As of Friday afternoon, 27 athletes had registered for today's second annual Cape to Cape Paddleboard race, a 17-mile trek across the Delaware Bay from Cape Henlopen, Delaware, to Cape May.
There was supposed to be 28, but one potential competitor got wind of the grueling nature of the event and backed out.
"I'm not going to name names," race director Chad DeSatnick said, "but he was all set to be in the race, and then he talked to someone who did it last year and told me, 'No way am I trying that.'"
His trepidation is understandable.
The Cape to Cape is one of about a half-dozen long-distance paddleboard races in the country, along with the Paddle for a Cause, the 22.5-mile jaunt around Absecon Island held two weeks ago.
The Cape to Cape is arguably the toughest, which is why competitors must have prior endurance experience.
It’s been about a year since I last had the urge to get things off my chest and out of my laptop.
Last year's inaugural event tested the physical, emotional and mental limits of the competitors. Oppressive heat and deceptive currents sapped their energy, resulting in cases of dehydration and even sea sickness in one case.
There also is a point, approximately 5 miles into the race, where there is no land on the horizon.
It's just you, your board and the bay.
According to DeSatnick, it's especially tough on prone racers because of their limited field of vision. They spend the race on their stomachs and paddle with their hands, as opposed to SUP racers who stand and use a carbon-fiber paddle. But it's no big treat for SUP competitors, either.
"Your mind can definitely start playing tricks on you," Ocean City resident Chad Gallagher said after winning the SUP division last year. "You don't see any land, and that little voice comes into your head that you think you might be done. In those situations, you just have to go to your happy place and stay there."
I was forced to go to my happy place Friday morning.
The Cape May Harbor was relatively calm when I started a five-mile workout. I cruised past the Lobster House, admiring some of the yachts - there was an absolutely stunning boat docked there last week, which I jokingly mentioned to my kids as a potential Father's Day gift - ducking under the small bridge leading into town.
A turning point
I paddled up and down Spicer's Creek and into the back marshes before heading back toward the tiny beach near Aqua Trails Kayak and Paddleboard.
Then I turned straight into a harbor that was suddenly filled with swells topped by white caps. Anchored sailboats were swaying. Recreational paddlers were bobbing in the water.
The Press published a photo a few days ago that showed everything that’s right and wrong wit…
I figured it was better to swallow my pride than a mouthful of harbor water. My 12-foot, 6-inch SUP became a 12-foot, 6-inch KOP (Knees On Paddleboard).
Gallagher is back to defend his title Sunday, along with several other champions and contenders from last year's event.
Overall winner Ryan Matthews, an Asbury Park resident and former Los Angeles County lifeguard, is considered a favorite again in the Prone Unlimited division after winning the Paddle for a Cause by a wide margin.
Other top competitors include Cape May's Jason Chew (SUP 14-foot), Chad DeSatnick's brother Todd (SUP 14-foot), North Wildwood's Lewis Ostrander (Prone Unlimited) and Brigantine firefighter and lifeguard Sven Peltonen (SUP 14-foot).
Proceeds go to the DeSatnick Foundation, a nonprofit organization designed to help those with spinal-cord injuries.
Chad DeSatnick, 38, started the foundation after shattering the C6 and C7 vertebrae in his neck while surfing in Cape May on Sept. 30, 2001.
He made a full recovery and resumed surfing but has dedicated his life to helping those who were not as fortunate.
He has devoted quite a bit of energy into making sure Sunday's event is as safe as possible.
Ten of the competitors will wear Spot GPS monitors that will allow race officials, family and friends to track their progress.
But the unique feature of the system is that people wearing it will be able to hit a button if they need water or require medical attention. All competitors also will be accompanied by support boats and Wave Runners.
"Safety is my number one priority for this," Chad DeSatnick said. "Some events are focused on having as many people enter their races as they can in order to raise more money for their organization. I prefer to limit the number of people in this in order for the race to be as safe as possible."
Here's hoping everyone enjoys a swift and safe journey.
If anyone needs me, I'll be in my happy place.
(David Weinberg's Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.)