Those who only caught the finish of the 7th Annual O’Neill Donner Lake Paddleboard Race on Saturday might have thought Rob Rojas was given a head start.
It seemed a likely explanation, as the O’Neill-sponsored racer outdistanced the elite field by nearly two and a half minutes to claim victory in record fashion in the opening event of the Tahoe Cup series.
In warm and calm conditions, Rojas, 40, set a new race record with a time of 39 minutes, 29 seconds over the 5-mile, loop course, which started and ended at West End Beach.
“The conditions for this race were amazing,” said Rojas, who hails from San Clemente. “The water was so smooth, it felt like I was paddling on ice.”
Rand Carter of Tahoe Vista finished second overall in the field of 160 paddlers with a time of 42:55. Leading the men’s elite 14-foot class, Brennan Rose (43:00) then held off a hard-charging Jay Wild (43:02) of Truckee at the finish line, and Benjamin Sarrazin (43:23) of Petaluma finished fifth.
They were followed by Seth Springer (43:39) of Malibu, Adam Freeman (45:05) of Truckee, Jimmy Spithill (45:12) of San Franciso, John Merryfield (45:37) of Tahoe City and Grant McFadyen (45:48) of Palo Alto rounding out the top 10.
Jen Fuller of Sausalito placed first in the women’s field and 32nd overall with a time of 49:40. Truckee’s Anik Wild (49:44) was the second woman, Nina Oakley (50:06) of Reno was third, Wendy Ackerman (53:47) of Homewood fourth and Julie Stevens (55:01) of Citrus Heights fifth.
While many elite racers were on hand — all competing for a piece of the $20,000 series purse — the event featured paddlers of all ages and abilities. Eight of the participants were age 10 or younger, including 6-year-old Cannon Hollingsworth of Colfax.
“I was amazed to see how many kids came out for The Donner Cup,” said Phil Segal, event director. “This event has turned into such a great family environment.”
Among other top finishes from Tahoe-area paddlers, Josiah Brackett of South Lake Tahoe placed 12th, Michael Valenzuela of Truckee, who was second in last year’s Tahoe Fall Classic, was 13th, Dax Willard of Tahoe City was 14th, Steve Funk of Truckee 15th, Evan Derdowski of Zephyr Cove 18th, and Tim Boyer of Tahoma 20th.
Debbie Fogans of Truckee was the sixth woman, and Sophia Sanchez of Kings Beach was the 11th woman. Olympic ski racer Travis Ganong finished 63rd overall.
The series continues with the Jam From the Dam on July 12 and the Tahoe Fall Classic on Sept. 14. For registration information, go to www.tahoecup.org.
— Information was used from the O’Neill Tahoe SUP & Paddleboard Series website, tahoecup.org.