Steve Dullack, an active duty Coast Guard officer in Virginia Beach, competed in the ChattaJack in 2014, and was utterly blown away by the experience. Now, he's coming back again this year and has his sights set on an even better finish than the 3rd place he snagged in the 14' SUP Division last year.
Steve’s loved water sports since he was a kid growing up in Dana Point, California—that’s southern Orange County for those of you who don’t recognize the name. In addition to surfing, he played varsity baseball, basketball, and ran cross-country, and when he moved East for college at West Point, he looked for something to replace the surfing.
What he found was rowing, which he loved. “There wasn’t a place for me on the team so I showed up each day until someone quit,” Dullack says. “In the northeast, at that time, the coaching is pretty tough; there was no mercy. It was all very Bobby Knight-esque.”
He ended up filling the slot of a person who’d had enough, and he rowed varsity for 3 years until graduating in 1997.
Dullack found rowing sharpened his mental side: “It was like running sprints and lifting weights at the same time.” In the fall, he raced the 10.2 mile distance, and in the spring it was the 2000 meter sprint—which was 6 to 7 minutes at 100%. In addition to discipline and fitness, he learned that he loved any sport that involves a paddle or an oar to get somewhere.
As an active member of the Coast Guard, Dullack has lived in many coastal areas, where he participates in a variety of water sports. His 13-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter also paddle, but they prefer outrigger canoes. Dullack, meanwhile, was hooked on paddleboarding from the offset after he visited his parents and ended up trying the sport with a family member. That was in 2011; he started racing in 2012.
Since then, he’s entered many races and placed well or won several, including SEA Paddle New York, a 25-mile paddle around Manhattan—where he took 2nd. He’ll race any distance and he’s seeing more stand-up paddleboard athletes and events as the sport matures.
“Racing is a lot like cross country running where the types of water access vary. A lot of men and women are either good at whitewater, or downwinding, or sprinting. When they do a specific event type that suits them, they excel, although they can do anything,” he says.
Dullack prefers 10-mile or longer races. Because he is detail-oriented and regimented in his training and racing, he feels there’s more for him in the longer distance where he can factor in many aspects of training, such as nutrition, focus, the type of paddle, and so on. He takes the intensity and mental strength he learned during his rowing days, and applies it to the stand-up paddling races: “I’ve beaten paddlers who are stronger physically but perhaps not as strong mentally, because of my rowing training.”
Dullack feels two changes to his training have benefited him. One is that he is sponsored by CarboPro, a company much like Hammer Nutrition, that has worked with some of the world's most accomplished ultra-distance runners. When he approached them about a sponsorship, they were incredibly helpful in getting his nutrition dialed in.
The other change he’s made is to start working with a coach. He credits the esteemed Australian paddleboarding coach, Mick Dibetta, with helping him become smarter about his training and racing. He lays out his schedule with Nick and states his goals, and then Nick sends him workout spreadsheets for the month that include intensity, heart rate, and the like. “It’s taken the guesswork out of my training,” Dullack says.
In addition to racing, Dullack gives clinics where they work various things from how to do a buoy turn—a big obstacle for new paddlers—or if he’s got an advanced group, he assesses what they need and gives them skills to work on. Every Sunday, he puts out a training workout and tells them what he’ll be working on. People show up and they work as a group. He also writes for The Distressed Mullet, the largest paddleboard site in the country, sharing what he’s learned about nutrition (with all the disclaimers you’d expect from someone just sharing what they’ve learned), training tips, techniques such as stroke tips, etc. And he paddles for King Paddle Sports out of California—whose boards are made in America.
Prior commitments in years past prevented Dullack from participating in ChattaJack in 2012 and 2013, so it was with especial pleasure that he competed in 2014, and similarly, he can't wait to return for this year's event.
“It’s the best pure flat water race I’ve done,” he says. “It’s extremely well run, well organized, well supported, the venue is fantastic and unique; the distance makes it appealing to the elite racers because it is a challenge, and for novice racers it is a bucket list item.”
Perhaps what makes it best though is that, “It has a great grassroots feel. There’s no prize money so it keeps it pure.” Having race directors who are paddlers, who are passionate about the sport and think about the little things makes all the difference. “I also love Chattanooga,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave.” For a few days in early October, he and his family will get to enjoy it all over again.