This past weekend, Bob, the kids and I headed to Lake Tahoe for the Ta-Hoe Nalu Paddle Festival. We had three objectives for the trip: for Bob to participate in a top rated SUP event without embarrassing himself; talk with industry folk (it’s like a mini-trade show); and have a fun family vacation. I also had a fourth objective…to ride my bike the 72 miles around the lake. We succeeded on all accounts and had one hell of a fun time doing it.
I’ve never been to Tahoe in the summer, so right away I was awestruck by the beauty of the lake and mountains. My only ski trip to Tahoe years ago dealt us mostly whiteout conditions so I only caught rare glimpses of the dark, brooding lake, certainly never seeing the SCALE of it all. Um, WOW! It’s 30 miles long and 12 miles wide. It boasts an average depth of 1,000 ft and water clarity second to none (70 ft visibility!). Snow-capped mountains frame the lake, punctuating its beauty. Add the quaint town of Kings Beach and a perfect weather forecast (80 degrees and sunny every day) and you’ve got a SUP race/festival setting to die for.
I actually achieved my fourth objective first. On Thursday I rode my bike around the lake. Cycling (as a sport) hasn’t quite caught on with the other members of my family (our kids are only six and nine), so this would be a solo gig for me. It was challenging (especially the 12% pitches by Emerald Bay) and the high elevation air was a bit thin, but I was rewarded with one spectacular view after another. The only bummer was the traffic. Even with my 6:30 a.m. start I was hugging the guard rail through a few shoulderless stretches, and the traffic only got worse over my five hour trip. Regardless, I’m glad I did it, and I can cross another item off my bucket list.
Friday was family day. We headed over to the Nevada side of the lake, bound for Sand Harbor, indisputably the most beautiful beach and stretch of shore on the lake. The giant granite boulders in the water add character and dimension to the lake, both above and below its surface.
We set off with kids on board, exiting the picture-perfect boat launch cove and headed south, mostly hugging the shore admiring the boulder outcroppings and appreciating the undeveloped shores. Thank you, Nevada, for making this area a state park and sparing it the multi-million dollar homes found elsewhere. We paddled a while, eventually taking a break at our own private beach.
After a swim and bouldering break, we made our way south to check out the Thunderbird Lodge before heading back to our starting point. Hands down, those were three of my favorite hours of the whole trip. For me, this is what SUP is all about. Relaxing and exploring with your family. Bob, however, came to Tahoe with his SUP game face on. This family tour was merely a warm-up for the efforts ahead. On Saturday he would race the 5-mile event and on Sunday, the 10-mile. Only one other Portland friend and Gorge team rider, Cyril Burguiere, made the trip from Portland. Cyril is a natural SUP paddler, and with little more than a year of paddleboarding experience, he’s decided he’s ready to pit himself against the sport’s best and race among the Elites, many of which are paid to SUP for a living.
The first Ta-Hoe Nalu in 2007 attracted 30 paddlers. This year, it was several hundred. The grom event alone had nearly 30 competitors! The beach park proved a great venue for the event — not too big, not too small. It was just the right size for several booths to set up on the beach and a dozen board manufacturers were set up right at the water’s edge to offer board demos (to anyone!). There were easily 200 SUP boards parked on the beach at any given time (and that many again IN the water!), but still room for a several hundred spectators to hang out under beach umbrellas and take it all in.
Bob raced first at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday. He got a good start and settled in for the 5-mile trek. By the turn-around buoy, most of the paddlers had found their place in the crowd, which was 171 paddlers strong. Bob said he held back some on the way out, and then started ramping it up on the home stretch. But that was probably the strategy for most as he only passed a few, or got passed by a few, during the 2.5 mile return trip. He finished 5th in his 50+ age group, and 20th overall with a time of 1:03:22! Not bad for an old guy.
Cyril’s Elite race at 1:00 p.m. was the spectator-friendly multi-lap format. Each 1-mile lap is capped off with a short run-up on the beach and back to their waiting (and wading) board which they jump on in rather spectacular fashion and head out for another lap. They would do this for a total of 4 laps.
Cyril discovered he loved the format and showed he belonged banging boards with the Elites by finishing 13th! Both Cyril and Bob seemed very satisfied (if not a bit surprised) by their performances. I know me and the kids were proud as all get out of daddy and Cyril! Go Team GP!
Sunday started off like every other day during this trip…with perfect weather. All racers would start the 10-mile event at the same time, including all SUP categories, prone paddlers and OC-1s. This race was less spectator friendly as they all left the beach and wouldn’t return for a couple hours (kinda reminds me of my bike racing). Cyril got 8th among 14s with a time of 1:49:18, finishing just in front of Colin Mcphillips! Bob got 4th in his age group (15th among ALL 14s, young and not-so-young) with a time of 1:59:18.
It’s fun to be a part of an emerging sport where everyone is so positive and genuinely stoked to be there. Even the top pros were hanging out on the beach signing autographs, some even paddling around with the groms before and after their races. The event was well organized and the announcers did a great job keeping us spectators up to speed on what was going on. The whole vibe of the event was very family-oriented and low stress. It just seemed like everyone had a smile on their face. Even the parking lot attendant seemed happy to be there. Hopefully next year we’ll round up a bigger contingent from Portland. Seriously, people, this was good stuff!
This coming weekend is the Gorge Paddle Challenge. It too will attract many of the top pros, dish out big prize money, and offer equally spectacular scenery and challenging conditions. And I hope (expect!) the same positive vibe will flow in the Gorge as it did in Tahoe and every other SUP event I’ve been to. No doubt we have the aloha spirit of the sport to thank for that.
In case you were wondering, “hoe” is the Hawaiian word for paddle and “nalu” means water. Ta-Hoe Nalu!
Oh, and next year, I’ll take the right bike — my mountain bike!