Updated: Jul 6, 2021
If you're ever looking for a destination race, the Escape from Coffin Island is one for the bucket list. When we booked our Puerto Rico trip, I had no intention of racing. Corey and I were actually going to be on our first "vacation" in 6 years! No paddling involved, aside from what we would do on a whim. Then I saw a post... and it just so happened that the Coffin Island was the weekend we would already be there. So...yeah. The rest is history (awesome, epic, downwind history!)
With all of Puerto Rico within an easy day's drive, the possibilities are endless. After spending a fabulous two days catching glassy, turquoise waves in Rincon, we road tripped our way through Cabo Rojo and to Guanica. There we snagged the cutest AirBNB in a sleepy little town that wakes up at sunset for starlit beach parties. The days there are quiet and slow, like vacation should be, and provided us some time to explore beautiful mangroves. This was our base while in the South.
It was an easy drive to Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club, the host site for the race. I registered late, so had to pay an extra $10, but for $65 I got an EPIC downwind run, t-shirt, and a good lunch. Before you poo-poo this - I couldn't have procured a board, gear, etc. AND been shuttled by yacht out to an uninhabited island full of glorious wildlife, shells, crystal clear waters, and been timed on a downwind run for that cost if I did an afternoon session on my own. It's a good deal. For boards we hooked up with our old Hobie Teammate Jorge Quintana with The School of SUP in San Juan. The race organizers did the rest! Be sure to tip your boat driver, though ;-)
Once we were at the start, we all threw our SUPs overboard and cannonballed into the balmy 75 degree waters. I floated there for a moment just soaking in the beneficial trace salts... briefly letting the pore-clenching cold waters of Santa Barbara enter my mind just long enough to have a grateful comparison. The winds were out of the wrong direction.
This is where the race organizers get all of my love and appreciation. They waited. And waited. I can't guarantee the winds will be wonky in the future, so booking an extra trip to explore Coffin Island would be well worth it. But I got the opportunity to beach comb for an hour, shove more shells than I could carry into a bag, and try to get them onto a support boat before the race started. The winds lined up.
The start was a bit hectic with the wind and everyone paddling upwind for a while to hold position. I started letting myself drift to where the start boat was, but still wasn't near the start line when they blew the horn. Although I wasn't in the worst position possible, I wasn't in the ideal spot either! Just a side note to myself to pay better attention, because sometimes its the little things (like where you are at the start) that can play the biggest role. I had to claw my way back through a few male paddlers to find Garrett Fletcher and try to stay on his tail as long as possible. He was my rabbit for the race, and he took of as such. I'm a slow fox, and I kept up as long as I could, deciding to take a further inside line with hopes it would pay off later.
I could see Jeramie Vaine and Bill Craft, both great wind- and water-men coming up around me. I remember thinking, it's early in the season and I can't hold this intensity for long. I was hammering. Then, the obvious came into my head. Back off, relax (sup tip #32), and focus on technique. Downwinding is a skill that flows better when you focus on the skill of using bumps.
Once I did this, I started catching and connecting bumps like never before. The winds would push you into one, and you could surf to the next. I was FLYING. I remember thinking how much fun I was having, and that I couldn't think of anything I'd rather be doing on my vacation.
I was tapping, gliding, and carving my way back to the Yacht Club. I barely took the time to check left and right to see who was around me, I was having too much fun. After one fall, I saw Bill come up and make some ground. Not long after that I caught a BOMBER of a bump and flew 3/4 of a mile, giving me some breathing room and closing the gap a little on Garrett. Being much further inside, I thought there was still a chance that with Garrett's last minute side-wind correction, I had a chance to catch him. I picked up the pace, early season muscles burning with lungs to match. As we approached the final turn buoy - where we had to do a 180 and paddle HEAD ON into the wind - it became obvious that I wasn't going to catch him. This last quarter mile was the absolute worst. But I think its a great part of the race, it made it exciting, and brutal. For the same reason people sign up for mud runs to get electrocuted and run through fire, I liked this last 30+mph head wind leg. Garrett crossed the finish line while I was going around what I thought was one more buoy. Nope. Turns out it was an EXTRA buoy that was still out from the kids course. It wasn't in play, and as I rounded it I heard Bill coming up on my right, avoiding the buoy completely and shortening his course. I yelled, "NO! What the hell, BILL?!?!" He screams back, "HA! The buoy isn't in play!" I couldn't hear any of the warnings, en espanol, coming from the beach. As if I wasn't hurting enough, I hammered out a sprint to take 2nd overall.
Baller race. End.
Except. Although I was 2nd overall I received less money than the 2nd place man. I don't know what the solution to the ongoing inequality in prize money is. So I can't gripe unless I can offer up an alternative. In woman's argument, it doesn't cost us any less to register, travel to, and prepare for the race. In race directors argument, the women's field is so small and they're not getting much money from women's registrations to cover a women's prize purse. In men's argument, a woman could register in the men's division to be eligible for their prize money. Enter the division you would want to be competitive in (I have done this numerous times in smaller, local races). You can't have your cake and eat it too -i.e. enter the women's division and take a place in the men's division after the fact only if you won it, with the safety net of being in and winning the women's division. If you're doing it for the love, the $$ doesn't matter - that's why I'll be back at this race one day. It was a great event, and I don't give 2 shits about money. (other than the fact I wish I had a little bit more than $0.32 in my business account going into 2019!!! such is the life of a female athlete on the fringe of world-class)
For bigger races, physiologically, women are different and the arguments get more convoluted. Again, if I come up with a solution I'll offer it up. Until then, I'll calk it up as a #TittyTax. Women are strong, beautiful, and fight many of our battles in silence. We have beautiful hearts and tittys. Men are JEALOUS. And if they want to stifle what we earn because they can't have hearts and tittys as big and beautiful as ours, I understand. I just pray to the universe that one day they can accept their beautiful, albeit clunky, bodies and pay women equally. In advance of that day, I celebrate and happily accept less winnings as a woman athlete in payment of my #TittyTax.
Stay tuned for my list of Must Do Activities whilst in Puerto Rico.