2016 will mark the inaugural official Lake Ontario Crossing Paddleboard Race. The following is a blog post about the crossing completed in 2015:
Route: The traditional route from Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON to Cherry Beach (Toronto Windsurfing Club) in Toronto. This route is close to the official Marilyn Bell (swimming) route, and it was the route on which the SUP/paddleboard standard was set in 2014. The paddle starts in the Niagara River and quickly pushes into the open expanse of lake Ontario:
Distance: About 50 km (31-32 miles). We’ve called it the Canadian equivalent of M20 (with less swell), Chattajack (less scenery) or Catalina (less history). But seriously, this is a big and exposed paddle, with constantly changing conditions and 2-3 hours without cell service. You’re a ghost out there, and awe-struck by the vast expanse of open water.
Conditions: Tough but exciting! There was no flat water in 2015. Rather, paddlers faced a constant mix of leftover E swell, S blowing wind chop and a building E/SE swell later in the day that turned pretty heavy for the last two hours.
Running this paddle in September makes for much more interesting conditions and, if lucky, could deliver something resembling an open-ocean distance race (with smaller groundswell, of course). A July paddle, while surely easier and faster, would be a hot, flat grind, and the biggest challenge would probably not be the paddling itself, but rather running from pop-up thunderstorms.
Challenging and constantly-changing conditions made for slower times than a year ago. The SUPs had an early advantage with a quartering tailwind, but the prone board closed the gap later when the wind and swell shifted.
A look at some of the action:
About 20 km out from Toronto, a SE swell is building. Open-water distance paddling is something to be experienced, and Lake Ontario can certainly deliver! You are truly a ghost at this point without cell service for 2-3 hours:
With the harbour in sight, the race is on! Dan and Rob have been running stop time, but their times are tracking very closely. The SUP had an advantage early with a quartering downwind setup, but the prone board is at an advantage now as the wind shifts. Getting tired, but feeding off the sheer size of this paddle:
Digging in and hydrated. It took 4 hrs for the escort boat to find the paddlers, but the bottles are full again. That speaks to how big the water is out there:
Fighting the chop, Gander is relentless in tough conditions. There are no sandwiches and siestas on the boat deck during this race:
Approaching the Toronto skyline. This has a distinct M2O feel with respect to distance and direction of the wind/bumps – just a smaller size:
Now the bumps are really rolling in and the paddling is getting exciting!
We veer downwind toward the harbour, but some rogue east sets still pose a challenge on a long, skinny, board.
Last push around the breakwall. For two hours to this point you stare at the CN Tower, but it never seems to get any closer. Then suddenly you’re almost there:
Relief! A 3 km sprint to the finish in the sheltered water of Toronto’s outer harbour:
The final GPS track showed a hook to the East to counter the swell early, which we were then able to ride back onto the line through the middle of the crossing. Note the pace increase through the middle – this was the best section of the paddle. The last 15km or so saw the pace slow sharply, again battling a growing E swell.
Special thanks to Andy Skeoch who thought to take pictures after spending 4 hours searching for paddlers in the escort boat! We were self sufficient and not at risk, but it’s a reminder of how big the water is out there!