Midwest Paddle League Completes 4th Race of Season: The Great Lakes SUP Challenge

2019 Great Lakes SUP Challenge - DericCurtis

by Harrison Withers, photos by Deric Curtis

The East Coast and West Coast are great, but this last weekend, it was the third coast that was alive with paddle stoke.

Yeah you heard me right, the third coast.

Turns out that Michigan has more coastline than any other state in the union, and the eastern shore of Lake Michigan features 40-50 foot dunes of the most pristine white sugar sand you’ve ever seen.

No sharks, no jelly fish, and no salt.

Just a few hours drive up the coast from Chicago, is a quaint little town called Grand Haven. Which just happens to be the former home of yours truly. I bought my first board here and learned to paddle in these very same waters.

Grand Haven is also home to the annual Coast Guard Festival, the one-time world’s largest musical fountain, Odd Side Ales, and the Great Lakes SUP Challenge.

Dave Meade and crew resurrected the challenge after a few years hiatus and was determined to get the details right.

They nailed it.

Promotion, sponsorship, location, social events, great swag, this event had it all.

The event got started Friday night with registration and swag bag pickup at Wet Mitten Surf Shop. Food was on the grill and free, and the conversation flowed. Local fast guy Matt Hassenrink did a free paddle clinic. The well-appointed swag bags were stuffed with a pint glass, event shirt, sunglasses, and free beer coupons for a couple sponsoring breweries. Samples, stickers and literature, all in an even screened string backpack. Seriously the best swag bag I’ve ever gotten.

The event location was Kirk Park, which is a beautiful county park set into a dune just south of town. The race had reserved a giant pavilion, and sponsors Footstake, as well as two massage therapists and other vendors were on hand. Continental breakfast and good coffee got they day started right.

As mentioned in prior articles, Michigan is just starting to recover from a cold, and very wet spring. The normally spacious Kirk Park beach was a reduced to a 15-foot sand cliff with just a couple feet of shore.

The course was a T shape, with the start finish located in the middle and buoy .75 miles to the north and south. Conditions on race day where just about as good as lake Michigan gets, with high 80’s and 3-7mph breeze from the northwest. Water temps were in the 70’s and waves from 6-12”. Organizer Dave Meade:

One of our biggest stress points was the weather…we hit the jackpot with blue skies, warm water, light winds, and tiny bumps on the water. The beach could have been a bit better, but the “stadium seating” we had for watching the action from the dunes was awesome…you could see the entire course!

The official race photogs photos are here:

Almost 70 registered paddlers were on hand for the all-SUP class lineup featured 1.5, 3, and 6-mile distances, with a free technical race in the afternoon.

The 1.5 and 3 mile races were first off, with the 1.5 milers starting up wind to the north and the 3-milers heading south.

The 1.5 distance was an all-female affair and Jody Lockwood took the win.

The competition in the 3-mile race was stiff with 32 paddlers. In the female division, Christine Armstrong took the win on a 12’6” and Ryan Meade followed up her strong result from the 45th Parallel Paddle Festival for the win in the 14’ division. In the Men’s class, young up-and-comer Grant Hassenrink took an early lead and paddled like the coast guard was chasing him, finishing in an impressive 37:54. 2nd place finisher Ryan Kuja mounted a late charge but fell less than a minute short of catching Grant to the finish line. Mike Bartos once again owned the surf-style class.

The 6-mile started 15 minutes after the last paddler came in in from the prior race. Brian Lafeve, owner of Great Lakes Surf Shop,  has looked super-strong so far this year, today was no exception.  Brian, Matt Hassenrink, and Ben Gariess formed an early draft train and pulled a considerable distance on the field. But by the end of the first lap, Brian pulled out and away from the train. No lead changes occurred, and they finished 1-2-3 in even intervals. 

Brian Lafeve:

This first-year event was a huge success and the Michigan SUP community came out strong to support it!

Matt Hassenrink:

It was great to see the stoke return to the birthplace of Midwest sup. There’s nothing like an open water race on Lake Michigan. It’s like we transported yourself to Hawaii for 2 hours. Congrats to Dave Meade on a great event.

On the women’s side, Kirsten Lefeldt, continued her winning way from a few weeks prior at the Gun Lake Paddle Battle. Wendy Anderson put in a strong 2nd place finish. Race Winner Kirsten Lefeldt commented:

“Community first, Competition second” was felt strong on the water today. Not once do you cross path with another paddler without hearing a “Great work!” “Way to commit on that turn!”, or “You are doing great!”. I mean, what else could you want in a sport?

The 6-mile race was followed by a free kid’s race, before the participants headed back up to the pavilion for awards and lunch.

Full results can be found here: https://paddleguru.com/races/2019GreatLakesSUPChallenge/results

You may have noticed the last name Hassenrink several times in this article. Matt and family are incredible ambassadors for the sport tin the Midwest and came out in full force. In addition to Matt and Grant’s, podiums in the 3- and 6-mile events, his to younger daughter’s finished 1-2 in the kids’ race. The Hassenrink family are a model for SUP racing as a family sport.

After the distance races, almost everyone stuck around to enjoy some hot dogs and camaraderie. It didn’t hurt that Dave and crew had over $2,500 in raffle swag, from Detroit Surf Company, 404, Footstake, and many others, Prizes included clothes, jewelry, and even a skim board, long board and a couple nice paddles. Everyone in attendance that stuck around for the raffle went home with something.

The technical race was a 6 buoy ~1 mile course. The Hassenrink family dominated finishing 1 and  3 with Dad taking the overall win. Ben Gareiss finished 2nd. In the womens class, it Was Kirsten Lefeldt collecting her second win of the day followed by Ryan Meade.

The day ended with a party at event sponsor Trail Point Brewing.

All in all, this was a VERY well-run event, that had great attendance to show for it. Dave and crew know what they are doing and did it well. Next year’s schedule hasn’t been finalized yet, but if there is a back to back weekend with a couple Michigan races, it would be worth the road trip. Come see what the Midwest has to offer!

Race Organizer Dave Meade reflected on the event:

We are in awe of the response from the SUP community. In this day of declining race attendance and major events being cancelled, it almost seemed ridiculous to try and plan something new. With almost 70 SUP athletes that registered, we are stoked to know that paddling is alive and well in the Midwest!

After 4 races in 5 weeks, the Midwest Paddle League is off until July 13th when it will head to the other side of lake to the land of cheese. The Midwest Paddle Festival is one of the Midwest’s longest running races and features a “super lap” in the long race. It’s another well-run event that is sure to be a great time.

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 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.