From Atlantic Ocean to Pacific Ocean – “Regata Ocean to Ocean” Panama Canal

Our great love for paddling motivates us to try other sports where we have a paddle in our hands, so you will see our competitors in between competitions joining other paddling sports and adventures. Our dear Judges too, who are not just passive observers of your paddling, but are very active paddlers, now more than ever.

Guided by that passion for paddling Judge Johana Arguello found herself in a very unusual competition and adventure. Rather than telling you what you already know… here’s an article about the Panama Canal. But  enough about that… let’s hear about about this 50 mile race from Johana.

“The Organizer of the season is called CLUB DE REMOS DE BALBOA (club of paddle of balboa).” – explained Johana – “They have a series of events throughout the paddling season that starts in December and finishes in March, all of the events in different parts of Panama City.

One event per month qualifiers with points to win the spot for the most important race of the season, the ocean to ocean race in March.

All the professional teams start training together with enough time to win the most points they can in the previous races to guarantee their spot on the final (Ocean to Ocean race).”

The organisers always welcome new teams from other countries, because 85% (more or less) of the teams are from Panama.

In our case we asked to participate as “guests”, with no experience in the race before and they said yes!!”

That is fantastic and good news for all those foreigners who are eager for new adventures and want to take part in this specific race. But how did you find yourself in this whole story? – “Well, we always heard about this race and we have a couple of Costa Rican friends who participated a long time ago. Our friends like to paddle outrigger and this race is more for outrigger paddlers, because the technique is very similar…

Accidentally we met a Costa Rican guy that lives in Panama who participated in the race 3 times and we completed our team with him to compete in the race last year.

I found myself in this experience as a paddling fan always looking for great events, with special scenery and definitely this race has ALL this and more: really well organised, an incredible culture of paddling that promotes a huge amount of participants with very special elements as the boats, the paddle and the amazing place as the canal of Panamá.

The level of coordination that the organisers have to do to give us the chance to paddle on the canal, beside the huge ships, surrounded by nature, forests and really really high temperatures, make the full experience really amazing.” That’s what attracted my attention the first time I talked to you.

We know that the Panama Canal is a very engineering specific place itself, a place with multiple Locks, how did you coordinate the movement through the Locks themselves? – “A really important detail is that the race doesn’t cross the Locks.  The logistics is that the race starts after a Lock and finishes before the next one.  This is what happened the third day of the race. The first two days, the route is along the lakes that “feed” with water from the canal and the third day is the one we have to stop before the locks.”

Tell me now something about the teams…?  – “Each team of 4 people has to paddle a traditional cayuco, a kind of boat made of wood originally from the indigenous Panamanians that use these boats as the only transportation they have available to move people and supplies they need for living. Many indigenous still use these boats today.

To be part of a team is important to have enough training to paddle in really high intensity for at least two hours, really good teamwork and feel comfortable on the water. The possibilities for foreign teams is to ask for a “wild card” to participate, also it’s important to find a cayuco boat (some rent their boats to teams to compete) and also a find or buy a panamanian paddle made of local wood !! you cannot compete with a different paddle than this !!”

How did it all get started? – Frank Townsend, of the Panama Canal Authority, encouraged interaction and integration among a group of Boy Scouts of America explorers and the native community of the Chagres River. With these activities, the young Scouts learned the culture and traditions of the indigenous natives. Within this learning was the way to use the cayucos, which was the main means of transport used in this region.

The young scouts were increasingly interested in learning about the cayucos and started organising races with the indigenous people. With the passage of time, the amount of accumulated setbacks and the competition between them more important, for this reason they decided to organise a formal race. This race set the tone and mark the beginning of this exclusive sport of Panama.

At the start the US was running the canal and the race is still going all these years still now, which is AMAZING !!

Today, the sport has grown so much that very important brands have their own teams, such as NIKE, ADIDAS, and RED BULL.

Also you can find teams competing with fibreglass boats, wood of course, and other boats that are made from fibreglass and wood combined, etc.”

Who stands behind the organisation of this competition now? – “The actual organisers are  CLUB DE REMOS DE BALBOA, with collaboration of the Autoridad Marítima de Panamá (Maritime Authority of Panama) the organisation that runs all operations of the canal “

All this sounds fantastic and something that should be put on the bucket list. We are again putting the link: for those who, after reading this interesting story, want to try out for themselves this competition. Adventure is never enough in life, and what is more related to what we love – paddling, then better.

Thank you Johanna for this story, I sincerely hope that next year you will go there again and give us your impressions again.