The Calusa Palooza had something for all ages and paddlecraft types.
Race: Calusa Palooza, organized by the College of Life Foundation and sanctioned by the ACA
Date it happened: 16 April 2016
Location: Koreshan State Park on the Estero River in Estero, FL. It's an area with an interesting pre-european history, as a thoroughfare of the Calusa people, whose coastal empire centered around "Mound Key" in Estero Bay. (The Imperial River, where the CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards races are held, is also a tributary of Estero Bay and a former Calusa highway. In fact CGT stands for "Calusa Ghost Tours," which was one of the outfitter's original staples.) The more recent history of Koreshan State Park is also interesting, since it was the site of a bizarre religious compound in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From the park description, "Throughout its history, Florida has welcomed pioneers of all kinds. Cyrus Reed Teed was probably the most unusual, bringing followers to Estero in 1894 to build the "New Jerusalem" for his new faith, Koreshanity. The colony, known as the Koreshan Unity, believed that the entire universe existed within a giant, hollow sphere. The colony began fading after Teed´s death in 1908, and in 1961 the last four members deeded the land to the state. What remains of their once vibrant community are 11 beautifully maintained historic structures that date from 1882-1920 and landscaped grounds including unique ornamental exotic vegetation from throughout the world. Today, visitors can fish, picnic, boat, and hike where Teed´s visionaries once lived and created their own utopia."
There's also a darker chapter in Koreshanity. The Waco, Texas cultists who fatally clashed with the federal government in the 1990s were lead by David Koresh, a claimant to the Koreshan line of reincarnated Jesuses.
Distance: There was a "10 mile" and a "4 mile" but the former was shortened due to Coast Guard concerns about not being able to provide safety for the originally proposed rounding of Mound Key in Estero Bay. Instead the turnaround for the long race was placed right where the Estero River empties into Estero Bay, for a total distance of about 7.9 miles / 12.7 km. It was a still a long, challenging race. They also had a 1 mile race for kids and parent-kid teams.
Conditions: Typical, warm, hazy Florida weather. There was minimal current at the start of the race, but the incoming tidal current got increasingly strong further towards Estero Bay. Fortunately a breeze from the East was at our backs when going against the current, and the current helped fight the breeze on the return leg of the race. In many areas the water was very shallow. This dramatically increases drag through an interesting physical mechanism. There's often a temptation to hug the riverbanks to get out of the wind and current, but because of the very shallow water in this race the mid-channel was usually the place to be.
Participants: In the SUP division, several members of the CGT race team/tribe were there, including Matt Kearney, Murray Hunkin, Kate Pagan, Donna Catron, Beth Schadd, Mark Payne, Phil Trudgeon, Joe Gladieux, the Hammond family, and Johns Weinberg and Wheeler. We also had some riders benched by illness or injuries who nevertheless came out to cheer us. In the canoe and kayak divisions there were some familiar faces like surfski paddler Doug Lindsay, plus lots of people I'd never seen before. There were loads of kids, teenagers, and adults from Cape Coral's South Florida Canoe and Kayak Club. The SFCKC is a non-profit organization that trains paddlers of all levels, offers summer camps for local kids, winter training for serious racers from up north, etc.
Results: The full results are going to be posted in a few days by the College of Life Foundation, so I'll just briefly go over the adult SUP division results, which are what I remember best. The results are a bit deceptive because there were age and gender divisions but the young weren't always faster than the old, the men weren't always faster than the women, etc. E.g., I got first place in the long race with 1:27:25 but the second fastest finisher was 50+ class Phil Trudgeon. 49 year old Murray Hunkin crossed the line just before Phil, but Murray had started earlier and thus didn't beat Phil's time. Third in the young men division was John Weinberg. Second and third in the old men division were Will Compton (70 years old!) and Mark Payne.
Top 3 male sup racers under 50, minus Murray Hunkin who left before the awards to play golf.
Top 3 male sup racers over 50.
