Updated: Oct 13, 2021
When I was a kid, there was a really bad joke where one of the bullies would walk up to you and ask if you wanted a donut. You'd say sure, and they would punch you, twist your arm, or pull your hair and say "SUCKS, DONUT!"
(I didn't grow up in an area of particularly nice or intelligent children.)
But it's always stayed in the back of my mind, because when someone asks me if I want a donut, or anything for that matter, I think really hard about what I want or don't want. I think before I speak and act.
Two years ago, a prominent female paddler was upset that the Red Bull Heavy Water event only invited men and she wanted women to receive equal invites. She launched a social media campaign called #ipaddleforequality and urged all of the women to post a picture with that hashtag on the day of the Red Bull Heavy Water event, 2017.
I didn't think too much about it at first. My thoughts were, "I have no interest in doing that event, but I support other women that would like to." So up went my photo.
In hindsight, maybe it was rude for us to steal some of the thunder from what the men were doing that day. BUT, on the flip side of the coin, it created a lot of social media buzz and sent more and more people to check out the event. As Donald Trump can attest, good or bad publicity is still publicity. Notoriety, it seems, is a solid social media strategy.
Fast forward to 2019. I still didn't truly have a lot of interest in getting smacked down by mother nature, because I knew that was what was going to happen no matter how prepared I was. But, somehow, I was on the invite list. Why in the living hell did I post that #ipaddleforequality, I want other women to have equality, I don't need it, I don't want the DONUT!!!
The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to be brave in the attempt. I went into accepting my invite with the understanding that if I had to pull out, it was OK. I was going to be safe, calm, and level headed in my decisions. I was going to use the event to push my comfort zone to new extremes, something I need a pretty consistent dose of since I'm preparing for the Yukon1000. I also didn't want to be a person that posted about equality and then turned down the invite. Even though I was posting on behalf of other women, when the race day came and a lot of those women were no where to be seen, I realized that I needed to compete on behalf of other women. As scary as the race was, I couldn't be that person.
I asked for the donut, now I had to embrace the suck. When I had the whisper of a thought in the back of my mind about participating, I started making small preparations like ice baths and hypoxic training. I did so silently. After all, if they didn't run it that weekend, I wouldn't be in town and would have dodged my inner-obligation to compete.
Then it happened. They called the green light for the race on the ONLY weekend I was available to race. The universe has a sick sense of humor. The 2019 RedBull Heavy Water event put on by the APP World Tour will probably go down as the most challenging and dangerous SUP race of all time.
I didn't finish. None of the women did. Over half of the men didn't. With broken paddles, boards, and egos, paddlers slowly left the beach on the verge of hypothermia (some all the way). I think it is safe to assume that this event gained some more notoriety! That being said, as hard as it was, the Red Bull jet skis, media boats, fire department, and coast guard were buzzing all around us as we made our way against wind and tide, through a hell-fog like no other. (Fun Fact: 400 billion gallons of water flow under the Golden Gate Bridge every tidal cycle, coincidentally, that is how much water the USA uses, on average, every single day). Crazy conditions aside, I felt safe to push my limits with the amount of water safety that was on site.
I was on the race course for 2.5 hours before I made it to the beach. It was 9.57 miles.
As we neared the buoy to turn into the beach, I noticed that the swells appeared to be getting larger and larger. This made me very nervous. I was paddling consistently, with a plan to save enough energy to attempt the surf zone portion. But after falling a few times in a gnarly section of tide and convergence, I started cramping up and feeling very fatigued. These feelings were worsened when I got tossed and tumbled on my way in. (My Patagonia impact vest kept me buoyant and safe. I'll make a post about gear later, but I had that part down SOLID!)
