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Paddlers Brave Rough Conditions at Catalina Classic

Aug 28, 2023 08:39AM ● By Jeanne Fratello

2023 Catalina Classic finishers pose at the Manhattan Beach Pier after the race. Photo credit: Evelyn Schmitt.

The 2023 Catalina Classic paddleboard race, a grueling 32-mile race from Catalina to Manhattan Beach, took place in rough waters on Sunday morning. 

Nevertheless, 87* paddlers - ranging in age from 14 to 69 - completed the 46th annual race in under the allotted nine-and-a-half hours. (*See editor's note below about an 88th paddler.)

The overall winner was Scott Clausen, 27, of Seal Beach in a time of 5:46:27. Clausen is a repeat winner, having claimed the title in 2021 as well.

(Scott Clausen comes in to shore after winning the 2023 Catalina Classic)

At the finish line, Clausen thanked the crew who rode in his escort boat, including a friend who had gotten food poisoning the night before ("but he toughed it out") as well as his dad.

(Clausen thanks his crew after winning the 2023 Catalina Classic paddleboard race.)

Coming in second place was Jake Miller, 30, a Los Angeles County lifeguard, in 5:54:54.

(Jake Miller glides in to shore after his second-place finish at the 2023 Catalina Classic. Photo credit: Evelyn Schmitt.)

The first stock board competitor was Shane Gallas, 38, in a time of 6:58.49.

(Competitors race in either the "stock" or "unlimited" category; with stock boards being limited to 12 feet. The unlimited boards are typically 18-19 feet long.)

For the women, the first-place paddler was Liz Hunter, age 37, in a time of 8:04:16, marking her fourth win in the stock division; and second place went to DJ O'Brien-Wilson, age 57 and a former two-time stock division winner, in 8:15:49.

The youngest competitor, 14-year-old paddling star Toa Pere of Hawaii, finished in a time of 7:51:54 on a stock board.

(14-year-old paddling star Toa Pere at the 2023 Catalina Classic. Photo credit: Evelyn Schmitt.)

Southern Californian paddlers Jon Loren, 51, from San Diego, and John Carroll, 69 (the oldest paddler on the roster) from Long Beach, have now both completed 21 races.

All told, 87 paddlers finished the race (out of 106 who started the race) in the allotted time.  There were 12 L.A. County lifeguards who competed.

*Editor's note: The "88th paddler" worth noting is Garrett Cleary, 24, of San Diego, a Type 1 diabetic who was attempting his first race. His insulin pump was not working so he had to stop and inject insulin as well as stop to eat. He finished the race in 11 hours, long after timers were gone - but was proud to have completed the grueling course.

(Garrett Cleary after his 11-hour paddle to complete the race course. Photo via Grow South Bay.)

A Mental and Physical Challenge

There is no prize money awarded; paddlers race for the challenge and the glory. In fact, race organizers said that the cheering crowd awaiting the paddlers at the Manhattan Beach Pier was one of the largest in recent memory.

Race director Gene Rink, a one-time record-holder of the race, told the crowd on Sunday that race conditions were "gnarly" that morning.

"It was really bumpy from the get-go. I give a big, big kudos to everyone crosses that finish line," said Rink.

(Choppy waters at the start of the race on Sunday morning. Photo via Scott Rusher.)

Manhattan Beach's Scott Rusher, competing for his 18th time (19th unofficially, because he and a group did the paddle during the COVID cancellation year), told MB News that this year was by far the "hardest and most painful" crossing he had experienced.

Rusher, still mourning the devastation in Maui and the loss of his home in Lahaina, also was diagnosed with shingles on Friday before the race. Furthermore, the rough waters made for "absolutely terrible" conditions, he said. He reached the R10 buoy (a turning point in the race) about an hour and 40 minutes later than he usually does. 

"Mentally, you have to sit there and adjust -  knowing that you’re going be out there a lot longer than you expected," he said.

Rusher added: "I think it’s amazing that everyone ahead of me could do it that fast - and I think it’s amazing that everyone behind me could stick it out."

Steve Schlens, winner of the stock race in 2012, was not racing in Sunday's race, but described the race as a long physical and mental battle regardless of the conditions.

"At a certain point, you're going to be thinking, 'This is just about it,' and then, 'Oh my God, when is this going to end!?!'" said Schlens. "Every emotion under the rainbow is going through your brain."

Classic Paddleboard Race Started in 1955

The Manhattan Beach International Paddleboard Race, the precursor to the Catalina Classic, was started in 1955 by Los Angeles County Lifeguard Bob Hogan and the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce. (Or, as Schlens described it, "It started with one lifeguard saying to another lifeguard, 'Hey, I've got a really bad idea...'")

The Catalina Classic has since become the premier paddling event of the year, drawing paddlers from around the country and even the world. 

Paddlers leave Isthmus Cove, Catalina Island, at 6:00 a.m. and paddle 32 miles to the Manhattan Beach Pier on paddle boards using only their hands to propel them through the water. Swells, currents, and wind conditions play into what is notoriously one of the most grueling endurance events in the world.

The Catalina Classic Paddleboard Association, a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization, donates yearly to local non-profit organizations that work with youth groups, education, and water safety. Past recipients include the L.A. County Jr. Lifeguard Scholarship Fund, The Manhattan Beach Roundhouse Aquarium, the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation, the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, and 1% for the Planet.

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