Two women did the long race- Beth Schadd (left) seemed to pick up speed with every mile and finished first, while Donna Catron took a wrong turn that made the race MUCH longer but still managed to cross the line eventually. Both women were first in their age divisions.
In the shorter race Matt Kearney was the first young man, Jason Mastin the second, and (I think) Joseph Gladieux the third. Joe didn't stick around for the awards.
For the short race old man division John Wheeler was first. The names of the second and third place competitors elude me now- but maybe it was Hal Atzingen in 3rd?
Young womens' short race was a very fast group- CGT team hero Kate Pagan raced hard but was just edged off the top spot by a fast girl from Wisconsin. I think Wisconsin girl also beat our top men in the short race. Pretty impressive. Third woman was also an out of towner, if I'm not mistaken. I don't think there were any older women SUP competitors in the short race.
Gear: I used my usual 14'x23.75" custom carbon Riviera RP raceboard with a 6" Fins Unlimited fin. I used the Riviera Vantage R8 paddle that I recently cut down to 77". There were no board length divisions in this race, so it was an advantage to have a 14' board.
Play by play: For me this was an "extra" race that popped up at the last minute and didn't quite fit into my fitness training schedule, which is based around the Key West Classic at the end of the month. Coach Mark Athanacio advised me to take it easy. I did take it easier than usual, not only because of Mark's advice but also simply because I was worn out from his tough gym and paddle workouts the previous two days.
Nevertheless, I wanted to do a respectable pace and win first place. The plan was to work together with Murray Hunkin, who is normally a bit slower than me. We lined up at the start line and agreed to trade off drafting positions during the race. The starts were staggered, as in the CGT races, because the river is too narrow to line everyone up at once.) During the starting countdown Murray hilariously started paddling at about "3" while everyone else waited until "1". That brought a few jeers from the crowd but no penalty was called. Anyway, Murray let me ahead after 100 meters or so, but after a bit of shallow water and sharp turns, Murray told me to go on ahead because the conditions didn't suit his juggernaut style.
My strategy the rest of the race was pretty simple- Paddle efficiently, keep my heart rate moderate, don't overstrain my sore bits, and stay in the fastest part of the river. There were a few spots where it would have been easy to make a navigational error. The turn-around buoy for the short race was in a wide side channel to the right, which lured in some of the long race paddlers who should have continued left. I'm glad I asked the people on the safety boat for directions there. Further downriver there was a well-marked fork to the right for the "Calusa Blueway" paddling trail, but we had to stay left in the main Estero River Channel. (That's where Donna Catron and Doug Lindsay took their LONG detours).
After finally reaching Estero Bay, fighting a strong tidal current in the last km or so, it was great to turn around and get a boost from the current on the way back. My Speedcoach SUP 2 gps helped me stay in the fast part of the channel for the return- sometimes the river was wide but the current was concentrated in a relatively narrow area. The final quarter of the race got hard again, because the helpful current diminished and a headwind kicked up. My energy held pretty well with sips of Gatorade from my water pack, but I had to paddle gingerly and switch sides more often towards the end because of soreness in my triceps related to a weight lifting thing we had done on Thursday.
The awards and lunch after the race were in a nice shady pine tree area and were run smoothly. They had the mayor of Estero come out to hang the medals on our necks, which was cool.
Here's my speedcoach track and data from the race: You have to click into it to see the details like heartrate and stuff.
Other race intrigues: I should mention that it was really cool to see the youth racers from the SFCKC charging hard and having a good time.
What's Next: Next race is a local one- the final round of the CGT Winter Race Series, April 24th. It's a 5 km race in a lazy, bendy river. You do NOT need to have done any of the other races in the series to do it, and registration is just $5. Open to any paddlecraft- kayaks, SUPs, etc. At the race they will probably announce the summer race series, which will feature a slightly altered course with two laps of about 2 miles each. Then, April 30th is a huge out-of-town race for me, The Key West Classic, which is a horrendous challenge going all the way around Key West.