A Look Back at The Devil’s Isle Challenge

Loving the Conditions at the Devil’s Isle Challenge in Bermuda

The wind was gusting in the mid 30s, the swell was bouncing against the cruise ship dock and the walls of fortress Keep, at Dockyard’s northern most point, making the water as messy as the mouth of a sound can be. In the first 10 minutes of the race, at the quarter mile mark or so (we were moving slow), I see everyone in front of me drop to their knees in an attempt to make progress across The Great Sound and get to the other side, where we would have a break from the punishing wind. I tried to stay on my feet, fell in -the water was warmer than I expected – got back on and stayed on my knees. Never before have I seen every racer paddle as hard as they could on their knees during a SUP race. I laughed, mainly because of the absurdity of the situation we were in and the fact that I was laughing caught me by surprise. How the hell did I end up paddling in this? And enjoying it?

It Started at the PPG’s

It was the Friday prior to Pacific Paddle Games last year and Lou and I were heading to a coffee shop in Dana Point to meet up with the Plastic Tides folks, Gordon and Christian. We’ve always e-bonded over our plastic free lifestyles and expeditions but have never spent time chatting in person. They filled us in on what their plans were for this Devil’s Isle Challenge 2017 edition, which was building up to be fantastic, but needed a lot of work. They asked for our collaboration, and honored, we obliged. Long after our coffee mugs were empty, we were still fantasizing about how awesome this next race would be and what a great cause we could help support. I booked flights the next day.

About Plastic Tides

Plastic Tides is a not-for-profit organization run by Christian Shaw and Gordon Middleton. They focus on plastic pollution and they do a hell of a great job advocating against it, researching plastic’s impact on the environment and educating kids on the environmental challenges they’ll inherit and passing on to the younger generation a love for water sports. The Devil’s Isle Challenge helps fund a no-cost summer program for the local kids of the island. I admire their work and I’m constantly jealous of their travels, so this was a great opportunity for me to be a part of both. Working with them was a learning experience I deeply enjoyed. I truly feel lucky to have been a part of this in a place of timeless natural beauty and outdated environmental practices.

On an island that hasn’t grasped the impact of their own waste, the work these guys do is not only groundbreaking, it’s necessary. Bermuda buries or burns all of its waste. From plastic cups to refrigerators, cars and napkins. Nothing gets recycled. Think about it for a moment. An island in the middle of the ocean, with a large tourism industry, cruise ships coming in and out, imported goods, food, building material, etc, and a population of 65,000. All of the fast food containers, coffee mugs, gift wrappers, shopping bags, plastic boxes for your delicious fudge, your bottles of rum, your snacks on the go. Everything that ends up in a trash can, ends up buried somewhere on the island or burnt. We paddled by the Tynes Bay Waste Management Facility on the north shore and we smelled it. It’s too expensive to ship garbage abroad for recycling, so financially this makes more sense for the country. But… as always, there are ways around certain aspects of the daily life that tourists and locals can change. That’s what Plastic Tides is doing: sharing with the race participants the alternatives we can take up in our daily lives and by engaging businesses to go plastic free that weekend, they’re making Bermuda better.


The Island

The island is breathtakingly beautiful. We got to explore some of it the days prior to the race. We did not paddle all the way around it on race day because of the high speed winds that forced a course change that took us along the north coast for five miles and then almost the entire inner coast of the Great Sound, which we wouldn’t have seen during a circumnavigation. The new course ended up being 30 beautiful miles. My favorite part was those last four or five, after we went under the smallest draw bridge in the world, the Somerset Bridge. We went under it from the sound side out to the north west side of the island, past Ely’s Harbour and making a right turn at Bethell’s Island, the part of the coast that faces north west. The water switches to this intense mix of turquoise and green in Ely’s. The water is just unreal there. The winds on our backs now, it was a really fun downwind. It so shallow where the reefs are that it was choppy and somewhat messy. But it was amazing! Turtles, reef, blue water. No, clear water. So clear you couldn’t tell were the air ended and the water started. Trippy. Amazing. Joy.

