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Surfboards, Dog Sleds and Toyotas Rule

When the Super Bowl hoopla ends, the media coverage landscape expands and all of the other cool things in sports finally get more publicity. The three I want to mention are the Yukon Quest Dog Sled race in Alaska, the Titans of Mavericks Surfing Contest and the Daytona 500. All of these epic events are arguably the marquee events in their sport.  The Yukon Quest is the 1000 mile dog sled race from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse in Yukon Territory.  The Titans of Mavericks is the most intense big wave surfing contest that happens in Half Moon Bay, California. Lastly, the Daytona 500 which every racing fan loves more than any other road race.

The Titans of Mavericks surf competition is of course the world famous and long running spectacle held in Half Moon Bay, California. The epic waves that are enormous 30 to 50 foot high behemoths full of spirit and unpredictability are only ridden by a select few.  Almost every surfer has a wipe out in the competition and depending how bad your spill sometimes determines how well you will do in the competition.   Nic Lamb an American for Northern California outlasted 23 competitors and a big wipe out to capture the $120,000 purse.

If you don’t know much about the Mavericks event and you are curious about surfing or like watching like most of us, you can find plenty of documentaries and YouTube clips to get the feel of the event. The event has grown beyond cult status to a must see event for surf fans and even curious lookee loos.   The 24 contestants were given 48 hours to get to there from all around the world.  Last year there wasn’t an event because the waves never got to the size that warrants the competition.   This year the waves were consistently coming in at 35 to 40 feet all day.

The next on my list is the Yukon Quest held in Alaska and the Yukon Territory which just finished up on February 15th.   The Yukon race is the granddaddy of all sled dog races and it too separates the well prepared and trained from the lesser.  It is a 1000 journey through all kinds of conditions of weather and terrain.  It is a true test of capacity of humans and canines and a tribute to the strength of ancient bond that unites them.   Of course the Quest is not the most compelling of spectator event s but more of a scene to be part of as the towns of the north embrace their competitors and the beloved sport  as their own.

This year’s winner was Hugh Neff an Alaskan musher who crossed the finish line 9 days after starting the race. The 48 year musher won it once before in 2012 and this year he remarkably lead the majority of the race.   This year, the contestants had to withstand blizzards, equipment failures and sick dogs in this grueling race.  The winners take this year was $35,000 out of pool of $115,000.  It doesn’t seem like a lot compared to other sports but then again, only the few and special can endure such an event.   The history of this event is a good read so check it out there is plenty of information on the internet.

Last but not least is the Daytona 500.  First we had the man versus wave in Mavericks, second we have man and dog versus the elements of the Yukon and now man and machine to persevere  against other men and machines.   The Daytona 500 took place on February 21st and the winner was Denny Hamlin in  one the closest finishes ever captured on video.  It looks like he won by less than 1 foot coming in at top speed, certainly  the closest in Daytona 500 history.  Hamlin beat out Martin Truex both driving Toyotas which was part of their domination in this year’s event.    The victory was also a first at Daytona for Joe Gibbs racing whose been competing here for 23 years.

What makes the Daytona 500 the Super Bowl of auto racing is the fact that it is always held in February and it the first official NASCAR race of the season. It gets the most viewership than any other racing event, even the INDY 500 and it offers the biggest purse as well.  It is very prestigious to win since its inception in 1959.  Daytona International Speedway is sacred ground in racing and Richard Petty owns the most victories (7) and Chevrolet has the most wins with 23.

As you notice these are not mainstream sports with the slight exception of the Daytona 500 but it too doesn’t get the full recognition as the other 4 and 5 sports.   There is something cool to follow for all sports fans  even if it is hard to find on the television, you always know you can find it on the internet.   These sports usually take place in that small window of media absence when the NFL is not ruling the airwaves.  Next year, check in with one of these events and you will find it a breath of fresh air from the typical offerings.

Daytona 500 Photo Credit – www.thedailybeast.com

 

 

 

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Kelly Slater, Not Just a Surf God

Kelly Slater is one of the best athletes ever to come out of the United States, and he is not really a household name.  Why is that?  Because he rides waves and he is not one seek out the media, the media finds him.  He is not only the most decorated surfer since it has been a considered a competitive sport but also a great ambassador and philanthropist.   What else could you ask for in a professional athlete?

