This past Saturday, April 16, 2016, we saw some incredibly tight racing during the 2016 Kumu'ohu Challenge at the Washington Canoe Club, in Georgetown, Washington DC. This was both the season opening race of the East Coast Outrigger Racing Association sanctioned OC1/OC2 points series and the Mid-Atlantic SUP racing season. In addition to outrigger and SUP, classes included surfski, sea kayak, and ICF sprint canoes and kayaks.
It was a gorgeous day for racing - finally - after a stretch of frigid weather and high winds, which combined with the still chilly water temperatures and boat traffic, can make the river not quite as inviting for flat water paddlers.
The river was flat as a pancake, which made the newer paddlers and sprint kayakers and canoeists happy, but not necessarily all of the paddlers used to the ocean, and craving wind and waves. But this is one of the myriad reasons this race exists: it’s the first of the season, a chance to focus and shake off the winter cobwebs in a no pressure, safe, fun environment, and it’s a chance for new paddlers and those not used to paddling singles or doubles (vs the 6 person outrigger canoe) to challenge themselves in relatively calm conditions.
Out of the 35 outrigger canoe finishers, this looked to be the largest field ever for the women's OC1/OC2 class - 13 boats (11 OC1s). There were 18 men's OC1s and 4 mixed OC2 crews. I do not know any of the other stories within the race but looking at the results and some of the photos posted by WCC member Bonnie Havens, and knowing my immediate surroundings during the race, there were a lot of packs which made the entire 14K intense and the final results being decided in the last 1000 meters.
Mixed OC2 team of Elizabeth Pennisi and husband Matt Butcher edged out the team of Dan Havens and Kathleen McNamee for the overall win in 1:14:05.29. Havens/McNamee came through in 1:14:17.20, just ahead of former sprint canoeists Andrey (“the Giant”) Drachenko in his OC1 (1:14:25.26). All 3 boats were together the entire race and they were neck and neck going past the canoe club for the remaining 3K. It was fun watching all of their winter training put to the test as Butcher, Pennisi and Havens are training for the General Clinton 70 miler in May.
The next “pack” was a pack of 2 – also former sprint canoeists turned outrigger canoeists Blaise Rhodes and Martin Lowenfish. They finished less than 7 seconds apart, 1:16:44.97 and 1:16:51.86. Joel Clement was by himself for most of the race coming in 32 seconds behind Martin.
The next 4 paddlers finished within 33 seconds of each other – all in the 80 minute block: NCA’s Joel Collins (coming off the epic Panama Canal Ocean to Ocean Cayuco Endurance Race along with Elizabeth, Matt and Natasha Quiroga), Kyle Cavanaugh (visiting us from LA after moving away from us last year), Kelly Rhodes (1st woman, WCC women’s outrigger team coach) and me (2nd woman). I went out very hard and just tried to hang on. Joel Collins passed me about 3K into the race going down river and I could never bridge the gap, even though I came close a few times after turning to come back up river after the turnaround buoy. He finished in a strong 1:20:19.22, his best finish to date at this race.
I was behind Joel and ahead of the rest until Kelly Rhodes (training with Dan Havens for the General Clinton 70-miler) caught me around Memorial Bridge (a little over 5K from the finish). Both she and I have squeaky seats on our Hurricane OC-1s so you can hear both of us from a mile away. I know I made some tactical errors being too indecisive about which line to take coming back up river – both Joels took distinct lines and even those ahead of them all took interesting paths and Kelly seems to always take the best line. I seem to take the not best.
Kelly and I battled together for the remainder of the race from Memorial Bridge with Kyle coming up on both of us with about 2K left. The final turn buoy was just below “mile rock” upriver from the club and Kelly, Kyle and I were a pack going around. Kelly had the inside advantage going around to the left as did Kyle, but I pulled beside her on her right a few times heading back down, then she would pull ahead again. I finally decided to tuck in behind her and pulled up to her ama side before the 500m mark. Kyle finally pulled ahead of both of us with less than 500m left. I could get my bow to Kelly’s seat but couldn’t bridge the gap before the finish. Kyle finished in 1:20:45.05, Kelly in 1:20:49.95 and I in 1:20.52.55.
That rounded out the Top 10 for the long race. Brian Meyer edged out Michael Tavares in the men’s 8K SUP class by 5 seconds and WCC member Kathy Summers took the top spot for women’ SUP. Koen Van Ginkel won the sprint canoe/kayak 8K in his K1.
A big Mahalo to Brooke Linford for taking charge of this race for the first time and doing an incredible job organizing the event with an army of incredible WCC volunteers. It was a well-run event all around, with great food/beer, once again showing the community our spirit of Aloha and O’hana. This race, in its 13th year, is one of the most fun and cheapest events ($20 includes lunch and awards) on any paddling racing circuit. With skyrocketing race fees throughout paddle sports, the WCC continues to lead the way showing that with amazing volunteers and participants, races do not have to break the bank.
Awards were donated by Dan Havens and Joseph Cafferata. Once again Dan showed that you can take dirty drift wood out of the Potomac River and make magic out of it, hand carving a paddling scene for new perpetual outrigger canoe awards, 1st place men’s and women’s outrigger canoes, and perpetual awards for 1st place men’s and women’s SUP. Joseph donated WCC glasses for 2nd and 3rd place in each category.
On a personal note, it was fantastic to see more women in the OC1’s and OC2’s, from our club, the NCA out of Anacostia, and our friends from Wanda Canoe Club (the “other WCC”) in NY. It takes a lot to jump from the OC6 and go it solo or with 1 other person. You certainly learn a lot about yourself! A special shout out to new WCC women’s team member Rachel Orange, an experienced ocean paddler who joined us late 2015 from Hawaii. If this were big water, I know Rachel would have been out in front! Our women’s and men’s teams will build on this first race to make us a stronger team in the OC6s as we focus on the Hawaiian Airlines Liberty Challenge in NYC June 11.
As for me, I gave it all I had from start to finish. These are the kinds of races you live for - intense from start to finish, no time to slack. It was a long winter with 4 1/2 months off the water to try to let a shoulder heal. It’s not fully cooperating but you just learn to go with the flow and do what you can. I want to paddle another 50 years so no sense smashing it. This is my most severe injury since 2008 so a bit of an adjustment. Some teammates have had surgeries and they could not race with us and remain off the water, but I know they’ll be back when it’s time and we’ll be waiting and rooting for them. They were with the group in spirit!
All in all, I was actually very pleased and somewhat surprised with my race with less than a month in the boat. It certainly stinks to lose by less than a boat, but all you can do is give it your best day in and day out.
You are the average with whom you surround yourself and at the Washington Canoe Club, I am in great company and feel very blessed. Still much to work on, and with incredibly talented teammates from the men’s and women’s teams to train with and one of the best coaches on the mainland, I’m looking forward to the 2016 season, in whatever boat I paddle.
See all results https://paddleguru.com/races/KumuohuChallenge2016
Photo Credits: Joseph Cafferata and Bonnie Havens