Greg Lesher---Off the Front

Long-time Massachusetts Paddler Greg Lesher has been putting up strong results in the hotly contested waters off the Northeast coast.

His exploits from race day are always followed with highly entertaining blog posts from his website, Full Tilt--- where Lesher brings his unique brand of humor to light in his race reports. 

Top northeast female paddler (and Greg's wife) Mary Beth Gangloff interrogates Greg Lesher for Surfski News with thanks to Richard Carter for arrangements.

Mary Beth


The 19+ mile Blackburn Challenge can be a grueling race, and you've competed how many times?  Are you a glutton for punishment or do you simply have a short memory?


This was my 12th Blackburn – 7 years in sea kayaks (not sure what I was thinking there) and 5 years in a surfski.  Of those dozen races, I've renounced paddling 9 times immediately after finishing.  The other 3 times I was too delirious to make such a rational decision.   I return because it'll be better this year.  I'll be more fit.  The tide and wind will be at our backs.  Conditions outside the Dog Bar won't be a barking mess.  In addition to my misplaced optimism, there are additional factors that keep me coming back – the history, the beautiful course, the fascinating variety of boats and people, the momentum.  If you live around here and you paddle, you can't miss a Blackburn.

Lesher staying close to Mims at the 2016 Blackburn

This year was your fifth Blackburn in a Surfski, and you finished second – not bad for someone of your advanced age. How was your race, and how did it compare to previous years?

I appreciate all compliments, back-handed or not.  I was pretty happy with my race.  After a mile or so, Ben Pigott and I took turns at the lead until Eric Mims took over for good at mile 7.  Spurred on by the sudden reappearance of Mike Dostal at mile 12, I was able to reestablish contact with Eric as we entered Gloucester Harbor.  Unfortunately, it was only a brief meeting – once he got wind of me, Eric wrinkled his nose and took off again.  I definitely got an assist from the conditions – just enough texture to slow down the flatwater guys but not nearly enough to give the rough water specialists an edge.

Having put in more training miles than in the past, the Blackburn seemed a lot shorter this year.  The mild conditions played into that as well, I'm sure.  This was a particular exciting race because there wasn't an overwhelming favorite – nobody capable of breaking 2.5 hours like Borys Markin, Sean Brennan, or Dorian Wolter.  Although it was my best finish in an HPK, I can't say it was my favorite Blackburn.  The 2015 boat-breaker had seas bigger than we'll ever be allowed to race in again – that was a blast.  It probably wouldn't have been a big deal for most of the world's surfskiers, but it gave us New Englanders a thrill.

To what do you attribute your success this year?

It's mostly due to putting more time on the water.  I'm lucky enough to have a very flexible work schedule and easy lake and ocean access, which eliminates any excuses.  I'm putting in about 30% more miles than I did last year.  Other important factors in my success – Jesse Lishchuk being busy in college, Mike Dostal living too far from the ocean, Jan Lupinski having shoulder surgery, …


In 2014 you competed in the U.S. Surfski Championships in San Francisco. Tell us a little about the experience and if you would recommend the race to other New England paddlers.


The US Championship is a must for all paddlers.  The Wednesday warm-up race before the Championships was the best downwind I've experienced.  And to paddle under the main span of the Golden Gate Bridge and to see San Francisco and Alcatraz in front of you – that's just awesome.  The conditions are so much bigger than what you're used to that it can be a little intimidating, but you're never very far from a container ship or multi-hull sailboat… so you'll quickly realize that the waves are the least of your concerns.  But when you get on a runner and pass Dawid Mocke and Sean Rice like they weren't even moving – that's not something you'll soon forget.  Did I mention you were being transported to the nearest trauma center via rescue boat at the time?  I may be exaggerating.  I have modest rough water skills, but was able to stay mostly upright in a V10 Sport and had no significant problems with boat traffic.  It's a phenomenal experience.  Make sure to stay at the official hotel so that you can watch Cory Hill eat an omelet.

