A River Of Thanksgiving --- by Lindsey (O'Shea) Gray

Pam Boteler, Lindsey, Kata Dismukes

Pam Boteler, Lindsey, Kata Dismukes

Just as the pilgrims launched the Mayflower out of Plymouth in search of new adventures, hundreds of paddlers disembarked from Ross’s Landing on the bleak morning of October 28, seeking to settle their mettle over a 31-mile stretch of the Tennessee River.

Photo Credit:  Shawna Herring

Photo Credit:  Shawna Herring

The riverfront park’s namesake, John Ross, was a white man who served for thirty years as chief of the Cherokee Nation. In the 1830s, he sadly had to lead his people forced to relocate to western land.  Part of this “Indian Territory” included the present state of Oklahoma, where I spent a decade of my life. In 2014, I packed my possessions and reverse-Trail of Tears’d to Georgia, where I arrived wielding a double-bladed paddle and cursory knowledge of sprint kayaking. Immediately, I was adopted into a band of people who have been encouraging and exciting ever since. Though I’m enjoying Thanksgiving back in my home state of New Mexico, where the sun is always shiny and the dirt is always dusty, I would be remiss if I didn’t express my gratitude for the camaraderie I’ve found in the paddling community, and nothing epitomizes the strength and support of tribal solidarity quite like the Chattajack race.

I trudged out to Ross’s Landing in the frigid rain, with a dismal disposition that was quickly lifted when I discovered that Myrlene Marsa had left a giant cat mask by my boat to surprise me. We may be cunning competitors on the water, but on land, most of the female paddlers are dear friends.


One Cat Mask --- Check

One Cat Mask --- Check

Kata Dismukes had given me an extra hat to wear, and Dana Richardson gave me the pogies I’ve worn in sub-60-degree weather. I had no clue what paddling gear to wear in rainy, 40-degree weather. Between registering for the Chattajack on May 1 and the race itself on October 28, I paddled 746 miles in warm weather. After all that training, I was not backing down on account of imperfect conditions. I had some warm clothes, and multiple people offered me more layers, but I didn’t want to try anything new on the day of a race. I also feared that if I wound up in the water, I would be glad not to have to deal with heavy clothing. My friends laughed when I expressed my fear of falling--I had raced my boat successfully several times this year, and everyone thought I was going to be just fine.



Dana Richardson & Lindsey O'Shea

Dana Richardson & Lindsey O'Shea

I was feeling alright, except that I arrived to start the Chattajack with a recent hip injury. But I felt like everyone arrived at least a little broken! I took some Naproxen before the race and hoped adrenaline would carry me through. The pain seared down my leg and up my spine as soon as I sat in the bucket. I knew I could ignore the pain, but I didn’t know how it would affect my stability.

The start wasn’t rough. I was on the very far side of river, the Coolidge side, and I was facing the wrong way when the gun went off, but that minute wasn’t going to make a big difference in my time. I was just lining up like Morgan House was aiming his tandem, and he taught me most of what I know about proper paddling.

Dana Richardson, Joe Vinson, Lindsey O'Shea, Morgan House, Todd Hyatt

Dana Richardson, Joe Vinson, Lindsey O'Shea, Morgan House, Todd Hyatt

The course takes racers around Moccasin Bend near mile 3, and that day the waves were coming from one direction, the wind from another, and water was reverberating from the riverbank back toward the channel. These were big waves, though I’ve handled worse.  I approached that curve anxiously, and I wasn’t surprised when my uneasiness led to a quick capsize.

I had been falling out more recently, and I had practiced remounting successfully. However, conditions that moment were not like anything I had attempted to simulate. Waves were pushing my boat upstream, and the current was pulling my body the other direction. The 4 liters of water I had mounted with bungees on the deck kept tipping the boat over, so that I was struggling even to keep my boat upright. The longer my boat was upside down, the more water it accumulated inside the hull.

A few people I knew passed me, seeing me obviously floundering out there in my very unique blue boat. I was embarrassed, frustrated, and despondent. I don’t think I would’ve stopped for someone in that situation, either. It’s a race. Survival of the fittest. I was obviously not fit for this. I saw my hopes of finishing dissipate into the distance. All the miles of training, all the hours in the gym, all the driving up here to practice the course, all the sacrifices my family made to enable my sport--all was gone in a splash. I had spent all those rainy days miserably running on a treadmill, when I should’ve been practicing in the inclement weather. My heart sunk to the bottom of the river as I tried to position my boat and my body to attempt a remount.

While I was blundering about, muttering un-Puritanical expletives, some Squanto on a Stellar steed rode up next to me in a tiger-striped surfski and offered to help. He said he wasn’t having a good time, either, and when I whined, “I just want to turn around and go back!”, he said he would go with me. While he held my boat, I managed to remount on my second attempt. Seconds later, he fell into the river, and I held his boat while he climbed back on. We floated together for a couple minutes, and David introduced himself as a wave interpreter, river guide, and everyday hero. We floated side by side while this modern-day Squanto taught me how to catch eels and convert fish into fertilizer. We agreed to attempt navigating around Moccasin Bend once more, and, once we caught a brief break in the wind, we jumped back in the game.

David Dupree aka Squanto on a Steller

David Dupree aka Squanto on a Steller

I was so flummoxed by flailing that I couldn’t even remember where to put my hands on the shaft. I couldn’t think about any of my technique at all. My race number had fallen off my PFD. My GPS display stopped working, but it was still sending my coordinates to Blake, my husband, who had just sat down to breakfast with the rest of our sherpa crew.

Blake Gray & Lindsey O'Shea Gray

Blake Gray & Lindsey O'Shea Gray

When David and I started making progress again, there were no racers behind us. I had been stopped for 13 minutes. I knew my race time was going to be terrible, and I knew that I wouldn’t be proud of how I performed in this race. I figured a DNF was about the same as being the last boat to finish. Tears in my eyes, my camelbak hose trailing off my boat, snot pouring over my lips, hat disheveled on my head, I convinced myself that I was more proud of myself for remounting and restarting than I could be proud of myself for finishing strong. I fervently wanted to forfeit this foolishness, but I kept thinking about my coworker, Heather Billings, who had traveled from Atlanta to be the on-water medic for the racecourse. Her boat came within shouting distance a couple times, and I was comforted by her voice. She sent video to Blake when she saw me, telling him that I was looking strong, though I was feeling powerless.

I stopped at Suck Creek (around mile 12), where Blake was up on an embankment. He encouraged me to paddle over the boat ramp, so he could help me situate, but I couldn’t--if I met him at the ramp, I would have had him carry my boat out, and I would have been done for the day. David caught up with me at Suck Creek, and I was glad to see that he seemed to be faring like a Chattachamp.

Lindsey & Blake

Lindsey & Blake

There seemed to be quite a commotion at Suck Creek, and I couldn’t tell how many people were leaving the water or recharging. Turns out there was some of both. Chattajack had 492 racers depart from Ross’s Landing, 67 of whom did not finish the course. That’s still a much higher success rate than the Mayflower passengers experienced their first winter, when less than half of the colonists survived.

Like indigenous farmers immune to the elements, the chicken cheerleaders became many spirit animals to many of us who saw them on the course. These two guys were out all day, wearing chicken suits and Major League Soccer scarves, chanting “Atlanta! United!” with enthusiasm strong enough to resonate through the despair. The chicken peeps were also offering boiled eggs to the weary paddlers, and later I found out that David was one of the only racers who accepted their snack!

Near Pot Point, I encountered Heather Frogge cheering for racers while wearing a mermaid onesie and gliding through the mist like SUP-nymphs do. She offered me water, cornbread, Neoprene layers, and inspiring words of encouragement. I passed Blake and his bright pink umbrella shortly thereafter, and I smiled when I heard him cat-calling at me from a distance.

Heather Frogge & Friend

Heather Frogge & Friend

The last half of the race went by in a hazy daze. I looked around at all the paddlers and thought, “How are they not miserable?! Why are they so crazy? Don’t they know we could die of scurvy?” The only happy paddlers I passed were a couple proners, who were chatting to one another about the belt buckle they were going to wear on their hats at the after party. I tried to holler at a couple people “Looking good!” but my tongue and teeth and lips were so numb that my speech was completely garbled. I managed to say something logical to one paddler, and she said, “You too! Nice. . .device!” I assume she was referring to my kayak. None of us were making much sense at that point.