There I sat on the beach, dizzy and cramping, trying to warm up and calm down for an attempt back out into the extremely heavy, messy, invisible 12+ foot waves. I tried, but very quickly realized that it was not going to happen, that the only thing I would get out of trying more, would be a dangerous level of exhaustion and maybe some MORE bruises. The fog was still too thick to see what was coming, and I didn't have the skills to punch out blind. It would have been challenging enough to punch out if it was glassy and 100mi visibility at that size. That's why I got to the beach first! I knew I was going to need to get there, rest, and get a solid head start on the surf zone portion. My husband kept telling me to get out of my wetsuit if I was done, but I wasn't going to pack it all in until they called the race.
Around the height of all this insanity, Terrene Black had made it into the beach! As the fog started to clear, she turned around and tried to get back out. She made it further than any of us and I was inspired! If the fog cleared enough, I may have a shot at making it back out too! She got washed all the way back in by a bomber outside set just as they called the race off.
By the time we all got our boards up the beach, the fog was clearing enough that maybe we could have made another shot, but it was nearing 4 hours after we started the race, and we were all a little relieved that it was done.
A lot of the women shed some silent tears. I know we were all feeling the same thing. We all wanted to make some sort of history for Women's Paddling. The fact that over half of the men's field was also unable to complete the course was of little consolation. Many of us echoed the sentiment in the end, "I stopped caring if it was me, I just wanted one woman to finish... for all of us."
We raced the most challenging conditions ever presented in a SUP race, and that was just the 9.5 miles from Aquatic Park to Ocean Beach. It was a long, hard day. I assumed we were going to get a nice pat on the back, with a "good try, old sport... better luck next year."
What happened next was unimaginable! As we were loading up our gear (and just trying to get warm), they brought all of the women up to the awards podium. They announced that Terrene had made it the furthest and would be awarded a reduced prize purse of $10,000! Not just that, but the other 4 of us were to be awarded second place equally and would be awarded $6,000! Our jaws dropped as we realized we had just made some serious money for our efforts. As we walked away giddy, we heard them start calling up the men and announcing their prize monies.
Our joy instantly evaporated.
"The guys are going to be pissed!!" we mumbled as we forced smiles for the photos. There were men that had FINISHED that insane course, and were paid out LESS than the 5 of us who did not complete the course in its entirety. Before you say, "THAT IS SO UNFAIR!" let all of us women say, "Yup. You're 100% correct. That is not fair."
Because we've been there too. We've been there for much of history. And before I turn this blog into a women's equality post, I'm just going to say it was the money already allotted to the women's division.
That is ALL I need to say because that's what other race organizers have always said to me. I can count on BOTH HANDS how many times I've gone to races with prize money and beat the men. No questions, I crossed the finish line first, before ALL OF THE MEN. Other times I've been 2nd or 3rd across the line.
Did you know that the 1st place woman always seems to be PAID LESS than even the 2nd and 3rd place man? Even when I perform better, I've been paid less. The men's prize purse is for the men, and the women's prize purse is for the women - regardless of your performance. That's what I've been told time and time again.
Another point, and I think this is slightly brilliant. The Red Bull and APP guys ensured the event was much more watched by including us women. I'm sure we will not get another huge payout for incomplete attempts in the future, but by doing it this time, they are securing women's participation and support. Secondarily, they are causing a social media buzz. Whether you like what they did or not, chances are you'll have an opinion, and knowing how humans work, you're likely eager to share your opinion quickly on social media. Let the notoriety begin! Every comment and post, negative or positive, IS A CLICK, is an engagement, and is what we need in the SUP industry to show people are interacting. Freakin' genius.
(Side note: if you ever want a social media post to go away, don't click on it or talk about it. Ever. This is ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT IN POLITICS. Every click makes it more popular. Do click on and comment on things you want to spread.)
I, for one, am very happy to have received the prize money and plan to put it to very good use, like being able to train for this event and hopefully successfully complete it next year. That's the other thing that some of the men have that many of the women don't... sponsorship dollars with a comma in the number, which enables them to train more.
SO THANK YOU RED BULL AND THANK YOU APP WORLD TOUR! I will use this prize purse to put on a better show next year. Your dollars are in good hands!
So, to anyone that is unhappy with the organizers decision.. I have but one thing to say to you: "SUCKS, DONUT?"