East Coast Surfski Championships (L2L)

This race is one my favorite race of the season because of the race organization, competition, sponsorship, venue, and race course. We had roughly 67 surfskis registered in all the classes including the 13 mile race and the 7 mile race. We also had 40 racers in other classes of watercraft from sea kayaks, to rowing shells, and sups.

Gary Williams, Race Director

Nate Humberston getting warmed up.

Chris Laughlin and Eric Costanzo with their smiling game faces on!

Betsy and I drove down on Friday only to arrive at the hotel the same time as the Midwest crew made up of Rob Hartman, Greg Greene, Denny Paull, and Greg Hintz. As these guys piled out of the camper van, it reminded me of a Western movie when the train box car door opens and the famed Texas Rangers leap out of the box car on their horses on their way to track down train robbers. If you outfitted these guys in Texas Ranger attire, hat, boots, holstered 45’s they would fit right in. All are fit, well over 6ft, lean, and looked ready for action! They did not disappoint.

Men’s Field

Rob Hartman from Holland, Michigan, who placed 2nd last year only to top USA paddler Austin Keiffer, took top honors this year by over a two minute margin and won the FastPaddler.com sponsored Hot Spot. Wisconsin native, Erik Borgnes, always a top contender in any race of any distance in any conditions, came back for more too. Erik took 3rd place and was in the hunt with 2nd place finisher Nat Humberston. In July, Erik placed 2nd at the Blackburn Challenge. In 4th place was Denny Paull from Cheybogan, MI who edged out local favorite Greg Lesher. A little further down the results at 13th was another Midwesterner, Greg Hintz from Pestokey,MI and to round out this crew of superb and multi-talented paddlers was Greg Greene in 15th place. So as you can see these boys must have been singing the Tower of Power song “We Came To Play” all the way from Michigan though they interchanged the word “Play” to “We came to Win”.

I assumed with out breaking out the map that these boys trained at least periodically together to get so fast like we do here in New England.  Well as they pointed out to me Michigan is BIG state so each are on their on training schedule since separated by 3 to 5 hours. As Gary Williams, Race Director, said at the awards ceremony, “we hope you will come back but bring more of your friends”.


Top 3: Erik, Rob, Nate with sponsor Dave Thomas of Stellar

Taking 6th place, five seconds behind out Greg Lesher, was long time canoe paddler Paul Facteau, who to my knowledge has only been paddling in the ocean three times and one of those was with Tim and I a few weeks ago on the Ride the Bull course along with women’s finisher Leah McConaughey(only 2 times in ocean). While the Midwest boys looked ex Collegiate rowers, Paul and Leah looked they just completed the World Cross Fit Games. While they did not have too much ocean time, clearly they too, are fit as a fiddle and will get even faster with more bucket time. Leah was off her game due to sickness, but she toughed it out and will be visiting the ocean or at least the Hudson River in NYC, to get more ski time. Hope to see these guys at some of our races next year. 2018 could be their year!

Joe Shaw, Leah, Tim D, Paul in Jamestown, RI

Dave Thomas of Stellar Kayaks and Surfski were the major sponsor of the race and have been for years providing equal awards for the men’s and women field due in large part Pam Boteler’s efforts.  Thanks to Dave for sponsoring this race. Without his help, the race would not be what it is today. Stellar had two sponsored paddlers Joe White(14th) and Tom Murn(11th) along with owner and designer Dave Thomas. I believe this was Tom’s longest paddling race in sometime, more used to K1 racing than ski racing. Nevertheless, Tom is a quick study and is enjoying himself. A few weeks ago at the Battle of the Bay Race in Jamestown in big conditions, Tom placed 3rd despite this being his first downwind race. Tom also led the Paddling Clinic the day after the East Coast Surfski Champs. I am always glad to see Joe White from Ohio who makes it a family affair traveling to the race with his parents.

Stellar Team: Tom Murn, Joe White, Dave Thomas

FastPaddlder.com, Chris and Leslie Chappell also provided the Hot Spot sponsorship along with Elite Ocean Sports, Mark McKenzie and Mark Smith. Achilles International, Vaikobi(pfd’s, paddling clothing), Norwalk Rowing, and PTX Partners were sponsors as well.  The HOT spot was won by Rob Hartman and Pam Boteler.


