Mike Dilloughery's awe-inspiring ocean journey last Sunday wasn't about posting a fast time or gaining entry into any record book. It was about personal fulfillment, a sense of accomplishment for completing a self-imposed test of physical and mental strength and endurance.
Roughly 12½ hours after he stepped into the ocean with his paddleboard at Cowell Beach, Dilloughery stepped back on the same glorious sand at dusk. He thrust his swollen, jellyfish-stung hands into the air as a small group of family members and friends cheered history.
Dilloughery — a 48-year-old father of two — solo paddled from Santa Cruz to Monterey and back, making him the first person to complete the gruesome, 50-mile round trip without a support boat, several longtime area paddleboarders said.
The Santa Cruz High alum and active member of the Ghostryders Watermen Club said he contemplated completing the round trip for nearly five years. He religiously tracked ocean and wind conditions the past two years, waiting for the perfect day. Sunday turned out to be that day.
"I'm stoked I made it," said Dilloughery, who took up paddleboarding a decade ago. "For me, it was about completing a personal goal or challenge. It didn't matter if I was the first, second or third person to ever do it. I just wanted to do it."
He said he got the round-trip idea while competing in the Ghostryder's now-defunct Monterey Bay Crossing race with fellow club member and professional big wave surfer Zach Wormhoudt in 2009 in poor, foggy conditions.
Even in a near-perfect conditions, 50 miles of paddling will take its toll on a body.
Dilloughery tried his best to rotate between paddling with his hands while laying prone and from his knees. His right shoulder, surgically repaired a year ago, held up. But his back and lower rib cage took a beating when winds picked up on his return trip in the afternoon, forcing him to paddle while laying on his stomach longer than he expected.
Dilloughery let few people know he was attempting the historic paddle. It would have been embarrassing had he notified the media and not completed it, his wife Corrina said, adding that he didn't want the fanfare. It was something personal.
His wife, figuratively speaking, was along for the journey. Dilloughery downloaded the Find My iPhone app onto her phone so she could track his progress.
With four bottles of powdered, vitamin-rich sports drinks and a bag of smashed bananas attached to his 17-foot, 9-inch board, Dilloughery headed out at 6:15 a.m. He also had a GPS unit, cell phone, marine radio, iPod Nano, and $20 tucked away to buy supplies, if he needed, once he reached Monterey.
In perfect, glassy conditions, he maintained a reserved pace and reached Monterey by 11 a.m. despite arriving at Pacific Grove Golf Links and cutting over to Lover's Point to replenish his water supply. There, he called his wife and let her know half his mission was complete.
Good thing, too, because there were several times she was unable to receive his location from the app while he was on the water.
Several hours after Dilloughery departed Monterey, Wormhoudt called Corrina for a status update. He, along with fellow Ghostryder member Matt Hammil, then set out on his boat to try and find their fellow waterman.
Corrina took dozens of screen shots of the app tracking her husband on the water and messaged them to Wormhoudt. But with no coordinates, Wormhoudt and Hammil were having trouble locating Dilloughery.
"We must have looked for him for 4 hours," Wormhoudt said. "It was like looking for a needle in a haystack out there. I felt like we were looking for that lost plane."
Though separated, Dilloughery and his fellow Ghostryders were being treated by nature.
"There were more whales fully breaching out of water than I've ever seen," Wormhoudt said. "Everywhere you looked. It looked like a fireworks show."
Dilloughery said the closest humpback whale breached 50 yards away from him.
"It was such an extreme show," Dilloughery said. "It was crazy. They were everywhere. I've been out there a lot and I've never seen anything like that. It was amazing."
The scene was a welcome treat for Dilloughery since the battery in his Nano died, leaving him without music to keep him distracted. He said there were times he felt like Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway.
"Coming back, if there was an escort boat I probably would have hopped on," Dilloughery said. "That's one of the reasons I wanted to go solo."
Around the mile buoy marker, Wormhoudt and Hammil finally spotted Dilloughery. Wormhoudt snapped off several photos of him paddling and sent them to Corrina.
When Dilloughery finally reached Cowell's, completing his journey around 7 p.m., Wormhoudt sounded his horn. A can of beer awaited Dilloughery at a makeshift finish line in sand.
Given the physical torture Dilloughery endured, his body wasn't ready to digest an alcoholic beverage.
"It's probably the worst beer I ever had," Dilloughery said laughing.
Fifty miles, 12 hours of labor.
"It felt like it," said Dilloughery, three days removed from his feat.
Pictures of Dilloughery's historic paddle were posted on the Ghostryder's Facebook page, prompting hundreds of fans to offer congratulations.
Several watermen are still marveling over his feat.
"Mike accomplished something that may never be repeated," wrote Santa Cruz's Craig Waltz, a multiple winner in the Monterey Bay Crossing, in an email. "Conditions alone could prevent the gnarliest paddlers from ever completing such a paddleboarding mission. And the fact that he did it without boat support signifies that he was going to finish this paddle no matter what. Without boat support, his only other option was death by paddling."
Wormhoudt said his bay crossing undertaking was strenuous enough to not want to do it again.
"One way is a challenge in itself," Wormhoudt said. "What he did, it's next level type of stuff.
"He told me the day before he was going to do it. He mentioned it nonchalantly — this unfathomable endeavor. I knew he was capable, but when he made it it was like, 'Oh, my god!'
"I'm still baffled by it. It's the most amazing thing. It almost makes me want to cry. I'm not sure why. It's just so neat."
Dilloughery said he feels accomplished. But completing his longtime goal has left him with one burning question:
Contact Jim Seimas at 831-706-3256.