by Rhea Cortado
Pau Hana recently drove up with a truck full of its newest SUP boards for the Teva Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado ready to compete in the scheduled SUP Competitions. After arriving on the first day of the games, all the Stand-Up Paddle Board companies and athletes found out that the Teva Mountain Games organizers cancelled the SUP Competitions due to “low water levels.” All the SUPers were making the best of the situation, and Pau Hana co-founder Todd Caranto decided that he wasn’t going to let that get in the way of having fun. If Teva Mountain Games was going to cancel the SUP event, Pau Hana was going to start its own race—guerrilla style.
Originally, there was supposed to be a SUP Surf Sprint and SUP Surf Cross event during the games that ran from Thursday, May 31 through Sunday, June 3. But this year’s winter had much less snowfall, therefore less water coming down the river from the snowmelt. That meant the water levels of the rivers were significantly lower than normal during this time of the year. On the opposite extreme, two years ago the water level was so high that they had to cancel some events because the river was all the way up to under the bridge, so if a rider was going downriver, he or she wouldn’t clear under the bridge.
When we checked out the river, you could see straight to the bottom and a lot of the bigger rocks were poking up above the water line. All the other whitewater events continued as scheduled, albeit with some artificial rigging to get the water levels up higher. For the freestyle kayak competition, they roped plywood at the drop and these inflatable things called “bladders” that acted like a dam. These helped to get the raise the water level and increase the speed of the water rushing through. The argument for letting the kayak shows go on was because even though the water level was low, it was still safe for kayakers because their boats don’t have fins that can hit the shallow rocks the way that stand-up paddleboards do. Also, its also dangerous if the riders fall off the SUP from an upright standing position onto the slippery cobblestone.
During dinner Friday night with famous big wave surfer Garrett McNamara, to celebrate his induction into the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest wave ever ridden and the new partnership between Pau Hana and Wavejet Propulsion, Todd started drawing the bracket for Pau Hana’s Guerilla Games SUP Cross Race, using crayons at the dinner table.
On the packed Saturday full of kayaking events at The Hole and on the river all day long, Todd spread the word to all the athletes that Pau Hana was going to host its own SUP cross race. Word of the Pau Hana SUP race rippled fast amongst the crowd and soon enough, people were coming up to Todd asking about when and where the renegade event was going to be.
Of course if there was going to be a race, there had to be an un-official pre-race party. The pre-race party co-sponsored by Wavejet and SeasonFive apparel was the place to be Saturday night after the Teva Mountain Games concert and before the pub crawl. Garrett McNamara, champion kayaker Nick Troutman, Olympic hopeful Mike Dawson, champion kayaker Martina Wegman, Louise Jull, Louise Urwin, Courtney Kerin and Dane Jackson were in attendance, to name a few.
Despite the fact that some of the athletes were out until the bars closed on Saturday night, they still rallied and got to the river for a 9AM SUP Cross race start time on Sunday.
We set up on the lawn right before 9AM with a little bit of fear that we might get kicked off the course for staging our own event. We only had one hour to get the heats started before the scheduled Kayak 8 Ball race scheduled at 10AM on the same river stretch of Vail Whitewater Park.
When the Teva Mountain Games announcer came around, instead of kicking us off for being rebels, he was stoked. He said, “We’re glad that you’re doing it, you just have to be done by 10AM.” We used the markers that were already on the course for the kayak race. The competitors would have to stand-up paddle downriver, then loop around the marker and down to the hole for the finish.
Not everyone had their own stand-up paddleboards, so Pau Hana had a stack for any rider to use. Nick Troutman joked that some of boards had fins, others were totally finless. Some of the boards were dinged from being knocked around on the shallow river rocks while having fun the previous two days. Men would be competing against women and everyone was riding different classes of boards, but no one cried foul and none of that mattered, it was all about having fun.
In a mad dash rush, with some athletes showing up and grabbing boards just minutes before their heat, the race went off with suspenseful play-by-play commentary by the official announcer over the loudspeaker.
After the last SUP was out of the water, Louise Urwin smiled, “That was a good way to start a hangover day!” And then she was off and running to compete in the 8 Ball kayak preliminaries. Urwin placed 3rd in the 8 Ball Kayak women’s division.