On September 30, 2001, Chad DeSatnick was surfing during Hurricane Umberto. On his third wave, he was thrown head first into about 3 inches of water, shattered C6, C7, was taken up to Atlantic City Trauma Center and went through 11 hours of surgery.
Chad stood in front of us, telling us this story, and looking like he could paddle to Delaware and back. The only indication that any of this had ever happened was the long scar on the back of his neck and the emotion in his voice. He was lucky. And he had an amazing team to support him and his recovery.
His message: With a little bit of motivation and support from organizations like Life Rolls on and the DeSatnick Foundation, anything is possible for people with spinal injuries.
The DeSatnick Foundation will provide local victims of spinal injuries grants for anything from money for gas to get to rehab to money to build wheelchair ramps. He and his brother Todd have worked very hard to make this charity and the Cape to Cape Crossing a reality. It comes from a humble, positive place.
This is literally the foundation on which a great event is built.
Let’s talk about the race
I ran late on race morning. There is so much gear. So many details. I didn’t want to be hours out to sea and not have enough water or nutrition. For some paddlers, they can overcome it. I can’t.
When I got to the Ferry entrance, I was frazzled from the mental gymnastics of “DO I HAVE EVERYTHING?!”
Then I looked up at the parking lot. Paddleboards. My people. Smiles. Waves. A tent with shirts and registration. Two trucks filled with boards for the ferry to Delaware. Friends I interact with regularly online, only in real size rather than the 640 pixel high Instagram version. Apparently, everyone is taller in real life than they are on facebook. Who knew.
I had so much energy. I felt I could run around the parking lot 100x. Everyone had that look. Like a pile of popcorn kernels hopping around in hot oil, on the verge of exploding. You cold see it in everyone’s eyes. They were excited.
What it’s like to walk onto the ferry to start this race:
We were prepared to do battle. The ferry was a blast. We met each other, looked off the front of the boat, thinking about paddling in the other direction a few hours later. Pointed out the bumps, container ships and swirling currents. The wind looked perfect. A true downwinder. Or so we thought.
Pulling into Lewes Delaware
When we pulled into the dock in Lewes Delaware, the captain of the Ferry wished us all good luck over the loudspeakers. Then, she came down to tell us in person. “I’ll have my Zeiss lenses and will be looking out for you, rooting you on.” It was a really cool moment.
We exited the terminal to a jolly trolley waiting to shuttle us to the Georgia Avenue beach start. We had 90 minutes before the start. The trolly seemed like it was missing circus music. A clown maybe. It was a 5 minute shuttle to the parking lot and our unloaded boards.
It was hot and sunny, but we set up our boards, packed our spare gear back in the truck who’d transport it to the finish line. We met the other paddlers, shared water and food. Stretched out and dealt with the pre-race nerves.
I looked out at a massive windmill a few miles away. It was still. No wind? Maybe it’s stuck. I didn’t think much about it.
One guy walked up to me and asked, “Are you paddling?”
“What are you paddling?”
“This is my board.” Pointing to the stock prone (Bark Commander).
He looked shocked. “Wow!” He leaned in like he was sharing a secret. “Let’s be perfectly honest. It’s going to be a tough day out there for you.”
“No… no… Don’t get me wrong. If we’re being perfectly honest, it’s just going to really suck for you out there on that.”
“Enough!” I raised my hand to him to stop him from talking. “I don’t need to hear another word. I love this board and am really looking forward to this. I think it’s going to be great.”
The guy next to me was snickering.
“Not another word. Get lost. I don’t need to hear this shit.”
He shrugged and walked away. For all the women reading this, it was like going to the prom, dress, hair, makeup, shoes, flowers, and the limo pulls up. The driver gets out and says, “Are you wearing THAT to prom?”
I laughed it off. Competitors. You never know where they’ll come from.
I got a message from Grace Van Der Byl who has swam this. “Look out for the RIPS! It’s a huge spiraling Eddy as you get to Cape May. Stay way in or way out.” Good advice. I filed it in my strategy file.
Steve Dullack walked over. He has the best pre-game face. I asked how he was feeling and he said something that really stuck. “I feel good. I know pain. These young guys don’t know pain yet.”
He’s right. As you get older you experience pain. Sometimes every day. You develop a relationship with it. When you start to know your pain, fear becomes respect. That made me feel good. I know pain. I’d be ok.
We paddled out 100 yards to a water start next to the boats. I sat next to Robin Lang, a powerhouse paddler from Virginia Beach. I remember thinking, “She’s going to crush me.” Then I remembered the words of a good friend, “You are an experiment of one.” That means, you are the only one starting, finishing, and paddling the race. Concentrate on your own paddle. Wherever that leaves you, it’s ok, because you do what you do.
The horn went off and it seemed like most people were going out at a good pace, but not a sprint. By the time we hit the first breakwater jetty, I was well in the back of the pack. My plan was to start slow and build. But I noticed the speed on my NK Speed Coach went from 5 mph to 2. I looked out at the group and realized they were paddling right into the main incoming tide current. I hugged the rocks like we do at home and my speed went from 2 to 5.5, to 6 mph.
