Eco-Challenge kayakers finish 42-mile, 2-day feat of endurance

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Eco-Challenge winners Cesar Salazar and Irvin Humes of Team Coco Beach cross the finish line in front of Central Park, San Pedro Town, Belize. The finish of the 42-mile, two-day kayak race around Ambergris Caye drew a big crowd to the beach.
Eco-Challenge winners Cesar Salazar and Irvin Humes of Team Coco Beach cross the finish line in front of Central Park, San Pedro Town, Belize. The finish of the 42-mile, two-day kayak race around Ambergris Caye drew a big crowd to the beach.

Given its advantage point as the restaurant closest to the finish line for the 10th annual Lagoon Reef Eco-Challenge kayak race, it was no surprise that business on Sunday morning was booming in Estel’s Dine by the Sea.

Yet, somehow, Rose and I ended up with the front corner table, closest to Central Park and the finish line. From this vantage point we could look far down the beach, and catch glimpses of the sea between piers and palapas.

Sooner or later — later, as it turned out — the brightly colored kayaks of the lead boats would appear.

The finish of the 42-mile, two-day Eco-Challenge kayak race around Ambergris Caye drew a big crowd to see the boats cross the finish line in front of Central Park, San Pedro Town, Belize.
The finish of the 42-mile, two-day Eco-Challenge kayak race around Ambergris Caye drew a big crowd to see the boats cross the finish line in front of Central Park, San Pedro Town, Belize.

Even now, two days later, I can’t get over how excited I was for the finish of a 42-mile, two-day kayak race in which I didn’t know a single participant.

Perhaps because I saw the racers off on Saturday morning from the San Pedro Town Embarcadero on the lagoon side I had a vested interest in seeing them finish.

Eco-Challenge winners Cesar Salazar and Irvin Humes of Team Coco Beach.
Eco-Challenge winners Cesar Salazar and Irvin Humes of Team Coco Beach.

There was also a bit of drama on this second day. The waves beyond the protective reef barrier were huge, as big as many people can recall seeing — maybe up to 15 feet high. Those waves turned the water between the reef and island into a choppy, sloshing bathtub of turbulence which could prove challenging for the racers in their Malibu tandem kayaks.

As we waited we began to hear stories of the first day — 25 miles up the western side Ambergris Caye in the San Pedro Lagoon, through unmarked mangrove channels and across mud flats, mosquito clouds, choppy waters and long portages to the eastern side of the island for the finish. Somebody lost a shoe in the mud. Some kayakers got lost.

The fastest boat crossed the first-day finish line in just over seven hours, six minutes. (San Pedro Sun has a detailed report on the race here.)

By comparison, Day 2 was a 17-mile sprint down the eastern coast, in fairly rough seas but at least with a wind that helped push the boats along. Some of the time. The first boat across — Team Coco Beach — completed the leg in just over three hours. The kayakers, Cesar Salazar and Irvin Humes, had finished mere seconds behind the lead team in the first leg.

I have to say, those guys did not look tired when they crossed the finish line. Their paddling was still a thing of clockwork precision.

Father and son wait for their friends in the Eco-Challenge to reach shore.
Father and son wait for their friends in the Eco-Challenge to reach shore.

While I didn’t know anyone in the race, Rose did. Two women that she’d met through yoga were entered. They were among five women total in the 20 teams that started.

They hadn’t finished by the time we left though we later heard from friends in a boat that they spotted them up the coast paddling strong and far from the last boat in.

Our friend Rebecca of the San Pedro Scoop says this is the first year that she didn’t look at the winners and wonder what it would be like to compete in the Eco Challenge race. Perhaps because this is my first time I’m thinking “I could at least be a contender for the oldest geezers award” if I could find another paddler close to my age and crazy enough to enter.

I was also recalling the recent four-day Maya Ruta river race, from San Ignacio to Belize City. There must be a third national race to fill out the Paddle Your Belize Off  Triple Crown. Any idea what it would be? Some sort of caye to caye to caye race?

Well, enjoy the photos. San Pedro Sun and San Pedro Scoop have plenty more.

Flyboarder greets finishers in the Eco-Challenge kayak race.
Flyboarder greets finishers in the Eco-Challenge kayak race.

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View of Central Park from the end of the municipal pier.
View of Central Park from the end of the municipal pier.

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Choppy seas are evident as this team rounds municipal pier and heads for the finish line.
Choppy seas are evident as this team rounds municipal pier and heads for the finish line.

 

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