Show up, paddle hard, win a prize?

I'm still in shock, a week later.

Got talked into going to the Great Muskoka Paddling Experience, and it was certainly quite the experience -- every imaginable type of watercraft was there: canoes, kayaks, OC1s, OC2s, foot-pedalled kayaks, planing and displacement SUPs, and even some prone paddling. Lots of friendly paddlers from all over. It was a very well-managed event with great food next to a beautiful (though cold!) river, which started right below the falls.

Bracebridge Falls - Source: Wikimedia Commons

The most amazing thing about the GMPE this year was the prizes for the 5K SUP paddle race. For anyone willing to race on a planing SUP board, the prize was a Boardworks 14' Ohana or 12'6" Raven SUP board, donated by Kayak Sport Canada.

So, I borrowed a 404 ("Not Found"), which combined with my #200 ("OK")  bib number made for some awesome geeky karma:

Since so few racers came out to represent the novice/recreational SUP paddler - perhaps because it's a new sport? perhaps because most paddlers were already experienced enough to want to do the 10K or 20K races? or perhaps in protest of the new mandatory PFD law? - I was one of only three possible winners of the board. Among the women, only three racers signed up as well, making that an equally tight race.

Three quarters of an hour on the water later, and a crazy number of awards later (so many paddlecraft classes! So many different races! Medals for everyone!) ... this happened:

Frankly, I'm thrilled to have won this (though still surprised). Not counting training paddles, I've done a total of 3 races on a SUP board this year - two at the Toronto Windsurfing Club on Thursday nights as part of their night SUP racing series, and once when that Thursday night race was instead the Canada Cup SUP Race 2015, coming second in Men's Rec 5K (in a field of 3 racers once again). Since those were all on borrowed boards - twice on inflatables - it's awesome to finally have my own ride.

Consider too that January 2015 - which feels like a lifetime ago - was the first time I'd stood on a surfboard. In April 2015 I stood on a SUP/surfboard for the first time in Canoa, Ecuador at a Love Life Adventures surf/SUP retreat. Thanks to Janna & Carlos' excellent instruction there and over this past summer with the SUPGIRLZ, seems I'm getting the hang of this sport, though I definitely have a long way to go.

One awesome feature of this sport is the versatility. Sure, we need to wear a lot more gear to survive cold water...

... but getting good at lake SUP, lake surf, or lake racing means when I hit salt water on vacations, it'll really FEEL like a vacation. No side swell? No cross currents? Salty buoyancy? Consistent reef breaks? No wind predictions that falter a few days later? Sign. Me. Up.

That said, I love the challenge of lake paddling. Since I started on this journey to rediscover the lake in my backyard, I've set foot (& paddle!) in all five Great Lakes, surfed two so far (Huron and Ontario) and plan to continue to surf through the winter. Maybe by the time I'm doing the GMPE 10K SUP race next Thanksgiving, I'll have managed to surf all five.

But back to the new board... once it was back in Toronto, it was time to try it out. What better way than to do an 8.5k downwinder with Jess Rando, The Paddle Coach?

Photo courtesy of @ThePaddleCoach

Yep, no races left this season to break it in, but definitely no shortage of water 'round here:

Photo courtesy of @ThePaddleCoach

Then we trucked out to my brother's place in Mississauga for my second Thanksgiving at his new place, and ate too much excellent food.

On Monday that weekend, it was decided that a lap around the Toronto Island, starting at Cherry Beach, portaging to the back side behind the lighthouse, and pseudo-downwinding back to Cherry was in order.

Another 8k of paddling later, I'm in love with the new board.

And after three days of paddling over 23km on the Muskoka River and around Lake Ontario, I'm ready for a bit of a break. So, for the winter, my new Ohana will live at Surf Ontario.

But come the spring, I'll be back on the water on Thursdays trying to get good enough to survive the GMPE 10K race next Thanksgiving.

Thanks to everyone who's contributed to my getting into and hooked on this new sport, and to being accepted into the family of lake paddlers.

Gone is my old Necky Manitou 14' kayak - long live my new Boardworks Ohana 14' race SUP!