Two events at Fresh Pond in Amagansett — one on land, one on the water — coincided Sunday, and in terms of numbers the paddleboarders, who raced three and six-mile triangular courses in Gardiner’s Bay that morning, outnumbered those who ran in the Old Montauk Athletic Club’s 5K on the roads nearby.
Competitors came from near and far to vie in the stand-up paddleboard races put on by Lars Svanberg’s Main Beach Surf & Sport and Paddlers 4 Humanity as a benefit for the Retreat, a nonprofit organization that has provided shelter, counseling, and supportive services for victims of domestic violence here since 1987.
Jeffrey Friedman, the Retreat’s executive director, said, as the racers, some from as far away as Martha’s Vineyard and Gloucester, Mass., prepared to launch their boards into the bay, that “our phones have been ringing off the hook since the economic downturn began. . . . Lars came to us, and we, of course, were pleased he did. Events like this — we’re also going to be one of the beneficiaries of the Artists-Writers Softball Game this year — help us to meet the rising demand for our services.”
Just before racetime the weather on the bay looked a bit daunting, with a stiff wind out of the northeast, cloudy skies, and a strong chop. Tom O’Donoghue, who has been training for a year with Ed Cashin, was a first-timer, but willing, though he thought the conditions would “stretch the field a bit.”
“We’ll see how [the six-miler] goes,” he said. “I’ll have to put all this training to use.”
It had been an interesting year for him, O’Donoghue, a self-confessed former couch potato, continued. “I did the Hyner Challenge [a brutal mountain race in Pennsylvania, near Lycoming College, Cashin’s alma mater] and I’m going to do two marathons. . . .”
“Today?” said Jonathan Shlafer, who was listening in and who hadn’t far to travel, living, as he does, about 50 yards from the Fresh Pond road-end, “in a tiny, shitty little house with a hell of a backyard.”
One of the farthest-flung competitors, if not the farthest-flung, was the six-mile winner-to-be, Patrick Broemmel, who removed himself 20 years ago from California’s San Joaquin Valley to Oak Bluffs on the Vineyard, where he works as a carpenter and contractor and builds his own carbon fiber paddleboards.
“I love The Vineyard Gazette,” he said in answer to a question. “I love its great big wide pages and the fact that it’s still black and white. If I want color, I can get it on the Internet.”
As for stand-up paddleboarding, he had been doing it “since 2003,” said Broemmel, adding that racing has come just recently to New England — lagging well behind Florida, California, and Hawaii in that respect. Asked how he’d been doing, he said, “I win some and lose some. . . . I raced in Maine yesterday, though I didn’t do very well.”
After finishing in the van of the six-mile fleet, just ahead of one of his traveling companions, Will Rich of Gloucester, he said, “It was challenging . . . all on the right going down toward that chimney, and the waves were coming across the beam, which puts you in the hardest position. On the second leg we went into the wind, which stabilizes the board, though it’s much more work, and coming in we had the wind at our backs.”
Svanberg, who placed third, said he wasn’t all that bothered by having been bettered by two ringers from Massachusetts. “They’re probably half my age,” said the 51-year-old triathlete and paddler, adding that “over all, it was a perfect day after the wind laid down.”
Sean T. Kellershon, 25, of Northport won the three-miler, even though, as he said, he put his knee through his board after the fin caught on the bottom at the start.
Several people fell as the six-milers got under way, among them Roxane Robinson, a SUP teacher, who, when the accident happened, was projecting herself for third place. “It’s the first time I’ve fallen since last summer . . . well, there’s another race in two weeks.”
Robinson was referring to the Paddle for Pink races on North Haven that are to benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation Aug. 11.
A co-chair of that event, Maria Baum, the owner of the Tutto il Giorno restaurants in Sag Harbor and Southampton, who was among the three-mile competitors that day, said stand-up paddling had played a significant part in helping her get through breast-cancer chemotherapy last summer.
Paddling, she said, wasn’t a spin class. “You’re out on the most beautiful bays and inlets in the entire world — it’s overwhelming. You’re exhausted at the end, but you’ve done something so good for your body, and for your mind. You haven’t given a thought to how hard you’ve been working. . . . It’s overwhelming.”
The sport, said Svanberg, “is the fastest growing water sport in the world. People have come here today from Maine, New Jersey, Massachusetts. . . .” Not to mention Northport (Kellershon), Bellport (Meaghan Shannon), and Mastic Beach, from which the 55-year-old Steven Hat hails. “I’m looking to paddle until I’m 80,” he said. “I do it five to six days a week. You know, they call us ‘the Gusu people.’ Gusu,” he added, “stands for Get Up, Stand Up.”
Asked what was next for him, Broemmel said, “A long drive back to Cape Cod.”