Last Place Victory

Probably few people have ever been so pleased and proud of a last place finish. Two different paddling club staff enthusiastically responded to my email inquiry and encouraged me to come out for this event today (Shack Attack, Feb. 19, 2006) for my first ever competition – having bought my first canoe less than two years ago at close to 60 years of age. In hind sight, maybe I should have taken that as a warning. I was skeptical that there would even be any
other recreational canoes in the “anything else” category listed after the Surf skis, OC-1s, OC-2s and kayaks. (I paddle a Wenonah Voyager touring solo.) But I supposed at least the largest category would be made up of the ubiquitous sea kayaks.

I arrived to find an impressive display of surf skis and OCs being off-loaded from vehicles and arrayed on the park lawn near the beach. Altogether, solos and tandems, I think there were 18 entrys. I wandered around talking with paddlers about their sleek, racy craft and getting “a sense of the competition”. All seemed very knowledgable and experienced. One fellow did come over and express interest in my open canoe. He allowed as how it would have been a
good boat for that expedition he completed in the Yukon. That was just before solo kayaking down the coast of British Columbia from southeastern Alaska to Port Hardy! Eventually I did finally see one (!)solo sea kayak arrive on the beach.

I went to the registration desk and started to make my reservations known that maybe I was just a little outclassed here(!?!?). They wouldn’t hear of it. I admitted I had tried to pre-run the course on Thursday without managing to complete the return from the turn around point. One of the surf ski paddlers spoke up to say, “at least you
got there in those conditions. I tried it Thursday and after finding myself in the water, I gave up!” Well, fools rush in where angels fear to tread, so I registered for the day’s race.

The safety boat operator, a fellow named Chris, one of the encouraging club emailers, was most supportive and kept me in sight despite my being well behind from soon after the start. I was within a few hundred yards of the turn around when the first of the surf skis passed going the other way. They were followed by the OC-1s and OC-2s. Conditions were perfect with very little wind and less tidal current than I had feared. I was able to cut the rocky headlands very close and take the shortest route everywhere. My pre-run knowledge gave me confidence.

There were few boats still on the beach when I finally finished. As I was rinsing the salt water off my boat a club representative came along to say they would be starting the awards ceremony shortly in the park facility. Someone with a GPS said the out and back distance was 6.35 miles. Unofficial results: first surf ski in something over 50 minutes. First OC-1 within a minute of one hour. Yours truly in the lone open canoe: somewhere between an hour twenty-five and an
hour thirty. I’m not displeased. Besides the difference in equipment, most, but not all, contestants were young enough to be my children if not my grandchildren. There was one remarkable grey hair who had been pointed out with awe by another competitor. I think he took second in OC-1, four minutes behind the winner!

And yes, the lone kayak and the lone open canoe were each awarded water bottles containing clever little chocolate canoes. And I won a paddling cap in the draw. Are my shoulders and back sore? You bet! Do I love it? You don’t have to ask. I finished strong, feeling like a lot more of an athlete than I have any right to. That hour and a half was not longer than I have done before. Nor was it the hardest effort I have done for shorter periods. But it was certainly the hardest I have gone for such a distance. I guess that is part of what competitions are all about, an inspiration to go a little further, a little harder, to do our best. I’m a happy paddler, grateful to the club and their forebearance with my last place victory.

` Paul Glassen – Naniamo Canoe and Kayak

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