By Nick Curcuru
---- — Growing up John O’Hara sport of choice was basketball.
The Gloucester native was a standout on the Gloucester High School basketball team up until he graduated in 1981 and even took his talents on the hardwood to the collegiate level. But once in college O’Hara found a new passion, surfing.
That passion has served O’Hara well over the last three decades as he competed in the International Surfing Association’s World Paddle Board Championships in Lima, Peru. O’Hara, nicknamed “Johnny O”, competed in the February 24-March 2 event on the Irish National Team as he has dual American and Irish citizenship.
O’Hara, who has always been a big fan and participant in numerous water sports took up standup paddle board (SUP) racing in 2007 and competed against the best paddle boarders in the world representing 23 countries from Latin America to Europe to Japan to Tahiti.
“Everything went great,” O’Hara said. “The heat was tough and the visibility was tough but it was a great event and a great experience.”
O’Hara, 50, is a seasoned veteran when it come to the SUP racing scene as he went undefeated in the 2011 Atlantic Paddle Board Association’s “Summer Race Series” and has reached the medal podium in every race he has entered in New England since.
At the World Paddle Board Championships O’Hara competed in two races; the Marathon and the Technical Race.
Despite the fact that the majority of competitors were half O’Hara’s age, he more than held his own in the 14 mile marathon finishing in 21st place.
O’Hara and the competitors had to navigate thick fog, choppy water and the Latin American heat in the 14 mile trek. Competitors also had to rely on each other for a little boost, which is exactly what O’Hara did. The Gloucester native teamed up with a Japanese paddle boarder and the two switched off drafting on one another for the length of the 14 mile jaunt.
“That was one of the cooler parts of the competition,” O’Hara said. “I went up there without a teammate in the race and I essentially ended up with a teammate from another country. We just drafted off each other the whole race. You need to do that in the marathon, just like a running marathon it’s all about preparation, and pacing yourself, sometimes you need to work as a team and draft.”
The Technical Race is dubbed the competition’s most difficult race as it puts every paddle boarding skill to the test. While it’s shorter than the Marathon, the Technical Race brings more obstacles for the paddlers to overcome.
Paddlers need to make their way around an obstacle course three times, turning buoys along the way. After finishing the paddler must catch a wave to the finish line. Competitors must strategize their way through the course making sure they make the final turn in opportune time to catch a wave into the finish while at the same time navigating the race course and dodging 4-6 foot swells throughout.
“It’s lots of carnage,” O’Hara said. “It’s the most difficult race in the competition because you have to strategize on each buoy turn. The conditions also made things very difficult.”
O’Hara was one of four members competing for the Irish National Team last week. All 23 countries represented had 3-12 athletes competing in the competition. Now the the World Championships have concluded, O’Hara is right back in the water training in the Caribbean for upcoming SUP events in the region.