The Friends of V.I. National Park Paddle the Park stand-up paddleboard race brings out mostly people who paddle for fun, but Sunday’s event also attracted several professionals.
“This is one of our favorite races. Everybody is mellow,” professional paddleboarder Bill Kraft of St. Croix said just after he crossed the finish line at Maho Bay Beach.
Kraft was first across the finish in the elite group of paddlers who went the 5.5 miles from Maho around Whistling Cay, to and around Cinnamon Cay, back behind Whistling Cay, and back to Maho.
He did the course in one hour, two minutes and 32 seconds.
Paddle instructor Dee Schmitz of Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, was the first person across the finish in the mile-long short course that ran to and from Maho.
She and her husband, Jake Schmehl, who was second across the short course finish, visited St. John just for the Paddle the Park event.
“We love St. John. You’re paddling along and look down. There’s a turtle in the water, and the pelicans in the way,” she said shortly after she finished.
Her time was 12 minutes and eight seconds.
Casey Levin of St. John was first across the finish in the three-mile open course that ran from Maho to Whistling Cay and back.
“Coming back was the hard part,” he said.
Levin finished in 37 minutes and 15 seconds.
Destin Nibbs, 14, of St. Thomas, was one of several youths who participated in the event.
“I like it a lot,” Destin said, adding that this was his first race.
Nibbs was part of a contingent of six St. Thomas youths who put in lots of hours learning to swim and paddleboard with the help of St. Thomas resident Sharie Smyth. She owns a paddleboard company – Ta’Loo-Ard.
“It builds self esteem,” she said of the youth activities.
It also helps develop water skills, and she said the program helps them keep up with their academics.
Destin’s mother, Michelle Nibbs, was on hand to watch her son compete.
“They’re at home in front of the TV screen … it’s important for them to be active,” she said.
While Destin was among the youngest paddlers, St. John resident Andy Rutnik was likely the oldest at age 69.
“I paddleboard every Sunday,” he said.
Rutnik is chairman of the Friends board, and said he entered the event to support the Friends.
Deputy Park Superintendent Jayne Schaeffer took to the water in the short course. She said that while she was out to support the Friends, she had another reason.
“It’s fun,” she said, waiting to hit the water.
A total of 50 people participated in three classes in the third annual race.
“We’re celebrating the beach and water,” Friends President Joe Kessler said.
Sunday morning’s thunder and lightning cleared a bit in time for the Paddle the Park to get started at Maho Bay on St. John, but returned as the race neared its end.
As thunder boomed, Kessler said if there was visible lightning, the boats that patrolled the course would remove paddlers from the water. I didn’t come to that, and all 50 people finished the course.
Other than the bit of rain and thunder, the course was perfect, several people said.
“It wasn’t windy so the water was smooth,” St. John resident Nathanial Ford, the second person across the finish in the elite group, said.
More information on the Friends activities is online at www.friendsvinp.org.