The Inland Paddler: It’s a Virtual World

Virtual Paddle Racing

Like many of you, I started 2020 with a plan.  A race plan.  I was going to return to the Carolina Cup after a two-year absence and tackle what would have been my third Graveyard course in the surfski.  Then Paddle Imua on Maui, followed up by one of the two downwinders in the Columbia River Gorge, and capping it all off with my perennial “Jewel in the Crown”- Chattajack Number Seven.

Then Corona hit.

Most of my races were canceled. And good thing, too, because my access to my preferred training waters was curtailed. And even though it’s open now, my enthusiasm for getting out to the lakes and even the ocean is not what it normally is. Maybe it’s because of the people- who after our state opened up to “phase II” on Memorial Day, hit our waterfronts en masse, with little respect for social distancing and mask wearing.  And now we are quickly becoming the new hot spot.

Things just are weird. There’s no other way to put it.

And it’s been easy to get into a funk and stay there.

And yet there is a glimmer of brightness in this new Covid world: The virtual racing. And it is lifting me out of the slump.

Paddle Monster has partnered with SUP Racer to create the Virtual Paddle League, which is an awesome way to recharge training and competitive enthusiasm and keep in racing shape during these pandemic times. It’s been great fun following some of my friends push themselves as part of this league.

Some of the bigger races are adopting a virtual platform – most notably Molokai to Oahu. This creme de la creme of paddle races – 32 miles across the Channel of Bones – is normally open to only the elites but this year, anyone can do it!! Sign up and complete a 16 mile course on the weekend the races is normally held and yes, you can actually say you’ve done M20!

Likewise, Paddle Imua, my favorite race next to Chattajack is holding a virtual contest on July 17-19.  Entry fee will go to support Imua Family Services and will help kids in need on Maui. Sure, it won’t be a downwinder for me here in Raleigh, NC but I will be out there that weekend (early Friday morning to avoid the pestilence) grinding out 10 miles and thinking about those kids and hoping that they are all happy and healthy and safe. And missing them putting a lei around my neck when I finish, and the awesome after party – especially the free beer from Maui Brewing Co. But hey, I have one last MBC can left from my last trip so I’ll be sure to crack it open and raise it in honor of the keiki, for sure.

My virtual Paddle Imua won’t look anything like this!

The virtual format is turning out to be a popular option, then, for races this year.  It give us something to train and stay motivated for, something to look forward to and something to be excited about. Whether it’s the 5K option on the Virtual Paddle League or whether it’s M20. Lord knows I need that more than ever.  As it stands now, Chattajack is on, and I have a race bib. So, training for these virtual scenarios will help get me ready for that in October.  And I don’t mind saying, I think my starts in these virtual events will be my best race starts ever! I sometimes get freaked out at the beginning of races and blow it because I go out too fast.  So, in a way, this takes some of that pressure off.

And while there are many, many positives to the virtual format, there is of course one thing sorely missing: the people. The high fives, the cheering, those leis. But, I guess that’s where social media, texting and a good old fashioned phone call can come in, if you are doing a virtual race solo. If not, just remember to stay safe as well as have fun.

So sign up, train, and push yourself. And have as much fun as you can.  We all need that right now.