2017 Painkiller Cup Team-Relay: A BVI adventure

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The Painkiller Cup in Jost Van Dyke is a standup paddle race in the BVI's
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The BVI’s Painkiller Cup is rapidly becoming a favorite among the standup paddle racing crowd.  The 14-mi downwind run from Trellis Bay to the famous Soggy Dollar in Jost Van Dyke is a team relay, comprising three racers, one of which must be female.  With over $10,000 in prize money, $5000 of which goes to the winning team, The Painkiller Cup (named after it’s legendary drink found at the finish line) attracts professional racers and recreational paddlers alike.  It’s about the race, of course, but it’s also about the people … and the party.  Writer Alexa Suess, a member of the One Love Beach team out of Greenport, New York this year, gives her recounting of this spectacular day and memorable event.

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The scene at this year’s Painkiller Cup: a colorful array of boats, boards & bodies. Photo by: Alastair Abrehart

The Stage:  Painkiller Cup

It was a weekend of beautiful scenery, warm waters, high temperatures, and a race that northerners battling the winter blues would beg for. The Painkiller Cup, a 14 mile race held in the British Virgin Islands by HIHO Clothing Company, started in the urchin-studded shallows of Trellis bay on the north side of Tortola. From there racers would battle their way west through open ocean swells, cross the narrow channel between Sandy Cay and Jost Van Dyke, and finally sprint to the finish line at the Soggy Dollar Bar: a welcome refuge for those who needed rest, a strong drink, bragging rights, and over $5,000 if you were lucky.

Sandy Cay, Mini Painkiller Cup British Virgin Islands
Racers pass the island of Sandy Cay. Sandy Cay is also where they start the Mini-Painkiller Cup; a 3-mi individual sup race which coincides with the start of The 14-mi Painkiller Cup relay. Photo by: Alastair Abrehart

The Format:  Team Relay

During the race each team of three racers would switch off every 25 minutes to the sound of their chase boat’s horn until the last man in White Bay finished the race. Of course this particular distinction can potentially make or break an otherwise perfect performance – slow transitions means more time lost so each team would have to figure out a strategy based on their different chase boats and weather conditions.

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Paddlers are exchanged in the team relay every 25 minutes for 14 mi. This exchange can often make or break a team depending on time consumed in the switch. Good boat support is critical! Photo by: Alastair Abrehart

The Start:  Bring on the Muscle

Most teams wisely chose to open with muscle. That showed nicely with a sprint pileup at the very start as boards lunged with each stroke and clashed for first. Working their way out of the reef systems of Tortola, teams ran parallel along the north side of Tortola with ocean swells punching up against its steep cliffs and sending racers a good amount of backwash. Tidal action confused the water even more as top racers fought to keep their pace on the longest stretch of open water.

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Along the rocky crags of Jost Van Dyke, a lone racer makes his way towards the finish line. Photo by: Alastair Abrehart

Open Water and Headwinds

As the rocky cliffs of Jost Van Dyke slowly rose on the horizon, the hope of catching a break with the tide vanished as an unexpected wall of wind hit from a darkening sky. The front brought some welcomed lowered temperatures but also carried its weight in wind which curled around the southeast corner of the island and stuck around as a stubborn headwind until the finish line.

April Zilg Painkiller Cup BVI 2017
Wilmington native April Zilg, brings her team to victory. Photo by: Alastair Abrehart

2016 Top Three Teams

In the end the east coast’s “Always Right” team of Garret Fletcher, Brian Meyer and April Zilg dominated the 2017 Painkiller Cup in a winning time of 2 hrs and 50 minutes. The team won a total of $5,500 and beautiful handmade ceramic trophies. 2nd Place was team “Spacekraft” with Bill Kraft, Jeramie Vain, and Marie Carmen who won $2,500, and following up with 3rd place was team P2P from Wrightville Beach, NC comprised of Kevin Rhodes, Jarrod Covington, and Anna Blackburn who won $1,250.

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Puerto Rico’s sweetheart, Maria Rivera, looking strong and steady on her JP Australia raceboard. Maria’s team “Spacekraft” came in second. Photo by: Alastair Abrehart

Wake-filled and Wonderful

At the Soggy Dollar Bar where the drinks were flowing, paradise got a little darker as the weather signaled the close of another Painkiller Cup. While racers might have skipped Tortola’s worst wind, the ocean had a way of reminding us that you never know what to expect from one of the most beautiful places in the western hemisphere.

By, Alexa Suess:   Team One Love Beach, Greenport, NY

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Team “Always Right” all smiles bringing home a $5000 check for a day in BVI. Photo by: Alastair Abrehart

STAY TUNED and SAVE THE DATE as we prepare for next year’s Painkiller Cup scheduled for January 20, 2018.  Is your TEAM READY?


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Evelyn O'Doherty, editor & publisher of the new Standup Journal 2.0 is a former school teacher gone rogue. She left her career as a teacher in order to spend more time near or on the water after learning to surf turned her life around (upsidedown?). She is a year-round surfer and paddler living on the eastern tip of Long Island in NY who is a certified SUP instructor, seasoned SUP racer and avid longboard surfer. Evelyn was hired as Online Editor to Standup Journal in 2016. Her passion for the project quickly led to her success and eventually taking over the mag herself in Oct. 2018. Today, as editor, publisher and chief bottle washer at Standup Journal, Evelyn keeps her toes wet writing, traveling, paddling, surfing, and learning to foil. You can find her most days paddling out on Gardiner's Bay or surfing Ditch Plains in Montauk, NY.