The winners were: L to R – Bill Kraft – Mens 14’, Courtney Turney – Womens Open, Isabelle Picard – Womens 12’6”, Neil Uden (and son Jack) – Mens Open, Carlos Valdes – Mens 12’6” Not pictured, Chris Baker with Rudder – Dog aboard class, Scott Hart – Special Olympics Men, Linnea Edwards – Special Olympics Women.

Paddlers from south Florida and as far as St. Croix made the trek to PADDLE! the Florida Keys in Casa Mar Village, last weekend for the 3rd annual Triple Crown of the Upper Keys benefitting Special Olympics Florida – Monroe County.
Over 40 paddlers participated in a fun filled weekend celebrating 3 distinct facets of standup paddling – speed, skill, and stamina. Saturday’s racing brought 2 events – speed and skill. For the speed event, racers paddled slowly into the wind for 1 mile and then raced back to the shop in time trial fashion – one at a time and no drafting. For skill, a rather complicate buoy course was laid out with 9 tight turns the racers had to navigate around while battling against other racers in their class. Lots of lead changes and tight racing action made this event very thrilling to watch from the beach at Casa Mar.
On Sunday, it was time for the stamina event. There were 2 different courses depending on level of conditioning. For the Open (beginners) class, there was a 3.5 mile race from Casa Mar to the bay side of Tavernier Creek and back. For the Elite classes, the course took in a rounding of Tavernier Key and then out to the bay and around Cowpens and the legendary Toilet Seat Cut a total of 11.8 miles. Everyone agreed that it was an awesome course and spectators were able to view a lot of the action since the racers passed Casa Mar 5 times during the race.
Bill Kraft from St. Croix, dominated his class in all 3 events. For the distance course, he set a blistering pace that saw him finish the 11.8 mile course in 2:13 a full 7 minutes befor the second place finisher – local racer Pierre Marc Bellion, who had a time of 2:20:17 good enough for first place in the 12’6” class. Another local paddler, Seychelle, Hattingh racing for team PADDLE! Finished the long race in 3rd and she finished 3rd overall for the entire event in the Womens 12’6” class.
Chris Baker was the only racer to paddle the entire event with his very old 120 lb. Golden Retriever – Rudder. Not the easiest way to paddle 12 miles.