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Dana Point, CA: One Stand Up Paddle Boarder's First International Race

By Beau Whitehead

2008 Dana Point Paddle Board racer Beau WhiteheadA sliced wrist was just one the challenges Beau
had to overcome at Dana Point that day.

Four years ago I traveled to Dana Point California to compete in my first international stand up paddle race. My wife and I flew into LA, rented a car and drove an hour south to Dana Point. I was invited to come down by some fellow racers who saw me do well at a race in Washington and another in San Diego. They arranged to have a board waiting for me, and my paddle sponsor Kialoa had a paddle waiting for me.

Now keep in mind, that all my race experience, and most of my paddling experience was on flat water, never any waves bigger than knee high. And the races were usually big loops, with very few turns. hat I was met with quickly had me scared to death. The race would be a multi-lap race, 5 laps I believe, with 6 sharp buoy turns per lap. The race would bring us into and out through the surf zone and include a run on the beach every lap. To make things even wilder, Dana Point was experiencing an unusually high swell, some waves coming in were head-high. So now I was faced with doing buoy turns, and surfing an unfamiliar, narrow race board in bigger waves than I usually surf anywhere. Uh oh.

As I watched the recreational race, wishing I was doing that one instead of the Elite race, I saw a racer fall, and swim to shore. His board washed up on shore way down the beach, so trying to be helpful, I went to grab his board for him. As I reached down to grab his board, a wave propelled the sharp fin into my wrist, slicing me open like a razor blade. Seriously!?

No time for stitches,a lifeguard bandaged me up and told me I shouldn't go back in the water. Yeah right, I have the biggest race of my life in one hour!

So, an hour later, I lined up at waters edge with 80 of the best paddlers in the world. Most from places like Hawaii, California and Australia.  I was the only guy from a land-locked town. What was I doing here again? As the starters gun went off, we all ran for the water, jumping onto our boards and paddling through the chest high set of waves coming in. I immediately fell. Of course. I remounted and paddled as hard as I ever have for the first turn. I got to it in almost last place. Hurray.  After that first turn I went to dig deep with some power strokes.  But my left hand kept slipping down the paddle shaft. What’s going on? I caught a glimpse of the deck of my white paddleboard and it was awash in blood. My bandage had come off and blood was pouring out of my wrist. The blood on the paddle shaft was like grease. Making it almost impossible to grip it.  

So, for the next two laps I struggled around the course, spending as much time in the water as out. Trying to catch head-high waves on the way in, and break through them on the way out. At the end of lap 3, a large wave absolutely wiped me out. By the tame I got my head back above water, I could see my board 100 yards away, up on the beach. Game over. Thank God.

I swam in, getting pounded by a few more sets along the way. I picked up my board and walked back to the sponsor tents with my tail between my legs. I was not used to doing this poorly in races, let alone not winning. Hell, I wasn't even going to finish. I was afraid my sponsors would give me the boot, and take their equipment back. When I got to the tent, everyone congratulated me instead. Even hugging me and giving me high-fives. They told me the race was one of the gnarliest spectacles they had ever seen, and that I was one of many, many casualties. The only guys doing well were the best watermen in the world. Born and raised in the ocean. I got to actually watch the last lap – it was awe-inspiring! Seeing the best of the best battle it out in those crazy conditions, I was very happy just to be watching at that point and stoked to have made it out alive.

That night my wife and I spent a few hours at a walk-in clinic while I got several sutures in my wrist. After that, we went to get dinner and I ordered a beer. It may have been the best beer I have ever tasted.

You can find more on Haeleum athlete, Beau Whitehead at www.haeleum.com/athletes/beau-whitehead and Beau’s website: www.paddlesurfnorthwest.com.