Midwest Paddle Festival Recap

Is it safe to return to the water? The ubiquitous two note theme song played, but that danger wasn’t a shark fin cutting through the water surface, but rather the far more silent and deadly sickness that has already victimized and torn to shreds 7 events from the Midwest Paddle League season schedule.

There was chum in the water, and many wondered if it was too soon. Many others still wondered if there wasn’t a last-minute cancellation just over the horizon. Regardless, the state of Wisconsin is open for business, and the Midwest Paddle Festival confirmed they were on “go” status with some modifications:

  • Limited registration in advance only, no race day registration
  • Social distancing rules in place
  • No community water, bring your own
  • The now universal t-shirt to be replaced by a UV Buff to encourage face covering

A complete set of Race Photos can be found here.

Scroll to the end of the article for full results.

Race morning brought clear blue skies, mid 80-degree temperatures, and a breeze blowing 6-8. It was a beautiful day, in a quaint waterfront park in downtown Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, a city with more O’s than a honeymoon suite. Participants did a great job spreading out across the large green space area, and spectators where thankful for water side picnic tables with umbrellas along the shore. A great race location, with easy access to shops, bars, and restaurants, all of which appeared to be following some sort preventative measures. With that said, it appeared most participants were being pretty cautious and staying out of indoor community spaces.

Photo Doug Vojtko

Old friends and new reunited, hugs and handshakes where replaced by fist bumps, masks were temporarily pulled down to reveal identities. There was a common theme circulating through the park, a common desire to test oneself, to see where fitness levels were, to test the training, or lack thereof in a forced new reality. The nerves were palatable at the racer’s meeting, as folks maintained social distances, forcing the organizer Cris Rosario to resort to a megaphone.

Photo Doug Vojtko

The racecourse was a clockwise circumnavigation of Lake Fowler, a smaller calm lake that connects to the larger lake Lac La Belle. From a water start, the course headed east to a bridge that served as the first buoy turn, before heading north along the shore to a buoy on the north end of the lake. South along the shore to a slight right around a peninsula, and back to the start finish for an approximately 1.5-mile lap. 9 buoys per lap, 3 of which required more than foot steering, making this a fairly technical course that heavily favored regular footers and frustrated those of which, myself included, who turn goofy footed. 2 Laps for the 3-mile race, 4 for the 6-Mile distance. 100-yard dash foot run finish.

Photo Doug Vojtko

The 3-Mile race got underway promptly at 8:30. Video of the start can be viewed here. 19 participants lined up for an incident free start. By the end of the first lap, the race order had been established with eventual Men’s 14′ winner Sam Edwards leading the way with Midwest Paddle League regular Adrian Barnett in the draft. The Men’s 3rd place finisher was Alexander Castrodale. In the 12’6″ class, John Branck took top honors, follwed by Michael Migono and Aaron Lugo. On the Women’s side the 14′ class Cheryl Perlis was able to establish and early lead that she held throughout the race. Julie Hollingsworth gave chase but was unable to close the distance. Valentyna Artamonova rounded out the Women’s 14′ podium. The women’s 12’6″ class was won by Jill Bloemendaal, followed by Shannon Blay and Jessie Flath. The most exciting finish in the 3-mile, was the neck and neck sprint between Jessi Flath and Aaron Lugo who where joined by Ruby the wonder SUP dog. It was Aaron’s first race and only 4th time paddling.

Photo Shannon Carr

The 6-mile race got underway just a few moments after the last 3-mile finisher came in. 19 Paddlers and one dog, the aforementioned Ruby the wonder SUP dog aboard with Josh Flath. Video of the start. The whole field got away clean and fast leading to a crowded first buoy turn. By the end of the first lap, there was little doubt left in the race outcome as James Donovan had built a commanding 20 second plus lead. James ended up finishing the ~5.8 mile race in under an hour with a blistering 5.7 mph average. James reflected after the race:

“The Midwest Paddle Fest was my first SUP race in four years. 2020 has rekindled a fire inside of me to train hard and spread the SUP stoke. Even with a face covering and refraining from contact, MPF had all of the camaraderie of a coastal race, but at a paddler and spectator friendly lake in the middle of a quaint Midwestern downtown. SUP racing is alive and well in Wisconsin!”

Javier Diaz, came in second, in his first race EVER, with 1:02 finish time, beating quite a few fast regulars. “The Captain” Karl Eugster came in 3rd at the 1:05 mark. Last year’s 3rd place overall finisher Bryan Block was locked out of the podium with a fast 1:06 time. Remarkably, Josh Flath finished just 6 seconds behind, WITH THE DOG ONBOARD. Doug Vojtko, got the better of yours truly, despite me pushing him the entire race finishing with a strong 1:07 time, and a 7 second margin over me.

Photo Shannon Carr

On the women’s front, Kirsten Lefeldt was the clear winner with a 1:07 time. Rachel Demitrios, and Becky Striet came in Second and third respectively. It is important to note that almost a full 50% of paddlers at this event were women and their spirit and camaraderie was a good kind of infectious.

Photo Doug Vojtko

The Midwest Paddle League is back in action next weekend for the 45 North Paddle Festival in beautiful Traverse City Michigan. This Sunday race is sure to be one to remember taking place at vineyard on the shores of Sutton’s Bay.

About the Midwest Paddle League

Welcome to the Midwest Paddle League – designated for paddlers, by paddlers. If you’ve never raced before, or you race most weekends, with kids 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.


The Midwest Paddle League is proudly sponsored by Aqua Adventures, Footstake, and Paddle Monster.


Women’s 3 Mile 12’6” and under Name Time
1 Jill Bloemendaal 39m 36s
2 Shannon Bley 42m 37s
3 Jessie Flath 47m 50s
4 Merrie Baltramonas 49m 20s
5 Cathleen Esselstyn 54m 37s
6 Jackie Kot 56m 31s
Women’s 3 Mile 14’
1 Cheryl Perlis 36m 4s
2 Julie Hollingsworth 37m 14s
3 Valentyna Artamonova 42m 25s
Women’s 3 Mile Kayak
1 Jean Lyons 43m 52s
Men’s 3 Mile 12’6” and under 
1 John Branick 45m 43s
2 Michael Mignono 46m 29s
3 Aaron Lugo 47m 50s
Men’s 3 Mile 14’
1 Sam Edwards 32m 58s
2 Adrian Barnett 33m 6s
3 Alexander Castrodale 33m 42s
4 Ofer Meged 35m 51s
5 Bernie Isacovici 39m 2s
6 Robert Wilkinson 40m 36s
Women’s 6 Mile 12’6” and under Name Time
1 Laura Knapp 1:22:55
Women’s 6 Mile 14’
1 Kristen Ledfeldt 1:07:41
2 Rachel Demitrios 1:19:34
3 Becky Striet 1:20:40
4 Ryan Meade 1:22:04
5 Renee Miller 1:25:05
6 Becky Thomas 1:27:41
7 Leslie Maclin 1:29:53
Men’s 6 Mile 12’6”
1 Ben Wernick 1:12:40
Men’s 6 Mile 14’
1 James Donovan 59m 54s
2 Javier Diaz 1:02:58
3 Karl Eugster 1:05:01
4 Ryan Block 1:06:38
5 Josh Flath 1:06:44
6 Doug Vojtko 1:07:18
7 Harrison Withers 1:07:25
8 Mike Herr 1:08:56
9 Todd Miller 1:17:24
10 Mike Weidman 1:17:41
11 David Andrews 1:19:19