by Ed Anderson
Editor’s note: Thanks so much for this post to Ed Anderson who always does such an amazing job as Master of Ceremonies and Paddler Extraordinaire at Reef Madness. And thanks too to Lars Howlett and Jim Kakuk for all the great photos.
Paddle. Party. Piracy. That’s a perfect day! Sunday June 8th saw numerous paddlers of great spirit and questionable judgment gather beneath the flags and banners at Miramar for yet another chance to test their mettle. Both the weather and Mother Ocean were gracious, a cooling fog hanging over the waters that were mostly welcoming. Blue sky and sunshine looked down on Michael and Nani’s amazing home, providing warmth and vibrancy to the land-bound spectators and well-wishers. The stage was perfectly set.
At High Noon paddlers gathered on the beach for the safety talk and warning. Tsunami Ranger Dave Whalen took roll call so we would know who was missing when bodies failed to return. That done, I started the safety talk with the First Rule: Everyone Comes Back! Then very consciously mirroring the themes of our inspiration Eric Soares, I broke down the reality of this event: the suggested course can be dangerous, people can and have been seriously hurt and worse in these waters, nobody is responsible for the safety of any paddler other than that paddler him- or herself, and the prizes and recognition are not worth risking one’s life for. While it was good karma to aid another paddler in distress, the First Rule means not becoming another victim. Help may be limited to, “You’re f***ed! I will go get help!” The safety talk closed with the admonition that if at any point during the event a paddler is wondering if they are up for this, they should back the hell out. This included right there at the beach. The First Rule: Everyone Comes Back!
With the briefing concluded, 17 paddlers went to 13 boats. This year saw the greatest proportion of doubles yet: Tsunami Rangers Steve King and Scott Becklund piloting a Tsunami X-2 Starship, TR Commander Michael Powers and Bob Stender paddling a venerable Nootka, Rick Blair and John Randall doing battle in a restored Seascape, and as the first Father-Daughter team, Aiko and I paddling a second Seascape. Rick Blair had restored these mistreated Seascapes to fine condition, and what they lacked in speed and bulkheads, they made up for in length and volume. (This would prove significant later.) Delphin kayaks were popular with the single paddlers, being used by Neptune’s Ranger Bill Vonnegut, BASKer “Don’t Follow Don” Don Barch, and fellow BASKers Sergei Yechikov and Richard Smith. Mike Staninec employed a Captain America-motifed Tsunami X-15 and Jon Wittenberg went with a less flamboyant X-15. Alan Marshall had a single Nootka Lopaka, while Professor Mike Higgins and Wild Johnny Werbe represented the Coaster contingent.
At the ear-splitting blast of the horn, paddlers raced their boats to the water. Aiko and I had worked out our tactics: we would launch left of the main area where the surf was usually smaller, I would get the boat water-borne after she was secured, then I would hop in, we would punch out, and I would secure my spray skirt once we cleared the surf zone. We had also agreed on a general rule that should the boat capsize, we would roll; we would exit only in the event of failed rolls. This was a great plan, and it lasted at least 45 seconds.
We ran our battleship to the water line, Aiko strapped in, I pulled the craft out into shallow water, then ran to the back and jumped in. “Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!” I cried, and we were churning ahead. The first wave was an easy foam pile by the time it hit us but I could see that the second was going to be more of an effort, and the third was….oh sh*t, the third looked from our low vantage point like the Berlin Wall hurling at us! Aiko saw it too and voiced her concern. (Why oh why did I promise my wife to bring our daughter back in one piece?)
I taught both my girls that in the surf zone, once you commit, you’re committed. And the math here was simple: if we dug deep and paddled hard, we had a 75% chance of getting pulverized; if we held position, we had a 100% chance of getting pulverized. With a voice just a little bit higher in octave than I would have liked, I yelled out, “Paddle hard! Right through!”
We charged the wave with grim determination. The wave charged us with utter indifference. The wave won.
I yelled, “We’ve got it! Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!” as we climbed the steepening wall. I hoped the pounding that was about to drop on Aiko would not do serious damage. The face was fully vertical when it slammed on her, but our bow had crested. For a brief, shining moment it seemed we would make it. Then I realized we were being driven backwards despite our strokes. The stern dropped behind (or is that now in front of?) us and I felt us broach bow-right. My last thought before going to the world of cold water and no air was I hoped Aiko took a breath. Under water I found myself partially out of my seat, and thinking there was no way Aiko could be setting up, I kicked out. My head broke the surface just in time to see Aiko execute a flawless sweep roll….on a fully flooded double kayak…. with no bulkheads….in the surf. I was so proud of her! And she was so taken aback to see her old man swimming. I grabbed on to the boat and stabilized it as best I could. She looked me straight in the eyes and with all the gentle understanding she could muster she said, “I thought we agreed to roll!”
