Monday, June 13, 2016

Jay Race 2015: Year of the Grom

The iconic annual gathering of paddlers at Capitola Beach that is the Jay Race has always been treated by the Santa Cruz locals as a family event. This year, Frosty Hesson proclaimed the 2015 Jay Moriarity Paddleboard race the year of the grom. One look around the crowd suggested he was only stating the obvious.

Yours truly is at the other end of the age continuum, though it could hardly be said the over-50 contenders were in short supply.  Suzanne Riedinger was paddling a brand-spanking-new Bark stock, a present to herself in celebration of her 70th birthday.

The race itself turned 14, but, if you have paddled this race, you likely agree with me that it never gets old.

Course conditions were glassy, with only minor bumps on what’s normally the downwind leg beginning at the mile buoy.

After the main paddleboard events, obstacle courses for the groms were enthusiastically attended. Kim Moriarity could be seen urging them on. One glimpse convinced me the future is bright indeed.

Here are a few photos – shots on the water were taken by DeeAnn, from Chardonnay II.

Nick Bryson's downward facing dog inspires a yogic moment.

Suzanne Riedinger

Mike McDaniel (foreground)

The "downind" leg. Every bump helps.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Donner Lake: A Paddler's Jewel, Hidden In Plain Sight

The Tahoe Cup is a series of three paddleboard races, open to a variety of arm-powered watercraft. Standup Paddleboards (SUP) is the most popular class, but a few prone paddleboards and still fewer single or double seat outrigger canoes (OC1, OC2) will also appear (OC6’s have even participated in the Tahoe Fall Classic).

The races are: Donner Lake in May (5 miles), Waterman’s Paddle Jam in June (6 miles on Lake Tahoe’s west shore), and the Tahoe Fall Classic in September (22 miles from El Dorado Beach to King’s Beach).

I have only paddled the Fall Classic. Until now.

Mike McDaniel races Donner Lake every year, and I finally decided to join him. As I considered this, his reports of last year’s snowy race conditions were dampening my enthusiasm. But, lightning never strikes twice, right?

Wrong. We arrived on Thursday to forecasts of strong winds and light snow. The winds greeted us and persisted through Friday, until late afternoon.  

The north shore -- of Lake Tahoe.

The Donner Lake webcam was, encouragingly, showing more serene surface conditions. So, although I wasn’t going to get time to acclimate to padding at altitude, it looked as though the race itself was likely going to be okay.

But, nothing stayed the same. On Friday evening, even as McDaniel made his way to Sacramento, those flurries turned to something more ominous. California Department of Transportation closed Interstate 80 in both directions over Donner Pass (elevation 7,239) for a couple of hours, due to heavy snows and high winds. Mike was able to head out quite late, but, thanks to the traffic jam the closure caused, he got to Truckee about an hour later than planned, around midnight.

I had a lesser problem to deal with: my 16 ½-foot Bark unlimited paddleboard’s fin wasn’t tightly attached to the rudder. In other words, I’ve been dealing with a loose fin, unable to either fix the problem myself or quickly obtain a suitable replacement part (through no fault of Joe Bark’s).

Between the cold, snowy weather and the fin problem, I started doubting whether I’d go. I went so far as to text Mike just after 3 a.m., saying I was out.

I woke up without an alarm about 6:30 am. Mike had texted a single word at 6:15 -- “No?”

I thought hard and responded: “Ummmmm …. See you there.”

Mike: Yeah! What were you doing up at 3 AM?

Me: Worrying … NOT. I’m 62, ok?

With that, I was committed. By 7:30 am, the car was loaded and the Bark was secured on its rack.  I was off to Donner Lake.

The view from our room in Tahoe Vista and the drive to Donner Lake could only be described as a winter wonderland. The white blanket was everywhere. Light snow it was not.

I then reminded myself I had spent nearly 25 wonderful years in Minnesota. This was nothing compared to some things I lived through there.  And, I didn’t even think twice about wearing sandals instead of shoes. This paddle was going to be fun, even if odd.

I exited I-80 too early, driving Donner Lake Road the length of the lake from its east end to its west end, to the site of the race start. The water appeared, thankfully, nearly calm.  

