SUP Paddling 100 Miles in One Day: The California 100 Race

SUP Paddling 100 Miles in One Day: The California 100 Race

SUP Paddling 100 Miles in One Day: The CA 100 Race

Paddling for hours on end on a Stand Up Paddle board sounds exhausting and boring to most but I find it enjoyable and a great way to get in tune with my body while letting the mind wander.

Training for the Molokai to Oahu race in 2009 was the first time I paddled hard for more than 4 hours at a time and I found that I really enjoyed it.   We started doing longer training paddles, including paddling around Oahu in 3 dayswith my friend Jeff Chang.


When I first found out about the California 100 race, going down the Sacramento river for 100 miles in a single day, I was immediately interested in doing it.  After planning on doing it in 2015 but being unable to pull it off, I was able to complete the race in June 2016 and finishing it was a great feeling of accomplishment for me.


Designing the board:

I thought the ideal board for long distance racing would be a catamaran and started designing the board in my head.  For me doing this race started with designing and building a custom catamaran for long distance racing.  The 18' catamaran I designed consists of two narrow hulls that are connected with two "iakos" (connecting parts)  which results in low drag, great tracking and excellent stability as all the volume is in the rails.   The biggest downside of this design is that it does not turn well, it paddles like it's on tracks and takes a lot of effort to turn. On the river this did not matter too much as most turns were gradual.  After designing the hulls on the computer I had them built at our board factory, we then installed screw inserts and built the connecting iakos (removable and adjustable with screws) at our workshop.  We finished the board just in time to ship it to California so it did not give me a lot of time to test it but I did do some testing to see which width would work best before building the iakos.

As both bows create wakes that intersect in the middle between the hulls I suspected that changing the width might have an effect on how much drag was created by the the wakes, so I tested the hulls at a total widths of 24", 26", 28", 30" and 32" wide and could not find a measurable difference in speed.  What did surprise me was that even at 24" inches the board was still quite stable and easy to paddle.  This is because all the volume is in the rails from nose to tail.  For the race I used it at 25" wide as I found it more comfortable to paddle at a narrower width which allows a shoulder width stance and keeps the paddle strokes closer to the centerline.  I did not fall off once during the race and only dropped to one knee a couple of times in the bigger riffles, so stability was not an issue for me at the 25" width even in the rough water and eddies.


One of the most challenging parts of this race was planning everything.  I shipped the board by container ship to LA.  I flew to LA, rented a car, picked up the board at the shipping warehouse on Thursday evening and started the 8 hour drive to Redding in Northern California, staying at a Motel on I5 along the way.



The list of required gear for this race was:

Mandatory Equipment List

  • Cell phone (most carriers have continuous coverage along the river)
  • Coast Guard approved type III inherently buoyant (not inflatable) vest style personal floatation device must be worn at all times while on the water to comply with event insurance.  Prone paddlers may use inflatable type III pfd’s.
  • (for 100 milers only) 2 Chemical lights, 12 hour type, fixed to bow and stern of boat for night travel (also called glow sticks)
  • (for 100 milers only) Minimum of 2 forward facing lights (Headlights or bow lights or one of each is fine. The second is a backup)
  • Space Blanket
  • Method of carrying at least 1/2 gallon of fluid per person at all times
  • 1 whistle per boat
  • First Aid Kit (you may want things like anti-diarrhea, blister treatment, pepto bismol, band aids and tape)

I did not have a support crew, luckily the race was well organized and Teresa Rogerson helped my with my pre race questions.  I packed some food in bags for each of the 3 checkpoints where I could re-fill with water and get nutrition and I arranged my car to be dropped off at the finish by a shuttle driver service.

Somehow it all worked out and I made it to the start just in time on race morning, ready to go.

Race Day:

It was a chilly but beautiful morning on race day and we launched at a boat ramp and lined up for the up-current start by the Sundial bridge in Redding, California.   After paddling upstream for a few minutes, we rounded a marker that started the 100 mile long downstream course.  The race was open to all types of paddle powered crafts with competitive and adventure class and relay and shorter course options for those that were not up to doing the 100 miles solo.  One of the teams was a fun loving crew of 5 on a SUPzilla board.





The current was swift, especially on the first part of the course and small rapids and riffles made it exciting.  The current also required constant attention as you always want to be in the part of the river that has the fastest water flow and not get caught in eddies and slower moving current.    The river split up in several places and there is a faster shortcut on the right side in the beginning of the race that I missed.

