Core Commentary: Karl Kruger’s 766-mile SUP Race 2 Alaska

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In June 2017 Puget Sound-based sailor Karl Kruger set out to compete in a 750-mile human-powered race from Port Townsend, WA to Ketchikan, AK via SUP. 14 days, five hours and 17 long minutes later, he became the first and only person ever to complete the R2AK on a standup paddleboard. Photo: Suzanne Rothmeyer

Kruger shares his unprecedented experience standup paddling 766 unsupported miles in the Race 2 Alaska…and winning.

Age: 45

On June 25, Karl Kruger became the first standup paddler to complete the Race 2 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 kayaks to rowboats to SUPs to trimarans, only 27 finished. Kruger’s solo team, “Heart of Gold” was the only SUP to complete the race. –MM

KK: For the first Race2Alaska 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.

Karl Kruger, a long way from home and a short way from SUP history in the Inside Passage. Photo courtesy of R2AK/Liv von Oelreich

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.

The race was 15 days and 766 miles total. And I only lost 12 pounds!

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.

Kruger stunned at the finish. Photo courtesy of R2AK/Zach Carver

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.

Coming into the finish I swear I could smell food from 10 miles outside Ketchikan.

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. –Karl Kruger

This edition of Core Commentary was originally published in the Winter 2017 Issue of SUP Magazine, on newsstands now and available here in print and digital form.

For more info on Karl Kruger and his adventures in the Pacific Northwest, check out his business and website, Kruger Escapes.

The article was originally published on Standup Paddling

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