A line of paddlers stretched down the South Shore beach as far as the eye could see. Beginners and pros, children and grandparents stood side-by-side and waist-deep, poised to push into the sparkling morning waters.
As the starting horn blared, the racers exploded off the beach and furiously paddled for the open waters of the 5-mile course. The second annual Race the Lake of the Sky was officially under way.
Although only in its second year, Race the Lake of the Sky is already Lake Tahoe’s biggest stand-up race and considered the No. 1 SUP event in the world by some pro paddlers.
The Saturday morning 5-miler on Lakeview Commons was just the start. There was also a 14-mile round trip race to Emerald Bay, a SUP cross, a grom race, relay races and a best “sweet” moves contest during the two-day paddle festival this past weekend.
“It was too much fun, too amazing and too awesome,” race organizer Chris Brackett said. “We’re all still talking about it. Everyone was saying, ‘We’re coming back next year. We can’t wait. We’re going to plan our entire family vacation around this.’”
Two days after it all wrapped up, Brackett, who also owns South Tahoe Standup Paddle, is still recovering. He was expecting 250 paddlers, a huge increase from last year’s 115, but 308 paddlers actually showed up.
In true Brackett fashion, however, the atmosphere turned into a more-the-merrier scenario.
“Everyone was just having so much fun,” Brackett said.
The opening El Dorado 5-miler was packed with pros and talented local paddlers.
Jay Wild of Truckee took first in the men’s elite division, finishing the 5 miles in 1:00.58. Big-name paddlers Anthony Vela (1:01:01) and Jeramie Vaine (1:01:08) came in less than 11 seconds behind him.
In the women’s elite division, four-time world champion paddler Candice Appleby of San Clemente captured first (1:07:21), followed by Bailey Rosen of Florida (1:10:25) and Anik Wild of Truckee (1:11:17).
Among the younger paddlers, South Tahoe’s Joshua Brackett (1:20:40) and Josiah Brackett (1:08:08) took first and second, respectively, in their age groups, and Trent Carter came down from the North Shore to claim second (1:21:01).
South Tahoe paddlers Evan Derdowski (1:04:17) and Sarah Callaham (1:21:26) each collected first place in their divisions, and Mike Gabor’s impressive time of 1:03:16 was good enough to catapult him to third place in his competitive division.
The SUP cross preliminary rounds were up next and the field was slowly whittled down to Slater Trout, who won the men’s cross, and Appleby, who took the women’s competition.
But it was the Saturday grom race that was the biggest crowd favorite.
“I think the best part was the kids’ race,” Brackett said. “People told me that was the biggest kids’ race they have ever seen.”
There were 85 little paddlers lined up on the starting line and they were all there to charge.
Joshua Brackett, 11, took first among the boys and Kali’a Alexiou, 12, first among the girls.
The paddle palooza continued into Sunday when paddlers hit the water for a 14-mile race to Emerald Bay and back.
Derdowski (2:47:06) and Rand Carter of Truckee (2:30:49) both took second in their divisions of the endurance race. Gabor (2:47:44) claimed third.
The best “sweet” move went to Mike Tavarres later that day.
“It was just a great event overall,” Brackett said. “There was a huge turnout and great volunteers.”
The Campus Crusaders were a big part of that volunteer effort, and race sponsors like Riviera Paddlesurf donated a custom-designed board to the winner of a drawing and painting competition.
“The little 9-year-old girl who won, they’re going to build her a board with her own art work on it,” Brackett said.
“That little girl stood up there with the biggest smile on her face, and it honestly made me want to cry,” lead volunteer Tony Piscitelli said.
For a complete list of race results check out the Race the Lake of the Sky website.