Natalie Swift digs in with her paddle during competition at the Kalamalka Classic Paddleboard Festival. (Michael Moses photo)

Williams Lake paddler takes her division at Kalamalka Classic Paddleboard Fest

Natalie Swift hopes to grow the SUP community for Cariboo

Williams Lake resident Natalie Swift competed in her first ever paddleboard events Aug. 20 and 21 at the Kalamalka Classic in Vernon and took first in her division in one event.

Swift started stand up paddleboarding (SUP) around 2013, when she lived in Tofino, and the sport has helped her adapt to not being able to surf while living in the Cariboo. In Tofino, she surfed three to five times a week.

She entered the Kalamalka Classic Paddleboard Festival events to give herself something to work towards and competed in three events over the two days: the Eagle Run SUP Challenge, the Inflatable SUP Scramble, and the Kalamalka Crossing.

The Kalamalka Classic is one of the largest paddleboard festivals and was back after the pandemic for its eleventh festival.

The Eagle Run SUP Challenge was a 4.8 km paddle at the north end of Kalamalka Lake on the Saturday, and Swift said it was beautiful weather. The event began with a mass start from the shore, with 33 racers lined up to take part.

Swift said the air horn blasted and the group took off quickly, and she completed the course in second for her class of All Around & Inflatable under 12-feet -women.

The same day, she also participated in the Inflatable SUP Scramble, a more technical race where sharp turns around tight markers challenge participants, all of whom are put on similar inflatable paddleboards to help level the playing field.

On the Sunday, Swift, with little pre-race training, managed to complete the 16.5 km Kalamalka Crossing in what organizers described as some of the most challenging conditions the race has ever seen.

Groups started in waves, with Swift’s group of inflatable boarders leaving at 8:15 a.m., as they would take the longest to complete it, as rigid paddleboards are faster and less affected by the wind.

Headwinds were so strong they created whitecaps on the lake, and Swift battled her way through, completing the distance in a marathon of over four and a half hours.

She fell twice, once at the beginning and once at the end and did sit for a good portion of the lake crossing, digging into her surfing skill set to manage the rough conditions.

She was first, with nine other women in her class attempting the crossing. Only three of those completed the crossing.

“I feel good for where I stood,” said Swift of her result.

The competition was her first but likely will not be her last.

“Now I want another one, I’ve got the hunger.”

She would also love to see more participants from the Cariboo, as she was the only racer from our area, and she said she sees a lot of boards around town on people’s vehicles.

“Who knows, maybe we could have a SUP in the Puddle event,” remarked Swift of the possibilities.

She has started a Facebook group to help grow the local SUP community and share tips and tricks, called SUP in the Puddle: A Paddleboarding Community

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