September 7th 2014 marked the 6th annual Round the Rock stand up paddleboarding competition held at Seward, Park just outside of Seattle, Washington. Though smaller in size than some of the paddleboarding competitions Sunplay has attended recently (like the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge and the Carolina Cup), it was easy to see why it’s had the longevity it has. The great course accompanied by the passionate attendees and organizers make it a great race to be around.
The first race of the morning—and the most competitive race of the day with 197 participants—was the 13-miler around Mercer Island. The race started with a little pow-wow—a going over of the rules which included no drafting off of other board classes or genders. With a few words of encouragement, the SUPers were off and lining up between two large buoys as “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” played over the loudspeaker. Fitting, I would say.
I overheard one competitor say to another, “Why am I doing this, again?” as he walked through the big yellow gate that activated his timing chip. At that point, there was no looking back. At least the conditions were cooperative with the sun shining and no wind to speak of on a perfectly lovely Sunday morning.
The way the payoff for the $10,000 in prize money worked is that there was a “sweep or weep” rule, meaning that if you pass someone in a higher board class than you, you get that prize money. This works between all board classes (12’6”, 14’, and unlimited) so that made for some extra motivation and strategy for those in the water.
With a horn, the racers were off and faded into the distance as they made their way around Mercer Island. In the down time, people observing the race enjoyed one of the many food trucks lined up at Seward Park (the donut truck was life changing) and visited sponsor booths like Kona Brewing. Some frequented the beer garden whose proceeds went to Athletes for Cancer.
About two hours into the race, the first racers could be spotted rounding the other side of Mercer Island and making their way down the final stretch. The first to cross the line was 37 year-old Brett Saguid from Spokane, Washington clocking a time of 2:07:16 in the unlimited board category. Coming in second and the first on a 14 footer was pro rider Chase Kosterlitz with an impressive 2:08:26. The third finisher (and proof of the international appeal of Round the Rock) was 19-year-old Arthur Daniel, finishing at 2:11:47. It was funny watching the finishers paddle through ducks on their way to the finish line—the poor animals couldn’t figure out a way to stay out of the way.
The talent in the women’s category was equally as fierce, although Canadian Lina Augaitis smashed the field coming in 8th overall riding a 14’ board. Augaitis clocked a time of 2:18:20, just 11 minutes behind Saguid and a full 10 minutes ahead of the second female finisher--fellow Canadian Shannon Bell who rode in at 2:28:36. Bell took full advantage of the “sweep or weep” rule and as the first paddler (male or female!) to finish on a 12’6” board, racking up quite a pay check.
Finishing as the third fastest woman in the 13-miler was 17-year-old phenom Fiona Wylde from the famous water-sports town of Hood River, Oregon who rode in at 2:33:11 on a 14’ board.
See the full list of 197 finishers in the 2014 Round the Rock 13 mile race at supracer.com.
The next event that took place was the kid’s race (7-14) that circled two buoys in the shore on Lake Washington. There were two different distances to accommodate both beginner paddlers and intermediate ones—a one lap course and a two lap course. It’s always fun watching the next generation of stand up paddleboarders get their first taste of competition, something Lina Augaitis said is one of her favorite aspects of these smaller races.
The next race was the 3.5 mile race that follows the shoreline of Seward Park, making it spectator friendly because people could watch it along the bike path. Apparently, the route was a bit longer than intended as the far buoy had drifted during the race. Oops!
Coming in first was local paddler Renick Woods on a 14’ board who had already competed that morning’s 13 mile race who crossed the line with a time of 40:6. Continuing the theme of women who were dominant athletes in the field was 61-year-old Betsy Risner from Utah who not only came in as the first woman, but as the 5th overall finisher with a time of 43:36.
After a low-key relay race, there was some down time before the awards ceremony began. Seward Park was the perfect location to relax and hang out. You could enjoy the beer garden, get food from one of the delicious food trucks, and enjoy the live band. Round the Rock did a good job of maintaining a party atmosphere that drew plenty of spectators on a Sunday afternoon.
Before the awards were officially underway, there was a presentation by the charity Athletes for Cancer—an organization that puts on camps for those affected by cancer and who received all the net profits from the race. Their goal was to raise money to be able to send people to their camps that teach participants how to surf and standup paddleboard in Hawaii (with one ski/snowboarding event during the winter in Mt. Hood).
The organization’s founder, Tonia Farman, got the idea for Athletes for Cancer as she watched her own brother battle Leukemia. The program puts on an adventure retreat program called Camp Koru which is free to cancer survivors. Athletes for Cancer put on five Camp Koru retreats during 2014. From the 2014 Round the Rock event, approximately $32,000 was raised—enough to put on two full camps.
Two beautiful Riviera boards were given away to the leading fundraisers, one of whom gave away to a previous Camp Koru attendee from Portland who did not have her own board. After having a bone marrow transplant, Bree has been in remission since October 2013 and has a pronounced passion for SUP. After getting her board, Tonia told Bree she didn’t have to carry her board back to where she was stationed.
Bree responded, “Yes, I do! I love it!”
The man who had raised the most money completed that day’s entire 13 mile race on a surfboard—no easy task. He spoke to the crowd, talked about his own experience having been diagnosed with a brain tumor and emphasized the important of family and community.
The winners of the races were then called up, receiving wooden surfboard medals for the division winners and small bronze surfer trophies given to the overall finishers. After all the prizes and checks were given out and all competitors had stepped off the podium, there was a pervading sense of SUP as a force of healing, emphasized by the presence of Athletes for Cancer. It’s easy to see why Round the Rock has been running for six years, with no plans to stop anytime soon.
Congratulations to all racers who participated! See y’all next year!