I high-fived 3 rocks in the process. That’s how close I had to stay. I passed between a fisherman and the jetty and got some stink-eye but said, “You’ll get over it.” I hugged the north shore of Delaware and then ferried across the current to the far breakwater jetty just behind the lead pack. I knew I caught a break, and didn’t try to keep up. I just stuck to the plan. It’s not a big deal. This is hard, but we have 12 miles of heaven downwind to come.
I looked over my board. Three 24 ounce bottles of liquids. Two Skratch and one OX Endurance. I drank the OX Endurance first. It has caffeine and gets me going in the beginning of the longer paddles. On shorter races, I like to drink this 25 minutes before the race. On longer ones, I have this as my first bottle. I also had 2 GU gels and 2 Bonk Bars. I don’t like all the sugar, but I know they work for me. I’m experimenting with the Portables, but for this race, do with what you know.
At times, it was just like paddling in a fun house. The bumps we’d watched on the ferry over were gone. The mixed up wind swell and more east than south groundswell did nothing to aid our trip. From the moment I ferried across the current, it was too crazy to knee paddle. By the time I hit cleaner water, I’d been on my stomach for 45 minutes. My back and legs started to cramp. My toes on my right foot made a fist and I fell off a few times before giving up. It was going to be a long day creeping to Cape May.
One hand in front of the other. I caught bumps when they came, but mostly tried to keep a 4mph pace. it’s the only way to finish on time.
I couldn’t see anything in the haze. The sun beating down on me. I splashed myself constantly—dipped my hat in the water—to keep cool.
When we could finally see the NJ coast and the lighthouse at Cape May Point, we also noticed the first tanker. These are like skyscrapers floating on their sides. They seemed to move slowly, but then popped up closer and then, were bearing down on you. There was a tanker and a ferry—both seemed to be coming right at me. Coast guard was with us, so I know someone was there to help. When I heard the first horn I started to really get nervous. Then they turned south and were gone. Not an issue. Thank God.
There were 3 or 4 pods of dolphins. It was a fun distraction. Bait ball after bait ball with fish everywhere. Big and small. I would paddle hard then glide over the bait balls, hands and feet in the air. I was afraid of bluefish more than sharks.
A standup was to my left for about 20 minutes. I saw a tide line ahead of us. I was to the east of the line in the dark cold water, the border marked by foam and jetsam. He was to the west of the line in the warmer, murky spinning brown water. When I looked up 5 minutes later, he was 300 yards to my west. Another 10 minutes later, he and everyone else who had been to my left were more than a mile away. The got stuck in the RIPS. I got lucky.
I made good progress until I was about even with the lighthouse. I had been taking a sip of my bottles and a bite of a bonk bar every 10 minutes, making sure I had at least one bottle down per hour and one bar or gel down per hour. I was relieved to see I was even with the lighthouse and kept breathing. One paddle at a time. I was making progress. The lighthouse was getting closer.
Then everything stopped
Thirty minutes after I saw I was reaching the lighthouse, I looked up to see I hadn’t moved. The lighthouse was in the same spot. Way WAY over there. I hit the wall. I was stuck in the RIPS and hadn’t noticed. I’d wasted a ton of time and energy. My family was on the beach waiting for me. My daughter. My Mom. My uncle Jack who’s a lifeguard at the very beach we come into at the finish. I thought about my grandfather. My grandmother who we lost a few years back but who would have loved to see this. I literally cried. It was an ugly cry. Maybe for 5 seconds. I don’t know what the hell happened to me but I broke. I’m not going to finish this. I’m never going to finish Catalina. I have to call them and cancel. I have to stop training. WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!
I sat up on my board and looked at the lighthouse and started to laugh. I am a friggin’ idiot. I said thank you to the lighthouse. I said thank you to my board. I said thank you to the ocean. And I laid back down and looked at my watch. I had an hour and a half to go just over 4 miles. I took a drink, turned 90 degrees out from the eddy, and paddled out to sea. Suck it up buttercup.
Before I knew it, my speed went from 3 mph to 5+ and I could see the Cove. I turned northeast and headed toward Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, the small arcade and finally the Convention Hall and the finish on Queen Street.
A half mile from the finish, my uncle paddled out on a rescue board and gave me a hug. He paddled next to me the rest of the way to the finish. I paddled through the buoys and tried to make it in, but happily yard sale-d it and got pulled through the shorebreak by Rich and another one of his lifeguard buddies.
I walked to EMS, got checked out. One of my ribs had popped. I had liek a walnut an my sternum. The EMS guy laughed and said, “That’s gonna hurt.” but I was ok otherwise. No problem breathing. Heart rate and BP were normal and getting back to rest. I got some water, hugged my daughter who was making sand angels and headed back to see the other finishers. There was someone throwing up next to his board and another competitor in a beach chair working through cramps with EMS. I wish I had a jar of pickles for him.
It was like a dream. I was dehydrated and exhausted. Elated. Hungry. And in pain. But it was over. I was so happy it was over. All the paddlers on the beach shared a knowing nod, a smile. I don’t know how we raised our boards for the group photo. None of us wanted to touch them again.
