Some events stand the test of time and carve strong enduring memories. The Little Tybee Challenge is one of these races for me. The diversity of the race course is second to none. Starting in a powerful tidal river, the course then jogs into a super narrow and twisty tidal creek before leading you out into the Atlantic thru a surf zone surrounded by sand bars and technical options. Once into the Atlantic a short sprint takes you back into the tidal river and the finish line. The near 8 mile circumnavigation of most of Little Tybee Island takes the fastest of paddlers a little under 50 minutes and requires a unique set of skills to excel across the range of challenges the race course has to offer.
After a strong win at this race in 2014 I knew I’d have a target on my back but I also knew I didn’t have the same level of fitness I had last year. I’d have to play defense. After a confused starting procedure and a strong effort off the line, I found myself leading into the tight and technical tidal creek and interrupted a large pod of dolphin playing in the fast moving waters. Once into the creek, it’s very hard to overtake anyone but I could hear the relentless chase of Eric Mims close behind. But as a wildwater paddler, reading and executing these tight turns would mean a small advantage for me.
So the question was whether to gut myself and extend my tenuous lead or conserve energy for the later stages of the race. I choose to gut myself. Exiting the tidal creek and entering the ocean, I had approximately 1 minute up on Eric, but now in the ocean, the tables were turned and Eric was in his home environment with the advantage and was closing the gap fast. Seeing a near shore deep water gutter, I surfed into the beach to take the short cut but not before Eric saw me make the turn and gave chase. Once thru the moving water and heading back into the tidal river, I found myself shoulder to shoulder with Eric for the final mile or more to the finish. Sadly, I could not respond to his mastery of using every ocean bump to his advantage and I was also paying the price for pushing hard in the creek. Eric snagged victory by a tad over a minute in a masterful paddle. Mark Volkmann also put in a great effort to take a solid third place after using his intimate knowledge of the area to his advantage to secure the final podium spot.
The Little Tybee Challenge never disappoints and I will be back for the 18th annual race in 2016. More information, results and media can be found at http://tybeekayakrace.blogspot.com/