Race photos by JP Cordero
Finishing photos by Mike Balzer
by Michael Scott Moore
Scott Clausen shuddered out of the water beside the Manhattan Beach pier as a presenter in a tent congratulated him over a loudspeaker and a young woman draped him in a kukui- nut lei. Someone else took their unlimited 18ft paddleboard. Clausen was the first to complete the 2021 Catalina Classic, Catalina’s annual 32-mile recumbent paddleboard race to the mainland, but he was too exhausted to smile.
“How was it there?” Someone shouted. Clausen, 25, just shook his head.
Conditions were overcast and moderately calm for a boat trip on the San Pedro Canal on Sunday, but a constant northerly wind and strong southerly current made it the most difficult race in recent years for the 88 competitors. A dozen gave up in the middle of the paddle. More than one have come close to hypothermia. Clausen, a former long distance swimmer for USC who grew up in Oceanside and now lives in Seal Beach, spent the first hour in a close battle with Max First, 31, of Redondo, who won the 2014 Classic, 2016, 2017 and again last year. They were set up for a big rivalry on Sunday. First beat Clausen in the 15 Mile South Bay Paddle in June. But Clausen put meter after meter of gray water between them until he rounded the R10 buoy near Palos Verdes with almost nine minutes ahead.
âI couldn’t even see it,â Clausen said, shaking his head on the beach. “I had no idea where anyone was.”
He won in 5:38:44. The first came second at 5:53:40. Some riders said the water had smoothed out after R10, which is a reversal of usual conditions: a paddle through the canal on an August morning tends to be calm, with a late chop closer to the shore.
Liz Hunter, 34, of Oceanside, who won the women’s division last year, again came first on an unlimited draw. She has led an exceptionally large group of paddlers (11 in total, tying a 2007 record). His time on Sunday was 7:26:50.
âIt was terrible,â she said on the beach, referring to the choppy wind. âIt was bad from the start.
“He’s a Coast Guard lieutenant commander,” noted Liz’s aunt Jan Kessler of Manhattan Beach, standing at the waterline.
âBook now,â said Liz, still shivering.
One of the reasons for growing the women’s roster this year could be 2015 and 2018 Catalina Classic winner DJ Wilson from Redondo Beach, who runs a women’s training club called the South Bay Mermaids.
Easy Reader found her in Buffalo Park on Catalina Island a day before the race. âI started the Sirens in 2006, and there had never been more than three women paddling [at one time in the Classic], never, âshe said. âIn 2007 we had 11. Then we’ve never had so many until now – we’re back to 11 ..â She smiled at Tiana Pugliese, 25, a lifeguard from Los County. Angeles de Ventura who was standing a few feet away. “I think Tiana brought a few, so – my baby T brought a few more.”
Tiana learned to paddle from a DJ as a girl. âThis is my third,â Tiana said. “But DJ is a legend, and that’s her – I don’t know, like her 20th time [at the Classic]? “
âNo, no, my goal is to do 20,â said DJ, who is 55. “This will be my 13th.”
Tom Horton, of Hermosa Beach, won an honorary award for completing his 15th crossing on Sunday.
The weather in Catalina was calm and warm for most of the weekend, but the wind picked up on Sunday morning, before paddlers even waded at dawn past Harbor Reef Restaurant. Wilson finished in 8:12:11, a time she described as slow. “Oh, man, that was brutal,” she said. âAn opposite current, a side chop, and sometimes I felt like I was in a popcorn machine. It was windy, a lot of splashing, and it was just a really slow paddle. Even when you were pulling hard, you couldn’t get through the current that was pushing you. But everyone was in the same situation.
Along the way, she encountered a giant green turtle, about three feet wide, paddling within arm’s reach of her board. âI was on my knees so I could look down,â she said, âand my captain [in the escort boat] shouted, âDJ! There is a turtle! You come straight on! Look to your right! ‘ And I looked down and there was a big head full of sea turtle right next to my board. It was the first time that I had seen something like this in the English Channel.