I found a parking spot right next to Mike. I pulled on my wetsuit, booties and hood. Then, I went for the gloves. First, I pulled on the right glove. And … oh no, another right glove! Mike and I had a good laugh over that one, and Mike said he’d brought none. So, I gave him my other right glove and joked we were right-handed Michael Jackson impersonators.

The scene in the staging area lit me up. The sun was out, the snow was brilliant and so was the lake’s blue surface.

Phil Segal’s greeting added another dimension of warmth. The volunteers who checked us in and passed us our timing chips were cheery and friendly.

The pre-race meeting was held, we hopped down a short slope into the water, and, even as we started paddling to line up, the horn sounded. So, it was a running start.

Donner Lake is about 2.7 miles long, west to east, and about half-a-mile wide.  The shape of the course is therefore a long rectangle. This day, our course distance was to be 4.7 miles. 

The first long leg featured a light tailwind and small wind waves. The water was warmer than I guessed it would be, so my bare left hand didn’t suffer at all.  The beauty around me increased my enjoyment of being out there.

At the east end of the lake, rounding the buoy on my left shoulder, I turned north into a short crosswind leg. The lead SUPs beat me to the turn.  Observing them gave me a good lesson in how to approach it. There’s always more to be learned.

After the next left turn to the west, into the final long upwind leg, the SUPs again showed me the way, sticking close to the north shore. That line afforded some protection from headwinds.  Despite the wind in my face, that last leg seemed shorter, even though it was just as long as the first leg. Like the horse running home to the barn, you know.

Crossing the finish line was great. But, once on shore, I wished I’d had more time on this beautiful course.
Fun to be on top! (Note the "winter" foot gear I thought to bring.)
One thing I love about paddle races is that everyone cheers on everyone else, and there’s always great interest in exchanging experiences. Some stories come out later. Mike, whom I’ve never seen don neoprene for paddling until this event, commented that he felt like he was wearing “three coats”.

The last paddler arrived. Awards were announced and tendered.  Mike and I headed for our cars, having agreed to a late breakfast in Truckee.

On our way to our cars, Mike thought to ask: “Shall we load the boards?” We had to turn around to go and get them.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Where's Lake Tahoe?

According to Cal Fire's website, the Butte Fire started on September 9, 2015, at 2:26 pm, in Amador & Calaveras Counties, east of Jackson. It consumed 70,868 acres. That tragedy was the backdrop for the 2015 Lake Tahoe Fall Classic.

DeeAnn and I drove to Tahoe Vista on Thursday, September 10. The approach on Interstate 80 was fair enough. We stopped to enjoy the view from the Donner Lake lookout.

[Click on smaller photos to enlarge; hit <esc> to return.]

Donner Lake

But the smoke was already dominating Lake Tahoe's basin. And the water level was lower than we've ever seen it.

I took a few paddles on the days leading up to the race. Mike McDaniel joined me for a paddle through Agate Bay, where Kings Beach lay, the day before the race. Mike brought along his goddaughter for her first Lake Tahoe paddle. We headed out to Brockway Point and admired the enormous granite boulders that were only partially submerged. The sun was out, and the sand below seemed emerald-colored -- or, perhaps more accurately, the more lightly-colored green beryl.

On race morning (September 14), many elected not to show -- wisely. In all past races, mountains to our north served to guide us to the finish line. Not today. Between the dismal lack of visibility and the drained-out shore, it was, to say the least, spooky. The place seemed deserted, remote and foreboding.

Race Director Phil Segal nearly called off the race, but decided to run it with a course change. We would paddle directly north from the start, rather than take the leg west to Tahoe Keys. Phil said the view would get better by the time we were 4 or 5 miles into the race. But it wasn't to be.

Mike McDaniel (right) and author
Shallow walk to the starting line

What the view felt like!

I set my Garmin GPS screen to compass, to hold a course near due north.  Within three miles, I was alone.  I could barely make out the mountains to the east, but no other hints of other shores or mountains were to be seen.

I heard after the race one poor racer promptly turned west and proceeded straight into Emerald Bay.  At least it's pretty over there --  if you can see. A few others were plucked out near the east shore.

Thankfully, conditions were glassy for a good part of the course.  Over an hour into the paddle, a motorboat with a family on board crossed my path, headed east.  It pulled alongside and one of the boaters asked if I was okay. I assured them I had a GPS, nutrition, hydration and some experience, so they sailed on.

