The sport of Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP) is taking off around the Caribbean, and the world, and it’s a watersport in which Puerto Rico’s Heather Baus certainly excels. In fact, in July, Baus finished an incredible second in the 15th Annual Molokai-2-Oahu (M2O) Paddleboard World Championships, a 32-mile open-water and treacherous paddle that can make a grown man cry.
Baus, a former yacht captain, professional corporate pilot, and mother of nine-year-old Opti sailor, Savannah, moved to Penuelas in 2001 after marrying husband, Jim. She started paddling as something to do on non-wind days when kite-boarding and windsurfing were not an option. Now, SUP is a part of Baus’ everyday life and especially so in the last several months as she trained for the M2O.
“The idea to do the M2O began after I finished the Battle of the Paddle in California last year,” Baus explains. “That event is in and out of the waves and sprinting for five miles and very different from distance racing. I started logging longer miles, 15-miles or more, starting over our Christmas sailing trip to the British Virgin Islands.”
Back at home, Baus, her husband and oftentimes daughter, would head 15 to 20 miles upwind in their 19ft inflatable with custom SUP board racks. They’d set up a paddling angle that allowed Baus to develop her left side strokes, something that was essential in training for the M20. Along the way, daughter Savannah picked up on the sport and started racing her Mom in practice.
“I think training for the M2O made me a stronger,” she says. “I also think it made for a stronger family bond by working together and making the most of every outing.”
The entire Baus family traveled to Hawaii for the M2O.
“Getting on the board and paddling out to the starting area was surreal,” says Baus, who competed in the Stock division on a 14ft board with no rudder. “The horn went off and then came the experience of my life.”
Baus was in a full-on sprint for the first three to four miles. The winds constantly coming off her right shoulder had her left side muscles burning by mile five.
“Once we started hitting the swell it was incredible,” she tells. “The four-to-six-foot wind chop was what I was used to but the large rolling eight-to-ten-foot swell was way over my head. I was able to catch a lot of runners and bumps on the back side of the swell. What was really fun was when those waves would break on my beam and then I’d ride down the back side at an angle.”
Baus hit mile 15 or half-way point by mid-afternoon. Seasickness prevented her from eating or drinking and by mile 20 she hit ‘the wall’.
“I thought I would catch a second wind, but that never came,” she says. “I really thought at mile 25 I would not finish even though I was leading the women’s Stock class. That’s when I clocked into ‘survival mode’ because I seriously thought I was going to die. I hurt so badly.’
Three miles from the finish, the second place women in the Stock class closed in until she was only 100 yards behind Baus.
“She caught up to and passed me between the reefs with about a quarter mile to go and I was all out,” says Baus. “It was great, her parents and my escort boat were screaming their heads off for us girls! Tough as this was, it was one of the most amazing days of my lifeâ€”truly life changing.”
What’s next for Baus?
“I’m looking forward to working closely with MHL (Puerto Rico-based board manufacturer) and designing boards specific to my needs and races,” she says. Baus is also the Caribbean and Puerto Rico rep for Kialoa paddles, Hinano apparel and Raw Elements sunscreen.
In addition, she’s organizing the 2nd Annual Downwind PR SUP Championships in Ponce, set for November 6th. These will be a World Paddling Association sanctioned event and 2012 World Qualifier. Racers from the Caribbean, U.S. and Canada are expected to compete.
How does Baus recommend someone interested in SUP get started?
“Just get out and paddle!” she says.
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.