The Blues(t) Thing in Chicago Is the Water: Midwest Paddle League Completes Double-Header Weekend

by Harrison Withers and photos via Doug Vojtko

There’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark out, and we’re wearing sunglasses. -Elwood

I love starting these recaps with some great anecdotes about the event location, but when that location is the third largest city in the US, it’s whatever you want it to be. It can be the home of the blues. The gangster ridden den of inequity. The city that rose from the ashes in 1871. The home of Sue the Dinosaur. Cubs, Blackhawks, White Sox, Bears, oh my. Whatever you want it to be.

Oh yeah, Chicago is also on the shores of the cleanest, bluest, and arguably the prettiest inland sea in the world, Lake Michigan. It’s also the back drop for both Lagoonapalooza and the Chicago Lake Michigan Open Water Challenge that just took place on August 3rd and 4th. In full disclosure, I used to live in Chicago, so I may be a little biased. Then again, I personally couldn’t make this one, so I’m really going on what I’ve heard from others like race-organizer Kirsten Lefeldt, who had this to say:

This was the first year that we tried the two-day format to showcase our beautiful city in multiple ways and to make it more attractive for paddlers from out of town to make the trip. We know that the logistics alone (parking, accommodations, and traffic) can be intimidating when visiting the big city. That’s why we were excited to have such a good turnout and especially to see several paddlers racing for the first time. Day 1 on the lagoon was just all-around fun with ideal conditions. On day 2 at North Avenue Beach we made a last minute call to cut our 10 Mile course shorter since Lake Michigan didn’t show us its best side and we wanted to make sure even newer paddlers would make it back safely. We stayed closer to shore behind breakwalls but it still allowed for stunning views and just the right amount of challenge in varying conditions. Definitely something we will expand on for next year. Our races got some media attention from local news and radio stations which further helped us promote our sport.  Big thank you to Lincoln Park Boat Club and ChicagoSUP for hosting and to our Sponsors Blackfish Paddles, O2 Natural Recovery Drink and Lil Bucks


Saturday’s race was Lagoonapalooza, which was hosted at and sponsored by the Lincoln Park Boat Club. The boat club is the oldest rowing and paddling club in the city and operates as a not-for-profit organization with the express purpose of promoting rowing and paddling. The club also provides a place you can store your craft if you are a member and apartment dweller in in the city.  Race Director and Midwest Paddle League standout Kirsten Lefeldt has been teaching classes and training out of the club for the last several years.

The race takes place in the protected waters of the Lincoln Park Lagoon, which is separated from Lake Michigan by the world-famous lakeshore drive. It connects to Lake Michigan via Diversey Harbor, one of the main marina’s in the city. However, the lagoon itself is in a park setting close to both the Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory. The courses consisted of a ~1.25-mile loop with a buoy turn at each end. The 3-mile race was 3 laps, while the 6-mile course consisted of 5 laps, with a “super lap” shortcut that could be taken one time at the racer’s discretion. Despite being known as the Windy City, the winds were at about 3 mph and had little or no impact on the event.

Photo by Shannon Carr
Photo by Shannon Carr

Starting with the 3-mile race in the Women’s division, Cheryl Perlis took the win, Melissa Modlinski took 2nd, and Linda Avalos Mar, finished up the podium. On the Men’s side, Doug Vojtko picked up his 3rd short course win of the season, and was joined on the podium by Adrian Barnett, and Ryan Haken.

The 6-mile Women’s event was dominated by Kirsten Lefeldt paddling in her home waters, Kirsten finished the race 4th overall and over 9 minutes ahead of second place finisher Janett Robles-Guzman. Laura Knapp took 3rd. On the Men’s side Alex Sandler was finally able to collect his first win of the season after a couple strong 2nd place finishes. Kent Imig had his best paddle yet this season for his 2nd place finish just 3 seconds ahead of Karl Eugster.

The last of the races was the 1-mile fun race. This race was for kids and people wanting to try out the sport. It was refreshing to see kids racing as it is the future of our community. Alex Sandler and Bernie Isacovici were on the water with the kids giving them inspiration and tips.

Full results can be found here.

The award ceremony followed with some amazing trophies for the winners. The kids got a necklace with a wooden alligator named after Chance the alligator that spent a week at the Humbolt Park Lagoon in Chicago terrifying residents before being caught by a alligator specialist who came up from Florida to find Chance. Chance was finally found and taken to a new home better suited for him. The awards for the adults was made from paddles from event sponsor Blackfish Paddles. Blackfish has also been a generous sponsor of the Midwest Paddle League.

Following awards there was a Paddle clinic hosted by Kirsten Lefeldt and a PaddleFit class taught by Melissa Modlinski. The clinic and class were both well-attended and provided guidance to those wanting to learn and better their skills.

Lagoonapalooza delivered once again with an amazing race and experience.

ChicaogSUP Lake Michigan Open Water Challenge

Day 2 of Chicago racing took place on Lake Michigan at the North Avenue Beach. The second day was scheduled to a 10-mile race hosted by Chicago SUP as well as a 1-mile fun race. North avenue beach is a well-attended beach on Lake Michigan by the Gold Coast neighborhood. Unfortunately, unfavorable conditions on the big lake meant that the race was mostly confined to 6.8 Miles behind the break water.

Photo by Shannon Carr

The longer open-water race attracted a few different faces than the day before, drawing a few paddlers who thrive in open water competition. However, at the end of the day the results were like the day before, 6-mile winner Kirsten Lefeldt, finished first, followed by the 3-mile winner Cheryl Perlis. The Men’s winner once again was Alex Sandler. Midwest Paddle League regular Bryan Block came out for day 2 and captured 2nd, with Matt Sommer taking 3rd.This article was compiled from the notes of Kirsten Lefeldt, Bernie Isacovici, and Doug Vojtko

Photo by Kirsten Lefeldt
Photo by Kirsten Lefeldt

About the Midwest Paddle League

Welcome to the Midwest Paddle League – designated for SUP paddlers, by SUP paddlers. If you’ve never raced before, or you race most weekends, with kid’s races, short races, long races, sprints and more… there is an event for YOU! Come for the challenge, stay for the camaraderie. Here in the Midwest, it’s COMMUNITY FIRST. COMPETITION SECOND.