Here is a map of the start, the red line is the way I went, following the main current.  Some paddlers took the shortcut (yellow arrow) and this was certainly faster, so check it out and go this way.


For a map of the full race, check out this link that has a map and detailed data of my race from my Garmin GPS:

If you are planning to do this race, this link should be very helpful, zoom into the map to check out the detailed track, it also shows elevation, heart rate, stroke rate, 5 mile splits, and more.


The miles were ticking my quickly and I was paddling and chatting with David Gilman who was on a surfski in the adventure class and was setting a good pace for me.  We soon reached the first checkpoint at mile 22.  This page has maps of the river and shows the checkpoint locations:




Each checkpoint had food and water, which I refilled and we had to check in with a race official who made sure we were ok to keep going.   After a short break I headed back onto the river ahead of the other SUP's in the race and feeling strong.



On the second leg, I did not see anyone else on the river for long stretches of time and I started to get into a steady rhythm and focused on the current.  My legs and feet started feeling a bit numb so I tried to keep my feet and legs active and moving around.

I was surprised by how beautiful the river was with many undeveloped stretches and frequently changing scenery, some sections have canyon walls on both sides, lots of birds, including bald eagles.  At "China Rapids" the river goes though lava rocks with faster moving riffles and is especially beautiful and fun.



Dave Jensen, who won the solo SUP division in all previous races was doing this race as a relay with his wife Judy Jensen and he was starting to catch up to me which motivated me to keep a stronger pace.

The second checkpoint was about 53 miles into the race on a gravel bank in Red Bluff and I allowed myself a bit more time to eat a sandwich and took a lot longer that I probably should have in retrospect.  When you are on the river you are in the current, so even if you are not paddling you are still moving and it is very hard to make up break time on land.  This was my first time paddling this far though and I wanted to make sure I could finish though, so I did not worry about it too much.  John Acosta, the second place solo SUP paddler got to the checkpoint not too far behind me on a 14' board so that motivated me to get get back on the river.



It was getting pretty hot and I was starting to really feel exhausted but I tried to keep a steady pace.  I splashed myself with cool river water to keep cool and kept drinking and snacking along the way.  I just kept focusing on reaching the third and last check point and tried not to think how many more miles I had to go.  Reaching the third checkpoint after about 10 hours of paddling was a big relief  and I know that after about 80 miles of paddling, I now had "only" 20 more to go, almost there!

I refilled my water (but not all the way apparently) and did not spend too much time at the third checkpoint.  The last part of the race was kind of a blur, the river kept curving through the landscape and it was often hard to pick the fastest line, I just tried to follow the main flow of the water and always had to pay attention to the current.  The field was very spread out by then so I did usually did not have anyone else to follow.  I ran out of water with 5 more miles to go but I knew the finish was close and I started to get a second wind and picked up the pace a bit.  I finally finished race, the longest time and distance I had ever paddled in 12 hours and 51 minutes.   Hitting the beach at the finish felt good, a great sense of accomplishment.  I had to walk around for a while to get all the feeling back in my feet but my body felt good, considering, I did it!

This is a link to the GPS data from my Garmin watch that shows the course on a satellite map, speed, stroke rate, heart rate (not accurate when it gets wet), and more.  My average speed was 7.7 mph including the stops at the check points.  I'm estimating that without any current my average speed over 13 hours would have been only about 4-4.5 mph.

John Acosta came in on his 14' board about 20 minutes later and looked exhausted, like he left everything on the river.




The mood at the finish was great and I wanted to stick around longer to watch the other finishers but I also wanted to get some rest.



The 5 man SUPzilla team finished in 16 hours 38 minutes, before darkness, a great accomplishment.




The awards ceremony the next morning was a fun event with good food, music, drinks, and great people.


Rivers for Change also held a river cleanup on Sunday afternoon but I was already on my way back to LA by that time.  I packed up and shipped the board on Monday and caught a flight back to Honolulu, all together a great weekend.  Now that I know I can paddle 100 miles, I want to do it again and do it faster.   I also feel like I'm ready for even longer distances.  I have been following Bart de Zwart's ultra distance racing posts on and am now planning to do one of the ultra distance multi day races next year, the Yukon River race sounds like another awesome adventure.


Photo credits: Cebolla Mendes, Lisa Thomas, Lexi Thomas, Tom Gomes.  For more photos, please check out the California 100 facebook page.


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