Much later on, a jet ski approached. Its rider, a member of our safety crew, asked how I was. I gave the same answer. He shook his head affirmatively, smiled, then advised: "You're on a good line. See those guys way over there (pointing east)? Don't go over there. See you later."

After that, I was alone. Eventually the wind picked up. But instead of the typical southwest wind, it came out of the northwest. First lightly, later building in. The sloppy conditions and the wind direction turned the last third of the race into a slog. Because the conditions kept turning my board towards east, I was constantly correcting my course.

Mike McDaniel was hoping to stay west, but would up paddling on a nearly straight line to Kings Beach.

The surface conditions and the total lack of scenery worked on me.  I was getting tossed about a bit with only about 4 miles to go. It was just enough to cause an unscheduled stop to empty out the contents of my stomach. I've known worse. I knew I would make it, and I wasn't about to just quit.

My jet ski buddy appeared again and said he'd been looking for me. I said I was on the northerly line the whole time. We gave each other a smile and off he went.

When I could finally see the vague outline of the north coast, I thought I could ascertain the mountain leading down towards me, to Brockway Point. I switched my Garmin over to its map function and zoomed in. Brockway Point was right on my nose. That told me I needed to adjust course a little west to point myself at Kings Beach and our finish line.

That last stretch seemed to go on for a long, long time, even though I know full well that, when Kings Beach begins to look close, it isn't.

I was so glad to cross the finish line and so thankful DeeAnn was there to greet me. My distance, according to my GPS, was 21.1 miles.

Me, finishing (and feeling finished).

McDaniel paddled a slightly shorter line, with no GPS to aid him. Other racers estimated they paddled 24-26 miles, including the overall winner, Tahoe local Rand Carter, on his unlimited SUP.

Mike McDaniel, on the approach.

The beach was hardly crowded. But our announcer, Chris Hollingsworth, made it all into great fun. Phil handed out awards, and hardly anyone hung out after that. It just wasn't a beach party kind of day.

Not a beach day

Would I do the race again, even in the same conditions? You bet. But let's hope we never again see a Butte fire.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Lake Tahoe Classic 2014 Relocates Starting Line

September 24, 2014, Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada.

"Zach! How ya feelin' this morning?" I asked this question in Lake Tahoe's dawn chill. Zach's response, delivered with a grin, was to the point: he'd been up all night. 

Dawn over South Tahoe's El Dorado Beach
(Click on photos to enlarge, hit <esc> key to return)
It was refreshing to have strong representation from Santa Cruz. But the race was an afterthought. Craig Waltz's bachelor party had been held in Tahoe City the night before the race. Why not combine that with a 22-mile race the next morning? All-nighter notwithstanding, I knew what to expect. I had done well in previous races here. That was clearly about to change, and I was actually stoked to watch it unfold.

The presence of Santa Cruz Ghostryders wasn't the only change from past Tahoe Classics. All previous races started from the South Shore's Camp Richardson and ended at the North Shore's Kings Beach (that course was actually 21 miles, though advertised as 22). This year's starting line moved to South Tahoe's El Dorado Beach.  The new course would have been even shorter, had the course's first leg not been directed westbound to a buoy near Tahoe Keys. It turned out to be 22.5 miles.

We were greeted at dawn by pure glass. Cold air survived sunrise, at least for a while. Predictions were for strong south-southwest winds by noon. 

A challenge for new racers is the impossibility of seeing Kings Beach from the starting line. Earth's curvature causes two six-foot persons to disappear from each others' site when 18 miles apart.  For that reason, you have no chance of spotting Kings Beach until you're well beyond the halfway point.

It's important to know what to look for in order to aim for Kings Beach, especially because the first leg of the race (as reconfigured this year) runs west, not north.

To get a sense of the view, log on to Google Maps, select "Earth" view, and play around with the tilt feature.  Here's a screenshot:

In the above Google Maps screenshot, King's Beach is all the way to the left. Crystal Bay is all the way to the right. Brockway Point is near the center, just above the word, "Google". A ridge runs up the mountain from Brockway Point (there are two light brown spots as you look up that ridge). Look above that, to the highest ridge visible along the sky (ignoring the mountain peaks in the far background). To the right, above Crystal Bay, is a large brown region (in various shades). The left end of the darker part of the brown region is your marker from the south side of the lake.

