On the very first "Cold Stroke Classic" in Wrightsville Beach, NC, it was cold. Very cold. It was January after all.
One of the participants remembers it this way: "Two people actually wore survival suits. Most wore wetsuits with jackets over them. It was around freezing, but still, some people acted like this was some kind of nutty Polar Bear Club dare."
Turns out, no matter the outside temperature, it's actually not so cold when you stand on a board in the ocean and work your muscles as hard as you can, paddle-racing seven miles around an island. Who knew?
Organizers remember some years when it was so nice the participants wore board shorts and bikini tops. But more often the weather is frigid, sometimes the docks are covered in ice.
Training conditions this week will be tough. Temperatures in the teens, wind chill in the single digits. But still, dozens are out on the water, preparing. "It's really awesome, it's one of the fastest growing sports in the world," says event organizer Jeoffrey Nathan. He's a paddleboarder himself, and this competition is one of the highlights of the winter for him. "I love it. I drop my son off at school each morning, and I have to go over two bridges to drop him off and get to work. I look over the bridge, and [even in the cold weather] I see people out on the water, training, practicing. It's really cool."
There's just something about being out on the water when most of the rest of the people in the state are inside, keeping warm. "A lot of these people in the race, half of them are paddling their butts off, trying to win, half are out there for the camaraderie," he says.
Over 120 racers are expected. They come from around the country and from as far away as Portugal. "The Cold Stroke Classic launched the sport of SUP on the East Coast," says John Beausang, editor and owner of DistressedMullet.com, an online paddleboard resource. "It was the race that launched a hundred races."
About the Cold Stroke Classic:
- Where: Wrightsville Beach
- When: Friday, Saturday January 17 & 18, 2014
- Route:The course will circle Harbor Island via Banks Channel, Motts Channel and the Intracoastal Waterway. All races begin and end at Blockage Runner Beach Resort.
Want to give the sport a try? There's a clinic on Friday.