Before the race, I had hoped I would feel like Pocahontas, swinging around each bend of the river with my hair flowing behind me and a pet raccoon perched on my bow. In reality, I looked like a half-drowned river rat, unsure how sit upright or use a paddle effectively. My body never felt tired, but my mind was exhausted. The scenery that had looked absolutely gorge-balls a couple weeks before was bleak, and the cold was unrelenting. I couldn’t feel my fingers or my toes, and I eventually even became almost numb to the pain in my hip. I thought about Mitch Cohen, our paddle friend who passed away this year from pancreatic cancer. His battle was harder than anything I have ever faced. “Just keep paddling,” I knew he would’ve said. Stroke after stroke, I fought pity and pessimism, eventually forcing my mind into a meditative mode of counting every time my blade entered the water. I counted up to hundreds and hundreds of little Indians before starting at one again. I didn’t care about my finish time any more: I just wanted this Chattacrap to be over!

Lindsey on a Brighter Day

Lindsey on a Brighter Day

Finally, Hale’s Bar loomed into vision, a sweet-but-scorned sight. The haunted history of Hale’s Bar is fraught with tales of ghosts and gore. In 1775, having had to forfeit his tribal land for Hale’s Bar dam to be constructed, War Chief Dragging Canoe cursed the area, promising a “dark and bloody” scourge upon the land. The building that marks the final bend of the Chattajack has a vortex of its own, thriving on the souls of weather-weary paddlers. We sludged like creeping apparitions around the building. To combat the gloom, a fleet of fiery maidens on SUPs were cheering and herding paddlers toward the final stretch, seemingly delusional of our misery. I scowled at them and shook an imaginary fist at the settlers who pillaged the property of Dragging Canoe.

I limped across the finish line and crash-landed into Blake’s arms. David “Squanto” Dupree found me and interpreted that I was subsisting satisfactorily. Blake helped me heave my boat out of the water and hustled me into the floating cabin Joe Vinson graciously rented and stocked with a cornucopia of delights. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men sprung into action trying to put me back together. Rick Baker carried my boat and strapped it to my car. Dana Richardson served me the most delectable hot cocoa I’ve had in my life. Karen Vinson stuffed me into a warm shower.

Joe & Karen Vinson

Joe & Karen Vinson

I was still stunned and discombobulated walking back to the car, but I know Kata hugged me close, and Alain Ross, the other paddler from the village of Cumin, commended my effort.

Kata hugging Lindsey    Photo Credit Shawna Herring

Kata hugging Lindsey    Photo Credit Shawna Herring

At the pow-wow in the evening, paddlers and posse swapped war stories under the watchful eyes of a arachnid overlord. We all had a miserable experience on some level today; I didn’t think my struggle made me special. I was flattered when so many people, friends and strangers alike, approached me to ask what happened out there! They praised my bravery and fortitude. My frosty heart began to thaw as I was comforted by their compliments.

Myrlene Marsa, Pam Boteler, Lindsey O'Shea

Myrlene Marsa, Pam Boteler, Lindsey O'Shea

Lindsey & Julieta Gismondi

Lindsey & Julieta Gismondi

Though I still felt fairly forlorn when leaving Chattanooga, I remembered why I can’t abandon this insane sport: If you are just in it for the race, you will be disappointed. If you are just in it for the sport, you may have some temporary satisfaction. If you are in it for the people, you will be overwhelmed with affection and generosity. Renowned offshore-paddler Michele Eray phrased the sentiment better. At the ICF Canoe Ocean Racing World Championships in Hong Kong, Michele said, “As you get older, you realize it’s about the venue, the people. You want to see things, make friends . . .  it becomes more about that than the racing.”

A successful Chattajack takes a whole colony: from feathered friends, egging us on, to the kind passersby who transported hitchhikers bailing out along Racoon Mountain Rd, to the benevolent ambassadors who shared their dwellings with despondent drowners. We are people who need one another, on water and on land. Thanksgiving is a time when all paddling pilgrims: the Epics, the Fenns, the Thinks, and the Nelos can commune peacefully, swapping energy gels, hydration powder, and fry bread recipes. This year, I’m leaving my season behind and setting aside aspirations for future races, so that I can focus on enjoying the companionship gained from the people who make paddling worth the pain.


World Champs--Crests and Troughs

Cory Hill     Photo credit:  Graham Daniel & 369Communications

Cory Hill     Photo credit:  Graham Daniel & 369Communications

If the ICF World Surfski Championship showed us anything, it’s that Surfski racing is enjoying a massive surge in popularity. This past weekend, paddlers and fans alike around the world were treated to top-notch racing watched via live Youtube stream.  Now that the dust has settled, we can all breathe our collective exhale and take stock of winners and losers from the event as we reload for 2019.


Admirable Effort--HCKU 

Well organized and presented.

Well organized and presented.

  •  Hong Kong Canoe Union-- Even from afar it was clear that a great deal of effort and attention to detail was put forth toward coordinating this event. HKCU proved themselves highly capable of handling the big day with aplomb and should remain on the short list for future top-level endeavors.
  • Women-- The ladies have been stealing the spotlight lately.  Day one featured pancake-        flat conditions and demanded 100% redline racing and the dos X chromosomed ones delivered. The Women punched out a brilliant and highly stylistic performance more akin to marathon racing but entertaining nonetheless. Bonus for forty-five hard-chargers towing the line at the start.

Hayley Nixon

Hayley Nixon

  • ICF--Great coverage and support guys.  Hope you’ve been paying attention, because Surfski will be your future.

  • Live Feed--Riveting. Entertaining. The commentary was spot on.  Drone coverage, Chase boat, leaderboard, and tracking feature all made for the most enjoyable live Surfski coverage to date.   

Instructional videos aside, Lawler can commentate with the best of them. 

Instructional videos aside, Lawler can commentate with the best of them. 

  • Ivan Lawler-- Who knew?  The man has a talent for commentating. Hope to see Lawler return behind the microphone for future events.

  • Men--Consider someone unacquainted with the sport encountering the men’s race.  They would have been treated to an absolute showcase in every way. The blokes powered through the big conditions like a hot knife through butter.  With zero hesitation in their game, they crushed the headwinds and then turned and surfed runs back like some kind of heavenly dream.  Good show!

  • Cory Hill--No doubt about it, Cory Hill knows how to get the “W” when it counts.  Hill didn’t just win, he marked the fire hydrant. After dropping the field shortly after the start and holding off a late charge by the indomitable Hank Mcgregor, the Aussie looked unstoppable.  

  • Kenny Rice--Not much to say here other than the younger Rice brother has officially broken out and looks poised to be the next big thing.  Rice looked lean and hungry out there.  I’ll be placing my bet’s on him for all future headlining events from this point forward.

  • Hayley Nixon--Winning last year’s World Surfski Series was a step into the big leagues, but her win this past weekend vaulted the Durbanite to the next level. If Nixon previously enjoyed some modicum of underdog status on the main stage, it’s all but gone now.  She will henceforth be a marked paddler, and deservedly so, she’s obviously put the work in and has earned her spot as best in the world.      

Burn made a statement

Burn made a statement

  • Michele Burn--Always a top-contender, but it’s official now.  Nice show.

  • South Africa and Australia--Still the undisputed leaders of the Surfski world.  

  • Event Photography and Video--  In a word, Wow!

South Africa and Australia remain at the top of the Surfski world.  From L-- Mackenzie Hynard, Kenny Rice and Valentine Henot (France).

South Africa and Australia remain at the top of the Surfski world.  From L-- Mackenzie Hynard, Kenny Rice and Valentine Henot (France).


Almost Perfect

Almost Perfect

  • Live Feed--Oh so close to the as polished as you could ask for from a non-mainstream sport.

  • Live Feed Part Deaux  (Women’s Edition)-- Right at the finish?  Really?

All said and done, not much to pick at.  The event was a step forward in almost every way and gave us all something to cheer about. 


Thousand Yard Stare


In many ways, the Chattajack has become the de facto marathon national championship racing event on the calendar. If you haven’t booked your entry, you may want to consider having a run.  The double blade paddlers have increasingly been showing up, now it’s time to push for more elites at the top level.  I suspect 2018 will see this occur.  Erik Borgnes has thrown down the gauntlet and will likely result in a call to arms for the nations best to show up and challenge his mark.

So what is it about this event that makes it unique?  A few things:  

  • Distance-- Longer races are readily available, but 31+ miles seems to be a sweet spot.  It’s just long enough to push the boundaries of endurance and just short enough to require sustained shorter 10k distance speed. So in a word--relentless.