At the U.S. Surfski hampionships


What is your training philosophy and regimen?

To the extent that I have a philosophy, I'd say it's "the other guys are out there training right now."  In the early season, I follow a structured regimen of 2 interval sessions, 2 long paddles, and 1 or 2 pace sessions a week.  Because we have so many races in the heart of the season (including our Tuesday night Salem League), I drop most of the pace sessions by July.  After the Blackburn, I'll cut some distance off the long paddles, maybe throw in an extra interval session, and ease back on the juice.

I have heard that some of your Garmin Connect buddies contend that your training is crazy. How do you respond?

I contend that they're trying to cover for their own craziness.

Crazy training methods?


You suffered an oblique injury in 2014, causing you to miss the Blackburn that year.  What did you do to recover and how has that injury affected your training now?

I initially tried to pretend it wasn't a big deal, limping through the rest of the 2014 season instead of shutting it down.  Eventually, I saw a physical therapist, started the exercises he recommended, and took a few months off from paddling.   In 2015 I gradually eased back into training (helped by the fact that my training lake was ice-bound until mid-April), keeping away from anything too intense for a few months.  The primary effect on my current training is that I'm more conscientious about warming up properly and I'm much more willing to ease back or take a break if something doesn't feel right.


I am a long-time fan of your blog, Full Tilt, in which you talk a little about your training and a lot about your races. How did you get into blogging?


As my mirthless (and merciless) editor, I feel like you may be mocking me with that "fan" comment.  In any event, when I first started racing skis I would devour the articles that appeared on – race reports and reviews written by Wesley Echols, Mark Ceconi, and (of course) Joe Glickman.  These pieces really got me enthused about surfskis.  In 2011, Wesley invited me to write an article about transitioning from a kayak to a ski, after which I just kept writing.  It's really satisfying when someone (non-sarcastically) tells me they're a fan or threatens legal action if I don't stop mentioning them in my posts.

Racing in the Northeast


Some readers may have missed some early posts and may not know how you started.  How did you get into surfski racing?


The Essex River Race takes place just a few miles from our house.  That's how I first heard of ocean racing.  I hauled my kayak (a Current Designs Gulfstream) around the Essex and the Blackburn courses for a few years before moving to an FSK (a QCC 700X).  Once Wesley sensed that I had the urge to go even faster, my fate was sealed.  I bought a Huki S1-R from him in 2010 and started falling off during races almost immediately – a proud tradition that I still honor.


What was the biggest challenge in transitioning from kayaks to surfskis?


I suppose the most significant hurdle was to stop thinking of a capsize as something to be avoided at all costs.  Getting comfortable with little failures – that's part of the learning process.  I regret my awkward FSK phase.  I should have moved directly from a sea kayak to a beginner ski.  Since you're going to go through an unstable phase regardless, better to rip off the Band-Aid.

Falling in and and still winning


Some questions for demographic categorization purposes:

What color is your dream ski?

I have a soft spot in my heart for my lime green-over-white Huki scheme.

What is your favorite post-race food?

I seldom feel really downright hungry after racing, but I enjoy chocolate milk.  And milkshakes.  And ice cream.

What song do you most often hum or sing as you paddle?

I have a terrible memory for lyrics (which pretty much torpedoed my hip hop career), so the only songs I know all the words to are the Star Spangled Banner and the Addams Family theme.  Since I don't have my hands free to do justice to those, I stick to humming.  Mostly Abba tunes.

What is your paddling animal totem?

I read somewhere that in Europe a wolverine is called a glutton.  Since that ties in nicely with your first question, I'll go with a wolverine.  Neither of us is known for our elegance or hygiene, but when there's carrion to be eaten, we get the job done.  I also like squid, so that'll be my back-up totem.

Finally, what is it like living with the New England women's surfski champion?

I'll admit it was a bit awkward when Beata Cseke was the champ, but it's gotten a lot easier now that it's Mary Beth.  Our books are all mixed together, so let's hope she can hold onto the crown.

You can read more from Greg Lesher here: