From 2 Surfskis to 70

The M22 Challenge continues to prove it is the hottest race in Michigan and this year was no exception. The positive vibe and energy along with the extremely professional organization of this race has made it highly addictive for many, and I would argue a rite of passage into the summer season. Now that I’m back into racing it, I hope to never miss another year. The race has gone from 2 surf skis in 2008 (my original Epic V10 and my Valhalla that I loaned to a friend) to at least 70 in 2017.  Without a doubt, it has done more than anything to introduce surfskis to the Upper Midwest.


An Elite Boat is Not Necessary to Win

I’m hopeful the perception is gradually changing, but I suspect that many still see the surfski as a very tippy boat that will become a liability should the wind pick up on race day (this couldn’t be further from the truth, but I’ll get to that) Additionally, many of the elite athletes are still under the impression that to win the race you have to be paddling an elite boat. Thankfully this year, that myth was solidly dispelled as Nick Amato took the win in a beginner model Epic V8. It is important to note that Nick’s gotten the bug for surfing and has been paddling his V8 out in much bigger conditions than the 1 foot chop we had on race day. This no doubt played a big part in him feeling confident and paddling hard to victory. But the key point is that a strong athlete doesn’t need an elite boat to win the race. And in fact, unless you have 5-6 years of experience paddling a surfski, you will likely be faster racing a beginner boat than an intermediate or advanced.

I’ve heard many say that the M22 Challenge is ultimately a paddlers race, and while I was not convinced of this at first, I now believe that to be true. The most fit athletes are generally going to finish the bike and run in good time, but the paddle requires more than fitness and this is what separates the top finishers from the rest. The paddle requires a boat capable of going fast, but also an athlete who has put in the time to learn how to paddle the boat. Padding is very much like swimming and cross country skiing, heavily dependent on technique. The technique takes years to develop, but getting to a point of not falling out of the boat, no matter the conditions, and putting in solid full body power, should only take a few weeks with the right boat, instruction, and practice.

My own story and training, or lack thereof, is a great example.   After three years of not racing due to work commitments and travel obligations I got back to the starting line this year. My primary focus for the summer is paddling well at the Hood River Gorge Downwind World Surfski Championship in July, so when I’m home on the weekends I paddle on Lake Michigan, ESPECIALLY when it is windy. I’ve only been on my road bike twice in the past 2 years, and the bike I raced is a 2001 Lemond, rusted steel frame. I started running again in January and run 3 miles per week. In total, I probably log at most 4 hours of cardio training per week. But even with this, I was able to pull of a 9th place overall finish. This clearly shows that paddling keeps me fit overall and really benefits me at the M22 Challenge.

Realizing the Full Potential of the Surfski

The M22 Challenge has become the largest gathering of surf skis across the entire midwest. I only wish that more of those who have made the investment in such a versatile boat would take the next steps to realize it’s full potential. As all the racers know, the wind was picking up gradually through the morning and by late afternoon it was getting to full gale force. While I had a blast racing, my addiction to downwind paddling was taking over, and as soon as I crossed the finish line, that is all I could think about. I quickly got to work loading the 10 rented surf skis on my trailer so I could make a quick exit and squeeze in a downwind paddle before family commitments in the afternoon. We left the race heading straight for Leland, where I dropped the trailer, skipped lunch, grabbed a Cliff bar and geared up to go paddle downwind. I launched from Leland and paddled up the peninsula to Gill’s Pier. With six to seven foot waves the conditions were superb for my Epic V10 and I clocked one of the fastest mile’s I’ve ever recorded, here is the Garmin Track.

I know of at least one other surfski paddler, ( Mike Rubino who took 8th overall) who took advantage of the wind that day and went out for a downwind on Grand Traverse Bay. To quote the text I received from him “An absolute blast! It was way more fun than racing in the morning 😃” I don’t include this to discount the race in any way, shape, or form, I only include this quote to give perspective on how amazing it is when you learn to paddle a surfski downwind.

I don’t deserve to be a top ten finisher at the M22 Challenge. I know a lot of racers who train much harder than I do. The point I’m trying to make is that don’t discount the paddle if you want to be a top contender. If you own a surfski, make the effort to take a lesson, watch the many great videos on-line, read blogs, and connect with other paddlers. It is the smartest training you can do. Many of my customers who race the M22 have done exactly this, and it shows as all of them are paddling strong, staying upright in their boats and starting to discover the joy of surfing downwind.

Learning to Surf

Beyond having a great race, learning to surf downwind will absolutely transform your view of the surfski. The experience is unparalleled and we are very fortunate to have some of the best paddling in the world all along the Great Lakes. I’m certainly not advocating going out on a Great Lake in gale force winds, but this isn’t necessary when you are just beginning. You can easily start by surfing boat wakes on an inland lake, or doing very short out and backs from the beach. Start with paddling out just 100 yards and practice riding the waves into the beach.

I offer lessons throughout the summer and will begin offering surfing lessons in the tandem surfski as well. Additionally we always offer the TC SURFSKI Immersion the weekend before M22 as well as other clinics throughout the summer, bringing in the very best surfski paddlers from around the world. Don’t be shy, the surfski community is extremely welcoming to new paddlers who have an appetite for learning and the grit to embark on a long term journey!

#TrainSmart #GoFast #GetFit #SurfWaves #BecomeASurfskiPaddler

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