WEATHER OR NOT – The 2009 Mayor's Cup
New York City Mayor's Cup Kayak Championships organizer Ray Fusco has a tendency of getting more than he wishes for when he assembles some of the world's best surfski paddlers and dozens of recreational racers for a 28-mile race around Manhattan. "The elite international guys want something with a bit of challenge," says Fusco, who hosted the fourth annual Mayor's Cup on October 18. "They want a bit of bounce on the water. It's part of the allure." This year, however, the conditions were too much for all but 30 competitors. Still, Fusco says he and most racers—whether they participated or not—are chalking up the event as a success.
After the 2008 Mayor's Cup was cancelled due to strong winds and rough water , the pressure was on for Fusco to make the 2009 race happen—weather or not. Fusco's contingency plan this year involved red bibs to be handed out exclusively to elite-class paddlers capable of handling big-water conditions. When the weather for the 2009 event proved to be even uglier than in 2008, Fusco put his back-up plan into action. "The weather was definitely the big headline once again," says Fusco. On race day, 30 to 40 mile per hour winds whipped the Hudson River into a mess of breaking five- to nine-foot waves. "It was a pretty brutal nor'easter," adds Fusco, "the worst possible wind for this race."
In a race report on surfskiracing.com, veteran competitor Erik Borgnes recounts of having to perform "Hail Mary" paddle braces in breaking six-foot seas on the Hudson River. Later on, Borgnes was tossed from his boat in the confused currents of Hell's Gate, where the Harlem and East rivers converge. Borgnes self-rescued and pushed on, finishing the race in 13th place. In email correspondence, he described the 2009 race as "legendary."
"Had this year's race been cancelled for the elite/open class racers, it would likely have been the coup de grace for the Mayor's Cup as a prestigious international kayak race," says Bornes. "The fact that the top paddlers were allowed to race and didn't have any mishaps, I think both shocked the Coast Guard and police boats and put this race back on the 'big races' radar screen."
In the end, South African Sean Rice topped the field with a time of three hours, 36-minutes; former Olympic gold medalist Greg Barton was the top U.S. competitor, finishing in three hours, 45 minutes and placing fourth. But the big story was that " we were able to make an event happen in a huge storm," says Fusco. "It's a huge win for us. We've shown everybody that elite paddlers have the skills to handle these kind of conditions, no questions asked." – Conor Mihell