We got our Titanic back to the beach, dumped most of the 350 gallons of water taken on, and set up for our (my?) redemption. Aiko never wavered once on the beach or in the water, and in short order we punched through the surf and were out in open ocean. The boat felt heavy and unstable, like a fat drunk at Mardi Gras. I realized that even with 90% of the water dumped, it still felt like we had 35 gallons of water sloshing around inside the boat. I grabbed our one remaining pump and went to work until my shoulders burned and I was seeing stars. After several long minutes I rejoined Aiko in paddling but felt my contribution was moral support at best. Approaching Pillar Point reef we saw Scott and Steve blazing their way back, Bill hot on their tail. I could see that The Slot was a no-go for us and the thought of wrapping way outside of The Boneyard for an extra 20 to 30 minutes of paddling was more than I was up for. Feeling like Aiko had already made her bones back at Miramar, I asked her if she would be crushed if we didn’t go all the way to Ross’s Cove. She swallowed her pride and agreed to hang out at the reef and watch the returning boats come back. We headed back to Miramar when all but Rick and John had passed us. (These two decided to add a mile or so to their paddle by going all the way up to Flat Rock in the hopes of finding a landable spot).
Every adventurous salt water kayaker should see the crowds and flags over Miramar at least once, and it is truly a great feeling to surf in to applause, drums, and ululating. Aiko was very conscious of the swell and waves driving us in to the beach, and she braced gracefully as our oversized vessel broached in the surf. We dragged the boat from the water to the finish line, which seemed to have moved a hell of a long way away from the water since we started. Once across, I thought of the little girl who was 9 when she got her first kayak, and was rolling before she graduated elementary school, and looked at the amazing young woman she had become. Then I flashed to her upstaging me by rolling that monstrosity in the surf and decided she could walk home. Let’s see everyone applaud that!
While the paddle is always an experience, the party really is the attraction, in no small part due to the now traditional band. John Lull and the South City Blues Band were once again amazing. They are a tight outfit that know how to keep a crowd jumping. They played two amazing sets and were showered with well-earned love from the revelers. John himself is a Tsunami Ranger, as well as former ACA Instructor and Instructor Instructor – so yeah, he is kind of a big deal. And he wails on the saxophone! Luckily for the competitive types, he has always skipped the race to focus on playing at the party, but he said he is thinking that next year he may paddle and play. It may be time for some of us to step up our game!
The party was awesome, with stories, laughter, and love. Nancy was her usual effervescent self and I only regretted that in all of the hullaballoo I could not spend more time with her. Tsunami Ranger co-founder Jim Kakuk publicly gave Mike Staninec a Captain America t-shirt to match his boat. Mike Higgins appeared to be having a great time as he did the rarely seen and actually danced. (Very well, I might add.)
Scott and Steve recounted for the crowd how last year Bill rendered assistance on the water when they got themselves in a bit of a jam, and this year they were able to return the favor. The brotherhood felt among them kept them paddling together for the rest of the race – until the end, when Scott and Steve left Bill’s a** so they could finish first with a time of 1:08:10. (Bill came in a tight second with 1:08:43.) In sum, whether the gap is a week or a year, the party is a wonderful opportunity for fellow wave warriors, family, and friends to catch up.
My opinion of this eclectic tribe of ours is the same today as it was almost a decade ago when I did my first Sea Gypsy: this is a motley crew hell-bent on benign anarchy and there is nowhere else I’d rather be than with them.
Here are the official race results. Thanks to Tsunami Ranger Dave Whalen as always for his help as timekeeper.
1st: Steven King & Scott Becklund
Tsunami X-2 Starship
2nd: Bill Vonnegut
3rd: Sergey Yechikov
4th: Don Barch
5th: Bob Stender & Michael Powers
6th: Mike Stamnec
7th: Alan Marshall
8th: Jon Wittenberg
9th: Richard Smith
10th: Mike Higgins
11th: Johnny Werbe
12th:Ed & Aiko Anderson
13th: John Randall & Rich Blair