Friends of VINP volunteers and staff greet SUPers at the Paddle the Park race finish line at Maho Bay on November 3.
A total of 48 paddlers set off from Maho Bay beach on Stand Up Paddle boards on Saturday morning, November 9, in the first annual Paddle the Park race hosted by Friends of V.I. National Park.
After the original event date of November 3 was rescheduled due to inclement weather, the SUPers lined up at the Maho shoreline in a light breeze under sunny skies last Saturday.
Elite course paddlers in green performance jerseys took off for a five and a half mile trek, which took them around Whistling Cay, around Cinnamon Bay and back around Whistling Cay before ending at Maho Bay.
Five women and 17 men finished the elite course with 31-year-old St. John resident Nat Ford winning the men’s division in a time of one hour, five minutes and 30 seconds.
Ford, who has competed well in SUP races from Puerto Rico to St. Croix, was thrilled to have a race hosted on St. John.
“I paddle a lot,” he said. “It’s a great sport and I’m stoked to have a race on St. John.”
Bill Kraft, 45, of St. Croix took second in the men’s elite course, finishing in one hour, six minutes and 41 seconds. Forty-year-old Eric Walker of St. Thomas finished third in the division with a time of one hour, eight minutes and 21 seconds.
In the women’s elite division, St. Croix’s Isabelle Picard, 53, was the first finisher in a time of one hour, 26 minutes and 40 seconds.
Picard was celebrating her birthday the day of the race and couldn’t think of a better way to mark the occasion.
“It was tough,” she said. “The wind got strong out behind the little island, but it was really fun. I saw sea turtles and sting rays.”
“It was a great course,” said Picard, an artist who has several murals on St. Croix to her credit. “After work I love to paddle. My husband and I both paddle and it’s great exercise.”
Thais Taylor, 30, of St. John took second in the women’s elite division with a time of one hour, 38 minutes and 49 seconds. Love City’s Jude Woodcock, 57, came in third in the division with a time of one hour, 48 minutes and seven seconds.
Six men and 13 women completed the three mile open course, which ran from Maho Bay to Whistling Cay and back. Todd Clements, 44, of St. Thomas won the men’s open division in a time of 41 minutes and 48 seconds.
“It was beautiful,” said Clements, who thanked his 14-foot board for the victory. “I saw a sea turtle and all kinds of fish and a sting ray out there.”
Mark Lonski, 42, of St. John finished second in the men’s open division with a time of 48 minutes and 33 seconds, followed by Mathew Lasota with a time of 49 minutes and 25 seconds.
In the women’s open division 68-year-old Sharie Smyth-Seibert came in first with a time of 54 minutes and four seconds. A retired school teacher from California, Smyth-Seibert credited paddle boarding for keeping her healthy.
“It’s wonderful exercise and it’s wonderful to be out on the water,” she said, who donated one her own invention, a Taloo-ard sail used to cruise downwind on a SUP board, to the race winners.
The course didn’t seem far from shore, but once out there, proved to be a different story, Smyth-Seibert added.
“That was a lot longer than it looked,” she said.
Julie Lonski, 43, of St. John took second place in the women’s open division with a time of 57 minutes and 10 seconds while Laura Kline, 52, of St. Thomas finished third with a time of 59 minutes and 32 seconds.
The winners of each division took home beautiful wood and glass awards and all finishers were given goodie bags, lunch and a raffle ticket for the chance to win a band new SUP board, which Jessica Schnell took home.