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First Annual Hog Island Huff SUP Race!

Hog Island Huff – as in, it’s gonna huff and puff and blow the race down. The first Saturday morning in October saw the initial running of the Hog Island Huff Stand Up Paddle Race in Tomales Bay.

Organized by Demo Sport and sponsored by Clavey Paddlesports (among other north bay SUP shops), the race brought together a varied mix of paddlers of all ages and abilities. For its first year I would have to call it a huge success with about 30 entrants.

The norm this time of year during the morning hours on Tomales Bay, is water like a sheet of glass and spectacular paddling conditions with relatively warm, clear water and minimal boat traffic. I’m pretty fortunate to live in Inverness Park and when I have a little extra time in the morning I often drive to work in Petaluma via HWY 1 which goes along the East shore of Tomales Bay. Before the highway cuts inland, I pass Nick’s Cove and the Miller Park boat launch. Directly off shore is the picturesque Hog Island, home to nesting cormorants, harbor seals, leopard sharks, bat rays, white and brown pelicans, the occasional river otter and other varied forms of sea life.  If I’m early for work or simply don’t care if I get there on time, I’ll pull out my board and take a quick 45 minute paddle around the island before heading into Sarcasm Central with Jeff and Scotto. It is here that we held the race last weekend.

I had been watching the wind the whole week. We were experiencing unusually windy weather and the first winter storm was pending in the forecast. Friday night I loaded up our trailer with an assortment of boards and went out to dinner with the rep from Boardworks, Ryan Mahoney. Ryan was up in the area from So Cal trying to get me to look at his line of stand up paddleboards. We’d gone down to the river earlier that afternoon and tried a number of his SUPs out.  My favorite was a bizarre looking new race board called the M&M that has a nose that looks like the front of a submarine. Like pilgrims drawn to Mecca, Ryan and I found ourselves at one of my favorite Petaluma brewpubs, TAPS, and did our best to knock down most of their featured Oktoberfest beers – like any serious athlete, I like to do a little carb loading before any big race.  As the evening progressed Ryan kept asking me over and over again what boards I was going to order.  As the tide will move even the largest of ships from their hard and fast position on ground back out to sea, so did the incoming swell of liquid nourishment move me from, “No I’m not gonna order any boards right now!” to, “What kind of discount would we get for a truckload of boards?”

Before collapsing into a hops induced coma for the evening, I made a point to check the wind on my iPhone one last time. Blowing out of the south at about 8 knots – not bad, but certainly not the “sheet of glass” I was hoping for. Early the next morning Ryan and I headed out to Nick’s Cove to meet up with Steve from Demo Sport and set up for the race. As we arrived, the wind was light out of the south and racers were showing up with all sorts of different boards from 18’ unlimited Barks to 9’ surf SUPs to prone paddleboards. I wasn’t planning on racing and was going to use the excuse that I needed to watch all of the boards and equipment that I had brought. Well that didn’t work out as planned as Adam, the county park ranger, offered to watch the boards and take pictures with my camera. That, along with the fact that my good friend Jim showed up to race for the first time left me not much choice but to put on a pair of man-pants and join in. I gave Jim my Bark 12’6’ Surftech Competitor to use and I decided to try the Boardworks 12’6’ Raven – a touring style board similar to the Tahoe Zephyr.

As we waited for the race to start the conditions began to deteriorate and the wind picked up to a gusty 12-15 knots.  If you want wind at your next race event, just invite me. Vegas bookies will gladly bet on the wind picking up if I’m in the race.  But what are you gonna do?  The first leg of the race had us heading across the bay to a channel marker on the west shore. The wind was hitting us from the side and it was starting to whitecap. About halfway through the first leg we all saw a patch of glassy water and headed straight for it only to find ourselves dredging our paddles through thick eelgrass (I only paddle here four times a week. Why would I know where the eel grass was?).

We rounded the first channel marker with our left shoulder and began the long leg down the bay against the wind and the tide. At this point the pack had spread out considerably and I was left with Jim and Ryan while a couple of hard-core racers were in the lead. This leg was really brutal and it felt like you were not making any headway and the next channel marker seemed to never get closer. When I finally got within 10 feet of the marker it seemed to take another hour before I could round it. Finally around the last marker the home stretch was a challenge in the cross chop but at least the wind was with us.

Three and half miles later with a time of 43:16, I finished 4th overall, second in the stock class and Jim came in 8th overall and second in his age group (50+). The winning time 40:51. Considering the conditions, I was really impressed that everyone finished – especially 12-year-old Lisse Comer who did the race on a prone paddleboard!

After the race Nick’s Cove restaurant was kind enough to give us the use of the sunroom where we all gathered for food, more beer and awards. All in all it was a super fun event in a beautiful setting with good people – can’t ask for more than that! Stay tuned for next year.

See you on the water.

-Tom Meckfessel

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