The only contestant who didn’t complain about the conditions was Sierra Perry, a 24-year-old graduate student who earned her Masters in Religion from Pepperdine. She started paddling last year after a serious leg injury put an end to her enthusiasm for marathons. âIt was the same week that COVID happened. The world was shutting down, my university closed, I lost my job and my aunt died of brain cancer, âshe said. “Everything in a week, so I started running as a coping mechanism, to handle whatever was going on.” She overdid it and developed a stress fracture in the head of her left femur. A doctor wrongly diagnosed it as a ligament injury. Four weeks later, while hiking near Pepperdine, she was surprised by a rattlesnake on the track, jumped back and broke the top of his femur. She called friends to âcrutchâ her on the trail, and at the hospital, she needed emergency surgery âwithin hours, to save my femur,â she said. “And honestly, just by the grace of God, my femur took the metal.” But his career as a long-distance runner was over.
âIt was a huge identity crisis. Until then, it was like, ‘This is who I am! Sierra is a runner. “So there was a crisis and a renegotiation:” I am also a surfer, and I am very grateful that it was not taken away from me. So one day I pulled out a condom and did three odd miles [of paddling], and I was like, ‘Wow, that was kind of fun.’ “
Lockwood Holmes, who set the Catalina Classic stock record in 2014, goes to Sierra Church in Malibu. Holmes noticed that she was struggling with the kook board and offered to lend her a custom-made 12-foot stock paddler at the end of 2020. “And it kind of was,” she said. declared. Learning to paddle made her forget about the healing femur and released the same endorphins as running. Holmes and fellow veteran Malibu paddler Tony Hotchkiss recommended a training and nutrition regimen, and she started paddling with Pugliese at Zuma Beach. In July of that year she qualified for the Catalina Classic and on Sunday, with Lockwood Holmes in the escort boat, she finished in 8:25:40. Not fast; but neither was she fazed by what the rest of the runners decried as a punishing day on the water. “I pretty much decided I couldn’t wait until next year,” she said.
The winner of the action board category on Sunday was Quincy Lee, a 26-year-old from Redondo Beach. The stock boards are shorter (12 feet) and slower than the Unlimited. Quincy’s winning time was 6:44:25. Commentator Mike Murphy pointed out that harsh conditions can narrow the performance gap between styles of board. âWhen the wind picks up and the conditions are bumpy, the difference between a stock board and an unlimited is marginalized,â said Murphy. âStock boards are generally easier to install between bumps, easier to install in rough water. “
Lee’s reputation as an unattached athlete preceded him on the pier. The public on the beach learned that he had cycled from Cairo to Cape Town – from top to bottom of Africa – as well as from Santa Barbara, California, to Colombia. âSo it’s clear the guy has endurance genes as well as a psychopath,â Murphy said, before running out of words.
Lee was short and energetic, with a quick smile and a blonde mustache. He told Easy Reader he started paddling after a brutal injury: he broke his ankle in half in February. âMy lower tib-fib,â he said with a smile. âI hit a stump while snowboarding in Tahoe. I work as a ski tracker in winter and a lifeguard in summer.
He turned to paddling, like Sierra Perry, because it was easier than other sports, at least while he was recovering. âPaddling was the only thing I could do. When he started in May, he still couldn’t walk without a cane, so crossing the beach to exercise on a paddleboard was tricky. âI actually had to crawl on the beach,â he said. “And my mate would put the board in the water.”
In June he was able to compete in the South Bay Paddle, but it wasn’t until July that his ankle allowed him to paddle on his knees. So he rationed his kneeling Sunday: âI liked 10 minutes on the stomach and one minute on my knees,â he said.
The distance between the front and back of the pack tends to be five or six miles, and it took hours on Sunday for all the paddlers to arrive at the Manhattan Pier. âI just think whoever’s in the back half of the race deserves twice as much recognition,â said announcer Rink, who won the 1987 race in the record time of 5:21:38. “It’s just a lousy, lousy day.” emergency