On Sunday, September 23, the Netherland Antilles Canoe Federation held the third annual Soualiga Challenge, a 24km marathon ocean-paddling race from St Barth to Oyster Pond in St. Martin. With a total of 20 entries (two did not finish), the event saw “a higher standard in terms of the competitors,” says Stuart Knaggs, the race organizer. In fact, to help attract international paddlers, the race offered $350 in expenses plus lodging and meals the weekend of the event to the top ten finishers in the ARB World Cup.
Top honors in this year’s Soualiga Challenge went to 24 year-old Barry Lewin from Durban, South Africa, whose winning time was one hour, 54 minutes and six seconds…shaving 12 seconds off of the 2006 record of one hour, 54 minutes, 18 seconds set last year by Frenchman Franck Fifils, who also won the first edition of the race in 2005. Second and third place went to Benoit Leroux (1:59:08) and Olivier Tanton (2:12:04). Grace Spencer, the sole female racer, finished in three hours, 14 minutes and 44 seconds.
“The conditions were not ideal this year,” explains Knaggs, who came in fourth. “The wind was out of the north and it was more like winter weather than summer. We had a cross swell and had to work hard all the way. Everybody was pretty shattered after the race.” Last year there were tail winds that helped the kayaks along. Air temperature this year hovered around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
“This was the third year of the race and people are starting to take notice,” says Knaggs, who works as a marine surveyor, examining damaged boats. “The more people take notice the easier it is to get sponsors.” Knaggs raced kayaks as a junior but had been away from the sport for quite a while, concentrating on other sports and keeping in shape for competing in triathlons. “I got back to kayaks recently,” he adds. “One thing we have a lot of in St Martin is water.”
Knaggs is already planning the fourth edition of the race in 2008 and hopes to have a few entries from St Barth, where the race begins on the beach in Public. But this kind of racing is not to be taken lightly. “Twenty-four kilometers is a long way to go,” he notes. “You need good training.” He is also open to adding an OC1 (outrigger canoe, one person) class, and has some interest from paddlers in the US.
The following weekend, September 29 and 30, those who were brave enough went on to the St. François Kayak Challenge in Guadeloupe. The top prize for this race was 2000 Euros—Reason enough to get out your paddles! Soualiga Challenge champ Barry Lewin headed off to San Francisco instead for the US Championships, held on the same dates, although he hopes that the calendar doesn’t overlap like that next year so he can race in Guadeloupe as well.