Rob Hartman, Chris Chappell, Pam Boteler

Womens Field

In the Women’s Field, Pam Boteler has upped her game over the past year to include some serious indoor rowing time. Pam won her division easily despite just completing the Adrirondrack 90 miler in a C2 the previous week.  I guess Pam’s recovery time is pretty good, I would say! Pam also won the Women’s Hot Spot provided by Elite Ocean Sport. Fiona Cousins, a newcomer to racing skis but not to kayaks placed 2nd. We hope to see more of Fiona at the races. Coming in 3rd just behind Fiona was Leslie Chappell, who enthusiastically joked with me before the race, she had her hydration system all figured out. A few years ago Leslie winged it at the Cape Code Downwind Race despite some hydration set up tips from me.  Local surfski paddler Mary Beth Gangloff placed 5th on an off day for her and Leah placed 5th.

Pam warming up to her victory.

Leslie finish her race.

My Race

2017 East Coast Surfski Champs from Wesley Echols on Vimeo.

Lining up in my ski of choice for this race the Ion 3G, I got off to a good start. After the first half mile racers are trying to figure out how they feel and who to draft off of trying to avoid the dreaded “no man’s land”.Doing all the work yourself most often results in a slower time. I was on Joe’s wash for a short time and by Peaks Light House the packs had begun to form. I caught Chris Chappell shortly after this and paddled side by side with Jim Hoffman slowly reeling us in on a tighter inshore line. At the 3 mile mark, I was struggling with the heat and negative thoughts began to seep in. Chris dropped me as did Jim but I was able to maintain my heart rate target though it was elevated due to the heat and my allergy medication. At my mile 6, I spotted Rob Hartman on his return leg, mile 8 for him, with a sizable lead. After turning the around the light house with a breeze in my face, I began to feel “normal” and found my familiar race groove. At this point I could see Chris minutes ahead of me, slowly gaining on Tim Dwyer on a much wider line than my close to island line.

Chris’ Nelo 550 and my Think Ion 3G ready to go!

Chris and Wesley

My closest contact was with Alex Ambotas who was 30 yards ahead of me on a slightly wider line. My line was the shortest line so I knew it was just a matter of time when Alex had to bear left and we would meet. So for the last 2 miles Alex and I were within 5 yards of each other both in our Think skis. As we approach the small rip, I upped my tempo hoping to gain on Alex in this swirling water. To my surprise though, I almost capsized. I applied the hardest brace I can ever remember doing in a surfski on the right side. For a half second, I prepared for a capsize THEN in the next half second I realize I was not going in and thought Wow I’m upright! Yeah. At this point Alex was still next too me and Jim Hoffman who we had been gaining on, found his surfing skills paying off, catching the tiny bumps and putting a good lead on Alex and myself.

Wesley, Alex

With Alex and I paddling side by side now, I decided to maintain until I reached the final orange turn buoy and accelerate for the 2 minutes to the finish. Alex hung for about 30 seconds then I opened the gap. I was happy Alex and I were that close since we both pushed harder the last 3 miles than we might have if alone.  My goal was to break the 2 hour mark which I did not but overall I was somewhat satisfied with my race.

After the race I caught up with Dave Thomas who brought me another pair of boat stands and Cliff Roach of GoodBoy Kayaks(VBars) to get another set of detachable Vbars. I talked boats with Greg Greene and Erik briefly as we made our way to the hamburgers and then to the awards. Gary Williams and company got the results up early due to their superb organization and we all appreciated the hard work Gary, the volunteers, family, sponsors, and the all the paddlers who make this race the favorite. Thanks to the paddlers who traveled great distances(Midwest guys), Nate and others to enjoy the New England race hospitality. We hope everyone will come back and bring a paddling friend(sup, kayak, rower, surfskier) or two to share in this event in 2018.

P.S. This years shirts were Great!


Wesley Photos from Race

Part of New England Crew:
Chris S, Leslie,Kirk,Bill K(winner SS20 class), Mary Beth, Bob.