They call them the Great Lakes for good reason, and a case could be made to call them inland oceans. Lake St. Clair, the smallest of the “great” lakes can be no less fierce and made its presence known during the annual Sprint and Splash event held on June15th.

The 8th annual running of this event was the second stop in an action-packed Midwest Paddle League Schedule. The race is a multi-disciplinary event featuring Kayaks, SUPs, and running events in various distances and combinations. 

The location for the event is the Lake St. Clair Metropark, long known as an escape for those living east of Detroit. The Metropark is beautifully maintained and features a host of amenities that are clean and in good repair. Since the Metropark is also the organizer of the event, they are consistently able to attract larger name non-paddle related corporate area sponsors including a major regional health system, and three large health insurance providers. Midwest Paddle League Sponsors, Footstake, were also on hand. Sponsors set up tents lending a festival like atmosphere to the Start/Finish area.

Overcast, 60 degree temps, and rain were in the forecast, but that was the least of the worries of the race field as they lined up for a beach start in winds out of the southwest blowing 16 and gusting to 26. The course featured a one-mile open water paddle that rounds a treacherous breakwater point before turning south into a protected channel for the middle part of the race. The channel runs south for 2.5 miles where the racers then round a small island, belly under a bridge, and head back in reverse.

The the 6-mile race started promptly at 9am.

And carnage ensued.

While the top racers managed for the most part, the middle and back of the pack had a hard time staying on their boards in large side swell.  For those of you who have never paddled in big fresh water, while 2.5-4 is manageable in the ocean, on the lakes the waves break at much shorter intervals, 5-6 feet apart today. To say it was a challenge for most, would be an understatement.

If paddling in big side swell isn’t hard enough, racers soon had to make their way around the breakwater, which with seawall bounce back was a total washing machine.

And carnage continued.

Once in the channel, racing could be gin in earnest, but by then the field had already separated considerably. The eventual race winner, Brian Lafeve, set and maintained a significant margin of victory on his home waters. 2nd and 3rd place finishers Alex “the Russian” Sandler and Bret Schapman were even intervals back from each other and neither was able to close the gap. 

As the racers approached the breakwater on the return leg, they quickly found worsening conditions. 

And yet more carnage ensued.

The wind had shifted farther to the east and 4-6-foot waves now pushed racers dangerously close to the rock and broken concrete breakwater. Falls were common and many racers opted to beach well east of the start of finish line and run, jog, or slog their way to the finish line.

Eventual Race winner, Brian Lafeve commented: “This was hands down the hardest race I have done in 7 yrs. 15-25 mph winds and 2’-3’ waves hitting you from the side both directions. My hat off to all the finishers in the 6-mile race!! You guys rock!!”

While the vast majority of the field opted for 14’ race boards, there was one crazy genius, Mike “the Machine” Bartos who opted for a 12’ surf style board. Mike easily took home top on honors in the surf style class and was able to keep up with the race-bred boards.

The two-mile short course kicked off after the 6-mile start and was further shortened to just over a mile due to safety concerns. Despite the precaution, the jetski-mounted marine police were kept busy rendering assistance to recreational paddlers unused to paddling in rough conditions. The Men’s SUP was won by Kenneth Flesar and Becky Ashcroft took home top honors for the women. Midwest regulars Uli Sherer and Michael Mereidth took home the wins on the surfski class.

Full results at https://www.sprintandsplash.com/results

The Midwest Paddle League heads north for its next event to scenic Sutton’s Bay, MI for the popular 45th Parallel Paddle Festival. The festival feature SUP, Surfski, Kayak, and Outrigger classes and is in the famous Traverse City area.

The Author’s View:

The story of my race starts the day before, June 14th, my birthday. I woke up that morning in Lodz, Poland where I had just completed some work for my day job. The day started of bad, as my KLM flight through Amsterdam, was changed to a LOT Polish Airlines flight through NJ, that left quite a bit later than my original flight, and then got delayed again after that. Long story short, I rolled in about 1:30am the night before the race. I slept for about 4 hours and headed to the race. I had really decided on doing the short race since I wasn’t at my best, but a mile was a little TOO short.

Within the first ¼ mile of the 6-mile race, I regretted not doing the short race. I swam more than I paddled, and my feet were completely asleep by the first mile marker. After I got in the channel, I was able to establish a cadence, but couldn’t keep up with Chris Dyki, though I never lost sight of him.  John Anter caught me and passed me about the 3-mile mark, but I grabbed onto his draft, and rested up a bit. I was able to get by him again by mile 4, but my intent was really just to lead the draft for a while.

If I’m being really honest, I was scarred after I rounded the point on the return trip. I was paddling as hard as I could to just stay off the rocks. Most of the time I was on my knees, and I pulled out well east of the finish line. My official race time was 1:49, but I was just happy to finish at all.  Time for a nap.

About the Midwest Paddle League

Welcome to the Midwest Paddle League – designated for SUP paddlers, by SUP paddlers. If you’ve never raced before, or you race most weekends, with kids races, short races, long races, sprints and more… there is an event for YOU! Come for the challenge, stay for the camaraderie. Here in the Midwest, it’s COMMUNITY FIRST. COMPETITION SECOND.

https://www.midwestpaddleleague.com/