2017 Shark Bite Challenge & Paddlefest

What does it take to run a massively successful paddling event with over 450 participants from all over the World, hundreds of spectators and dozens of vendors / sponsors? What does it take to bounce back to an even stronger event in the shadow of the US Coast Guard shutting down your event the year before due poor weather? There are only very few of us that have been event organizers in this position, but I can tell you that it takes commitment, patience and tenacity to do what Karen and Rob Mirlenbrink (and volunteers) pulled off at this years Shark Bite Challenge in Dunedin, FL.

Honeymoon Island State Park would play host to a long weekend of events featuring clinics and educational sessions from legends and World Champions in their sport, athletic races, fun competitions and just a good old opportunity to catch up with friends and family.
I ventured to the Sunshine State to participate in the 8 mile prime time event. The mass start event would bring sups, prones, outriggers, kayaks and surfskis to the circuit format race. Cooler temperatures, a 12-15kt wind and a small but fun incoming swell would keep the racing massively entertaining. Lining up alongside the huge field we had Oscar Chalupsky (12 x World Surfski Champions), Teneale Hatton (6 x World Surfski Champion), Epic Kayaks Matthew Bouman and many other highly respected racers and dark horses from near and far. This opportunity to paddle next to the Worlds best, was not to be missed.

Despite all the faster folks grouping together in the middle of the line, I thought I could out-smart the field by moving as far out as I could in the deeper water. What a disaster that decision was! When the gun sounded the main group instantly formed and moved ahead of the main field but I found myself in no-mans-land all by myself 100 meters to their left. Realizing my mistake, there was nothing to do but settle in, keep pushing and realize that our paths would eventually converge, which they did, just short of the first buoy about 1.5 miles into the race. I dropped in behind Teneale and one of Florida’s fastest, Flavio Costa, as we turned downwind for the first time.
The downwind was more fun than I had hoped and I enjoyed every run I could find as Flavio and I pulled a little distance on Teneale. As the race unfolded during the next 2 loops of the course, Flavio broke clear of me and I was never able to close the gap much to my frustration. Flavio has one of the fastest closing stage surges that I have seen, and it was super fun watching him trying to hunt down Epic Kayak’s Eric Mims just ahead of him.

Disappointed at my tactical error which had cost me time and effort, I crossed the line with clear water ahead of me and behind to walk across the finish line beneath the Red Bull arch in 1h 7m 50s

Full results here … https://paddleguru.com/races/SharkBiteChallenge2017

Incredible venue, amazing organization and an unparalleled competitive field make this race a must do for any ocean paddler. I’ll be there next year, lined up right next to everyone else.