On the approach to Kings Beach, a red tile roof will appear. That's the community center, and it's at the left end of the beach. The race's finish is somewhere to the right of that.

Me, Mike McDaniel: ready.
For this year's race, two buoys marked the starting line, about a quarter mile offshore. It was shallow enough on the way out that we had to carry our boards most of the way, so it was important to head out as soon as it was announced we'd be starting soon.

Getting off the starting line, I was eager to put my new Bark 16' 6" unlimited through its paces. As we headed for Tahoe Keys, I caught up with a couple of Santa Cruz friends. But after we turned north, it wasn't long before it was just me and the lake.

Lake Tahoe isn't a technical paddle. It's just long and requires focus that matches that length. Towards the end, there's a current running west around Brockway Point, so it's best to be vigilant about not winding up too far west -- unless the southwest wind comes up. But being too far east can make it difficult to overcome a current that runs into Crystal Bay. All that means minding your line in the last third of the race.

While I always work for the best performance I can muster, I also am mindful of how much I look forward each year to being on this very special (some say sacred) lake. That mindset focuses me on what's around me in the present. This day, blindingly brilliant white clouds dappled the sky. The effect on the lake's surface was an ongoing dynamic dance of that pure white upon the lake's blue surface, a paisley pattern in motion.  The colors and texture of the sky, the lake, the trees and the granite peaks were mesmerizing, enchanting, majestic.

I stayed slightly west, anticipating the predicted strong southwest wind. While the lake's surface was still glass, a water patrol boat approached me, manned by two official-looking gents. One asked if I was heading straight to shore. My impulse was to quip that my race result depended on that, but I just said, "Yes." "Good" was the response, followed by, "Strong winds are expected" in a warning tone. My next thought, which I didn't say out loud, was: BRING IT ON!!!! Clearly, these folks had never heard of the Davenport Downwinder.

Near the end, although not soon enough for my taste, the wind kicked in abruptly, like a switch had been thrown. I had positioned myself just west of Kings Beach and now got to surf my way home.

DeeAnn, four of my cousins and our neighbors from Carmel greeted me as I crossed the finish mat.  This new course had taken me 4:54:37 to complete. San Diego's Todd Robinson won it in 3:55:42. Second was Santa Cruz's Mike Dilloughery (4:21:59), followed by Groom-To-Be Craig Waltz (4:25:46). All three finished before the wind kicked up, so they actually paddled that fast!

My good friend and training partner Mike McDaniel got caught too far east. He won a lengthy battle to get to the inside of Brockway Point and then to the finish. The wind was so strong that some standup paddlers were going to their knees, or even going prone to finish, in spite of the fact it was a tailwind.

We didn't stay long on the beach - it was that windy. The sky was also turning a very strange pinkish-grey in the southwest. It turned out that was caused by smoke carried in on the southwest winds from the massive King Fire. That tragedy ultimately caused extensive damage and also cancelled Lake Tahoe's Iron Man. I was thankful we weren't inhaling that smoke during the race.

When we arrived at our Holiday House base, the visible effects of the fire had greatly intensified. 

View from Holiday House of smoke spreading over Lake Tahoe
Our hostess and owner of The Holiday House, Alvina Patterson, informed us that the wind was so high that a boat capsized in front of Captain Jon's (just to our west). I grabbed my board, paddled out, and took a few photos. The next morning we watched a crew right the boat. Hopefully, it was restored after that.

In the end, it was another great year that had its own unique way of unfolding. That included the fun of visiting with my cousins and introducing them to some of Tahoe's many wonders. But the sadness of the fire lingered, a reminder of how precious Tahoe is.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Course Adjustment: Sixth Annual West Cliff Challenge

I was stoked to be doing this year's race with Mike McDaniel and our friends from Santa Cruz. It's a small race, less than 20 this year, in a stunning venue that offers both challenges and fun.

[Click on photos to enlarge, hit <esc> to return] 

September in Santa Cruz can bring on just about any conditions, from glass to whipped-up seas to solid waves. This year, a solid south swell stripped Mitchell's Cove of sand and also made the location too treacherous.

