Organized by the Netherlands Antilles Canoe Federation, the Soualiga Challenge 2009 was held on Sunday, October 4, with 29 solo kayaks heading from Saint Barth’s Port of Gustavia to Oyster Pond in St. Maarten in this fifth edition of the race. The winner was David Mocke of South Africa, who completed the race in two hours, 16 seconds, although he did not break the record of one hour, 57 seconds set by Frenchman Benoît Leroux in 2008. Leroux placed third this year, with Frank Fifils (the winner in 2006) coming in second. Three of the kayaks did not finish the race, while the winner took home prize money of $3,200.
Race participants hailed from St. Martin, St. Maarten, Antigua, Guadeloupe, Australia, the United States, Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, South Africa, and for the first time, Saint Barthélemy, with the presence of Gilles Reynal. The racers set out on the 11 nautical miles at 9:30 a.m., with higher winds than expected from the northeast at 15 to 20 knots, large swells from the side, and the threat of rain, making the weather a bit of a challenge. Safety boats from the St. Maarten Sea Rescue station kept an eye on the paddlers in these less than ideal conditions.
For Gilles Reynal, who represented Saint Barth, long-distance kayaking is a new discipline, as he is frequently seen windsurfing or participating in triathlons. “I had wanted to take part in this event for the past two years but didn’t have the proper distance training,” Reynal says. “I am not unhappy with my performance.” He placed 24th with a time of three hours, 38 minutes, two seconds, which is within the time he expected to finish. “The funny thing was I tipped over at least 40 times under the watchful eyes of my son, Théo, and Pierrick and Hélène, my fan club, who followed the race in a small boat.”
The Soualiga Challenge was part of the Surfski.info World Series, the third event of the Caribbean Ocean Racing Cup 2009, and part of the Caribbean Mini Tour 2009.
Ellen Lampert-Gréaux lives in Saint Barthélemy where she is editor-in- chief of Harbour Magazine, and has been a regular contributor to All- At-Sea since 2000.