At the start of the fourth annual Painkiller Cup, boats filled with spectators followed the action along Tortola’s north shore cheering loudly as Bruno Mars’ hit song “Uptown Funk” blared through the air.
For some paddlers, the cheering and music provided inspiration and distraction from the grueling 14-mile stand-up paddle board race. But it didn’t have any effect on Kieran Grant, because Grant is deaf.
The 23-year-old was born deaf and has a Cochlear implant to help him hear, but he does not wear it when he is competing.
“It doesn’t bother me at all. I like it when it is quiet,” Grant said. “It keeps me focused. I can read lips really well and I know sign language, but I just keep an eye on my team and pay attention to the time.”
Grant started the race and finished it for his team, Freedom City Surf, which took first place and the $5,000 prize in 2h 44m 5s. The course record is 2h 30m. Grant also helped his team win the $750 bonus by being the first to reach Guana Island.
“I had a really good start,” he said. “I was sprinting really hard to get the bonus money. I was super stoked.”
The event featured some 40 stand-up paddle boarders racing from Trellis Bay, Beef Island to White Bay, Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands for $10,000 in prizes.
Thirteen teams of three, which included at least one female per team, paddled in 30-minute shifts to complete the 14-mile race.
Freedom City Surf’s female paddler was Fiona Wylde, 18, who is ranked third in the world for females in SUP. Despite being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes seven months ago, she still competes in more than 20 SUP events a year. She monitors her blood sugar levels with an electronic device the size of a jump drive that is attached to her stomach with a surgical tape.
“Over the last summer it has been a big adjustment learning how to deal with my blood sugar,” Wylde said. “It is not easy. You can’t just go out and jump on a board. You have to have food with you all the time and plan ahead. A lot of people think you can’t be an athlete with diabetes, but that is not true. I can’t stop doing what I love: Paddling, windsurfing and exploring. It’s harder some times, but diabetes just comes along with me now.”
Freedom City Surf’s third paddler was Quintin Chiapperino.
“I am just allergic to everything,” Chiapperino joked.
Five minutes after Freedom City Surf finished, team Kite STX — Bill Kraft, Jeramie Vaine and April Zig — took second.
Third place went to Team MHL, of Puerto Rico, with Nick Leason, Greg Jaudon and Thais Taylor.
The youngest competitor was Wyatt Bracy, 11, of St. Croix. He was competing for Freedom City Surf Groms, who took sixth place. He wasn’t intimidated by the older and more experienced competitors.
“Basically, every race I do, I am the youngest,” Bracy said.
In addition to the main race, a Mini-Painkiller Cup was held for individual paddlers. The shorter course started at Sandy Cay and also finished at White Bay. This year’s winner was Andrew Thompson, of the BVI. About ten paddlers participated in the event.
Organizer Andy Morrell said he was happy with the turnout, especially with the high-caliber competitors.
“The way I measure it is that we get better paddlers each year,” Morrell said. “We get paddlers flying in from California and planning a whole vacation around this. We attract some strong paddlers.”
RESULTS (TOP THREE)
1: Freedom City Surf
2: Kite STX
3: Team MHL
1: Andrew Thompson
2: Sam Morrell
3: Arthur Jones
Todd VanSickle is a journalist living and working in the Virgin Islands.