Slater excels in a professional sport that doesn’t pay millions and millions for performance.  As of 2015 has earned around four million in purses since his start in 1990.  Yes that is 1990, Slater is forty three years old and still kicking butt.  He is a true role model for any athlete that takes his craft seriously with dedication, respect and passion.  One doesn’t realize what it takes physically to compete as a pro surfer which requires tremendous strength, balance and most of all confidence in your skills.

Slater has been ranked number one on the ASP World Tour eleven times and won more tour events than anybody.  He was the youngest to be crowned at the age of 20 and the oldest at the age of 39. He has surfed the world over and over and has found his favorite places to be Pipeline in Oahu, Hawaii and Kirra in Australia.

Slater was born on February 1, 1972 in Cocoa Beach Florida, where he still owns a home.   He became obsessed with surfing at an early age and became really good in his early teens.  He was able to turn pro in high school and was soon traveling the world.

In addition to being an immortal surf god, Slater is a fine guitar player, a +2 handicap golfer, practices Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and has been in countless television shows and movies. As you see he uses his mind and body to a high potential and lives his life to his own drummer.

Slater supports a number of charities such as Reef Check, which mission is protecting reefs in California. Slater is on the Board of Advisors for the Ocean Advocacy Advisory Board and the Sea Shepherd Conversation Society. He is also a fundraiser and spokesperson for suicide prevention awareness.  He has surfed in events for Surfers against Suicide.

Lastly, in 2010 he was honored by the US House of Representatives for his outstanding and unprecedented achievements in the world of surfing and for being an ambassador of the sport and excellent role model.  Kelly Slater is definitely one rare individual that keeps excelling when others retire at much earlier age.  What an inspiring guy for us older folks and role model for all of the youngsters.

 

Kelly Slater

Riding the Giants

The Big Wave World Tour rolled into Half Moon Bay, California on January 10th. This event is California’s most prestigious surf contest, known as “The Mavericks Invitational.”   This particular location is unlike any other surfing destination because of the size and ferocity of the waves.   The event will proceed only if Mother Nature cooperates and brings in the swells to generate the waves. On Wednesday, the 8th, the decision was made and by Friday, twenty four surfers were ready to go.

Phenomenal Waves!

Maverick's Surf ContestJust looking out at the twenty to forty foot waves that were rolling in made me nervous. Imagine, making the decision to stand up on your board at the crest and point your board down the face. These surfers will hit speeds of twenty five to thirty five miles per hour. To make the wave even more menacing is the chop and bounce you can endure caused by the deep trenches and fingers within the reef.

Right behind you is a wall of water and foam that is violent and fearsome. Eventually, also all of the surfers will take a pounding and pummeling by the waves which is an inevitable part of this contest. As one surfer mentioned, “This is not about the money and winning, this is about surviving. There is no amount of money that will make you run into the highway and get hit by a truck.”

Why they do it or how do they psyche themselves into doing it, is different for all of them.   In my humble opinion, I believe it is about challenging yourself both physically and mentally. These surfers are tremendous athletes with great agility, strength and incredible stamina. You have to have the utmost confidence in your ability and your equipment to even consider riding these monster waves.

extreme surfing at Maverick'sThe competition itself is comprised of twenty four of the best big wave surfers in the world. The group is placed into four sets of six surfers who compete in forty five minute heats. The best three of each heat move on the semifinals, then the final six compete in the finals. This makes for a long day of competition that starts in early morning and ends in the afternoon.   After seven hours, a winner is announced and the legend of Mavericks carries on.

This year, Grant ‘Twiggy” Baker from South Africa was declared the winner by catching and riding enough big waves to earn the purse.   The competition was grand and a site to behold to see these guys as a brotherhood   Furthermore, they do something that no other sport on earth can claim. Riding big waves is unpredictable since no waves are alike and you put your life on the line every time you ride down the face.   Just surviving at Mavericks is a victory for all.

 

Images courtesy of: Shalom Jacobwitz, Ezra Shaw Getty Images and Risberg AP