The Surf to Sound race in Wrightsville Beach is kind of like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re going to get. Except that you do. In the four years I have done this race I have observed some constants.
- If you raced the Carolina Cup in April, you have a high probability of ending your season where you started, on a sandy beach, surrounded by wonderful paddle ohana.
- It comes very close after Chattajack, which means, if you are a CJ racer and you enter S2S, you have a high probability of making stupid decisions as to which part of S2S you enter.
- One way or another, the weather has a high probability of not cooperating.
This year was no exception to any of those points.
In case you are not familiar with it, the Surf to Sound is put on by the Wrightsville Beach Paddle Club, the same group of folks who bring us the Carolina Cup every spring. It’s held at the same venue and includes a wide variety of course options to choose from, including the short Harbor Island course, the S2S course, a 6.5 mile beach to sound run, the 9-mile Flatwater Championship and new for this year, the 24-25 mile Kraken course that has a 10 mile ocean section. The races are spread over the course of Saturday and Sunday. Friday usually includes a clinic or two. Absent from the festivities is the 12-mile iconic Graveyard run and the crowds that usually coalesce for the season-beginning party that is the Carolina Cup.
But if you live any where within striking distance of Wrightsville Beach, the S2S is a great way to bid the current paddle season adieu and enjoy one last race without too much pressure. And it’s an awesome way to hang out with your paddle peeps and enjoy their company one last time before winter sets in.
That’s Point Number One.
Now, for the others…
Point Number Two.
My brain was definitely Chattafogged up when I decided again to do S2S. I signed up for BOTH the Surf to Sound ocean to sound race and the Kraken. HAH! Well, I was hoping I’d be able to do the Kraken in the OC2 with my CJ partner. That did not work out. So, I figured I’d just switch to the 9-mile race. My heart though, was set on that 6.5 mile ocean race Saturday. I wanted one last run beyond the break before the water gets yucky cold. And I was desperate to catch a few more downwind bumps before calling it quits for 2016. So, really, I had strong forces battling for my soul where this race is concerned – the real fatigue that I THOUGHT I was over following the toughest Chattajack on record, plus the strong, strong pull of my down winding addiction.
I was doomed.
I brought the best board around for down winding, the SIC Bullet V2 and I kept an eye on the forecast. Things were looking good. At least for the ocean part and the first run in the channel south of the inlet. I was jazzed.
There is a saying in North Carolina – “If you don’t like the weather here, wait five minutes.”
Well, that applies on the converse as well.
And sure enough, things changed.
And here’s where Point Number Three comes into play.
My race plan called for me to stage my board on the beach before breakfast. Keep in mind the time had not changed so I did this in the dark. As I stood on the beach in front of the Blockade Runner, I squinted to make out the flags on the hotel’s boardwalk to see which way the wind was blowing. It looked to be due south. Perfect.
But, by the time breakfast was over and I made my way back to the sand for the start, the wind had switched ever so slightly and was now blowing at a different angle. The swells were not cooperating either. Catching the best bumps would mean gliding right back into the beach – not conducive to getting around the jetty. That also meant that getting out beyond the surf break would mean taking a perpendicular line away from the direction we ultimately wanted to go.
The surf didn’t look bad. When I paddle out on a board as opposed to my OC1, the waves are by definition smaller. The size of the surf is directly proportional to the cost of the craft I am paddling. Also, it is so much easier to get back on a board in the surf as it is the OC. So this was no big deal.
There was some carnage in the waves – but I stuck to what I’ve been taught – no matter what the course line is, you go out through the surf perpendicular to the waves, then course correct. Others did not ascribe to that line of thinking. There were boards coming at me from the left side. There was some bumping. I stayed low on the board as a result, but I managed to get out through the waves with strength.
Whatever scenario was going on in my mind did not necessarily match up with reality. Or something. I have no recollection of being hit by hard waves but when I looked down just after getting passed the shore break, I saw my SpeedCoach dragging by it’s tether in the water. A little bit later, I would see that my GoPro was gone – snapped off it’s mount.
Once I got beyond the break, I started hunting for the bumps. Not easy. Several large swells caught me from the left side. I have a distinct recollection of being mesmerized by one of them, and thinking to myself “Geez, that one is REALLY big – MAUI big.” Too bad it wasn’t going int the right direction. Memories of the Paddle Imua in May popped into my head, when conditions were similar, but not nearly as choppy.
No worries, I got this.
I tried to catch the wind swells, to surf them to the left but it was super technical. I caught a few but ultimately decided that I’d rather not fall too much and waste that energy because I know what was awaiting in the inlet.
I was in the ocean. I was happy. I was having fun, no matter what was going on. I realized that in the run up to Chattajack, I hadn’t spent enough time with Mother Ocean. And I’d missed her.
I cut the inlet close to the jetty as planned and was able to start catching more bumps once I was inside and away from the big swells.
About that time, a small pod of dolphins swam close enough to me that I could have reached out and touched them. I was close to the part of the inlet that John calls The Grotto, so I stopped for a moment and thanked the rocks and the dolphins for allowing me to be out there and to race.
Calm and a smile came over me.
Then I saw LouAnne – she was on her knees and had been for a while. When I paddled close enough to talk to her, I could see her paddle was snapped in half. It happened in the surf. Holy crap!!! She finished the slog, on her knees with a broken piece of carbon!!!
At this point in the channel I was catching bumps. I found my footwork. The Bullet and I were truly enjoying the conditions and each other’s company. I looked over and saw race leaders Larry Cain and April Zilg passing me, after having made the buoy turn and I wasn’t that far behind them!!!
I rounded the buoy.
And the crap hit the fan.
Full on 15-20 mile per hour winds come from just to the left of the nose of my board. For all intents and purposes, I might as well have been on my Starboard Whopper surfboard. The Bullet does not do well in this kind of wind, it’s just not what it is made for. I came to a grinding halt. People I had passed in the ocean and in the downwind run now passed me.
Soon, I was the Lantern Rouge. Last. Dead last. And moving at less than one knot per hour.
Kind of hard to take after getting on the podium in Chattanooga two weeks ago.
I saw a few people aborting the race on the South End. I vowed I would not quit.
It seemed I was not moving. I took a bad line and stayed on the right side of the channel. No matter what I tried, I just did not move. The Blockade Runner got no closer. I resolved to counting strokes on each side and switching after five strokes. I played the game where you pick a point and tell yourself just get to that dock, or that boat, then you pick another point, then another, then another.
About the time I thought the wind was dying down, another gust of over 20 mph would hit.
Just give it a rest, please!!!
All I could think of was the sup paddlers at Chattajack who endured 32 miles of this kind of crap.
Finally I heard the cheers of friends on the end of the dock at the finish. I may or may not have gestured to the drone above me.
Walking across that finish line in just under three hours, one of the greatest reliefs I think I have ever felt.
It wasn’t the best race nor the worst, and even though I am proud that I got out there and finished, I’d still kind of like a do-over.
But that’s what next season is for.
On Sunday, I stayed in jeans and a sweatshirt, and I enjoyed cheering everyone else on and staying until the very last paddler, Mark, crossed the finish line after doing the 25 mile race.
It was hard to leave Wrightsville Beach after sharing such an epic experience with everyone, but I am full of excitement and hope for what the next year will bring.