  • Timing--Coming at the end of a long season is a great way to end your sporting year and segway into a break.  It’s like that final cataclysmic climax that defines an action movie.

  • Conditions--Placing itself right on the cusp of a big shift in the weather, the Chattajack conditions are always the wildcard.  And without a doubt, it plays a major role.  At last count, half of all editions have been plagued by meteorologic adversity.  But this additional dynamic really just adds to the intrigue. It creates an anticipation like any good build up to a climax. It’s a necessary setup for the script.    

  • Buzz--You can’t argue with buzz.  Call it je ne sais quoi or whatever you like, but it’s here in spades and it raises stocks through the roof.  

  • Inland--The fact is that paddlesports, be it: SUP, OC, Surfski, etc are often seen as synonymous with ocean conditions, but the reality is that many paddlers are not from the coast.  The ocean requires a special skill set that can only be refined by repeatedly being on the ocean. An inland challenge such as the Chattajack is a race that coastal and inland paddlers can do alike.  It levels the playing field where otherwise coastal paddlers would have home-field advantage as well as referee bias.



This year marks the first time I’ve been on the sidelines instead of participating in the Chattajack race. Being on the dry side for a change was eye-opening.  Generally watching a long kayak race is about as exciting as watching snail ballet, but this was different.  The “race” is clearly not just about who finishes first, but rather, who can overcome a war of attrition.  The Cjack is more of a question than an answer, and the question is: “what are you made of”?  Whether you were a top-contender or out on your first dance down the gorge it asks the same question, just in a different way.  I stood at the finishing sprint hollering and heckling racers and friends trying to elicit a smile or a laugh without success.  They all shared the same facial expression.  At the risk of trivializing war, they all looked like they had just returned from an intense psychically draining front for days on end, where their focus had been razor honed and stretched far beyond the limits of what they assumed was capable.  Without exception, every single competitor came in with a thousand-yard stare on gaunt, pallid faces.  I helped a young strapping college lad lift his uber light boat because he could not lift his half (someone else had the front half)--which probably weighed no more than 10 lbs.  I witnessed tears, frustration, exaltation, exhaustion, and a host of other displays that ultimately define the very core of who we are as humans.  It was like seeing every competitor, friend or stranger strip away every facade of who they were externally and expose themselves for what they are on the inside. No superficiality. Every outside layer removed to expose their most intimate core. What they are made of…

Newcomer at the start. Veteran by the finish--Lee Droppelman

Newcomer at the start. Veteran by the finish--Lee Droppelman


In this way, the race is nothing more than a catalyst.  The real show is watching paddlers pass by or finish in their most raw state.  In a way, this is art in it’s truest form. I have gratitude to have been both a competitor and then later, a spectator.  I think it gave me the gift of understanding the language.  To be able to interpret in some way what each individual was experiencing.  


To all those who completed the event regardless of your time, you’re all veterans now,  You’ve all seen “action” and deserve a certain amount of respect.  



First Timers

First Timers

and even the best have the "stare" at the finish

and even the best have the "stare" at the finish

Chattajack--Who Ya Got?



All signs point to an epic race this Saturday here at the Tennessee River Gorge. The 2017 edition of the Chattajack has a last minute entry that will undoubtedly make an impact--weather.  Colder temperatures, rain and wind are forecast for race day and will likely create difficulties in what is essentially already a taxing war of attrition.

So given the conditions, who will be the top contenders on Saturday?

Borgnes Hunting His Third Win

Borgnes Hunting His Third Win

Male Surfski:  

  • Erik Borgnes--Two-time winner and holder of the fastest overall time.  Borgnes is the man to beat with all eyes on him for the win.

  • Eric Mims--Top regional paddler and also a two-time Cjack winner. Excellent in big water.

  • Terry Smith--Chattanooga native- flatwater and Wildwater paddler with international experience.

  • Scott Cummins--Top Regional paddler with long history in the sport.

  • Cory Hall--Chattanooga native and multisport elite.

  • Barrett Phifer--Fast Paddler from the panhandle



The real battles will likely take place between first and third place.   Eric Mims and Erik Borgnes will likely be the two vying for the top spot.  Although Borgnes bested Mim’s in their previous meeting, Mims cannot be counted out.  This will be a down to the wire affair that will likely be decided in the final miles.  

Terry Smith Hammers Out The Finish

Terry Smith Hammers Out The Finish

Third place will be where the next highly contested action will take place.  Terry Smith and Scott Cummins will be contenders for the third position.   Both of these guys are from the old school.  They’ve honed their tactics and know how to show up ready for race day.  Smith is primarily a shorter distance specialist but can adapt to long distance if he’s put his work in. Cummins has a great long game and is astute tactically. He has a good read and will be waiting for the right opportunity to present itself.

Several others are capable of stepping up for the steal.  The conditions may play into opportunities for them on game day.


Kata Dismukes in familiar territory.

Kata Dismukes in familiar territory.

Female Surfski:

  • Kata Dismukes--undisputed four-time winner.  She has made the Chattjack hers and has not lost here yet.  Background in K1 from Hungary.  Jumped on a ski a few years back and has been tearing up all over the Southeast ever since.

  • Pam Boteler--decorated domestic sprint canoe paddler, Boteler will be taking part in her first Chattajack this year.  Pam is an incredibly powerful paddler and will pose a formidable threat to usurp the dynasty. Lest we forget Pam has Vegan superpowers. See her extensive palmares here: http://www.surfskinews.com/second-blog/2015/11/15/pam-boteler

  • Lindsey O’Shea-- Beloved Georgia paddler O’Shea is always near or at the front of any race she enters. But this year, the kitten’s claws are out. Lindsey has found a craft that has fit her like hand-in-glove, and she has shown an immediate improvement.  She’s put the miles in and is ready play spoiler in Tennessee this weekend.

Heir Apparent?

Heir Apparent?

Another highly competitive and entertaining set of competitors.  The ladies will be moving fast for sure this year.  Like the men, several others are ready to spoil and picking between these three is anyone’s guess.  For that reason we all win as these ladies are sure to put on a highly competitive show.

O'Shea on new whip.

O'Shea on new whip.

Men’s Kayak:

For the first time ever Men’s Kayak participants have surpassed surfski, making the competition fierce.  Add conditions and wind and we’re bound to see times commensurate with the surfski crowd.  Many in this year’s lot will be sporting faster boats as well.  True SS20 boats will showing up such as the Think Zen and the Epic V8 Pro.  The lines will get blurry.  



Names to watch out for:  

  • Phil Capel--Long-Time paddler and previous year winner will likely be paddling a very fast and light Westside EFT.  Capel is always a threat.

  • Richard Carter--One of the fastest masters in the region Carter will be a top pick for the win.

  • Todd Hyatt--Always a top regional finisher.  Leads the standings in the Southeast Series. On the podium last year.

  • Tom Popp--Chattanooga native who has participated in EVERY Chattajack thus far.  Always on the podium.

  • Jerry Gillissen--Michigan paddler just off the podium last year.

  • Mark Poole--another Southeast series stalwart.  If he’s been training, he’ll be near the top.

O'Shea Smiles While The Boys Look For Wash

O'Shea Smiles While The Boys Look For Wash

Female Kayak:

Largest female list ever!  Love seeing the women turning things up.  Kayak category is often the “farm leagues” for surfski, which essentially means that seeing higher numbers here likely indicates bigger numbers in the surfski division down the road. Very competitive field here as well.  It’s gonna be interesting. Top Picks:

  • Myrlene Marsa--Course record holder and always near the front of the race.  Myrlene will be trying her hands at the new Think Zen.  Should be a  tough combination to beat.

  • Camille Richards--Punching in with some solid results over near the Gulf side of things Richards is a clear threat for overall.

  • Kimberly Schulte--Last year’s winner has been busy this year.  She’ll be strong and ready to retain her crown come race day.

  • Haley Popp--former winner with the additional third place last year, Haley will be game-on Saturday.

  • Nancy Packard--Nancy has an indomitable will and is always out there putting in the work.  She’s relatively new to the game, but brings lots of steely determination to the fray.


Sub 4 Hour Mark Broken?

