El único Panamá - Week 11

Welcome to our weekly series about the uniqueness of Panama!

Cayuco an Ocean to Ocean Tradition

It is a race organized by the volunteer race committee of the Balboa Paddle Club (CREBAO). It is open to all participants and offers the unique opportunity to paddle in cayucos from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean through the Panama Canal. Three days and a grueling 50 miles challenge the courage and endurance of all who enter the race.

Enjoy the experience of Ralph Furlong's journey.

The Life of a Crew in the Ocean to Ocean Cayuco Race

Fifty miles in six hours is what it took for me and my team to go from one ocean to another. The sport is called Cayuco and involves a team of four in a wooden canoe-like boat. The cayuco is powered by the rowing of four “cayuqueros” in a synchronized fashion. In the front is the pacer, second the power, third the bailer, and last is the steer. As for the race, it takes place in the country of Panama and begins on the Atlantic coast then ends at the Pacific coast in a timespan of three days. To quit is failing the team, to conquer is prevailing over failure.

The season of Cayuco begins in October and ends in April, in that time period preparation is crucial. All of those hours of training for the past five months led up to this challenge. It is the day before the race starts as our team checks the equipment and condition of our cayuco. I packed our uniforms as the pacer called out “Five paddles, four lifejackets, two bailers, sunscreen and boat looks good.” We packed everything up in the trucks, hooked up the cayuco trailer for the morning and went to sleep with thoughts heavy on the next day.

The first day of the ocean to ocean race has begun as we wake up at five in the morning and are on our way to the Atlantic side, Cristóbal locks. We arrive and begin to bring our cayuco in the water for the start of the race, there are more than 20 other competitor boats and hundreds of people. We line up and the countdown begins: three, two, one, and we explode in power as we each hit the water with our paddles. The rough sea spews water left and right as other cayucos rush and bump into us. We finally get out of the channel and heading along the shoreline, it starts to become rougher as bigger waves crash alongside our boat. Pushing through, we see other teams capsized and filled with water. We passed boats left and right as we plowed through rough water, the finish line is in sight and we give it our all. Finally we cross the finish line at forth place in forty-eight minutes, we scream in victory and quickly focus again as we prepare for the dreaded second day.

A rough day is upon us with waves coming from all directions. As we approach the one hour mark, we are still dealing with heavy pressure from the waves. The bailer is getting most of the water out while three of us paddle. Two hours in and the waves are bigger as we head into the Banana Channel. Both the bailer and I begin to throw water out of the boat and out of nowhere a wave comes from behind and crashes on top of us, at that point we are under water.

Panicked, we try and bring our boat up but it is submerged so we call for help as a rescue boat comes and we finally get it up and the water out. Our team jumps right back in our cayuco as soon as we get the water all out and proceeds with the race. We lost all our food and most of our water. Treading in the water also drained our energy dramatically. Finally, we are in the final stretch. The finish line is thirty minutes away and it felt like hours for me as my eyes rolled to the back of my head. I lost my energy and felt like I could not continue but I had to. Finally we passed the finish line and slowly made our way to shore where we immediately got attention with water and food. As I sat I could barely hear, see and feel but all that was on my mind was the next race.

The final day is here and we are hungry for redemption of our day before. Our team unites as we motivate each other to do the best we possibly can, without thinking about what happened yesterday. The race starts and we are off to a booming start as we pass other teams and cruise with speed. The waters are calm, our team has come together as one and we are passing cayucos left and right as we scream in redemption. Rushing towards the finish line, we cross under the Centenario bridge where we rested my grandfather’s ashes. Sparking motivation I gave it my entirety and crossed that finish line with all the energy I could create. We finished and came together as a team by trusting in each other that we could do it.

The five months of training paid off and we could not feel more satisfied. It was not about winning, because as a team we felt like champions by proving we will never back down from a fight and keep going no matter how bad the circumstances. The second day was relentless and we were scared, but we still did not loose hope and we finished that day. The final day showed that we are more than our failures and we will always trust in each other to never give up. Cayuco is an extreme sport that strengthens the bond between brothers and I could not ask for a better team to paddle fifty miles with.

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