Woman paddles the shore of Lake Tahoe in less than a day

Katelyn Welsh /

It was still dark by mile 46. The temperature had dipped below 40, causing the lake to steam up around Kate Sawant’s narrow kayak. It was a quiet moment with what looked like “smoke across the lake” when Sawant says she “dug deep” to finish her mission.

The objective — paddle all the way around the Lake Tahoe in one push.

The stopwatch froze at 19 hours and 19 minutes when the exhausted athlete maneuvered her blistered hands over her cold wet paddle. It was the final push that brought her back to where she started the day before. She had stayed within 1,000 feet of the shoreline, successfully circumnavigating the 64 miles around the lake on Saturday, Oct. 7.

Kate Sawant celebrates after paddling the shoreline of Lake Tahoe in a little over 19 hours on Saturday, Oct 7, 2023. Provided / Suzanne Farrell
Lake Tahoe Circumnav End Pic

Where it all started

The Tahoe resident set out from Baldwin Beach late Friday afternoon, Oct. 6, but it all started 10 years before her paddle hit the water. Sawant was south bounding the Pacific Crest Trail in 2013. That’s when she says she found a fondness for endurance sports.

The endurance hiker directed her tenacity from land to water in 2016 after driving past the Sacramento River. She thought to herself, “I wonder if anyone has ever kayaked the Sacramento River from source to sea.”

She’s been paddling ever since.

Sawant says she was inspired by Grant Korgan’s record paddle around Lake Tahoe. The 31 year-old wanted to do something similar to Korgan’s paddle, so she started searching for the women’s record time. She scoured the internet, but couldn’t find a recorded time for women anywhere.

That’s when her motivation went from inspiring women to do it, to also recording it.

“I know so many woman who are doing awesome things in endurance sports,” says Sawant, “but they don’t always get highlighted.”

She says this makes it challenging when woman look into to doing a feat like this.

“We can’t necessarily see another woman as a role model doing that,” she says, “what I’m really hoping it inspires people to do is not only go out and challenge themselves in this way, but to actually speak up about it and make sure people know, so we can use their guidance to inspire us for more adventures.”

A ‘give and a take’

It was a journey with “demons to battle,” says Sawant’s friend, Suzanne Farrell. One of those demons was the cold.

The temperatures were cooler than Sawant anticipated. She was unsure if her dwindling hand movement could be attributed to paddling or the cold. Her borderline hypothermic symptoms took her mind off other unpleasantries like stiff legs and a numb rear from hours of sitting in the watercraft.

“It’s always a give and take in endurance sports,” she says, “It’s never the take you think it’s going to be.”

At one point, all Sawant could do was keep paddling to stay as warm as possible. Her crew was still a half hour away with a heater and dry clothes. She knew if she stopped to wait, she could grow worryingly colder.

Kate Sawant takes off paddling after a break to warm up and put dry clothes on during her circumnavigation of Lake Tahoe, Friday, Oct 6 to Saturday, Oct 7, 2023. Provided / Sachin Sawant
Kate Sawant at night Sachin Sawant

She set out in the chillier month of October for a couple reasons. The late winter meant she got a later start with training. The wind is also kinder in the Fall months. That’s the same reason she headed out at night.

Another factor that added to the chilly conditions, “Hot Wheels.” The aerodynamic surfski is narrow with a seat not high above the water. Sawant affectionately named it for its speed and flames running the front and back. It’s fast, but it comes with the cost of getting wet and cold.

The stops she took here and there to change into dry clothes and warm up helped keep her going. The paddler reminisced about one such stop where her husband and Farrell brought her a cup of coffee, “it was really reinvigorating.”

Perking up

That piping hot brown beverage gave her even more of a boost because she gave up coffee two months before. It was on the advice of her husband, Sachin Sawant. He does this preparation for endurance runs. She says after lowering her tolerance to caffeine, the coffee and caffeine snacks hit her body in a different way. It was a way that helped her reach the finish line.

She says it was especially needed since she paddled through the night, having worked the day of.

Still, coffee and all, she says she almost gave up.

She was close to throwing in the towel with about an hour and a half until dawn. The cold and exhaustion had taken their toll, but she kept on. The freezing paddler knew the sun would bring warmth and beauty. She also had friends she didn’t want to disappoint.

While the caffeine provided the physical energy, she says a “huge mental boost” was knowing a friend would be kayaking with her for the last five miles. Barrett Kaasa was waiting to take up paddles with her near Emerald Bay. She didn’t want to let him down.

“It felt like a team effort,” Sawant says, something she couldn’t have done without her husband and friends aiding her with dry clothes, coffee, and pizza along the way.

Sachin Sawant, Kate Sawant, Suzanne Farrell, and Barrett Kaasa behind Kate Sawant’s surfski, “Hot Wheels,” on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. Provided / Sachin Sawant
Sawant Paddle by Sachin Sawant

One friend remembers the event as an accomplishment not witnessed by many, save a few campers during an early morning break at Meeks Bay.

“It was just very funny to see her…after over 12 hours of paddling and the campers are sitting at the beach and just not thinking a lot of it,” Farrell says, “Someone made an off-hand comment like, ‘oh, it’s a beautiful day for paddling,’ we’re like, ‘you have no idea.'”

Another lap

As for whether Sawant will take another lap around the lake, her answer is mixed.

“It’s one of those things that when I finish I’m like, ‘great that was a one time thing,'” says Sawant, “but a few days later I’m thinking, ‘man I could have done it so much faster if I had just x, y, and z.”

Trading stability for a lighter surfski is one of those changes. She says she would also try to cut down her break times by wearing a full dry suit. This would rid the need to change into dry clothes.

Logistics aren’t only thing she took away from the endeavor.

“It does reinstill my own trust in myself,” says Sawant, “when it comes to setting goals and accomplishing them.”

Goals like possibly another lap around Lake Tahoe.

But until then, she’s hoping other women get out and do it.

“I fully expect that there will be woman who go out and do it better than me,” Sawant says, “I’m really excited for that.”

Kate Sawant takes off from a stop at Meeks Bay, Lake Tahoe during a circumnavigation on Saturday. Oct. 7, 2023. Provided / Suzanne Farrell
Kate Sawant tahoe steam by Suzanne Farrell

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