Eight Mile Surf.
Descending out of the mountains. On highway PR 52. Bending back and forth. Allowing a small glimpse of the Caribbean blue waters. Off to the South.
As the highway moves closer towards the Puerto Rican coastal city of Ponce. A mass of land. Comes into focus. Resembling that of a coffin.
This is Caja de Muertos. And the starting line of the Escape from Coffin Island. An 8 mile stand up paddle race. Ending at Club Nautico de Ponce. A race designed to paddle with the wind and waves. Allowing paddlers to surf their way to the finish line, moving faster than standard stand up paddlebaord races. And better known as a downwinder.
Paddlers make the journey from all across the island of Puerto Rico. As well as the sister islands of the Caribbean, the likes of St. Croix, St. Thomas and Tortola. And some travel from the US and other international locations, such as Barcelona, Spain.
The event itself starts at 7 in the morning. With Puerto Rican music echoing over the speakers. Accompanied by announcements of the days events. Paddlers receive their numbers, jerseys, instructions and gps timing chips.
As the morning rolls on paddlers head out onto the water preparing for the start of the 4 mile course. A course with a few turns, protected from the winds. But still having the pulse and feel of an ocean race. Starting from the shore of Club Nautico. And finishing at the same spot as the 8 mile race. A fan favorite as everyone can cheer on the paddlers as they stay relatively close and in sight for the duration of the paddle.
Those heading out to take on Caja de Muertos, have a unique set up. Loading boards, paddles, water and food onto ten boats. Mostly Sportfishers in the 30 plus foot mark. This is the ride to the island. Straight into the wind and waves providing the perfect view of the conditions.
Arriving at the island. Paddlers unload and begin to warm up. Moving around the turquoise blue waters. Some by themselves, others in groups. Everyone has the anxious look on their face. Excited to surf eight miles.
As the horn sounds and the race sets off. The paddlers are greeted with a substantial breeze. And rolling seas. Setting up for almost ideal conditions. The wind pushes the paddler into the waves allowing them to ride a wave that has yet to break. Speeds can vary between 5 and 15 mph depending on the paddlers ability and the conditions. When the perfect combination occurs, paddlers will surf from left to right and back to the left staying with the swift moving waters.
With the speeds being significantly faster than a flatwater paddle. The lead racers arrive back to club Nautico in just over an hour.
Upon arrival. Paddlers are greeted with cheers from the beach. And the announcers excitement coming through the microphone. The paddle onto the beach where they dismount then run through a tunnel of flags, banners and people. High fives and hugs are delivered along with ice cold water.
The event does not end with the completion of the paddle. A live band takes the stage playing music, keeping the crowd entertained. Food is served. Along with all types of tasty beverages. Making for a full beach day experience.
In the early afternoon fans and participants gather around the stage for the awards ceremony. Paddlers from both the 4 and 8 mile paddle are acknowledged and brought onto the stage for photos and to receive their awards.
Upon conclusion of the awards. People are slow to pack up. Watching the sun drift into the ocean and enjoy time together with fellow paddlers.
The Escape from Coffin Island is more than just a stand up paddleboard race. It is a community event gathering everyone together. For a day at the beach. Whether new to paddling. A fan. Or a seasoned veteran.
A huge thank you goes out to the Lexus SUP Team for taking me in and making me feel at home. Special thank you to Jan Porrata for all the hard work to put the event together and make it go. To my dear friends Bill Kraft and Isabelle Picard for driving me around the island. Bringing me a board. And endless amounts of hospitality. To Miguel Alvarez of Verde Azul for the support of NSP and Surftech. The guys on the microphones. The boat captains. And the ladies behind the scenes. All of you come together and make this event a special one.
This is an event that always holds a place on my calendar and in my heart. See you in 2020.