If there’s one thing that came through during this event, it’s the bond, the brotherhood and sisterhood of paddlers, of water people, who share the experience of doing something extraordinary, like paddling across the Delaware Bay from Lewes, DE to Cape May, NJ.
It is the challenge. The crossing. The journey.
When reading the results, Chad would look down to find the times to which he was interrupted each time with, “who cares.” It’s not about the time. It’s about the journey. It’s about showing up. For those who finished, congratulations. In the words of Steve Dullack, “every paddle stroke was a victory.” This was a tough one. For those who didn’t make it to the beach, next year you’ll slay it.
|1||1/5||Ryan Matthews||2||Guy||Prone Unlimited||Open||3:12:14|
|2||1/2||Bobby Frey||14||Guy||Prone 14′||Open||3:27:14|
|3||1/16||Chad Gallagher||43||Guy||SUP 14′||Open||3:37:19|
|4||2/5||Lewis Ostrander||19||Guy||Prone Unlimited||Open||3:39:45|
|5||3/5||Jonny Skolnick||48||Guy||Prone Unlimited||Open||3:42:30|
|6||2/16||Sven Peltonen||16||Guy||SUP 14′||Open||3:44:40|
|7||3/16||Mark Temme||42||Guy||SUP 14′||Open||3:44:51|
|8||4/16||Ryan Oliver||39||Guy||SUP 14′||Open||3:45:40|
|9||5/16||Jason Chew||11||Guy||SUP 14′||Open||3:46:57|
|10||6/16||Todd Desatnick||27||Guy||SUP 14′||Open||3:48:48|
|11||7/16||Greg Errion||41||Guy||SUP 14′||Open||3:52:26|
|12||8/16||Steve Dullack||1||Guy||SUP 14′||Open||3:54:49|
|13||9/16||Andrew Dima||46||Guy||SUP 14′||Open||3:56:40|
|14||1/4||Carl Tripician||25||Guy||SUP 14′||Sr. Masters 50+||4:02:51|
|15||1/1||Robin Lang||36||Girl||Prone Unlimited||Open||4:06:17|
|16||1/2||John Beausang||35||Guy||Prone Stock||Open||4:07:10|
|17||10/16||William Shafer||45||Guy||SUP 14′||Open||4:15:28|
|18||11/16||John Siracusa||6||Guy||SUP 14′||Open||4:16:34|
|19||12/16||Joseph Pacera||49||Guy||SUP 14′||Open||4:18:53|
|20||2/2||Ryan White||4||Guy||Prone 14′||Open||4:20:58|
|21||4/5||Mark Spagnuolo||47||Guy||Prone Unlimited||Open||4:24:50|
|22||2/2||Shawn Mcananey||22||Guy||Prone Stock||Open||4:25:15|
|23||13/16||Chris Racine||44||Guy||SUP 14′||Open||4:25:32|
|24||14/16||Tyler Hunter||5||Guy||SUP 14′||Open||4:30:00|
|24||2/4||Richard Bubnowski||9||Guy||SUP 14′||Sr. Masters 50+||4:30:00|
|24||3/4||Eddy Okinsky||15||Guy||SUP 14′||Sr. Masters 50+||4:30:00|
|24||1/1||Jacqueline Eastridge||20||Girl||SUP 12’6″||Open||4:30:00|
|24||1/1||Josette Lata||18||Girl||SUP 14′||Open||4:30:00|
|24||1/1||Brian Meyer||31||Guy||SUP 12’6″||Open||4:30:00|
|24||4/4||Tom Forkin||34||Guy||SUP 14′||Sr. Masters 50+||4:30:00|
|24||15/16||Chuck Piola||8||Guy||SUP 14′||Open||4:30:00|
|24||5/5||Brian Pasternak||29||Guy||Prone Unlimited||Open||4:30:00|
|33||16/16||Ryan Griffin||26||Guy||SUP 14′||Open||4:30:30|
(Cutoff time was 4:30. Anyone with a 4:30 time is a DNF)
A quick note about safety
I don’t know how many square nautical miles their safety crew had to cover, but they nailed it. Boats found and visited me to see if I was ok five times during the 4 hours. They did an extraordinary job. If I needed water. they had it. I never felt like I was in danger or that I’d be lost. They were in total control and it made me confident enough to just paddle. It was really well done.
Want to paddle next year? Prepare
For any of you who are interested in paddling this next year, start training and gather a resume of times and distances that will qualify you to attempt this crossing. Do not take this lightly. But don’t shy away from the challenge. Punch the clock. Prepare. Execute. Support a great cause.
The Inaugural Cape to Cape Paddle Event was a gift. It was a lesson in pain and endurance. As hard as it was, it was worth every paddle.I highly recommend this race.
To the entire DeSatnick family, thank you. I feel like I’m part of your family now and can’t wait to see you in years to come. Thank you for supporting the Distressed Mullet. We appreciate it.
To all my fellow paddlers, I’m stoked for you. I’m proud to have paddled with you. See you next time.