did the crossing in 2011 on a stand up and it was a life changing, life affirming event for me. But that is a whole other article entirely.
Somewhere in 2012, I took up prone paddling and went on a program of not training and thought I could just “wing” the channel. I was wrong. I was sharing an escort and I cannot remember how long I was alone out there – but I remember the boat pulling away to check on his other paddler and suddenly feeling terrified. I could not tell which way I was paddling – to the island or away from it. I felt sick and started to throw up. Right at 11 miles, dead center, I pulled out. For a year I felt the shame, the guilt, the self doubt of that experience.
In 2013, I took it seriously- I got into the gym, got a trainer, paddled as often as I could and had a support boat loaded with my secret weapon- My big brother. My big brother and I quote Rocky movies just because we can. He is my strongest support and the one person I knew could snap me out of any mental problems. Well it worked, and I finished that one – and it was a major accomplishment. I felt redeemed, happy and alive.
Fifteen minutes before the start of this year’s race I learned my escort had broken down. I had no boat. Luckily I was able to share Natalina Foote’s escort. She is a bit of a stud, this was her sixth crossing and she along with her sister Bernadette are part of the Catalina Flying Fish paddleboard crew. If there is one thing I have learned about prone paddling the last year it is that prone is so much more fun with your friends. For me stand up is kind of like going running, I put in my headphones, put my head down and go.
Prone is different. Earlier this year I did two other prone channel crossings with a group of friends – we laughed, joked and just had a blast the whole way (I never even used my new playlist). During Rock 2 Rock we acquired the company of my good friend Chris Barrios (who is part of the backbone of all of the races that happen on the island) and together the four of us made a little crew and helped one another across. We were not racing, we were not worried about time. We just paddled and shared our life stories and experiences with each other. We noticed each other hurting and offered encouragement. And what was neat is that we all lined up together to finish as a group.
It being Father’s Day, I sprinted ahead to the 11 mile mark – the place where I dropped out those years before and continued a small father’s day tradition where I say a prayer for my dad who passed away when I was 16. It sounds kind of cheesy to write, but I sit on the board and thank him for my life, wish him a happy father’s day and tell him I love him.
I get asked by people who don’t paddle why I do the Rock 2 Rock. I cannot tell you exactly “why,” but I can tell you each year I learn something that I can take into my everyday life. That first SUP crossing was about learning to believe in myself, and that I can do what I actually think is impossible. The “bonk” year was about learning that in order to accomplish things, I need to work for them. Nothing in life comes to you – and I learned a valuable lesson about faith. That without some type of faith, my life is an empty void. I felt that emptiness when I was alone in the channel. I need my friends, I need my family and most of all, I need some type of faith in something bigger than me.
This year was about being in the moment. I learned to let go of times, speed, GPS, and all of the things that could distract me from the experience of sharing the crossing with my friends. If I did not stop and look around once in awhile and think “wow, I cannot believe where I am right now” then why do it at all? Certainly testing my endurance is radical, but that in itself is not enough for me. I really connected with the idea that everything happens for a reason that day. My boat needed to break down for me to let go of “racing” and instead just have an experience with a group of people that I genuinely like. I had fun, and I think having fun is more important than any trophy or personal record — for now…