V.I. athlete paddleboards from St. Croix to St. Thomas
Published: July 3, 2014
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ST. THOMAS - Most people would need a lot more than just a 14-foot board to make it across 50 miles of rough, open ocean.
But not Terry Stevens.
Stevens, of St. Thomas, paddled from St. Croix's Cramer Park to St. Thomas's Cowpet Bay on Monday, the first paddle from St. Croix to St. Thomas on a stand up paddleboard for Stevens, a long-time local enthusiast of the sport.
The trip - which was exactly 50.284 miles - took him 13 hours.
"It's a big ocean out there," said Stevens, 48.
Stevens, whose athletic uniform is a pair of flowered swim trunks, sunglasses, gloves and a baseball cap, won second place at the paddleboard world championships last year. The 20-year St. Thomas resident is returning to the event this year on July 27.
It will be his third year competing in the race, which is also known as the M2O, or the Molokai to Oahu Paddle board World Championship held in Hawaii.
A surfer-at-heart, Stevens started on the stand up paddleboard, known commonly as an SUP, about a decade ago. Paddleboarding involves a carbon-fiber board accompanied by a single paddle, and Stevens used it as a way to train for surfing because the territory's surf is noticeably flat in the summertime.
"Everyone was like 'What is that weirdo doing?' " said Juliet Roberts, Stevens's girlfriend.
Since Stevens first started, the sport has grown in popularity - with the territory being one of the premium places in the world to do it, though Stevens has raced all over the Caribbean and in Europe.
The playing field of the race in Hawaii will be very similar to that of the territory's waters, Stevens said, noting that both have very deep channels, though the surf is bigger in the Pacific Ocean.
"In the Pacific, everything's bigger out there," Stevens said.
The distance of the world championship race is about 32 miles, shorter than the direct route from St. Croix to St. Thomas, which is about 42 miles - though it never measures as such due to adverse conditions.
In fact, Stevens had delayed the trek several times to wait for a day that he felt would ensure that it was a safe, do-able trip.
"Any time you go in the ocean, you respect it," said Stevens, who left St. Croix with a location tracker - in case of an emergency - and his phone to direct him with GPS coordinates, though there were times where his phone lost reception.
For the most part, Stevens had to use the direction of the swell and the position of the sun to guide him home to St. Thomas. He said one of his biggest fears was missing the island altogether, especially given the haze in recent weeks from the Saharan dust.
The wind also was pushing against him the entire time, making it impossible for him to meet up with friends who had offered to bring him water at certain points. Though they tried, they could not find him.
"It's like wrestling with God," Stevens said of fighting against the weather and other unpredictable conditions.
Stevens did not even spot St. Thomas until he was within 10 miles of the island, and that was after he briefly passed it and was pushed into the neighboring British Virgin Islands territory.
Along the way, he had a lone seagull tailing him; in his years venturing on the SUP, he has seen sharks, whales, turtles and all kinds of fish.
"I think if he can be in the ocean, and be challenged - that's his element," said Roberts.
Roberts and Stevens' friends and family were waiting Monday, the majority of the time not knowing where he was or where he would land. At times, he would shoot them a GPS coordinate, which Roberts said comforted her each time.
"It's a pretty incredible journey," she said, admitting that she can get a little worried, but knows that he is a "water man" and a "sports man" through and through.
Stevens, who will be the only person representing the territory in this year's world championships, is no stranger to being a territorial representative in the world of sports.
He said he represented the Virgin Islands in beach volleyball during the PanAm games in Cardagena, Colombia, in 2011 and also coached volleyball at Antilles School, a team who went to the championships each year that he coached them.
Lately, though, he is all about the SUP.
"It's a great spiritual journey just getting to the other side," said Stevens, who leaves Friday for Hawaii, where he will spend the next month training for the championships.
- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.