Will the elusive 4 hour mark be broken?  In singles, I don’t think so. Conditions will likely slow the action down enough to make getting near the four hour mark hard enough.  One potential possibility will be if the flow of the river is up.  As of right now it is not, however, overnight a cold snap will follow the front that will be moving through.  This may encourage TVA to release more water through the Chickamauga Dam, subsequently increasing flow. For those unfamiliar with the challenge of going under 4 hours, the Tennessee River is a very slow flowing, large river.  Although the website states the race distance is 31 miles, most have found their final numbers to be well above 32 miles.  Add all this together and you have a difficult task if you want to go sub-4.  For perspective: the only person to do it so far was Sean Rice in his build-up to Molokai last year.  Sean finished with a time of 3:50 and some change--unofficial of course.     


Doubles however, will be a different story. This year we have a few doubles competitors that will provide a clear and present threat to clearing 4 hours and in their case--conditions be damned!



The two teams of Bruce Poacher and Nate Humberston and Morgan House and Michael Herrin are poised to be the first non-aliens to crack through.  

This is going to be an interesting race.  Check back for finishing results tomorrow to see how events play out.


So who ya got?






Un-Sandbagging The Divisions



A recent exchange on social media centered on whether the Epic V8 Pro should be designated as a high performance “surfski” or as the more stable “kayak” at the upcoming Chattajack race.  Among other issues, the discussion included the fact that the V8 Pro had been previously listed at a width of 19.9, which has since been amended to reflect 20 inches.


At one time, racing any form of kayak or ski in the States was a lightly contested affair.  Piling everyone together in like-boats was the best way to go about arranging the categories.

Times-they-are-a-changing.  Participation is increasing and more and more races are showing up on the calendar in the same region on the same weekend. Events are actually starting to sell out.  Even the smaller races are pulling in better numbers than just a few years ago.

Late to the party, but the Americans are coming..

Late to the party, but the Americans are coming..


The Chattajack race is getting extremely competitive and racers are looking for any advantage they can summon--which is creating the setting for much ado.

The American system of boat classification needs a reboot. First of all, there is no universally agreed upon form of assessment:

  • The Southeast uses the Sound Rowers system.
  • The Northeast uses the same system with the addition of the SS20 class.
  • The Gulf uses the K1 designation with the most categories of all with six.
  • Others have opted to simplify with only two categories, which apparently is the most confusing of all for many.

Why not throw out the entire system of measuring boats and adopt an entirely new method?

You’ll get no argument from me that in paddlesport, hull dimensions play a large role in speed, but it’s really not that simple when you account for stability, conditions and experience.



So why couch divisions on the dimensions of the boat?

For a sport that is as dependent on advanced technique as surfski, perhaps another form of classification might be more appropriate.  Not only is stroke technique an advanced process, but stability, wave riding, boat management, handling adverse conditions, general experience and tactics all play a major role for a paddler.


Have a look at running.  Everyone knows how.  Just go to any playground for your evidence.  Wanna get better at it? Do it more.  But learning how to put one foot in front of the other is probably not going to require a technique seminar from the current World Champion.  Oh sure, there may be a few secrets that will enhance your game a bit, but at the end of the day, your primary method of improving will be repetition and lots of it.


Not the case with paddling--not by a longshot.  Just put your average endurance or sprint athlete from another discipline on an elite K1 or Surfski, add a little bounce to the water, grab a bag of popcorn, sit back and enjoy the show.  


Like many other technically demanding sports and activities, experience and skill are a far better method for determining race categories than equipment.  Who cares what kind of boat you decide to run on any given day? This is a multi-faceted skillset activity and whether your craft is an inch wider or narrower really won’t change your placing much.  In fact, wasn’t it Greg Barton who won the Blackburn Challenge on a Sea Kayak?  

He'd beat most of us paddling a wash bucket.

He'd beat most of us paddling a wash bucket.


I don’t subscribe to the notion that everyone deserves a participation medal, but when you line yourself up on race day it may be a bit more competitive when you’re not facing a former Olympian, World Champion or national level paddler when you just graduated to your first intermediate boat.



Worse yet are the guys that are at or near the top of the game who have been there for years that decide to “drop back” to the stable boat categories to poach hardware. In some circles, this is known as “sandbagging” and is an offense punishable by upgrade.

I’m not suggesting that an array of categories be created, perhaps a sport and expert dual system.  

It’d be worth it just to put an end to the eternal struggle of measuring hulls...

Catch And Release


I count myself lucky to live in an area that features an “A” level race such as the Chattajack.  Every year, the excitement starts building around August, reaching a crescendo on the last weekend of October.


Social media starts to come alive with GPS photo evidence of longer sessions. Posse’s  start meeting up to do long paddles and reconnoiter the Tennessee River, and as always, the good dinner and beers follow.


Around here, it becomes more and more common to see people along stretches of the river that are generally isolated.

Some sections feature Banjos...

Some sections feature Banjos...


I’ve never considered myself to be a distance guy in anything.  I’m far too deficient in attention at handling the focus needed to do well in the long game. But every year come May, I compulsively register again.

With the way the race has been selling out, I know I no longer have the luxury of waiting to see how I feel about beginning the long training sessions needed in August. The choice is simple: either enter as soon as the registration opens, or run the risk of losing the opportunity completely.

So I register…

August-- No long training.  


October is the last call to either finish or get out of the way, so, I’m gonna get out of the way and let someone else on the waiting list enjoy the challenge.

It might be different if this race didn’t sell out.  I would likely leave my name registered as a show of support.  But the CJ is different.  People travel a long way to take part and the competition is fierce.

It will be difficult to feel like an outsider while seeing others making their final preparations. Race day will be even worse.  There is an energy that is palpable, and not getting to experience it for the first time in several years will be tough.  But what I really dread is missing out on the after race glow that all participants tend to radiate.  




All the war stories, blister comparisons, and back slapping will be reserved for others this time.

Nevertheless, I believe the choice I’ve made is solid and I hope that my exit either opens the door for a true challenge to the top step (Lee Mcgregor--are you reading this?) or allows someone else the opportunity to have a great experience--maybe their first.

October 7th, is the cutoff for pulling out with a partial refund and should give another racer time to get their logistics in order to travel. For any of you out there in the same boat (intended), consider pulling out if you haven’t done the work.  The Chattajack is not a race to be taken lightly.  Anyone can float down the river for 31 miles, but to be truly ready for the challenge you’ve got to put in the work.  Otherwise, it will be a very painful affair, and pain for the sake of pain really doesn’t serve any purpose.

Good luck to all the racers!  Hope you have a memorable experience.


Dusi: Rearview Mirror

Photo---Anthony Grote

Cape Point Challenge, ChattaJack, Texas Water Safari, Dusi, Drak, Molokai and Blackburn all share a common thread.


Not the kind where you’re overwhelmed with fatalistic thoughts, but rather, fears about your own limits and whether you’ll measure up to others.

Anytime we line up for a race, there will always be a bit of nerves, but it’s a different ballgame altogether for the events that push the limits of our capabilities to the extreme.

Photo---Anthony Grote

For some it’s the excitement of the experience; the buzz that permeates through the air like electricity.  For others, especially the more seasoned, it’s an ultimate test.  A challenge that injects a spark of passion back into an otherwise standard fare of racing.

These events are good for the sport.  They bring out the casual observer to witness the spectacle. They create new benchmarks for athletes and create defining moments in the genre.  In some cases, the races will even transcend the sport in it’s entirety.

Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Flanders, Ghent Wevelgem and Milan-San Remo are known only to the most rabid cycling fans, but the Tour De France is known to all.

The Dusi Canoe Marathon, may be the heir apparent to the paddling throne. It is our Tour De France.

With all the attributes of a race that has the potential to be a star that outshines all others, it has history, extreme conditions, multi-day endurance, boat crushing rapids, long running portages and is deeply affected by weather, or more simply, mercurial and unpredictable

Long History

And like Le Tour, the race is not solely about who wins, it’s about watching the drama unfold.  Seeing how the elemental antagonists play against the increasingly beleaguered athletes. Marveling at how the players push forward on pure grit and reserve strength as the river throws yet another obstacle in the way of the pursuers.

Photo---Anthony Grote

The 2017 edition of the Dusi did not disappoint.  The race continues to gain status on the world stage and the organizers and athletes all deserve congratulations for a job well done.

Now we only have to wait another year...

Photo---Anthony Grote

Ryan Taj Paroz---2016 in Review

Where Have you Been?