 It was decided to start and finish the race at Collins Cove (next to Cowell Beach), as well as to eliminate the leg that rounds the Coast Guard Buoy outside of the San Lorenzo river. The course, as revised, was: paddle from Collins Cove to the buoy outside of Natural Bridges State Beach, taking the buoy on the left shoulder, then back to Collins Cove.

We were treated to moderate northwest winds for our 1 pm (+) start. Although the winds were light inside the cove, a puff of wind blew off my cap shortly into the race. That wasn't just any cap, it was a red Bryson Burns Construction cap given to me by Nick Bryson. It's been protecting the Jones noggin for several years, from Jay Races, to Catalina Classics, to Davenport Downwinders (3) and even Kauai's very breezy Napali Coast.

Paddlers needed to make a choice of line from Seal Rock (just outside of Steamer Lane) to Natural Bridges. Kelp beds offered shelter from headwinds and chop, but at the risk of taking a set wave on the head.

Aaron McKennon took the outside line and I took my cue from him. Aaron's feet just got smaller and smaller as the race progressed. Once past Steamer lane, the wind picked up. It was all upwind to Natural Bridges. But on the way back, it was all bumps. And my Bark 14-footer loves bumps.

After rounding Seal Rock, a choice had to be made: whether to take a like close to the cliffs, risking a clean-up set from the south swell, or swing wide of the lane. I chose the latter, missing an opportunity to surf an open face into Cowell's.

Mike McDaniel finishes

What fun. I loved the course, the day, and all my paddling friends.  I would gladly have taken two laps. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

13th Annual Surftech Jay Moriarity Paddleboard Race (June 2014)

The annual race celebrating the positive and formidable force that is Jay Moriarity continues to grow in size, yet remain fresh. And on this day, the Jay Race entered its teen years.   Regardless of whether you knew Jay “then”, this event can be relied upon to breathe life into his legacy, so you can know something of what Jay has become now.

This always gets me off to a good start: I love getting to Capitola beach early and watching everything come together. The event structures go up (including a kids' obstacle course), paddleboard-laden cars roll in, and paddlers stake out beach real estate.  Eventually, walking a straight line on the beach becomes impossible - the place is littered with boards and "encampments". Amid all this, everyone prepares for the day’s race events and begin connecting with each other.

[Click on photos to enlarge, hit <esc> to return] 
Where it all begins and ends

My good friend and paddling partner, Mike McDaniel (aka "M2"), and me (aka "M1")

Capitola color in morning light

DeeAnn (my wife) decided to view this year’s race from the water by going out on Chardonnay II, the lead boat for the stand-up paddleboard division of the long course (proceeds go to the Santa Cruz Junior Lifeguard Program).  So, after dropping off Mike McDaniel and me at the beach to set up, she headed off for the harbor. 

Meanwhile, Mike and I went to work setting up his Mile 22 beach canopy, our hang-out for the day.
After that, we checked in, picking up our goodie bags, Jay Race T-shirts and race jerseys. Next was submitting to someone marking our race numbers on various body parts and taking our assigned race chips to wrap around our ankles. Then we prepped our prone boards and said “hi” to many friends and friends whose names I just haven’t yet learned (this can take awhile – names aren’t a strong suit). I hadn’t seen Nick Bryson and family in some time. Nick paddled the short course with son Drew (this was Drew’s inaugural appearance at age 9). I made two new friends earlier this year as I sold off both my paddleboards, and both of the new owners were about to put their new acquisitions to the test.

From the "other end" of Monterey Bay, Bill Jones, Paul Wetterau and Shane Scoggins (2nd place men’s stock, ages 18-49) showed for this year’s race, in addition to Mike and me. But we missed Monterey homie Mike Roberts (aka "M3"). 

My new Bark 14-foot paddleboard needed a Jay sticker, and Kim Moriarity was kind enough to supply it. That was my excuse to have a chat. Somehow she always has a moment for everyone. Kim’s very bright light illuminates just about every aspect of this day.

This year’s dedication ceremony began with beautiful Hawaiian mele. And Frosty Hesson’s remarks are always a great way to set the tone for all that comes next. Frosty revealed that he lets what he’s about to say come to him on the spot. This year it was about each of us learning to  and appreciate our unique aspects. Frosty used himself as an example. Perceived weaknesses, when examined closely and appreciated properly transform into strengths. For example, Frosty said he has a short attention span. He suggested, instead of buying into social convention that views that as a weakness, learn to appreciate it and use it to best advantage.  It’s a great lesson to keep in mind every day.   

