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Going To Alaska The Hard Way: On A Stand Up Paddleboard

Tom Banse
Northwest News Network
This 17-foot paddleboard is Karl Kruger's chosen vessel to get him to Ketchikan in the Race to Alaska.

The madcap flotilla of engineless boats entered in the Race to Alaska is safely moored in Victoria. Stage one of the 750-mile adventure race from Port Townsend, Washington, to Ketchikan is in the books.

The 40-mile crossing from Port Townsend to Victoria served as a qualifying stage for the Race to Alaska. The race re-starts at noon on Sunday. There are two mandatory checkpoints along the 710-mile Inside Passage route from Victoria to Ketchikan, but otherwise captains can choose how to balance exposure to open water, sheltered straits and currents as they wish.

Forty teams cast off from Port Townsend shortly after dawn Thursday to contest the full race. The vessels of choice ranged from speedy trimarans and sloops to custom rowboats and daysailers. Eight competitors are attempting the endurance race solo.

One competitor stands out. Forty-four-year-old Karl Kruger of Orcas Island, could have crewed on one of the many sailboats entered in the Race to Alaska. But he's gotten into the relatively young sport of stand up paddleboarding lately.

"It was actually my wife's idea,” Kruger said. “She said, 'Why don't you try paddling it.' It just stuck. Oh my God, the idea lodged in my brain. I couldn't get it out and I knew I had to do that."

Kruger and his wife run a sailing charter business to make their living.

He said he's "been sore for six months straight" getting ready for the physical and mental endurance challenge.

"I'm small and very alone,” Kruger said. “So there is a massive psychological component to this, I know. I feel prepared for that. Having spent my 20s as a climbing guide and climbing in the mountains I'm used to feeling small."

Kruger travels with gear and food bags strapped onto his 17-and-a-half foot long paddleboard. He estimates he could reach the finish line in Ketchikan in 10 days, but more likely two to three weeks.

Kruger is the only entrant on a stand up paddleboard. The satellite tracker attached to Kruger's paddleboard showed him making about five knots -- about 6 miles per hour -- across the strait to Victoria Thursday.

The Race to Alaska was conceived by its organizers at the Northwest Maritime Center to inspire greater connection with local waters. It purposely has few rules. The notable ones are "no motors" and "no support," as in no chase boats or relief crews.

A 32-foot catamaran competing as Team MAD Dog Racing blazed across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to win bragging rights as the first stage winner Thursday. The first team to reach Ketchikan claims the race's top prize of $10,000. Second place takes home a set of steak knives.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.