Living for the Downwinder

Towns endorse August paddleboard race: Rockport, Camden, Lincolnville, Belfast

Posted:  Friday, April 19, 2013 - 8:30am

MIDCOAST — Four area towns have given the nod to the first-ever paddleboard race along the western shores of Penobscot Bay, to take place over two days in mid-August. Organizers are hoping it becomes an annual event, and serves as a building block for a local outdoor adventure economy.

The Lobster SUP CUP will be a rugged 25-mile water run, in any weather except a major blow. Prevailing winds in August are still from the southwest; however, even if they shift around to the northwest and in the face of the paddleboarders, paddlers will stand on the boards and persevere up the bay.

'We live for downwinders in the bay. We have more wind fall through spring so the dark/cold months are usually the best for downwinders. I have had to kick ice of the deck at times.'

"It would have to be pretty much a hurricane [to not race on the bay]," said Thor Emory, one of the race organizers and owner of ThorFinn Expeditions, based at Lincolnville Beach. And if conditions were to be so bad, an alternate course has been set for Megunticook Lake and Norton Pond.

The race is scheduled for Aug. 10 and 11, and organizers anticipate 50 to 60 participants. The course begins at Rockport Harbor, continues to Camden, with a spin around the inner harbor there, and then on to Lincolnville Beach. There, paddlers will haul out their boards for the night, with offsite parking at Chez Michele's restaurant. The next day, they will begin again and race to the end at Belfast Harbor. Throughout the weekend, there will be other events, including a short, family-fun, race in Belfast for racers and others to try out paddleboards.

In Belfast, the race will conclude at Heritage Park, where there will also be vendor tents and music. The event coincides with the 10-year anniversary part of Three Tides and the Marshall Wharf Brewing Company, as well as Lincolnville's annual Wing Ding public breakfast.

Lincolnville selectmen have agreed to allow Emory to use the Beach parking lot, if needed. Emory said vendors would be setting up on private property of Rick McLaughlin's at the southern end of the beach. The selectmen had met with Emory twice at regularly scheduled selectmen's meetings in March, and consulted with their town attorney about whether the deed to the town-owned parking lot prohibited commercial activity.

The town had acquired the parking lot, which fronts the beach, in 1942. In that deed, the land there is intended for the use and enjoyment of the public, and that the natural beauty of the beach be maintained. Furthermore, according to the deed, the parking lot should never be used for commercial purposes and no revenue is to be derived from it in any way. However, Attorney Sally Daggett told the town April 2 that the deed language did not issue a command or requirement; therefore, the town may, but need not to, comply with that 1942 wish.

Like Lincolnville, Rockport, Camden and Belfast have also endorsed the Lobster SUP CUP.

Stand up paddling (SUP) is a growing worldwide sport that uses long and buoyant surfboards with one single-blade paddle to maneuver through flat water or along the waves. Paddlers stand on the boards to propel themselves forward, and they do not need waves.

Ideal conditions on Penobscot Bay, said Emory, would be somewhat calm, but with a tailwind push from the southwest. Lobster SUP CUP is scheduled to coincide with optimum tides and currents. There will be several chase boats on the course.

The sport originated in Hawaii in the 1950s, and has spread from the Pacific across the globe. Emory and friends who are helping him organize the Lobster SUP CUP want this race to become a national annual event.

"There are very few multi-day events," said Emory, who believes that Maine's natural beauty and coastal terrain will draw competitors from around the world and establish Penobscot Bay as a strong outdoor destination.

"Compared to most of the races in the region — even the country — Midcoast Maine is pristine, and is a perfect place to race," said Emory. "We are mostly undiscovered by the SUP community. The SUP CUP aims to change that. This race is designed to draw the best paddlers in New England and beyond."

Emory loves the sport for its simplicity and physicality, and the ability to explore waters — lakes, ponds, oceans — flat or with surf.

"I have spent a lot of time outdoors doing a lot of different activities and I tend to do the ones that suit a particular area," he said. "When I lived out West I lived for backcountry skiing and playing in the mountains. Here it has become stand up. Midcoast Maine is a world class area for the sport and as an athlete it allows me to push my personal limits. I am an avid racer but I am more drawn to engaging in some ambitious adventure paddles here in Maine and further north. Last summer, I circumnavigated Mount Desert Island (47-miles) in under 10 hours, nonstop, and largely at night. My current goal is to get the right conditions for a big downwinder from Matinicus to Vinalhaven and to film it."

While the race is a community event, as well as niche competition for outdoor adventurers, it is also a chance to raise awareness and funds for Operation Rebound, a program of the San Diego-based Challenged Athletes Foundation, which provides active and athletic opportunities for American military personnel, veterans and first responders with permanent physical disabilities. 

Race organizers, including Mark Benjamin, chose the nonprofit because of its accessibility and effective work. Benjamin, a former reporter for Time, who covered the stories and issues faced by military veterans for many years in Washington, D.C., said he wanted the Lobster SUP CUP to benefit war veterans returning with physical and mental wounds.

Emory agreed, and said he has worked various branches of the military, Navy SEALs and veterans, on Outward Bound courses, when he worked for that organization. He wants proceeds from the race to contribute to a worthy cause. Two to four athletes from Operation Rebound will compete in the Lobster SUP CUP, Emory said.

SUP Downwinder April EDT. from jonathan laurence on Vimeo.


Last week, Emory and others tested the waters for the 2013 season by paddling over to North Haven from Rockport Harbor, an adventure that took a little more than 90 minutes.

"The goal was to go for a Downwinder and film it," said Emory. "A downwinder is essentially open water surfing on a stand up paddle board. You ride with the wind/waves at your back. Penobscot Bay is perfect for downwinders because there is enough fetch (distance for waves to build up) in a variety of wind directions. The wind was westerly so we needed power vessel support to get home and to use as a video platform. The SUPs we were using are specially designed in Hawaii for Downwinders. They are long (mine is 17- feet) and have rudders that are foot-controlled."

That day, the crew included paddlers Tony Fitch, wearing shorts, and Emory, in a red drysuit. Rob Iserbyt was there with his boat, while  Jon Laurence shot video, and Hampton Kew acted as support.

The wind was blowing out of the west at 20-25 knots and gusting higher, and the air temperature was 30 degrees F. The water temperature, 39 degrees.

They paddle year-round, in all conditions. They SUP at Popham Beach, do a lot of training/touring in Penobscot Bay, generally between Rockland and Belfast, and, said Emory: "live for downwinders in the bay. We have more wind fall through spring so the dark/cold months are usually the best for downwinders. I have had to kick ice of the deck at times. We wear drysuits out in the bay in the winter and stay really warm because SUP is so physical. SUP is a year-round sport in Maine for the property equipped and skilled."

Editorial Director Lynda Clancy can be reached at; 706-6657.