Last Paddler Standing

Text: Thomas Schillig / Fotos: Janine Schaien

A race that is not about speed but about strategy and endurance. This is clear right from the start, as there is probably no other race with a slower start. After the countdown, the 31 crazy paddlers set off on their first lap at a leisurely pace.

The aim is to complete the 5.35km loop in Nathan Benderson Park, Florida within one hour. Those who paddle fast have long breaks, approx. 20 minutes, those who paddle slowly only 5-10 minutes. If you paddle too slowly, you drop out of the race. A lap starts every full hour, and those who start too late are also out of the race. The race lasts until no one is left in the race.

No music during the rounds. No headphones, no loudspeakers. This leads to very interesting conversations with fellow paddlers and there is even time for selfies. After a few laps, the wind picks up. Buoys break loose, presenter tents threaten to fly away, and paddlers fight against the wind in the middle of the course. The zigzag crossing before the finish causes some to fail on the first afternoon. Up to the 29th lap, someone dropped out again and again. The reasons are varied: exhaustion, not making the time, muscle cramps… The last six paddlers and one female paddler proved to be a hard core and persevered for up to 16 hours before the all-important extra time.

After 48 hours, the lap is extended to 7.88km. Still in the race: Bruce Smith, John Knippers, Alex Somoano and Blake Carmichael. Lindsey Tilton, the only woman to have paddled 48 laps, finishes the race well deserved. Just how challenging the 49th lap is, with three new tight turns, becomes apparent an hour later. Only Blake and Alex make it to the finish in time. The retired John reports extreme winds in the 2nd half.

Then the most exciting moment that goes down in the history of the race. Alex kneels down to Blake and talks to him in detail. The countdown to the next lap is met with great astonishment. Alex remains standing on the shore while Blake starts the 50th lap alone, even though Alex has finished ahead of Blake almost every lap during the race. This was probably also a strategic decision, because if both finish within the next hour, there will be one more lap. But if they both exceed the hour limit, they are both out of the race and there will be no winner. A real testament to the camaraderie of Alexis, who said: “I’m happy with my performance. I did my best and achieved what I set out to do.

Blake is an incredible paddler.” Congratulations to Blake and all participants. Here are the final results with the number of laps completed.

  • Blake Carmichael (50)
  • Alex Somoano (49)
  • John Knippers (48)
  • Bruce Smith (48)
  • Lindsey Tilton (48)
  • Goran Gustavsson (44)
  • Bobby Johnson (43)
  • Thomas Schillig (28)
  • Brandon Grundy (27)
  • Aleksey Synkov (25)
  • Josh Lanphear (24)
  • Michael Carson (24)
  • Scott Sieffert (21)
  • Christopher Thomas (21)
  • Dave McMillan (20)
  • Tony Peters (18)
  • Jennifer Flanigan (16)
  • Tim Arehart (15)
  • Martin Heckmann
  • Craig Sawyer (7)
  • Karen Greener (6)
  • Bryant Ransom (6)
  • Jon Rutishauser (5)
  • Brett Young (5)
  • Jim Sayih (5)
  • Heidi Kemler-Stapula (4)
  • Trey Reaves (3)
  • Anton Synkov (3)
  • Suzy Rigby (3)
  • Veronica Sosa (2)
  • Colt Reaves (2)