Early summer, 2010, I was dragging my surf ski to the beach along the tree lined paths of our neighborhood. A golf cart buzzed up along side me carrying local surfboard shaper/professional mariner Ray Barnett and his loyal sidekick and daughter, Molly. “Hey Kayak guy,” he called as Molly handed me a flyer, “Check it out, we're having a paddle race, come out.” As he pulled away, he looked at my first generation V8 and said over his shoulder “That's a nice kayak.” They buzzed off, and I didn’t have time to inform him that it was not a kayak but a surf ski...so...I let it go. Six years later, Ray would know exactly what a surf ski was because he would be paddling one in the very race he founded.
The South Sandalwood Paddle Board Race was originally created by Ray for prone paddle board enthusiasts in the Virginia Beach area. It was a real neighborhood race, a labor of love that attracted a small group of paddlers and gave a great vibe to the Cape Story By the Sea neighborhood beach. Facing north on the Chesapeake Bay, the venue was perfect for near shore adult and kids' races and always featured a great family atmosphere.
As Ray tells it, what originally started as a prone race also coincided with the explosion of stand up paddle boarding, and in the first yearly iterations of the event, the prone surfboard paddlers were quickly joined by a growing number of SUP paddlers. The race that Ray and Molly invited me to enter was the Third Annual Cape Story South Sandalwood Surfboards Paddle Board Race, and by this time, stand up paddle racers way outnumbered any other class which included sit on top kayaks and that year, for the first time, a couple of surf skis. Four to be exact, and on that day In July, I met Chuck Conley. I had heard the name before when I bought my ski from a local kayak shop and the staff (who at that time were not ski paddlers) referred me to Chuck if I needed any help figuring out how to drive the thing, a substantial affirmation considering Chuck is the rep. for a competing brand. Chuck soundly beat me that first race, but we became friends, and over time, fiery competitors at local races. The next year I met Nik Miller, it was one of his first events with a double bladed paddle, he was hooked, and we all bore witness to his passion and strength over the following years. Nik is now a member of the US Para Olympic team in the K1 sprint kayak.
My first Cape Story race hooked me to. Not just because it gave me a competitive goal to chase but also because a tight group of paddlers had formed out of it, and I have no reservation in saying they have provided me with some of the greatest times in my life. Ohana gets used allot but we are are truly family up here on the north shore of VB.
When I say that Ray's race was a labor of love I mean it in the truest sense; he would begin months before the race shaping a beautiful longboard to be raffled off. Weeks before, he began to make the coveted wood surfboard trophies, insuring that there were enough so every racer in the kids' divisions went home with a prize. Then, on race day, the Barnett family golf cart was buzzing back and forth to the beach long before dawn and did not stop until long after every one else had loaded up and gone home.
Each year the race grew -- more SUPs and slowly, by ones and twos, more surf skis. At first we ran with the stand up paddlers around the rectangular course. Then we started to do two laps of the course. There were many nice gentle years that the stand ups loved; then there was the big year of 15knot winds that had Chuck, me and two other CSPBR regulars: Murray Kirk and Tara Gill screaming for joy on the downwind sections. I continued to chase Chuck. Gradually the number of paddlers and sponsors of the event expanded, and the Barnetts' neighbors and friends took more and more of an active role. A few years ago, Bill House's un-tiring enthusiasm took what was now the Cape Story Paddle Board Race to a new level. At that time it looked to me like we would have a pretty good ski field and I created the Cape Story Cup, a trophy for the over all surf ski finisher that would be held by the current winner until passed on to the subsequent year's victor. That year a good boat and flat hot conditions, allowed me to get by Conley.
Last year we had the biggest boat turnout of all with some 13 surf skis and outrigger canoes lining up for an independent Le Mans beach start to a genuine offshore race three miles out around a channel marker that lies on the edge of the shipping channel and finishing back on the beach. The team of Chuck Conley and Tara Gill took the cup in a tandem ski.
The Cape Story Cup returns again this year. The course is again an out and back run around the offshore G3 buoy, a six mile all out open water sprint that will go in all weather (except lightning). The over all fastest boat takes the Cup.
The Cape Story Paddle Board Race is now a whole weekend event. House has lined up some impressive sponsors and clinics. On the surf ski side, Chuck and I will be collaborating to provide some opportunities other than turning yourself inside out in the race. Chuck (Virginia Beach Paddlesports) will be offering his instructional skills, honed by decades of guiding and a lifelong dedication to education, to help any motivated paddler break down their foreword stroke and improve technique. After some water time, we'll head down to “Heorot on Long Creek,” my boathouse and shrine to the ski, where we will review video and I will go over boat outfitting and the more etherial art of predicting wind tide and swell in order to line up some of our great local downwind runs.