Usually we prefer to stay in the background when we're covering one of Cleveland's waterfront stories but during Sunday's third annual Santa Paddle, we found ourselves right in the middle of a Cleveland version of "The Old Man and the Sea". Well, kinda...
Our tale begins with Nalu Standup Paddle & Surfs third annual Santa Paddle, an event that has become a yearly opportunity to bring Christmas cheer to beleaguered Cleveland Browns fans suffering from yet another miserable season (the Browns have limped to a 1-16 record since the last Santa Paddle (December 11, 2016)). But little did we realize we'd soon be limping along with those loyal fans.
Seasoned paddlers knew the forecast winds and waves might make for challenging conditions but everyone had wetsuits on (under their reindeer outfits) PFDs and leashes, so, with the classic holiday tale Rudolph The Red-Nose Reindeer in mind, Santa's sleigh wasn't going to be held back by inclement weather!
The planned 1.5 mile Santa Paddle route started at Lean Dog's floating offices by the USS Cod, taking paddlers around the north side of Voinovich Park and loop into North Coast Harbor for a few passes by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Great Lakes Science Center before looping back to Lean Dog.
Local media knew a good story when they saw it as Cleveland 19's Denise Zarella did a stand-up as cleveland.com videographer Zachariah Durr shot vid (click on the below images for their stories) while the paddlers assembled their gear. As everyone's cameras were rolling, the Santa Paddle's safety boat made an elegant turn into the floating dock with a reindeer in tow. Note how well the boat's motor was working in the video to the right!
Cleveland 19 Story
All seemed normal as appx. 20 stand-up paddleboarders and kayakers headed north followed by the safety boat. But it wasn't long before the first sign of a challenging day appeared as winds quickly whipped Santa's mop of white hair off his head into Lake Erie. As Santa (Nalu's owner, Bill Cochrane) looped around to get a replacement hat, it became clear the combination of wind and waves would make things challenging for the paddlers once they approached the NE corner of Voinovich Park. One two-person canoe towing a Christmas Tree mounted on an adaptive stand-up paddleboard (more on that later) described how gusting winds hitting the tree acted like a brake on their forward progress. It was a reminder how proper planning and preparation for a paddle on the constantly changing Lake Erie is essential.
At the same time as paddlers rounded Voinovich Park's corner, the safety boat we and the cleveland.com videographer were riding in experienced a fuel hiccup. "No problem" we thought as the boat had a back-up fuel tank that was quickly switched over. But an electrical problem popped up and as our captain skillfully triaged the problem, northwest winds began to push our small center console boat east towards the Burke Lakefront Airport seawall rocks. We were within sight of a Coast Guard patrol boat but they were rightly focused on making sure the Santa Paddle posse safely navigated the parade loop before turning their attention to us. It soon became clear the balance of our time on the water would be rightly focused on keeping the boat's hull off the rocks. The below cleveland.com video does a super job telling the balance of the Santa Paddle story!
Thankfully after an hour on the water, everyone arrived safely back at the Lean Dog docks with plenty of sea stories to share. Speaking of stories, we had to find out more about the newest addition to the Santa Paddle conga line, a festively adorned Christmas Tree affixed to the top of a paddleboard designed for adaptive paddlers. The board was the brainchild of a chance meeting between Mark Dietz at 3 Trackers of Ohio and Nalu Standup Paddle and Surf's Bill Cochrane (aka Santa) at an adaptive water skiing event in North Ridgeville. The two got to talking about: 1) 3 Trackers' 40 years of experience promoting adaptive recreational sports to persons of all ages with a variety of physical disabilities and 2) Cochrane's desire to expand Nalu's offerings to provide more opportunities for disabled people to experience paddleboarding on local waterways.
That conversation led Cochrane to donate a paddlebooard to Dietz who used his knowledge of adaptive equipment over two days of cutting and thermo-forming PVC pipe to create a system of outriggers, a chair frame and a sling designed to accommodate a variety of sitting positions.
"Paddleboards have a higher center of gravity compared to kayaks which creates its own set of design challenges" Dietz said. "The right equipment and positioning allows us to bridge the disability so we can mainstream handicapped individuals. Our challenge is getting clients properly balanced and positioned". Dietz added "We can't bind people to the equipment, they have to be able to come out freely (wearing their flotation device) if they were ever to flip over".
Dietz and Cochrane are aiming for an expanded adaptive paddleboard program in 2018 and if you'd like more information on how to become involved or participate, you can e-mail Cochrane at firstname.lastname@example.org. With this year's Santa Paddle under our belt, we wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday Season