If Australian Beau O’Brian’s winning performance in Sunday’s O’Neill Fall Classic was impressive — it was — Michael Valenzuela deserves his due credit as well.
Racing against the big names of the stand-up paddleboard community, the 38-year-old Truckee resident reached the finish line of the 22-mile endurance race in a time of 3:41:36, which was only about 3 minutes off the pace of O’Brian, who took the Elite Fall Classic title in a time of 3:38:17.
Benjamin Sarrazin of Petaluma was third in 3:44:51. He was followed by Rob Rojas of San Clemente in 3:46:20 and Rand Carter of Tahoe Vista in 3:51:32.
The race, which started at Camp Richardson on the South Shore and finished in Kings Beach, was the third and final event of the O’Neill Tahoe SUP & Paddleboard Series. Valenzuela finished 11th and 15th in the first two stops of the series. Yet on Sunday he was the only unlimited-division racer among the top finishers — a spot usually reserved for the elite class.
Paddlers originally geared up for a windy day, as forecasts called for 15-20 mph wins with gusts up to 30 mph. Instead the field of nearly 80 racers was treated to calm September weather until late into the paddle, after most of the elite racers had finished.
The surprise of the event was the absence of Truckee elite racer Jay Wild, who was the series point leader after finishing second and first, respectively, in the first two events, and thus poised to secure the overall series title.
That opened the door for Sarrazin and Rojas to capture the title and prize purse. Sarrazin’s needed to finish ahead of Rojas to take the title, which he did.
In the women’s elite division, meanwhile, Gail Vento of the Virgin Islands took first place (18th overall) in a time of 4:04:03. Jen Fuller of Sausalito was the second woman in 4:07:48, and 16-year-old Fiona Wylde of Hood River, Ore., winner of the first two stops, took third in 4:09:58.
Wylde’s podium finish was good enough to secure the overall O’Neill SUP Series title.
Among other local finishers, Dax Willard of Tahoe City finished 10th in 3:57:11 and Ronnie Ayres of Truckee was 12th in 3:58:51. They were followed by Tahoe City’s Karl Schwiesow and John Merryfield in 15th and 16th, respectively, Joseph Fellner of Kings Beach in 19th, Matt Lund of Kings Beach in 24th, Larry Ferguson of Homewood (25th), Chris Werner of Truckee (28th), Ben Mitchell of Truckee (33rd), Danny Jiminenez of Kings Beach (34th), Leo Robinton of Kings Beach (38th), Ethan Westwood of Kings Beach (39th), Jim Granger of Tahoe City (41st), and Wendy Ackermann of Homewood (44th overall).
More than 300 paddlers competed in the three-stop series, which featured a total prize purse of $20,000.
— Information was used from the O’Neill Tahoe SUP & Paddleboard Series website, tahoecup.org.