By CHRIS DAINES
Their goal is to race in Hawaii next year but, for now, they can celebrate victory.
Ernie Johnson and Chris Koerner garnered the most points among eight eligible stand-up paddle races in California this year. Johnson won first place; Koerner second.
“It takes speed and skill, you gotta have both,” said Johnson, “If you fall in, you’ll be passed. You have to be able to navigate properly, contending with currents and wind – but ultimately the first guy across the line wins.”
The two men began stand-up paddling together a few years ago and enjoy coaxing each other into paddling – and enjoying themselves with a beverage or two after the fact.
“We paddled a lot together,” said Koerner. “We tried new equipment and we pushed each other to go out to races and get out there. We looked out for each other and cheered each other on.”
Johnson lives closest to the harbor and says people stop by and wake him up before dawn to go paddling, because they know he will.
“Six in the morning and some guys are coming knocking to wake me up and go paddling; it’s crazy,” said Johnson.
Johnson spent the first few weeks of the year paddling at least six miles every day, which he said was training a little too much.
Koerner often trains on his stand-up paddleboard with his Thai ridgeback dog, Magic. He rides up in front of the board, adding about 15 pounds.
One of the races they participated in for the Paddleboard.com California Grand Prix was the Return to the Pier on May 23. Johnson said the weather was crazy, with 6- to 8-foot shore breaks and strong winds. They grimaced when they saw $2,000 worth of stand-up boards smashing into the pylons under Manhattan Beach Pier.
Johnson and Koerner are preparing for their next race, Battle of Paddle at Doheny State Beach on Oct. 11. The race – for stand-up paddlers only – will be a five-lap course, with a soft sand beach run on top of the paddleboarding in every lap.
“It’s a 7-mile closed course with the biggest purse ever in stand-up paddleboarding,” said Koerner.
That purse is $25,000 and has attracted paddlers from around the world – including one of the largest groups of female stand-up paddlers ever.
Stand-up paddleboarding originated in Hawaii. Over the years, the sport has spread to other coasts around the world.
“Every race there are more people coming out,” said Johnson. “Not just surfers, but kayakers, outriggers … they are bringing their experience to the sport.”
This paddling duo hopes to make it to Hawaii next year for the Molokai Ocean Challenge – a 15-mile crossing from Maui to Molokai. Financial constraints kept them out this year – the first year stand-up paddle was permitted in the Molokai crossing. They said the crossing is basically the international championship, and they are eager to go and compete.