Alone on the ocean for 14 days: Man is first to complete Race to Alaska on paddleboard

He didn’t win the race, but it was never about winning.

It was about being alone for 14 days, six hours and 17 minutes on a stand-up paddleboard on an epic quest from Puget Sound to Alaska.

Karl Kruger, 45, became the first person Monday to finish the 750-mile Race to Alaska on a paddleboard.

“There were days where every single stroke was a barrier and I just wanted to stop,” Kruger told Northwest Public Radio. “Everything was screaming at me to stop.”

Many participants, also known as “merry lunatics,” do.

Only 53 percent of teams in the last two years have finished the course from Port Townsend up the Inside Passage into Ketchikan, according to race officials.

Most people choose sailboats, kayaks or rowboats to do the race.

But Kruger, an Orcas Island man who runs a sailing charter business, knew he wanted to compete with a paddleboard after his wife suggested it.

It was his second year attempting the race on a paddleboard. Last year, Kruger wasn’t able to finish after his board was damaged.

This year, he used a 17-foot custom-made SUP and averaged 50 miles each day.

The rules of the race are simple: no motors and no support crews. There is no course.

“It’s like the Iditarod, on a boat, with a chance of drowning, being run down by a freighter, or eaten by a grizzly bear,” according to the race description.

Kruger wore a wet suit and strapped about 50 pounds of gear and food onto the bow and stern of his board. He survived mostly on energy bars, gels and protein shakes.

A crowd of 30 or so, including his wife and daughter, gathered at the finish line to welcome Kruger, who paddled under the name “Heart of Gold.”

“As he stepped from his board to the dock, Karl’s excited and placid demeanor wasn’t that of someone who just won in the classic sense of competition,” race officials wrote in their daily update. “When he rang the bell in victory, there wasn’t an ounce of ego-driven celebration….”

Three brothers from Massachusetts racing in a 28-foot trimaran were dubbed winners of the race after finishing in four days and three hours.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653