Enough strongly worded warnings are posted on the website for the 2013 Everglades Challenge to discourage all but a handful of kayakers, canoeists and sailors from taking on the 300-nautical-mile, eight-day race from Tampa Bay to Key Largo that begins March 2.
“If you are not an expert paddler and/or sailor, do not enter this race,” warns watertribe.org. “Even if you are a well-prepared expert, you may die — yes, you may die!”
The warnings go on and on in that dire vein, but nearly 90 competitors, some from as far away as Europe, have paid the nearly $400 registration fee in hopes of receiving a shark tooth necklace awarded to all finishers that “you could buy for $9.99 in any tourist shop,” according to event organizer Steve Isaac of Clearwater, whose WaterTribe handle is “Chief.”
And for the first time in the event’s 13-year history, three stand-up paddleboard (SUP) contestants are entered — a two-man team from Miami and a man from Fenton, Mo.
Isaac says he hopes they can complete the course within the eight-day time limit.
“It’s just such a long distance,” the retired software engineer said. “You have no comfort factor in an SUP. I have told people they should have a folding seat. There’s a fairly extensive gear list. They have to be totally self-sufficient.”
Under the rules, only human-powered craft are allowed. Competitors are forbidden from having shore support crews. They can go into town to buy supplies or even stay at a motel, but nothing can be prearranged.
The Miami team of Ian Wogan and Chip Walter, paddling side-by-side on two boards, is not discouraged. Wogan, a 27-year-old landscaper and Walter, 35— a former lacrosse coach who now works for a flooring company — have been training for the past eight months on Biscayne Bay and the open ocean. This will be Walter’s first Everglades Challenge; Wogan attempted it on a stand-up paddleboard in 2011, but was forced to drop out near the Ten Thousand Islands because of bad weather.
“This year, we have a much stronger chance of finishing because of the experience in 2011,” Wogan said. “We won’t make nearly the mistakes we made in 2011.”
They expect to paddle 50 to 60 miles per day on boards that are 14 feet long and about 30 inches wide, stowing their food, water, camping gear, first-aid kit and other supplies in dry bags secured with suction cups, removable cleats and plenty of line. Wogan said they are dedicating their race to promoting the health of the Everglades watershed.
Their rival is Shane Perrin, a 37-year-old parks department employee in Missouri who sells, repairs and leads river tours on stand-up paddleboards in his spare time. Perrin says he has completed a race of more than 250 miles in Texas, but this will be his first race in the open waters of the Gulf. His goals are ambitious: to finish within the eight-day limit and then continue paddling from Key Largo to Key West, hoping to beat a Guinness Book world record of 345 miles on an SUP.
“This is right up my alley — extreme distance,” Perrin said. “I’m kind of attuned to this kind of stuff.”
Perrin, a kidney transplant recipient, plans to produce a documentary on the adventure and raise money to provide dialysis and transplant patients with stand-up paddleboards.
The Everglades Challenge begins at Fort DeSoto Park in Tampa Bay on March 2 and ends March 10 near the Bay Cove Motel on Florida Bay in Key Largo. Racers may choose to stay in the Gulf for the entire route or divert inland at Chokoloskee to the Wilderness Waterway, emerging into Florida Bay at Flamingo, and continuing south to the finish. Racers who win their class will receive a paddle with “class winner” emblazoned on it.
Isaac said the event has grown each year since its inception in 2001 when 20 racers signed up. He figures it’s because of people’s desire to challenge themselves.
“They are in it for the personal satisfaction and camaraderie,” he said. “Anybody can paddle or sail from Fort DeSoto to Key Largo if there’s good weather and if they have enough time to do it. It’s just such a challenge.”