Heart of Gold - Kruger Escapes
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Heart of Gold



Team Heart of Gold was/is Karl Kruger’s solo team name for the 2016 and 2017 Race to Alaska. Team Heart of Gold was conceived of one dark and rainy night in late April 2015, when the decision was made that if Karl entered the R2AK he would do it solo, relying only on himself to withstand the rigors of the race. That way, no one else could pull out, cancel, or shake up his plans. It would be just him, on a Stand Up Paddleboard.

Read about Heart of Gold’s 2016 and 2017 R2AK races here. To learn about Karl’s SUP Clinics and current paddling projects, click here.


Would you sign up for 750 MILES of paddling on a Stand Up Paddleboard? Karl Kruger of TEAM HEART OF GOLD did.

In June 2016, Karl joined a riotous array of watercraft bound from Port Townsend, WA to Ketchikan, AK. The second annual Race to Alaska (R2AK) had just begun, and the field of racers was entering “The Proving Grounds,” a 40 miles stretch of open water, two sets of shipping lanes, and an international border. Successful completion of this first race leg, across the Straits of Juan de Fuca, would qualify racers for the second stage of the race….the remaining 710 miles to Alaska.

The Race to Alaska’s website describes it like this: “It’s like the Iditarod, on a boat, with a chance of drowning, being run down by a freighter, or eaten by a grizzly bear. There are squalls, killer whales, tidal currents that run upwards of 20 miles an hour, and some of the most beautiful scenery on god’s green earth.” And there are only two rules: No Engines, and No Support.

Karl, the solo member of TEAM HEART OF GOLD, registered for the race as the first and only Stand Up Paddle Boarder. Burly? Yes. Crazy? Just the right amount. In the words of the fantastic writers at R2AK, “Team Heart of Gold’s Karl Kruger wasn’t a guy with a board and a paddle and a delusional dream, he had planned and trained for a year—more than that, he had done the math. Lots of math. From calculating weight to knowing how far and how fast he could travel in every condition, to exactly how many calories he could subsist on and how he would get them.”

Yes. The preparation and training for racing R2AK on a paddle board was intense. And there was absolutely nothing cavalier in the undertaking, nor in the doing. By day three of the second leg of the race, Team Heart of Gold’s solo performance was ahead of even some of the trimarans (say whaaaatt!?!?)… and the level of emotional support we received via Facebook, email, and social media was incredible, heart-warming, and–just like the race that inspired it all–intense.

We were completely blown away by just how serious of a support squad TEAM HEART OF GOLD was blessed with. There were the R2AK Race Trackers following him every moment of the day. There were community members and friends who contributed financially to the undertaking. There were strangers on the dock who became new friends and unexpected benefactors. We were riding high on a wave of enthusiasm, Karl was paddling with great endurance… until it all unraveled. In planning for the race, Karl chose the best board he could… given that no one was making an expedition race board at the time. With an increased load and heavy chop in the Straits, the board’s behavior changed, suffered hairline cracks, and began taking on water. This in turn negatively affected how the board handled, and exacerbated the vulnerability of his weaker side. Ultimately paddling four times more on his left side than he was on his right, Karl began suffering severe knee pain and chose to retire from the race before permanently injuring himself. It was time to go home, and time to start planning…R2AK 2017.

R2AK 2017, HEART OF GOLD is Back

This time, things would be different, starting with the board. TEAM HEART OF GOLD needed an expedition race Stand Up Paddle Board designed specifically to the demanding parameters of R2AK. To build the golden SUP, Karl worked closely with Joe Bark of Bark Paddle Boards, the designer of more race winning boards than any other brand. Beyond that, Joe promised the board wouldn’t break… and it didn’t. Beyond that, it excelled.

Which might raise the question; “Why would you do this race on a paddle board??”

The waters along this coast have been plied by paddle driven craft for millennia. Anyone who has dipped a blade in these waters can attest to that fact. The SUP is an attractive tool for this race because of its ruthless austerity, speed, simplicity and unfiltered experience.

SUP is a distillation of a millennia of evolution…hence, it is a powerful tool. It is not useful for moving much cargo…but it is potently useful for moving a person and their personal gear, very quickly, in a wide range of conditions…all traits that the Race to Alaska requires.  Additionally, SUP provides many options for different stances and strokes to give the body a chance to recover.

Karl’s race approach was modeled on his years as an alpine climber…go light, go fast, and all discomforts will pass eventually. Every ounce is carefully considered.

Lastly, to crack the code of this coast by any craft is an achievement. To do it unsupported, ALONE, on a SUP… Yes, alone, but at once supported by the incredible community who was inspired by Karl’s first attempt… This is the “Success of Failure”. This is R2AK. This is Karl Kruger’s posse.

Karl Kruger is the first person to complete the Inside Passage on a SUP. He completed the entire race course in just 15 days, averaging 50 miles a day. His longest day was 72 miles. His shortest 29.

BUT, It’s not “Just a Race”

What happens when you know you can do something that people say is impossible, or crazy? What happens while you’re doing it? After you do it?