Introducing Team Cayuco Paunch: A Bocas del Toro First!

Team Cayuco Paunch had been training in an actual boat for only 6 weeks before they won the Playa Veracruz Open Water race on February 27th, 2016. Before that, they had been practicing their rowing techniques sitting atop planks of wood placed between two docks! They even placed 4th in Panama City on the 6 mile Causeway race on January 16th, mere days after picking up the boat they are currently renting for this season’s racing. Let’s take a look at the Team Cayuco Paunch and how they came to be. 

The ladies of Team Cayuco Paunch and their Red Bull sponsored rental. Left to right: Esther Brix, Julie Lanouette, Angie Whittemore and Carolina Botero.

The ladies of Team Cayuco Paunch and their Red Bull sponsored rental. Left to right: Esther Brix, Julie Lanouette, Angie Whittemore and Carolina Botero.

In November of 2015, Carolina Botero approached her toughest and strongest girl friends with idea of competing in the famous “Ocean-to-Ocean” Cayuco Regatta, which is a paddling race that goes from the city of Colon (Atlantic side of the Canal) to Panama City (Pacific side). Yes, you read that correctly: it is a 3 day race!  Not only does Carolina’s last name mean “boater” in Spanish, but she has also competed in the sport for many years in Panama City. So did Angie Whittemore. Nowadays these Panama City girls call Bocas del Toro home. Carolina is the owner of Cafe del Mar (1st street, Isla Colón, opposite Police Station) and Angie does online marketing and graphic design with her company Panama InDesign and is also part of the Bocas Fight Gym with our 3rd team member: Esther Brix.

 Angie and Esther crushing it

Angie and Esther crushing it

Esther is a long time Bocas resident who comes from Rotterdam, Holland. She is known for her athleticism along with her furious strength-and-conditioning sessions at the Bocas Fight Gym. She is the only team member without prior rowing experience but was highly sought after by Carolina as Esther’s athletic reputation precedes her. The team began training and later added Julie Lanouette who is very knowledgeable and passionate about rowing sports from her past life in Quebec where she competed in Kayak sprints and Dragon-boat racing. Julie is a Bocas resident who gives surf tours and sailing charters with Sufari Surf & Sail. The girls knew each other in many ways but their primary bond was surfing. They named the team “Paunch” after the famous Bocas surf break, which happens to be their favorite and they felt it would be best way to represent Bocas del Toro’s first Cayuco team.

 Playa Veracruz 1st place victory

Playa Veracruz 1st place victory

Cayuco is a sport unique to Panama. Although it resembles many boat racing sports around the world, the Panamanian version originated in the Canal Zone in the year 1954 with the Boy Scouts of America. It is a 4 person rowing sport which takes place from January to March. It pays homage to the indigenous groups who built massive canoes, or cayucos, out of gigantic tree trunks, which were designed to transport more than 2 people, as well as provisions and supplies for the community.  Modern cayucos used in these races are constructed primarily out of wood, but can also incorporate a small amount of fiberglass into the design of the vessel.

The ladies began training in December without a boat; training Bocas style- paddling on planks and in dinghies, but were eventually able to get Red Bull to sponsor a boat rental, along with some of the costs for registering for the season’s races. As an international team, they must qualify for the great Ocean-to-Ocean race. They missed the first race of the season on the account of having no boat and were awarded last place along with 10 minute penalty. They placed 4th in their very first race with the boat (with less than a few days practice in it) and went on to train feverishly for the next 6 weeks. The hard work paid off as they pulled off a monstrous 1st place victory in Playa Veracruz on February 22nd where they beat league favorites Nossa Vittoria by a whopping 50 seconds and they were only 1 minute shy of the 1 hour 15 minute course record. 

The girls of Cayuco Paunch are currently fund-raising and training like mad women. You can catch them from 4-6pm Monday through Saturday paddling sometimes as far as from Bocas Town to Playa del Drago and back! Not only is Cayuco a very rigorous sport- it is also very expensive. Their fund-raising efforts have been well supported by the community. They were able to raise $450 during an event at the Barco Hundido on March 1st where Esther performed live music while the team sold snacks and autographed Polaroid pictures of the group (perhaps worth a lot of money once they are famous).  They’ve received donations from generous Bocas businesses and benefactors and are currently accepting donations on-line through a “GoFundMe” campaign. Check out the campaign’s website and contribute to the cause if possible. You can donate here: www.gofundme.com/cayucopaunch

While their fund-raising efforts have achieved some sort of success, they haven’t been able to buy their own boat yet. This is the goal of the fund-raising along with starting the first Cayuco paddling club on the island, with the idea of involving youths and organizing races in Bocas.

Great job so far ladies! And please know that the Breeze is rooting for Bocas’ very first Cayuco team, March 18-20th  at the CREBA Ocean-to-Ocean Regatta. Visit www.thebocasbreeze.com for the results of the big race, as they weren’t available at the time of this publication. 

Printed monthly in both English and Spanish with a circulation of 5,000 free copies distributed at airports, hotels, restaurants and various retail locations throughout Bocas del Toro, Panama City, David, Boquete and Costa Rica. Also published on the Internet on a daily basis.

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