What a year 2016 has been for myself. It’s been a long time between blogs so I will try to fill you in quickly, since my last blog I raced at the Canadian Surfski Championships (13th) and Gorge Downwind Championships (16th). Along with racing ocean ski, I also competed in the United States of America National Surf Lifesaving Championships at Hermosa Beach, where I competed in the Single Ski (2nd), Ironman (4th), Board Race (5th), Taplin Relay (5th) and Board Rescue (7th). Overall I was the 4th highest point scoring male although I only competed in 5 out of 15 events.  I would like to say thank you to Scott DiedericQuickly the Doctor approached and the excitement of traveling and racing were again flowing through my body. The last 3 weeks leading into the Doctor probably weren’t the best, my preparation were hindered by my exams and work schedule, but I tried to stay focused the best I could. This year a group from the Sunshine Coast travelled together for both the Thursday night Sunset Surfski Series race and the big event on the Saturday. For one of our group members Matt it was actually his first ever surfski race, he was lucky enough to partner up with Roscoe. The competition was going to be tight as we had another doubles combination that included Clint Robinson and the winner of the “Ride of your Life” competition (Which was sponsored my Cricks Auto Group Noosa and Nambour) Rhys Burrows.
h for the use of both his prone paddle board and surfski. At the completion of this event it marked a long 3-month journey and it was time to go back to Australia and straight back into University and work.


Once back in Australia I was involved in the Mentone spring training camp at Maroochydore beach hosted by Clint Robinson, over this weekend I learnt a fair bit about coaching and how to pass on the knowledge that I’ve learnt over the years to the future generation. During this time, I was also asked to be an assistant coach at the Sunshine Beach Surf Club where I coach both the nipper and senior athletes in board, ski, ironperson training sessions. Since commencing the new job I’ve been busy completing my 3rd year of University and also starting to train for the Perth Doctor.


The Sunset Surfski Series race that was 11.5km from Sandtracks beach to City beach was a quick race with the pace on from the start. Conditions were 10-15knots winds swing from the south west to the south east, with a 1-2-foot swell pushing from the south. I finished the race in 46:32 mins and 29thoverall, Hank McGregor won paddling the new Epic V12, Cory Hill in second and Dawid Mocke in third.


Friday was a great day to sleep in, relax and get everything ready for the big race on Saturday, started off by having a small float around the Sorrento beach area just doing an active recovery to help ease the soreness from the day before. After this we all went back to our room and just chilled out had some lunch and then it was time to go to the barge to load up all of our skis to get them ready for the easy part of the crossing. Loading the skis onto the barge is quite an art form in its self, your have to time it right, otherwise you’ll be standing in the sun for a few hours. A huge shout out to Deano and his team for being patient and loading up all of the 365 ski’s, boards and OC’s onto the barge.


The next step after this is to go back to Sorrento beach Surf Lifesaving Club (SLSC) to register and pick up your race pack, also to look at the VAIKOBI stand and see what fresh gear they have. Once doing all of this it was dinner time, watch a movie and then bed time (all sounds so simple).Saturday Morning rolled around quite quickly and it was time to start getting dressed and packed for the ferry ride over to Rottnest island. The general rule of thumb is if the ferry trip to the island is mellow potentially you’re in for a rough day in the saddle, but if its bumpy you’re in for a fantastic day in the bumps. Unfortunately, this year the ride over was silky smooth, and unless there was going to be a major change in the forecast it was going to be a long day. This year while we waited for the race start near military jetty I got to see my first ever Quokka which was amazing. After this it was time to hop into our boats and paddle across the channel, and as always the start was on fire with two main groups heading to the hotspot. I turned the hotspot marker in the mid 30’s, from there it was all about aiming for observation city and chasing the ocean swell. It was challenging out in the Indian Ocean with it coming from both slightly over the right side of the tail and also left side of the tail which meant for a lot of zig zagging. After staying fairly south early on, I drifted north with about 5km to go to the centaur marker (6km from the finish) this was due to the runners I was able to catch. Turning the marker, I could see the finish, and knew the runners stand up a little bit more and others were starting to hurt just as much as I was, so it was my time to make my move and make up places. As I came within 300m of the finish I caught a runner that developed into a wave which I rode all the way to the beach and beat a fellow competitor in the 100m run up the beach.


All in all, the Doctor is one of the premier downwind events in the world that attracts roughly 350 competitors each year, but unfortunately this year we lacked the wind. I finished up 35th in the single ski category, next year I’ll have my fingers crossed for amazing downwind conditions.


For me it’s been such a great year, I’ve learnt a lot about myself, I’ve travelled to 4 countries, raced in 5 world surfski series events and I’ve met a lot of new friends. But all this wouldn’t have happened without my family, Roscoe and my sponsors, I would like to say a huge thank you to Epic Kayaks, Vaikobi, Cricks Noosa and Nambour, Miguel’s 24-hour fitness.


Stay up to date with Ryan and subscribe to his YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZIcPj8_022FMjt4X-UsrFw

More from Ryan:  http://ryanparozathlete.blogspot.com.au/

The River Holds My Soul --- Myrlene Marsa

Tennessee River heading towards Mullin's Cove from downriver

Tennessee River heading towards Mullin's Cove from downriver

Williams' Island in the Fog

Williams' Island in the Fog

I had occasion today to drive Hwy 41 from Marion County (the end of #chattajack) to Racoon Mtn.  With the fallen leaves, I could see much of the river on my left.  The sight pulled me in and I saw how big the river looked and how, even when on a 21 foot ski, I would take up no space on that river when I paddle.  I remembered each landmark on the river, exactly where I would be if I was paddling, and all the varied conditions I’ve enjoyed on the river.  

My life on the ski has revolved around #chattajack for the last 2 years -- that was the #1 race goal each year.   And I’ve spent hours and miles on the river, learning it backwards and forwards.  I realized as I looked down at it, how much it holds my soul.  It’s a place I could see asking for my ashes to inhabit one day.  

Heading to Sullivan's Cove from Downriver

Heading to Sullivan's Cove from Downriver

Two years ago I couldn’t even really fathom that I could paddle 32 miles, let alone the 100s of miles I paddled to prepare.  I have experienced so much life on the river: joy, sorrow, frustration, fear, ecstasy, fatigue, boundless energy, quiet, excitement.

The Tennessee River Gorge

The Tennessee River Gorge

#Chattajack will be my goal again next year.  I am so lucky to have this beautiful Tennessee River to paddle and to know.  

It has become a “road” to home -- a home I didn’t know existed and I didn’t know I needed not long ago.  And like any road to home, I celebrated the intimate knowledge of all its twists and turns along the way.  

I am so lucky!

That's A Wrap

My social media feed goes a bit bananas after Chattajack.  I think there’s a bit of decompressing needed after such an ordeal. Thirty-one (+) miles has a way of doing that to you.  It’s sure not to leave you the way it found you.


Nevertheless, the sheer volume of Chattajack traffic is impressive and makes for interesting reading.  As such, I personally would like to see a Chattajack category added for best hand blistering  ( I had eight on one hand).  

Kata Dismukes with a strong entry in the best blistering category


But for me, it signifies the unofficial end of the year for racing; the final stop on the pub crawl and a time to reflect on lessons learned, good times, bad times and plans for the future.


It also marks one year since Surfski News debuted.


Surfski News was created for only one reason; to help promote the sport and lifestyle. Although the ski is without question gaining momentum here in the States, it still has a long way to go before achieving true commercial status.

Not quite there yet...

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing, but having more people to share the love with does seem like  a good idea.

Sean Rice Displays Masterful Bowling Technique


The sport is rife with altruistic good stewards who keep it buoyant. It’s easy to get an audience with some of the best paddlers in the world.  You’ll almost always find them to be friendly, approachable and willing to engage helpfully. Fellow competitors are ready to lend a hand, even helping rivals.  Beer and good times flow freely. Traveling out of town? You’ll always have a place to stay and a table to sit at. Traveling to the ocean for your first downwinder? You’ll have no shortage of more experienced paddlers ready to take you out and have your back.


And that’s what makes the tribe special.


So with this in mind, Thank you to all of those that have helped push things along. Since starting this website I quickly discovered how amazingly time consuming it can be.  In fairness, I was warned before I got started, but I really had no idea how much would go into the process. This will become even more complicated as I have taken on another project and will be compromised further.


The idea was to have the site open to anyone.  Any paddler can post whatever they like: product reviews, race reports, blurbs on good/bad days---anything.


