The last time I was in Hawaii I was living out of a tent, hiking around the Kalalau Valley on Kauai, showering under water falls, and picking fresh lilikoi for lunch…..so staying in a high rise hotel in busy Waikiki was a little different experience!
This was my first year competing in the Rainbow Sandals Battle of the Paddle Hawaii at Duke Kahanamoku Beach. The race attracted ocean athletes from around the world and is a test of endurance, surfing, ocean knowledge, beach running, and technical skills….a real water woman’s event!
The race course went over areas of shallow reef, so the afternoon high tide would hopefully prevent fin boxes from blowing out. The reef caused the surf to suck up and dump in certain areas, and also break weak and unorganized in other areas. Also, because the reef didn’t begin until about 500 yards off the beach, the inside was a swirly, soupy mess. Add the strong trade winds and dozens of hungry paddlers and you have a Battle!
Right before the horn blew at the starting line, I ripped off my water pack. Surfing with a back pack on is uncomfortable to me, so I thought I would be fine since the race was only supposed to be 4 miles, ending around an hour even if it was a little long. Big mistake! The race ended up being just under 8 miles in tough conditions and humidity!
What a race between the top five ladies! Every lap first through fifth changed places within board lengths of each other. Jenny had a really strong start and held the lead for a while, and I was right behind her. I think it was during the second lap that I heard Candice behind me yell, “Go get her Gill!” It was cool to see all the girls supporting each other even while we were battling it out for prize money. At another point I was sandwiched between Morgan and Rachael on a long wave. I remember face planting on my board, surfing the wave face down and popping back up laughing still stuck in the middle!
The race was so grueling and close I don’t think I took enough time to rehydrate in the run portion, and I felt myself slowing with each stroke. As soon as I crossed the finish line I crumpled to the sand in exhaustion. Candice had come from behind and completely dominated on the last lap to take her 3rd straight BOP win!
I remember speaking to Suzy Strazzulla after the race (as blood dripped down her hand) who said that race was the most difficult thing she has ever done as an athlete. (she’s a pro soccer player) Morgan told me she was vomiting in her mouth, and Grind TV blog said, ‘The elite course earned the unofficial title of being the most brutal in the four-year history of the Battle of the Paddle.’ It makes me happy and thankful to know I was out there healthy and strong enough to participate in such an event.
The SUP relays the next day were a lot of fun….I love the sprinting and team energy. It was a short square course, through the surf, round the buoys, and sprint around the shoot before tagging the next teammate. The Starboard team was me, Zane Schweitzer, Conner Baxter, and Bart De Zwart. I knew we had a solid team, but it wasn’t going to be easy. I saw a stacked SUP co team with Brandi, Slater, Vella and the C4 team was looking fast too.
The whole race we were neck and neck with SUP Co and C4. Everyone on our relay did amazing and never lost ground at any point. By the 8th Lap (everyone goes through twice) the C4 team was still a head of us by about a board length. Conner Baxter jumped on the board, knew what he needed to do, and killed it! Zane and Conner were so excited after the race that they tackled each other on an extra giant race buoy. I was really close to joining in on the fun (it looked like a bounce house!) before I stopped and reminded myself not to act like a teenage boy….haha.
The next day before I left, even though I was in pain I needed one last surf session before leaving the island. I headed out in front of the hotel and shared waves with Jerry Lopez all morning……..great way to end my trip!!