I started to paddle in 1998 when a cute guy in my grade 11 Chemistry class approached me to come try marathon canoe racing. The first time I sat in the tippy funny shaped canoe and held the carbon fibre paddle, I was sold. I was in control of my speed, my direction, my effort and my outcome. It was a feeling like I had never known. Paddling became something that was all mine in a world where I felt like I didn’t really fit in. Paddling helped me find an identity. It helped me discover my inner strength that developed into a physical and emotional strength. Being on the water helps me work through many of the challenges that life throws my way. My problems seem to work themselves out while I’m paddling and I come off refreshed and with a plan of attack. Paddling helped me learn how to navigate the turbulent river of life by teaching me that hard work pays off, how to go with the flow and most of all, that I can do anything I put my mind to. I wish nothing more than to share my passion for the water and introduce as many people, especially kids, to paddling in hopes that they too can find tranquility and empowerment just by putting their paddle in the water.
My paddling has evolved over the years. I started in marathon canoe racing, moved into dragon boat then outrigger canoe and most recently stand up paddle boarding and surfski. Though each discipline has unique challenges and technical aspects, there are countless similarities. It is these similarities upon which I build my personal technique.
Rick and I got to head back to where we got married to celebrate our anniversary, the cottage.
It was an amazing week visiting with friends, racing and spending quality time with my parents and Rick. The time always goes by too quick when I’m back home with so many people to catch up with and visit.
Luckily with a race each weekend I was able to hit most people within my old paddling circles in Toronto. Thank you to the wonderful folks at Wai Nui O’Kanaka for making me feel welcome and to Wendy for letting me use her OC1 to win the women’s race and take home the golden cookie.
The second weekend held the Eastern Canadian SUP Championships. This is a race that both excited me but also scared the crap out of me due to the shear distance of it. Even though I had completed this race last year and have done the same distance in other races, it is still daunting for me to think about racing 15km on a SUP. On a OC or a marathon canoe, no problem! I managed to get a few long paddles in prior to leaving Kelowna and a couple 10km ones while at the cottage on my Naish 1 inflatable so I knew I could make the distance.
My phrase going into the day was “just keep moving forward”. The weather turned mild and it was a rainy morning. The course had been changed from a downwind point to point to an out and back style of race to due weather/safety concerns. Much to my surprise we were to start with the downwind section first, turn at a buoy and return into the head wind. This would have been easier to handle if there hadn’t been waves coming from the open water as we paddled up and down the shoreline. The women started 10 minutes ahead of the men. I had a clean start with good acceleration. I settled into my grove pretty quick. There was one other gal, Ariel, that was out front with me. She had a bit of a lead at the end of the river as we turned onto the lake. I settled in on wash behind her, working my way closer wave by wave. Around the 3km mark, I found that I was catching some waves and felt that I could pass, so I made my move on the outside, settled on side wash briefly before catching two waves and moving ahead. The waves from the lake were growing and making riding the waves from behind more difficult. It was one of these waves that must have caught Ariel as I heard her fall in. I asked if she was alright but she had headphones on, so when I turned and saw that she was getting back on her board and standing up, I knew she was ok.
The waves grew as did my worry that I had no clue where the buoy was! I really wasn’t expecting to be leading the race and thought that the men would pass well before the buoy. I fell in as I was trying to look around for the buoy and a wave from the side caught me. I knew that it was supposed to be inside a pier so once I spotted the pier and the gps distance seemed about right, I aimed for the middle of it hoping that the buoy would appear. Since most SUP races have giant buoys that are usually near 5ft high, that’s what I was looking for. It wasn’t until I saw a flash of bright orange in between the waves that it dawned on me that I might actually beat the boys to the turn. As I approached the buoy that was right in my line, I could see the men’s leaders, Larry Cain (1984 Olympic C1 Gold Medalist) and Tomas Buday Jr, closely followed by Ariel, coming up from the shoreline. Larry and Tomas rounded the buoy just in front of me but I maintained my lead on Ariel.
Into the head wind, my phrase for the day kept me going, “just keep moving”. The waves from Lake Ontario continued to grow as the rain came down. My toes were numb from the cold water but also from gripping on to the board, my left calf was cramped. As I would try to relieve the pressure on my calf or toes, I would lose stability and have to do a strong brace or in two cases, fall in again. More of the men started to pass as I chased Larry and Tomas back to the river. The men all race on 14’ boards while the women are restricted to the 12’6 so it was not a surprise that the men were gaining ground. As I rounded the corner into the river, I managed to catch a few bumps and pick up the pace for the finish. I could hear Rick calling for me to pick it up even more as I approached the dock. I also saw my mom and dad there with the timing crew.
It felt so good to come across as the first woman and claim the Eastern Canadian SUP Championship title. After taking 4th last year, this was a huge win for me. I have no doubt that if reigning World and Canadian Champ Lina was there this year that she would have given many of the men a run for their money, luckily for me she was off in Germany winning another World Cup title.
Reflecting afterwards, there is no way that I could have done that race a year ago. I did not have the board control and stamina to paddle a course like that. Goes to show what time on the water can do!