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Not About the Paddle by Jodie Nelson

Not About the Paddle! by Jodie Nelson, JettyGirl Online Surf Magazine

Presented by

Bridget Saeman and Jodie Nelson
Bridget Saeman & Jodie Nelson
©Bryce Saeman

To me it almost had nothing to do with the paddle, but it had everything to do with setting out to accomplish something that was super intimidating, that was unknown to me, something I knew I had a good chance of failing at, but then going ahead and doing it anyways, and slowly but surely proving myself wrong.

--Jodie Nelson

Not About the Paddle! by Jodie Nelson - Photos by Bryce Saeman

I've done some crazy things throughout my surfing career, launched myself into some pretty big mounds of ocean, searched out some waves in the middle of the ocean, crossed many continents in search of new waves, however, what I did on Sunday March 29th, 2009 was the most physically and mentally grueling thing I have ever done in my life, the challenge, Stand Up Paddle from Catalina Island to Dana Point harbor. Total miles if going in a straight line 39.8. However, the conditions were less than ideal with strong winds from the south blowing us off course and a mix of northwest and south swell added in. The day started at 3 am when I awoke to head down to the Dana Point Harbor. I met up with my teammate Bridget Saeman, her brother and our captain for the day Bryce Saeman, we gave a ride to a fellow SUP racer who was racing on a three-man team and missed his ride the day before. We headed off in the pitch dark towards Catalina at 4 am. After a very rough ride we arrived in Avalon at 6:30 am with just an hour and a half before start time.

We hadn't yet registered for the race as we only just found an escort boat two days prior to the race so it was touch and go whether or not we were even going to be able do the race. My nerves were going nuts before the race, as there was at least one other girl team. On our team it was just the two of us on a 14-foot race board. The other girl team was a team of 4 girls on a 18 foot race board. So they had a huge advantage. Bridget and I had worked pretty hard training for this race. Originally I thought we were going to be the only girls team. To date I'm pretty sure there has never been a girl team to ever do this race. So, I was originally doing the race just to be part of the first girl team to ever accomplish this feat. When I found out that there was another girl's team, I was in it to WIN.

Our strategy was to alternate every 20 minutes. We decided to have Bridget start and I would finish. Bridget got off to a great start putting some distance between us and the other girl team and even took the lead on some of the guy teams. As we got going we continued to break far away from the other team. Once we got away from the protection of the island, the south winds really started to kick in. The only thing I could focus on throughout the race was 20 min. It was the longest 20 minuets while trying to sprint every time I was in the water, even though my body was telling me otherwise. And it was the shortest 20 minutes when it was my turn to rest on the boat. My brain couldn't quite wrap itself around the distance or the total amount of time we'd be paddling or else I would freak out. At one point in the race I had a bit of a meltdown. When I could no longer see land behind me, could not yet see land in front of me, and the wind was blowing so hard I could only paddle on my left side and I still felt like I was going to end up in Long Beach. Our captain, Bridget's brother Bryce kept reassuring me that I was on course. However, my mind was having a meltdown. At one point I got in the boat after we switched off and I threw my paddle. I was also really out of it as it was really hard to eat and keep my body fueled property. Food made me feel like I wanted to vomit; only I knew that if I didn't fuel my body I would be in really bad shape.

Being out in the middle of the ocean like that, you feel so insignificant. You start thinking about weird stuff like how huge the ocean is below and around you. How many creatures must be lurking beneath, you are always kind of seeing things in your peripheral wondering not if your going to see a big shark but when. Then there is our escort boat, there were times where it was really far away from me and I would start thinking what if a huge whitey just showed up right next to me, what would I do? I kept trying to prepare myself for the worst. The only mysterious thing we saw was humungous sea lion, his head was HUGE! We couldn't quite figure out what it was for a while but as we got closer to it we noticed that it was a huge beast just checking us out. There were a couple bird incidents where from a distance you couldn't quite tell what it was, it gets your heart going that's for sure. We paddled through a pod of common dolphins they are so cool! I was hoping we'd come across a mega pod, those are super cool it's like miles of dolphins as far as the eye can see. But this little pod was pretty insane. Once we could see land in the distance things became a little more positive. I got through my rough time, but then it was Bridget's turn to crash. She was in pretty bad shape, as we got closer. It was so hard to paddle when the wind is howling and each time you look up it doesn't ever look like you are getting any closer. I tried my hardest not to look at the land so that I wouldn't get discouraged.

We did a pretty good job staying on course. However the very last leg we were just a little off and had to paddle about 2 miles or so straight into the howling south wind to round a buoy and head into the final stretch into the harbor. I took over the last leg and once I rounded that buoy and had the wind at my back, I almost wanted to cry I was so relieved that it was almost over. I was also finally able to paddle on both sides. As before I could only paddle on my left in order to fight the wind. I don't know how I did it but I pretty much sprinted the entire way to the finish line. I really just wanted to get the heck off of that board and I knew that the faster I paddled the sooner I'd be done!

What an experience, I was so out of it after the race I couldn't really talk or function. I am happy I set my mind to do something so huge. To me it almost had nothing to do with the paddle, but it had everything to do with setting out to accomplish something that was super intimidating, that was unknown to me, something I knew I had a good chance of failing at, but then going ahead and doing it anyways, and slowly but surely proving myself wrong.

I want to thank Chuck Patterson for talking me into doing this crazy race. I want to thank my teammate Bridget for motivating me, training, getting the boat, and for having a great attitude. Big props to Bryce Saeman, for the willingness to spend all day on the boat driving us, and for cheering us on. Bushy for letting us use his baby (the boat). HOBIE for letting us train on their boards and getting us an insane 14-foot carbon fiber board for the race. Meg and Dave Chun for custom making me some amazing KIALOA paddles. H2O AUDIO for providing us with amazing set ups for our Ipods. There is no way I could have done that race without music. My friend Steve for filming. GO PRO for providing us with killer cameras. My sister for getting me an amazing hour long massage the day after the race. And most of all I want to thank my son Taylor for being a huge inspiration, for cheering me on, and hanging on the boat all day!

Note: To learn more about Jodie Nelson, visit her website at


Additional Resources:

Jodie Nelson's website


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Caption Index - All photos © Bryce Saeman

1a. 4am. Getting ready to hop in the boat and head over to Catalina for an 8am start. Smart people would have gone over the day before.
1b. Captain Bryce Saeman, Bridget's brother. If it weren't for him we wouldn't have been able to do the race! Thanks Bryce!
2. This was about 5 minutes before the start of the race when I realized I must be crazy for doing this!
3. So many nerves were going right about now. So many unknowns. Were we going to see sharks, were we going to take the lead? Was I going to throw up, was this really happening or just a dream?
4. Leaving Catalina behind...
5. The last sign of land for quite some time. There was a long stretch where we couldn't see any land, any other boats, nothing! That's when I had my meltdown!
6. Alone.
7. Finishing strong.
8. Catalina to Dana Point Harbor. 39.8 miles. Mission accomplished.


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