So to those that have helped by either agreeing to allow photos and media to be posted,  submitting written material or even just helping to promote---Thank You!

They say it’s always five o’clock somewhere.  In this case, it’s actually warmer somewhere. A place where paddlers are starting to come out of hibernation rather than preparing to enter.  

The air down there

Hopefully, the Southern Hemisphere will give us some good fodder in our colder days to build up for the return of summer stateside.  

Until then, see you at the races in 2017!

Chattajack---Hales Bar Haunting: Maria Chattin-Carter

When it finally comes into view after hours and hours of strained paddling, it's reason for absolute euphoria.   Grizzled paddlers will invariably feel the compulsion to grin through the pain when the spectre of the old derelict Hales Bar Dam reveals itself---signifying the final stretch of the arduous 31 + mile Chattajack race.

But the dam's history goes deep,  and when not appearing in it's alter-ego state as an angelic symbol of completion to wearied Chattajackers, it lives on in the ominous role as a haunted landmark.  Drawing visitors, paranormal investigators and even television.

Chattanooga Ghost Tour guide Maria Chattin-Carter gives a brief overview of the origins of the purported Hales Bar Hauntings. 


Chief  Dragging Canoe was once a great war chief of the Cherokee Indians, a mighty role model for the younger braves. His Indian forces fought many battles and kept the white settlers away for a great number of years.

In spite of his attempts to resist the encroachment of outsiders, his people agreed to a treaty in 1775, the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals, which surrendered land to the white settlers. Dragging Canoe was furious.  He refused to accept the treaty and spoke a curse on the ground he had fought for. 

Years later in 1905, the building of Hales Bar Dam began on that same land the mighty War Chief cursed. One reason they started this project was to tame whirlpools along the river that threatened anyone's life who got too close. The Indians believed whirlpools were souls in the water reaching up to pull more down, perhaps they didn't want to be tamed.

Men lost their lives during the building of the dam. Some even fell into the cement mixer and were built into the walls of the dam.  The Tennessee Valley Authority bought Hales Bar in the late 1930's, spending several years trying unsuccessfully to fix leaks that plagued the dam from the beginning of construction.  The dam was eventually shut down when it was discovered that the foundation was flawed and would never be water tight.

In the 1960s the dam broke and flooded the land surrounding it. The water flooded local cemeteries, disturbing many graves including a number of children who perished during the Spanish flu epidemic. Part of the dam still stands under water today with a small whirlpool to remind us of those lost souls. The land is said not to be worth much because it has been sinking for years. The limestone it stands on has been shattered and resulted in caves throughout the foundation.

Some theorize that these occurrences are due to Dragging Canoe's curse. He was a warrior in life, and after death still wages war on the men who took his land.

He's not the only one that is hanging onto Hales Bar. Many people have heard women and children's voices, maybe a whisper in their ears. Strange shadows have been seen moving about the dam, including a man dressed from the 1940s. Several guests have been touched lightly, with some claiming to have been scratched and even strangled. Visitors have left gifts for the spirits in areas that are said to be haunted by children. Most of the gifts disappear from one visit to the next. 

Hales Bar has been the site of numerous "Ghost Hunter" paranormal investigations including television portrayals.

To book a Ghost Tour:



The One That Got Away --- Cory Hill

Molokai 2016

As I hopped on the boat only 1.5km shy of the finish line with a broken rudder I turned to Dean “The Captain” Gardiner and said “has anybody done something similar to this whilst leading”. “Never… That is easily the biggest f*@k up in the history of Molokai… by far”. Well I guess that is something.

Island Life

I love the place. I love the vibe. It is the one place in the world that I have travelled to and believed I could actually live there. I flew in and The Captain was waiting for me with a coffee. Within an hour of hopping off the plane, I was in the water paddling to the Outrigger Club on a brand new carbon Fenn S. Amazing.

I only had one day on Oahu before heading over to Molokai. It was the first time I had spent any time on Molokai except driving the road to the start line. We checked out the main drag, drank some coffee and I spent the next couple of hours asking The Captain about the history of the race. He even told me about the time he ran aground on a reef and still won… ironic.

The Morning and Start

It is always a weird feeling waking up on Molokai race morning. I woke up to Dean saying “I have made the right decision” because he had pulled out of the race the day before. I sat down overlooking the water and there was not a breath of wind. I could see a boat in the distance absolutely fanging it with no bouncing at all. We were in for a very long day.

Time goes fast when you get to the start line. Stickers on, drink up and fill your juice, oh yeah and make sure your favorite playlist is on. That was a new addition this years race. Some tunes to keep me focused for the entirety. Before you know it the starter horn has gone and Hank has taken the first kilometre lead. I took the second one. Then there was a double. The next 10km was spent sitting nicely on its V wash. Perfect.

The Race

The race really started shortly after this. The pack split up at the 20km mark. Hank took off with Sean right there with him. I was behind Sean but only just hanging on. Jasper and Clint were right there too. After struggling on their wash for long enough I took another line. In my head I thought “they can have that, no way am I holding that pace for another 30km”. It was actually how I pictured the race the day before. Hang on as long as I can before these two beasts outpaddle me in the flat. They truly are phenomenal at the grind. Strong heads and even stronger paddlers. Then the strangest thing happened. My speed increased on my Garmin. Weird. I was in line with Hank and Sean for the next 10km but on a slightly more south line. It seemed to be working. My own water and paddling my own race. It is the first time I have been able to match them in the flat on my own. Confidence was up.

Another 10km went by and Dean yelled out to me from the boat “it is just you and Hank, Sean is back 200m to the north. Cant see Jasper or Clint anymore”. Perfect. At this stage I was feeling quite good considering we had paddled 40ish km. So not good at all really. The best thing was the wind had eventually started to affect the water. The last thing I would have wanted was a sprint finish with these two in the last two km so I decided to make it hurt a bit early and try to break away. My Garmin was showing faster times and I was getting right into it.

Every 5 minutes or so Dean would yell at me giving me updates. The last update I had before heading around China Wall was “400-500m lead”. What could go wrong with less than 2km to go?

The Reef

I hit it… Next

Nah, as I sit here I don’t even know how to begin. Bizarre. I was thinking to myself “milk this swell as far as you can and the race is over”. Funny that. I was right, but in the total opposite way to how I had imagined. My race was over. The wave walled up into the channel a bit so I hung close to the wall. In hindsight, I would just about do anything but this. Paddle to the channel maybe? But in the heat of the moment and coming in to defend my Molokai title, I kept going. There was a reef that showed itself about 10 metres in front of me. I waited for the swell behind me to catch me and my plan was to drift straight over the top unharmed. The whole ski made it over untouched. The rudder however, did not. It hit and it hit hard. I didn’t think there was a problem (no problemo) until I did one full circle to the left with my right foot peddle to the ground. Hmmmm. I jumped in the water to see the damage. The rudder was now only half a rudder and it was bent into the fiberglass. I tried to straighten it so I could at least steer with stronger strokes to one side. No dice. Dean jumped in the water with a pair of plyers to try fix the problem. At this point I saw Hank fly past. All over. Then Sean. Dean looked at me and said “sorry mate, want to give it a go like that? Just don’t touch the pedals”. I jumped on and did one more circle before pulling the pin.

I really hate the fact that I didn’t finish the race. Not only that I did not win, that wasn’t overly my concern, but that I did not finish at all. That sucked. I remember looking at this race as a kid and saying “imagine if you paddled 50km and slewed on a wave or snapped your ski or…. Hit a reef”. No more imagination here. Just a distant memory of what was.

Reflecting back

I was really happy with the race itself and the battle Hank and myself had the last half was really fun. It is one of the best battles I have had in my career where we both tested each other. With every action, there was a reaction. I would make a move, he was there, he would push up and I would go with. Made the last 90 minutes go really fast… well the last 90 minutes of racing. Full credits go to all the boys up the front. Hank, Sean, Jasper, Clint and Joey. All were flying the whole race. Ill be back next year, no matter the conditions.

Mentally, I think I took the drama quite well. I know that I am in the sport because I love paddling, the water, travelling, meeting mates and having a beer afterwards. I did all of that over the week I had in Hawaii so it was still quite a successful one. I really surprised myself in those conditions also. I know now that I can match it and lead in the flatter conditions and that to me is something huge. I know my weaknesses and I think I needed a day like that one to prove to myself that I can match it with the best in the world at what they do.

