After settling in before sunset and taking in the beautiful sites and looking way into the distance at a faint shadow of Oahu, it really hit home that I was going to paddle the channel and so did the nerves (I thought I finally outgrew those…!) The Saturday before the race was probably the longest day of my life, full of crazy anticipation and wondering if I would make it across with the strong ENE winds that were blowing 20kts plus. Racing suddenly became a distant second thought to just finishing!
The evening before the race saw all of the competitors and crew gathered for a pre race meeting and bbq. As darkness approached the night sounds were quiet but the energy was loud and clear. I kept busy, packing my hydration packs and making sure everything was ready to go. Falling asleep came easy but I was wide awake from the wild turkey calls at 4:30 am.
The morning of the race was a trip for lack of a better word. Everyone looking for their escort boats and then hauling gear out on their boards through a sizeable shore break… the beach was buzzing! At this point I was just in awe of the entire experience. Sort of like getting married or the birth of your first child… I’ll get back to this in a bit.
After kisses and hugs to Jim and Savannah, I joined in hands with the racers and took in the pula (prayer). I thought I would feel emotional, but instead was completely in awe that this was all really happening and it was finally here!
Getting on the board and paddling out to the starting area was surreal. The horn went off and then came the experience of my life. I had my eye on the unlimited girls thinking I may be able to keep up on a stock board. I don’t know about them, but I was in a full out sprint for the first 3 or 4 miles to keep up. Eyes on the nose trying to milk each runner while heading as high as I could. The winds were coming off my right shoulder and left sided was already burning by mile five. I looked up at Oahu figuring I was really high on the line and realized I was still going down and had to push harder on the left to not get blown down completely off course. I felt amazing but knew that I wasn’t sure even at mile 5 if I could hang on to that sort of left sided paddling the entire way.
Once we started hitting the swell it was incredible. The waves were huge. The wind chop was what I was used to but some of the swell that would go by were way over my head and it was just awesome. I couldn’t catch any of those and even if I had, it would have taken me to far down. I was able to catch a lot of runners and bumps on the back side of the swell. What was really fun was when those waves would break on my beam and then I’d ride down the back side at an angle.
At mile 15 I was at 2:40 and pleased with the time considering it was not a “true downwinder”. I also knew I might be in trouble as I wasn’t drinking or eating much. During my training I would have sucked down 70 oz and eaten something, but I found I was a little queasy. Eating or drinking was not going to work; I knew I had to force down fluids, but food was out of the question. By mile 20 Heather hit the wall. I blame that on intense left sided paddling and not eating. I thought possibly I would catch a second wind, but that never came either. I really thought at mile 25 I would not finish even though I was leading the women’s stock class. Although winning was completely out of my mind and the notion of even completing the event was fading, I sort of clocked into “survival mode” because I seriously thought I was going to die. I hurt so bad. Sharp, shooting pains in my lower back and obliques, along with a leg spasm. I had never experienced “hitting the wall” before… nothing like experiencing this in the biggest race of your life! What a surprise considering the long miles I logged months before. I can honestly say that giving birth was easier than how I felt at mile 28.
Once approaching China Wall, which by the way was spectacular, Jim yelled out “Haley is catching up to you.” I knew I was only about 3 miles from the finish and had to be careful not to push too hard as I was approaching the upwind leg. I never once looked back until rounding the point and she was about a 100 yards behind me and looking strong so I decided to “go”.. and so did she! She caught up to me between the reefs with about ¼ mile to go and I was all out. It was great, her parents and my escort boat were screaming their heads off for us girls! I tried to catch a wave off the reef, though we both missed it and had to hunker down into the 12-15 kts of headwind (felt like 30kts). We were side by side and I knew that I was not going to finish the last 500 yards if I kept going and told her “go get em Haley”, and she did. I kept my eye on her and smiled at the cheers she received at the finish line. 16 years old.. Haley rocks!
The finish wasn’t emotional as I contemplated merely trying to get up the ramp. Sean Sweet greeted me with kisses and congrats and carried my board. I never expected to feel like I did, pure exhaustion.
Funny thing is, as tough as this was, it was one of the most amazing days of my life. I can’t put it into words, but I encourage this crossing as it is truly life changing. Did I mention how big the flying fish were? HUGE. They would fly by so slow you could have a conversation with them! And what an awesome escort crew: Jay, BooBoo, Carlos, and Jeff, he who never stopped shouting “encouraging” words which still echo in my head: “go go”, “dig dig”, “big wave behind you”, “don’t worry, he’s on a bigger board”, “paddle your race”…! And of course, Savannah, who put up with 6 hours of seasickness, muttering “thanks a lot Mom” as I looked over at her hanging her head off the side of the boat. Last but not least, Jim. Thank you. Could NOT have done this with out you.
I’m going to have a lot of fun reflecting on this race. I’m already thinking of 2012 and my boat is reserved.
2nd place Stock class M2O 2011
6:25:46 Check out Heather’s site at: http://www.heatherbaus.com/
Share the Mullet Stand Up Paddle Board SUP Love