It was announced this year’s race was dedicated to Robin "Zeuf" Janiszeufski Hesson (1959 – 2013), the first woman to have paddleboarded across Monterey Bay.

The 12-mile course (my challenge of choice) was evenly split between 88 paddleboards and 88 stand-up paddleboards (176 total). Ages ranged from 13-year-old Kali‘a Alexiou (SUP) to 69-year-old Suzanne Riedlinger (Paddleboard). Suzanne was sporting a new Bark model because, as she put it, she deserved a new paddleboard before reaching age 70. So, it looks like she's not planning to let up any time soon! Then there were the short course and the kids’ events, where there were even younger contestants. Finally, the Waterman’s Challenge was offered to the tireless. That challenge is described on the Race’s web page as: “Swim, Stock Prone Paddleboard and SUP – all three events are combined to determine the top male and female over-all waterman!”

Between the opening ceremony and the race’s start, I was able to squeeze in a short warm-up paddle. There was just enough time to get back to the beach and line up. This year I felt confident, free of the anxiety that regularly creeps over me at the start. Although it was partly sunny when we arrived in Capitola, by race time it had clouded over and there was some haze. That brought to mind last year’s fog-induced delay. But today it was announced the harbor patrol cleared us for an on-time start.

So, off we went, churning water and jockeying for position.

Mike McDaniel (blue board), followed by Suzanne Riedlinger

Matt Becker, rounding the first buoy
Paul Wetterau, digging
Joe Bark
This year, I decided to try something new: sticking with other paddlers. This keeps me in moving water, which trumps my long-time misguided notion I never seemed to shake until now: that I can get ahead by finding my own line. Truth is: I’ve never been that good at reading the water.  

Eventually, I became part of a paddling chain – an enormous advantage. The two leaders were taking turns at the front. I offered to take my turn, but wasn’t taken seriously (too bad for them!!) Chardonnay II caught up with us before we reached the Municipal pier, and DeeAnn was able to capture some nice photos.

Rounding the Mile Buoy - Carter Graves giving chase

Reaching the Mile Buoy means the race is half over and that it’s time to catch bumps. Most years, it has been a downwind leg. This year there was no wind, but there were some bumps anyway. The paddling chain broke as we each focused on hunting down runners. Two of the other paddlers I had been with were further out to sea, and were going about my speed.  As we approached the final turn, I figured I had the inside line. But both got in front of me and I never caught them. As a result, I came in right behind Jeff Denholm.

As I crossed the finish, I remembered to pull my timing chip off of my left leg. But it was missing. Note to self for future races: slip the wetsuit cuff over the timing chip.

I immediately notified the race official standing at the finish line, and was assigned an estimated time: 2 hours, 22 minutes – good enough to claim 2nd fourteen, age class 50 and over.

Then came a minor shock. I talked with another race official who informed me I owed $30 for the missing race chip.

In running (for example, the big Sur Half Marathon), a $30 replacement charge is standard, and each contestant is given written notice of that consequence before the race.  The Jay Race gave no such notice. And this is the ocean, after all – she can rip off just about anything, or so I argued.

After a little cooling off and a little reflection, I realized the most important thing to me was to keep it positive at the Jay Race. These folks deserve my support, not my excuses. I paid the $30. Cash. What I got in return was more appreciation that I had any right to expect.

Here’s the headline news from this year’s Jay Race: Santa Cruz local Aaron McKinnon put the world on notice by blowing away the paddleboard field, winning in 1:49:01. It’s nice to have the trophy in the hands of a homey. He’ll be one to watch at this year’s Catalina Classic.

The after-party was packed, as in sold out. Mike and Lisa elected to skip the meal and head up to the Crow’s Nest. As I stood gazing in some direction I now can’t recall, I got tapped on the shoulder by a good friend I hadn’t yet had a chance to say “hi” to. And so, a great day got even better.

Thanks to all who made this special day possible, and thanks to the people of Capitola for allowing us to overrun your beautiful beach (and parking). 
The future looks bright indeed