As much as I am not in this sport for winning, I am also in it to be the best I can possibly be. At the moment that is looking like I may be near the front in all conditions and that is my plan. I would like to thank everybody that has helped me and my mates who have kept me grounded when I do win and lift me back up (albeit only slightly) when I screw up. Thank you.

Source: http://www.elvaoceansports.com/elva-oceansports/the-one-that-got-away/ 

Cheers! ---Ted Burnell

The sport of surfski does not enjoy deep pocket sponsors and big-dollar corporate funding. Grassroots support is primarily the fuel that stokes the fire of our sport.

The good stewardship of the people on the street is where the ball gets rolling and is likely as effective if not more so than efforts from manufacturers to drive our sport forward and spread the good word.

Ted Burnell, or as he is known on race day, Theo Burn or Deadly Tedly, is one of these aforementioned stewards.

One of the first, if not the first to paddle a ski in the Chattanooga area, Ted has long advocated for the paddling lifestyle and has put forth more than his share of advocacy.

Always there in the mix at the front of races, Burnell is an all-around paddler who is as comfortable on an outrigger as he is on an elite ski. 

Will pretty much race anything.

Ted has become an ambassador of sorts in the Chattanooga region where he can often be found with out- of- towners, showing them around his home waters, sharing advice earned from years of paddling or providing a couch for travellers. 

Since turning 50 a few days ago, Ted has officially become an old man and subsequently has earned the right to a new moniker. 

Essentially, he is the "The Godfather" of the ski in the Chattanooga area, therefore, to you Ted, you deserve a true name fitting of this distinction:

Don Theodorico Burnettelli

Cheers Ted for providing the stoke!

Olympic Dreams---Fellowship For The Rings

Long before the sun begins to warm the South Florida sweetgrass, the arpeggiated phone alarm intrusively sings its plaintive song.  He fumbles for the chirping phone and temporarily reasons himself back under the comforts of the sheets.

It will be a short respite as he will soon move forward towards another long day of pushing his body to its threshold, compounding his already searing muscle soreness with an overwhelming lactate cocktail.   

For Ian Ross and the rest of the athletes in training alongside him, this is the oft-repeated daily routine.

Ian and Gavin Ross

Ian and Gavin Ross

These athletes aren't throwing oblong balls in front of thousands of face-painted screaming fans gawking in anticipation of the next CTE inducing hit, nor are they hoping to sign the next multi-million dollar contract to swing bats at balls thrown at them while unceremoniously spitting tobacco on live TV.

Canoesport in America is arguably the proverbial red-headed stepchild of the U.S. Olympic program. In spite of a long-standing tradition of inclusion under the five-ring banner. Paddle sports in the States tend to garner far less acclaim than ball sports, track and field and for the most part, all the rest. Consequently, financial backing and support tend to be limited or grassroots and familial at best.   

Aaron Mullican

Aaron Mullican

But in spite of this lack of infrastructure and support,  in unlikely regional hotspots such as: Oklahoma City, Gainesville (GA),  Gig Harbor (WA),  Honolulu,  Cape Coral (FL), San Diego and Washington D.C., groups of young American paddlers are making personal sacrifices and logging obscene amounts of training  in the hopes of making the selection for the U.S. Olympic Canoe and Kayak team bound for Rio.  Along the way, they've forged deep and trusting friendships from years of traveling, competing, training, sacrificing and generally sharing their love of paddlesport and mutual hopes to represent their country on the world stage.

Lanier Canoe and Kayak

Lanier Canoe and Kayak

The Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club in Gainesville, Georgia traces it's origins to the 1996 Olympics.  The subsequent legacy program continues today as the epicenter of competitive paddling in the southeast region of the United States, drawing talent from the surrounding areas and consistently turning out elite level paddlers year after year.   

Ben Hefner, Alex Mclain, Gavin Ross, Chris Miller and Keleikoa Kaleoaloha

Ben Hefner, Alex Mclain, Gavin Ross, Chris Miller and Keleikoa Kaleoaloha

At the nucleus of this group are: Ian Ross, Gavin Ross, Stanton Collins, Alex Mclain, Ben Hefner, Nik Miller, Aaron Mullican and Chris Miller, along with honorary member from the Hawaii Canoe and Kayak team Kaleikoa Kaleoaloha.  They comprise one of the current crops of young guns aiming to qualify for Rio in 2016, hoping to join a small, prestigious group of American paddlers who have previously and against odds, tasted Olympic glory.

It might seem that "sprint" events ranging from 200 meters to 1000 meters would not involve high training time requirements. But in order to reach the upper echelons of the game, full day commitments are essential. Working a full-time job and making the Olympics is an extremely unlikely pairing.

Putting the work in---Florida 

Putting the work in---Florida 

Days usually start on the water by 7am, with 18 km at a steady 12 -13 kph followed at 10:30 am with 8 sets of 350-meter sprints with one tennis ball attached to the underside of the hull for resistance. Then it’s on to an hour of weights before lunch.  Then it’s back on the water at 3pm  for 6 sets of 1000 meter sprints with a short rest in between and finished with a brisk run. Training times may total as much as 7 hours a day 7 days a week.   To avoid stagnation and integrate more to their performance base through new training partners and coaches, the group will often travel abroad to pair off with other aspiring Olympians or in some cases, past Olympians.  Sometimes cross-pollinating their training with other international teams that have traveled to train in our warmer climates of Florida.

Chris Miller

Chris Miller

In countries with strong canoe sport programs and correspondingly impressive medal counts, powerhouse funding  assists athletes on their path while simultaneously cultivating burgeoning talent for the next generation.  For young American athletes, they often must rely on limited resources in order to pursue their dreams; sharing compromised quarters, subsiding on a ramenesque diet and generally forgoing daily luxuries in favor of mind-numbingly repetitive training.  Romantic relationships, family, and employment opportunities often fall to the wayside as a full and total commitment towards their goal are necessary.

Through all the sacrifice, travel, highs, and lows, a strong familial bond has formed. These young athletes depend on each other as they travel towards their dream.  The strength of their relationship having endured the daily struggles of their commitment must also be strong enough to withstand the dynamic shift when they change roles between shared boat team members to rivals---on the same day!

So why do they do it?  According to Ian Ross, competing for a spot in the Canoe discipline, “Canoe has taught me so many lessons that will carry into other areas of my life, you can’t just jump in one of these boats and start paddling. The first thing you have to learn is balance, and then even making the boat move forward is a challenge. There is so much discipline, commitment, and focus involved; the lessons have been invaluable. But the best part is that at the end of it all we get to be out here on the water, in a beautiful environment with friends. We are lucky to be a part of it.”     

The final test for these paddlers comes on April 29th and 30th at the Sprint Nationals hosted by the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club in Gainesville, Georgia.  This is the race that will ultimately determine who will represent America in Rio for the Games of the XXXI Olympiad.

So come out and show your support or follow on SurfskiNews.com to get results.     

Nik Miller

Nik Miller

Alex Mclain

Alex Mclain

Ben Hefner

Ben Hefner

Stanton Collins

Stanton Collins

Sean Rice Bringing World Class Training To You In 2016

You can't fake it in a race.  Your preparation, ability and technique will sort you out in a hurry.  

Unlike many other endurance based sports, arguably the most critical aspect for surfski racing is technique.  

Former top level cyclist Tyler Hamilton's introduction to competition showcases how unique this phenomenon is.  A very green sixteen-year-old Hamilton showed up to his local powerhouse cycling club time trial sporting a heavy, outdated entry level road bike. The other club members on their fully aero $4000+ bikes nary gave the young Hamilton the time of day. When the smoke had cleared the kid on the Wal-Mart bike had decimated the field of veterans from all categories including the top level locals. Performances such as his are made possible by an almost preternatural genetically influenced VO2 max and lactate threshold (and later---EPO and Blood Doping).

Luckily for us, surfski performance relies on far more than superhuman genetics.  Muscular strength, stability, tactics, surfing, mental strength, seamanship and technique all must factor to achieve your best results.  The downside is that there is a good deal to learn and master.  The upside is that it's unlikely a 16 year old kid on a fishing kayak will leave you in the vapors two weeks into paddling.


Although the ski is growing by leaps and bounds in popularity, it's still more or less niche,  making top level training difficult to come by.  Mostly left to our own devices, we often try to figure things out by trial and error. We've all done it---watched videos trying to self-teach technique, read tutorials, or advice on forums; but at the end of the day, there's a good chance that without a trained eye watching we're adopting bad technique that may eventually become habituated and thereby difficult to eventually undo.

