Paddle Boarder Circumnavigates St. Thomas and St. John

St. John Brewers co-founder Chirag Vyas greets ultramarathon paddle boarder Shane Perrin as he comes ashore for a brief respite at Bolongo Bay

Ultramarathon Paddle Boarder Circumnavigates St. Thomas, St. John to Kick Off 2015 Adventure Challenge
From Andrea Milam

Paddle boarding has earned its place as a leisure sport in the Virgin Islands, with young and old alike taking to calm bay waters as a means of sightseeing and exercise. But no one had attempted to continuously circumnavigate St. Thomas and St. John — until June 14 and 15, when professional ultramarathon paddle boarder Shane Perrin took on the extreme challenge.

The 71-mile adventure took Perrin 33 hours and 57 minutes to complete, including the single hour of sleep that he stole during the early morning hours on Honeymoon Bay. Perrin is sponsored by Vertical Oar, a hub for stand up paddle boarders founded by J-P. Pesare, a childhood friend of St. John Brewers co-owner Chirag Vyas, along with his two partners Rafael Mercado and Rick Fitzpatrick.

“We’d had discussions with Vertical Oar about doing something unique in the V.I.,” said Vyas. “We wanted to showcase the potential for ultramarathon paddle boarding here in the islands.”

Perrin’s grueling adventure began at 7 a.m. on Saturday, June 14, when he launched from Cruz Bay beach. He crossed Pillsbury Sound, then headed west along St. Thomas’s south shore.

“When I turned the corner on the west side of St. Thomas near Mermaid’s Chair, it got nasty and I was just flat out blasted with wind,” said Perrin. “There were headwinds and nasty swells, and if I stopped paddling I just went backwards at a pretty quick pace. After leaving Hull Bay, there was cross chop bouncing off the rocks and just washing me all around.”

Perrin took brief respites at various beaches as he made his way along St. Thomas’s north shore before heading back across Pillsbury Sound for St. John — in the middle of the night.

“Coming back toward Cruz Bay, there was a nasty wind coming through plus ferry boat traffic, other boat traffic, and huge swells rolling across,” said Perrin. “I hit the worst area when I couldn’t read the conditions well, so instead of timing things like I can during the day, it was more just reacting to the waves that came. The moon definitely helped, but I fell in a lot.”

Perrin continued on with his circumnavigation of St. John, again facing difficult conditions at Ram Head before meeting up with Vyas and the Vertical Oar crew at Salt Pond Bay for a brief moment of relief. He then paddled about three miles offshore to take advantage of a downwind that helped him complete his journey back into Cruz Bay, where he arrived at 4:45 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

At that point, not only did Perrin remain upright, he joined a cocktail hour in his honor at Motu, where he chatted with patrons. Perrin’s extreme paddle boarding adventure is amazing in its own right, but what makes his feat even more astounding is the fact that Perrin is a kidney transplant survivor. He essentially pioneered the sport of ultramarathon paddle boarding in 2011, when he decided to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the transplant by competing in a 340-mile-long kayak race — on his paddle board.

“It was a huge challenge, and I didn’t know what the impact would be; I just looked at it as a personal celebration,” said Perrin. “Out of 117 kayaks, I was the only paddle boarder and I placed 34th. I shocked people.”

Since then, Perrin has paddled thousands of miles in various races and expeditions, and ultramarathon paddling has taken on a life of its own. Perrin’s circumnavigation of St. Thomas and St. John was a kick-off of sorts for an event that St. John Brewers and Vertical Oar are planning for next year.

“We have some other things planned including an event next year that will essentially be a combination race/adventure challenge,” said Pesare. “We’re trying to incorporate Survivor meets the Amazing Race meets stand up paddle boarding meets eco-challenge. We’re going to try and bring business to the Virgin Islands while increasing the awareness of what you can do with stand up paddle boarding.”

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