Bocas del Toro’s first and only cayuco team is back in a big way; winning first place in their first race at the Regata Amador! If the 2017 national champions are working to repeat their success, then they are off to a great start!
So, what is “Cayuco” anyway? This excerpt from our 2016 article about the team is a good an explanation as any:
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 four person paddling sport which takes place from January until 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 national league in Panama is called CREBA, or Club de Remos de Balboa. Cayuco Paunch competes in the Female Open division.
Cayuco Paunch Team History
The original Bocas Cayuco squad was first formed in 2015 when Carolina Botero approached Angie Whittemore about competing in the 2016 Ocean-to-Ocean race. Both were experienced with other teams in Panama City. Botero and Whittemore recruited Esther Brix and Julie Lanouette to complete the four seats in the cayuco. With all the ladies being surfers, they named the team after Bocas del Toro’s iconic reef break, “Paunch.”
The team was complete, but they were missing one important thing: the boat! They started training in dinghies and paddling on planks between docks. Bocas style? Survivor style! However, they did have to miss the first race of the season – La Regata Cinta Costera.
With the help of a Red Bull sponsorship, they were soon able to rent a boat mid-season and were off to the races( literally). In this first season, the Cayuco Paunch team thrived considerably despite all the hurdles they faced. They took 4th place in their first race – Amador and then first in the Regatta Veracruz on February 22, 2016. In fact, they were only one minute shy of the course record! They went on to finish 3rd in the big race, the Ocean-to-Ocean; closing out a formidable debut season.
In 2017 the ladies returned for their 2nd season- this time with their very own boat and local sponsors; including their main sponsors Divers Paradise and Bocas Dive Center.
Botero was not in Bocas at the time, so Romaine Wittgreen was recruited as the fourth member. The sophomore effort was a banner performance on all accounts for Cayuco Paunch. They were national champions in the Female Open category and they even set the league record in the mighty three day Ocean-to-Ocean race!
The 2018 season brought many challenges. Last minute personnel changes forced the team to juggle a total of seven different paddlers for the four seats throughout the season. This is not at all ideal for this sport as the formation of the paddlers and the way the boat is configured all play key factors. The team swamped (tipped over) during the 1st race.This was partly due to the last minute changes in the line-up along with not having time to adjust the boat.
Unencumbered, founding members Whittemore and Brix stuck with it, adding Sassi Eisele (who is still on the team today). Their perseverance paid off, leading them to finish 2nd overall. This was the season Cayuco Paunch showed how tough, tenacious, and resilient the team and its members really are.
This next season will be the first without Brix, lovingly nicknamed “La Vikinga” , who will definitely be missed by the team and its fans. The outlook for the 2023 team is shaping up to be especially promising with two new eager members. Let’s take a look…
Introducing the new Cayuco Paunch!
From left to right:
Patricia “Pato” Villafañe is the new bailer. What keeps Villafañe so strong? Her authentic Argentine empanadas, of course! You can find them at her food truck “CocinArte,” located at Space Bocas.
Sasi Eisele returns for her second season, now taking the position up front as the pacer. Originally from Austria, she is a 2nd black belt in Judo, as well as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt. Her main gig is spent whipping people’s butts into shape as a personal trainer in the gym, Lift Bocas.
Original founding member Angie Whittemore is the captain and has now taken on the important steer position for the first time. Panama City native, Whittemore is a Bocas resident of 18 years. She assists businesses with her digital marketing and web design services through her Panama InDesign company. She is also a proud superhost with her husband Nicolás (Chapo) at the Saigon Bay Bed & Breakfast.
Taking up the new power position is the Venezuelan-Panamanian Isabel “Isa ” Campos. When Isa isn’t in the water training with the team, you might just find her in the water shredding Bocas del Toro surf. She also teaches art and gymnastics on the island. You can check out her artwork on Instagram @isa.arte.pa.
The 2023 season outlook
Well, they won first place at Amador! Amador is normally the 2nd race of the season. The first race of the season – Cinta Costera- was canceled. At the time of this publication, Cayuco Paunch is in the lead, but they will need to keep placing in the top ranks to reign as national champions once again. The next upcoming race is Regata Veracruz with two races following ; all leading up to the big Ocean-to-Ocean race on March 31, April 1 and April 2.
We asked the team captain Angie Whittemore about how the team is feeling and she had this to say:
“The girls are training hard and are committed to cayuco. Two of our paddlers are completely new and are doing great and love the sport. I feel confident that we will have a successful run in the Ocean to Ocean Cayuco Race.”
Ways to Support Cayuco Paunch
1. Be an escort on their “lake practices.” When the ladies get back from their February 11 Veracruz regatta, they will begin doing practices to emulate Lake Gatun; important training for the final Ocean-to-Ocean race. This is a 38k m paddle that goes from Bocas Town to Cayo Coral and back. Considering the distance, for safety reasons they require someone to accompany them on a motor boat. If you are able to help, get in touch with team captain Angie Whittemore +507 6812-0647.
2. Attend the races. Bring your Bocas del Toro flags and cheer like crazy for Cayuco Paunch!
February 11, 2023 – Regata Veracruz
March 11, 2023 – Regatta Aceleración
March 31, April 1 and 2 – Ocean-to-Ocean Race
Check out this page for more information on the races and their locations.
3. Follow them on social media @cayucopaunch. Like, comment and share their posts. All of this helps (and it’s free). Also, when you see them training on the water, take some footage and share with them.
4. Support their day jobs. These are not rich and famous athletes (yet), so if you believe in the team, consider giving them your business. If you like empanadas, art, gymnastics, need a physical trainer, need digital marketing services or want to stay at a chill Caribbean B&B over the water, well, you are in luck!
5. Support their sponsors. Eating and drinking at Pier 19 (pictured below), staying at Diver Paradise and diving with Bocas Dive Center is a way to show your support for the team by patronizing the organization that is making this season of Cayuco Paunch possible.
The Bocas Breeze Newspaper is so very proud of Cayuco Paunch and we would like to express our gratitude to Gadi and Janet Cohen and the whole Divers Paradise / Bocas Dive Center team. Much respect to all their sponsors over the years and to all the Bocas businesses using their resources to give life all the positive initiatives in the community that make life better in Bocas del Toro.
VAMOS CAYUCO PAUNCH! Stay tuned to our social media channels for the results of the upcoming races.
Go Paunch!! So happy to see the team compete again. Cheering you on all the way from the Netherlands. My best memories of life in Bocas were made during those cayuco seasons. It’s the best supporting and caring and cheerful community to live and paddle for!! Yeah Bocas, Go Pauch!!