The Race to Alaska is North America’s longest human and wind powered race. Last year, Karl Kruger, a 45-year-old American living in the San Juan Islands, Washington State, took part but was obliged to withdraw when his board broke. This year, Karl would became the first paddler to finish the race. He crossed the finish line on June 25 after 14 days, 6 hours and 17 minutes, over a distance of 750 miles (1207 kilometers), from Port Townsend (Washington State) to Ketchikan (Alaska).
Hello Karl, can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell us about your SUP background?
I have been paddling most of my life. My father was an extremely good canoeist, and he trained me in canoe paddling in whitewater, flat-water and heavy conditions. I started board sports like surfing and windsurfing back in the 80s-90s. I started SUP paddling around 2012…and I instantly fell in love with the stroke and the stance.
I now SUP surf, flatwater and enjoy as many downwind days as possible. My wife, Jess with our daughter Dagny and I run a sailing charter business in the San Juan Islands in Washington State.
We live aboard our 61′ C&C ketch, Winkapew. I paddle almost every day, at least a little bit. It is my sanity and place I go to find peace. I also enjoy racing occasionally.
You are the first paddler to finish the Race to Alaska, can you tell us about the race and how did you feel while paddling?
The R2AK is an incredible event. The coast is remote, wild, beautiful and unforgiving. I paddled 766 miles in 15 days. I saw conditions ranging from perfect glass to five and six foot wind waves, two meter swell, dead calm and also fifty knot breeze during a gale in Johnstone Strait.
I saw a little of everything. My training was very intense, and physically I felt very prepared for the race. The mental preparation was appropriate also, because I never had trouble keeping on paddling. The longest day I had in terms of duration was sixteen hours…the longest in terms of mileage was seventy two miles. My average day was fifty miles. I enjoyed the trip very much.
There were days when the difficulty was extreme, but I focused my attention on my surroundings to take my mind off my difficulties. I saw a lot of wildlife including whales, bears, mountain lion tracks, dolphin, porpoise and many others.
Last year you had to quit after 100 miles because your board broke. Why did you decide to attempt it again?
It was very difficult for me to quit last year, because my plan was working so incredibly well…except for the board. I was in about fourth place when I had to quit. I viewed this race like I had some unfinished business I needed to take care of. I did not want the regret of not completing what I had set out to do.
How did you prepare for this challenge?
I went to see my personal trainer, who also trains MMA fighters, three times a week. I was sore from my workouts with him for two years straight.
I paddled around the island we live on, Orcas Island, in all conditions…it is about 42 miles around Orcas. I worked through my gear exhaustively to make sure I had the best/ lightest gear posssible. I also raced locally as much as possible to improve my stroke as much as possible before the race.
You spent almost 15 days on the sea, how did you manage to eat, sleep…?
I am sponsored by Hammer Nutrition, and solely used their products for my fueling needs for the race. It was the lightest and physically best option for me. The potential options for resupplying up the coast are poor at best, so I knew I needed to carry all of my fuel with me from the first day.
I slept on shore every night, and occasionally took naps during day while I waited for a tide to turn. I brought a bivy sac and a very light pyramid tent to put up if the rain was heavy. I slept about 4 hours at night.
What was your feeling when you crossed the finish line?
It was deeply emotional. I worked really hard to make this happen…and my wife and daughter have as well. They have been incredibly supportive since the beginning. This was a family project. I was VERY happy to see them.
There were maybe 40 people there at the finish when I came in. Nobody knew what to say to me, so it was great that Jess and Dagny were there to help me through that time…it was a little awkward. It was a long paddle, and it is almost a shock to find yourself at the end of it.
It is hard to stop after so many miles of putting everything you’ve got into that paddle. A lot of people thought I was crazy for trying. I felt proud that I had proven them wrong…in a big way.