Not all of it was happy happy. I honestly don’t know why I enjoyed the painful parts. I was constantly surprising myself with how I was enjoying being out there on this terribly windy day, a day that normally I wouldn’t have consider even stepping on the beach.  But we were out there, and had to get this done. It was sunny, skies were blue, my friends were out there, it was a great day. It could’ve been raining, I could’ve been paddling with complete strangers. But not the case, I had food, water, friends, waves, wind and Bermuda. Not a bad day to race indeed. There was the one thought that really kept me going and that was how I much I wanted my grandma to see me finish a race. My family surprised me on Friday when they all showed up for lunch. My grandma who is 87, hadn’t seen me paddle except on video or photos. I really wanted her to give me the first hug when I got off the board and she did and I’ll have that forever. I was lucky to have that pushing me to paddle through the wind. Some of my friends weren’t so lucky and didn’t finish the course. With everything that goes into getting ready for something like this; the training, the nutrition, the hours, the traveling, the gear. I know it’s frustrating and heartbreaking to call it, but if they needed to stop it’s cause they needed to stop. That mess could not be fun for everyone and I know bailing was the right choice for them in that moment. Coming to terms with some good decisions is difficult sometimes. But you made the right decision, guys.

The camaraderie of this group is what stuck with me after the event. Old and new friends, this paddling family keeps getting bigger. I had the pleasure of paddling the last 10 miles or so with a local paddler, Stuart who had taken us on his boat, together with Scott, on a tour of the new course the day before. We split into their two boats and we got to see Plan B course on Friday which was super helpful. It was a small race and all the participants knew each other, or became instant friends on this trip. There was a local surf crew, Hermann and Keith, and Eric and Nate that flew in from the US. The SUPers were mostly east coasters. Garrett (who was sick the days before the race and then muscled through it and finished first in the mens division), Zack and Darrell from Florida, Justin from South Carolina, our friend Andrew from Rockaway, New York, Jack from Connecticut, our favorite race buddy Josette from New Jersey (who had completed the challenge last year when they did the full circumnavigation of the island) Franck who came from Guadalupe and brought us a delicious rum they make in his home town and Matt, another crazy local who finished the race. And then there was the Oracle team. Jimmy Spithill soloing and a relay team, that last minute brought on board Mike from SUP The Mag, who flew in form San Diego. There was a second relay team called WachuSayinPapa. All great peeps! We all encouraged each other the few times we crossed paths on the course and celebrated together the day after during brunch. I very much look forward to seeing the Bermuda crew again soon in other races and of course, back on the island for the 2018 challenge.

Last Minute Surprise

I want to make this mention a separate paragraph cause I think she was the biggest surprise of the weekend. Annabel Anderson joined the race last minute. We were thrilled to have her on because it was great for the race.  She’s a very cool lady – friendly and supportive to everyone and at the end of the day I was very happy she was part of it. And even more happy to have predicted she would kick everyone’s butt! She finished first overall with a time of 6 hours and 4 minutes. Crushed it. Her input was also very valuable to all of us helping make this event a great one. She’s done literally everything and has been part of every major event in the world. We had lots to learn from her. When we left racers meeting on Friday evening and she said, this is doable, we can do this. That encouragement also kept me going when we were in pain.

Getting in at the Ground Level

Besides the blue waters, the great group of humans that this event gathered and the fun of paddling it, it’s always special to be part of something from its beginnings. Granted, this is not the first ever, but we caught it in its toddler years. SUP has been around for quite a while now and I still remember when we were still experimenting with board shapes, fin shapes, paddles, formalizing technique, when it was wild that someone would put a board on a rapid, or try to paddle from Key West, FL to Portland, Maine. This will only be new for a short period and being there and taking part, watch it grow, help it be its best version, that’s why we were there and that’s why we’ll be back!


— 1st Overall SUP —

Annabel Anderson – 6:02:05

— Pro Men Unlimited SUP —

1 Jimmy Spithill – 6:15:25

— Pro Men 14’&Under SUP —

1 Garrett Fletcher – 6:24:23

2 Justin Schaay – 6:32:08

3 Franck Fifils – 6:36:24

4 Darrell Horton – 7:03:48

5 Zach Rounsaville – 7:20:30

6 Jack Egan – 7:58:50

7 Stuart Joblin – 8:07:05

– 1st Local’s Only

8 Scott Watson-Brown – 9:58:58

– 2nd Local’s Only

9 Matt Carr – 9:59:25

– 3rd Local’s Only

— Pro Women 14’&Under SUP —

1 Annabel Anderson – 6:02:05

2 Julieta Gismondi – 8:06:46

— SUP Relay —

1 Oracle Team USA – 6:47:30

2 WachuSayinPapa – 7:25:15

— Pro Men Surfski —

1 Nathan Humberston – 4:21:35

2 Eric Mims – 4:40:55

3 Hermann Thuoet – 4:56:25

4 Keith Bernhard – 5:51:30

PHOTO Credits: Jules Gismondi

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