Alexandra McLain '11: Riding Waves of Glory

Story posted October 02, 2008

In finishing second to an Olympian from South Africa in the 2008 U.S. Surfski Championships, held in San Francisco September 20 and 21, kayaker Alexandra McLain '11 is effectively the fastest female ocean paddler in the country.

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A happy Alex McLain '11 with her medal

"All the 6 a.m. practices and lifting sessions have been more than worth it for the outcome of my race," says McLain. "I wouldn't trade it for the world."

A surfski is the fastest type of ocean kayak. Built for speed, they are long (up to 21 feet) and narrow (only 15 inches).

Paddlers, in the sleek vessels' sit-on-top cockpits, literally surf the ocean's swells.

McLain, of Stockton Springs, Maine, is on a roll. This summer she won the titles of Maine state champion (for the third year in a row), New England champion, East Coast champion and was invited to paddle in the nationals.

In San Francisco with her father/coach watching from the shore, McLain lined up with 100 men and women of all ages for a mass start for the 17-mile race in the rough waters of San Francisco Bay.

"I had a terrible start and was with the last few boats about three miles in," recalls McLain.

"I think I was still just getting the jitters out. Then as we went under the Golden Gate bridge, the waves got a lot rougher."

But Mclain, who prides herself on handling harsh conditions with ease, began passing women and gaining on faster men.

Racers went out of the bay and into the open ocean about five miles, then turned around.

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At the start of the 2008 U.S. Surfski Championships in San Francisco

With the wind, waves and current with her on the way back, McLain says she surfed the whole way to the finish.

"I had no idea what place I was in when I finally hit shore, jumped out of my boat and ran the 15 yards to the finish line," says McLain.

"Right as I crossed the finish line, someone yells to me that I was the second female in. I cannot describe to you how I felt knowing that I had gotten second place."

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Contestants faced windy conditions beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

Coming in at 2:47, McLain was the only female competing from the East Coast and the youngest paddler in the race.

But her favorite factoid?

"I was the only female competing who has not yet gone to the Olympics. The only female I lost to was Nikki Mocke who was from South Africa and just got back from competing in Beijing."

Which makes McLain the fastest ocean kayaker in the country.

"The support I've gotten from my friends and classmates and random people around Bowdoin has been indescribable for me," says McLain.

"It has been an incredible experience to go to nationals and then have people refer to me as 'the national champion' or something along those lines. It makes me want to push myself harder and make it to the next level."

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McLain in an Olympic kayak

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