On June 25, Karl Kruger became the first standup paddler to complete the Race to Alaska (R2AK)—A 750-mile, man-powered expedition race from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska. Among the 62 teams entered in this year’s race, on vessels from sea
"The race was 15 days and 766 miles total. And I only lost 12 pounds!"
For the first R2AK in 2015, I was on a team with two other guys and we were going to race a trimaran. The owner backed out and I was left without a ride. I started thinking about how the Native Americans up here didn’t sail, but paddled everywhere because it was the most reliable form of transportation. I’ve been standup paddling and racing SUPS for about six years and one day my wife looked at me and was like, “Why don’t you standup paddle the R2AK?” It just exploded in my brain and I knew that was what I needed to do.
I signed up for last year’s race and made it through the qualifying leg, 42 miles in super rough water. At the end of the day my board failed with a ton of stress fractures. I was in fourth place when I had to bail.
This year I gave it another shot with a solid new board custom-built by Joe Bark. I led the pack for the first day and averaged around 50 miles a day for the rest of the race. The longest day I did was 72 miles in 14 hours. Other days I didn’t make much progress because of the crazy tidal currents in a lot of those channels.
All my food came with me from the start. It was all science, tons of calories focused for athletic performance—energy chews, gels, recovery shakes and bars. My daily budget was 3500 calories, which isn’t enough but I couldn’t carry any more weight. It wasn’t fun in terms of food, but my body felt really good.
Mentally, I felt well prepared. My strategy for getting through the tough mental spells was to just focus on why I was doing this, why I love SUP. It’s such an unfiltered way of experiencing the environment. I’d focus on the raindrops hitting the water, the whales breaching, stuff like that. I let the environment carry me along.
The long portion of the race from Victoria to Ketchikan took me 14 days, five hours and 17 minutes. I paddled 722 miles. With the qualifier, the race was 15 days and 766 miles total. And I only lost 12 pounds!
Coming into the finish I swear I could smell food from 10 miles outside Ketchikan. After two weeks alone buried in this incredible experience I was so deep that to finally end it was shocking. Hundreds of people came to watch me finish, which blew my mind. My wife and daughter came out on a boat to meet me and it was crazy emotional. Crossing the actual finish line was a little awkward because there were so many people and no one knew what to say. I’d just paddled 750 miles and wasn’t ready to have a conversation (laughs). I can honestly say I had the time of my life out there.