The truth is, even the best paddlers can have blind spots and benefit from good coaching.

If you spend good money on a ski, carbon paddle and choose to occasionally line up for a race, leaving out the coaching element just doesn't make sense, especially when considering the rather low cost versus high return and in some cases, avoidance of injury.

So when I found out last year that top paddler Sean Rice would be offering workshops in my region of the world, I knew straight away that I would be well advised to attend.

The workshop was broken down into two parts: technical for the first half and surf style for the second.

The technique component provided a wealth of information, which followed a more ski-centric source instead of copy and pasting from K1.  Set-up, posture, stability, drills and methods were among the topics covered during the first session.  Needless to say, I made some immediate changes that day that have continued to be refined in the present.

Much to the incredulous amazement of paddlers from other parts of the world, races in the states often center more on flat water than those in South Africa and down under.   Beach starts and big downwind runs are often the exception, not the rule here.  So the second half surf session was a great opportunity to pick up some valuable lessons on this facet of my game. I'm ashamed to admit how little I knew about this.  I not only learned  a great deal that day, but by realizing how much I didn't know, I now see this as a much more important area on which to focus.   As such, I've come to view surfing a bit like the bass guitar, it seems easy at first and it's pretty much the instrument you put your sister on in your first garage band, but if you want to really get proficient, you could spend a lifetime honing your craft and always feel that there is something else to learn.

We came solely focused on the workshop, but were pleasantly surprised to find Sean and fiance Emily McGrath to be infinitely  approachable, welcoming, and enthusiastic. They bring a true love of what they do and it is immediately infectious. The idea of "Paddle Life" goes beyond just teaching others technique, but instead is a model for Sean and Emily to help grow the sport and share their love of the water.

Sean and emily

Sean and emily

The nature of these workshops provides a very clear template to follow and allows for detailed questions that assist with uploading the information. According to Sean, the difference between top level elite paddlers and the rest of the field is in the .05 % percent adjustments. These workshops are a great way to begin honing in on these adjustments. He's also offering online training, which could be used as a follow up to the workshops for around $50 per month.

After the workshop, we set off to begin implementing lessons learned and with the new 2016 Paddle Life tour recently announced, we look forward to again taking part as a way to check back in and follow up with further questions. A wise person once said: "we only learn what we are ready to learn at any given time".  I learned a lot last year, but I'd like to think I'm "ready" to learn more now and look forward to building on last year's lessons.

Check in with  www.yourpaddlelife.com to find out when Sean will be in your area and sign up to learn from one of the world’s best paddlers!

Charleston Workshop

Charleston Workshop

A watched pot...

A few times a week I check the local online fishing report. It's not that I'm overly concerned if the crappie are mostly staying under submerged logs or whether to use crankbaits for the Bass, but rather what the current water temperature is.

You see, I hate cold weather. And as soon Christmas gets in the rear view, I begin my obsessive tracking of time.  Looking for any signs that warmer weather is on the return. 

If I were to be honest, I probably think about it far too much. I calculate days left that I will likely still be wearing my semi-drysuit, when I will switch back to my neoprene and eventually back to light clothing. Or when  I can stop looking at weather.com to determine if I will be inside on the trainer or how much base layer to pack in my car.

 I dream about jumping out of the boat after hard efforts to cool off in the water. Buoyant in my PFD, I have a tendency on hot days to prop my feet up in the cockpit of my ski and lay in the water with my arms outstretched soaking up the sun while simultaneously cooled by the water.

This Winter has been particular edgy, as I've committed myself to continue paddling the skinniest ski I have in an attempt to improve my balance. So falling in has remained an ever present spectre. Also, thanks to El Nino, we've had a seemingly endless supply of torrential rains, keeping the river flowing at an extremely high rate; ratcheting up the possibility of taking an ice bath.

Thankfully, my sentence is coming to a close and I will soon be out on parole.  March is generally the tipping point between the two seasons.  The twilight signaling the seasonal shift change. The time change is a mere week and a half away and Spring only another week or so beyond.

But the real reason to celebrate came when I looked at my fishing report.  There it was: water temperature 46 degrees. That's one degree higher than last week.  It's finally moving in the right direction.

Almost. There...


"Chickamauga Reservoir:

Reservoir Conditions: Summer normal elevation: 682.0 feet.  Winter normal elevation: 676.0 feet.  Current elevation: 678.2 feet. The water surface temperature is 46 degrees."




Cold Water Facts

Why Cold Water is Dangerous

Cold weather does not have to be a time to stay off the water.  Always dress for immersion and be aware of the very real threat of cold water.  

Take a few minutes to look through the National Center for Cold Water site. It may save your life.


Sudden Drowning 
With very few exceptions, immersion in cold water is immediately life-threatening if you’re not wearing thermal protection like a wetsuit or drysuit. The biggest danger is inhaling water and drowning - even if the water is flat calm and you know how to swim.

Many people considered good swimmers have drowned in cold water - even though they were within 6 feet of shore. Many canoe and kayak paddlers have drowned immediately after capsizing. In fact, many kayakers have drowned before they could even exit their boats. How is this possible?

Most cold water fatalities are drownings because cold shock causes an immediate loss of breathing control, and as you’re about to find out, this involves a lot more than simply gasping for air. 

Stages of Immersion 
To understand why some cold water deaths happen instantly, while others take hours, you need to be familiar with the four stages of cold water immersion. Click on the links below for detailed information:


© National Center for Cold Water Safety 2012-2013 Contact Us

The Source: National Center for Cold Water Safety is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.


Shark Bite Challenge---Getting The Party Started!


The upcoming Shark Bite Challenge is shaping up to be the coming out party for American surfski racing in 2016.

Already, the start list is looking like a who's-who of paddlers with: Sean Rice, Jasper Mocke, Darryl Remmler, Jesse Lishchuk, Reid Hyle, and some of the best local, regional and even top paddlers from the northeast and west coast arriving to join in the melee.

Although not likely to produce down wind runs, the eight mile twice around the cans course shows up at the right time and the right place on the calendar.  Enticing paddlers with signature Florida warmth and magnificently clear water.  The SBC serves as a welcome opener for competitors ready to shed their winter gear and thaw out with some quality time closer to the equator.  

Big dogs coming out to play

Big dogs coming out to play

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the event is well run and conducts the awards ceremony at a local microbrewery- keeping the long standing tradition of post-race drinkery alive and well. You'll also have a chance to demo an assortment of boats and attend clinics with top paddlers. Travelers will enjoy an assortment of to-do type of attractions, not the least of which is enjoying the unique and vibrant town of Duneden  (pronounced done-eden) that serves as epicenter for the race.

Early predictions would be hard to make and when factoring early season form and registrations still coming in, it's going to be anybodies game.

Top two open male spots will likely be a toss up between former World Surfski champions Jasper Mocke and Sean Rice.  Rice is the bigger stronger paddler, which will likely play in his favor on the flat, shorter course.  But Mocke is no delicate flower and has been extremely active at the races over the past few months.  He's very likely going to line up with top form come April. 

From there things get interesting:

Jesse Lishchuk: 2015 Shark Bite Winner and National K1 Marathon Champion.  Reid Hyle: 2014 Shark Bite Champion and former East Coast Champion. Craig Impens: Blackburn Challenge Winner.  Darryl Remmler: Think Kayak Honch  and Former Canadian Wildwater Team Member. Jan Lupinski: top New England Paddler and current N.E. series champion.  Long time distance paddlers Kenny Howell and Bruce Gipson, Chris Hipgrave: National Wildwater Champion and Southeast Paddle Sport Champion.  Eric Mims: Southeast Champion and Epic Kayak guru -2015 3rd, Place finisher- Shark Bite Challenge.  

All pose a challenge for the final spot on the podium.

Reid Hyle and Jesse Lishchuk 

Reid Hyle and Jesse Lishchuk 

In addition to these top paddlers come many other strong and surging competitors all able on any given day to give anyone a run for their money. 

The women's race will also host a strong field this year with 2015 winner Pam Boteler returning to have another go, along with Memphis Belle Kata Dismukes, Sara Jordan and several others vying for the top spot.   

pam boteler

pam boteler

The surfski category seems to be dominating the early start list.   Mirroring the explosive growth of the ski in the region.   

If you're not already registered, you may soon lose your chance.  The race sold out last year and with the numbers already shooting up fast, it will likely be sold out soon.