Location: Riverside Park on the Imperial River in downtown Bonita Springs, Florida.
Distance: 5.96 km / 3.7 miles. The course goes downriver ~1.5 km, around a permanent buoy, back upriver to the start, then around an inflatable buoy and downriver again for a second lap. There is an option to do just one lap (~2.97 km), and a few people took that option this time.
Conditions: Same as last time- Sunny, hot and humid with not much breeze. Even the river water was hot. Based on analysis with my paddling in current calculator, the current was 0.7 kph, which is about the same as it was in race #2.
Participants: There were 14 racers, which is a great turnout for a midsummer Sunday morning in little Bonita Springs. For the 1-lap race we had Jim and Michelle McIntyre, and my wife Rhonda. Yes, you read that right. RHONDA did this race. I am so proud of her! In the two-lap race it Jen Hayes and a bunch of dudes. Dudes on 12'6 boards included Bryan Herrick, Matt Kearney, and Devin Turetzkin. Dudes on 14' boards included Mark Athanacio, Mark Payne, Jon Weinberg, Justin DiGiorgio, Jared Hamilton, Steve Fleming, and me.
Gear: I used my 14x22 Riviera RP, the Blue Streak, with my Riviera Vantage R8 paddle and a 6" Fins Unlimited keel style fin. Rhonda rode a Fanatic Falcon 14x27.25, which was originally Justin DiGiorgio's board, then my board, now officially Rhonda's. She used an Angulo paddle and a Riviera Commando fin. Jen Hayes usually rides a Riviera but this time she rode Mark Athanacio's 12'6x24 Hovie Comet GT. Athanacio rode his 14x21.5 Hovie. Steve Fleming is associated with Naish boards, and rode a slick looking Naish Javelin.
Results: In the one lap division Steve and Michelle McIntyre got 22:13 and 27:27, respectively, and Rhonda coasted gracefully to third with 33:22. I got first place in the two lap division with 38:05, which is slower than my race #2 time (37:47), but faster than my race #1 time (38:18). Course record holder Mark Athanacio didn't go all out this time, instead making the sensible decision to jump in the water occasionally to cool off. Nevertheless, he easily got second place with 39:54. Third overall and first on 12'6 was Matt Kearney in 42:53, just ahead of Justin DiGiorgio's 42:56 on a 14' board. That was a hard fought victory for Matt, who was specifically trying to beat his pal Justin. Second and third 12'6s were Devin Turetzkin in 45:07 and Jen Hayes in 51:38. Full results will be posted on the CGT time trials page.
Play by play: I'm learning that my race really begins about a week before the actual start. How much I work out, how much rest I get, what I eat and drink, and how calm or stressed I am makes a considerable difference in how hard the race feels. This week had three SUP workouts as usual, but I had to shuffle them to odd days, including the day before the race. I also had a non-normal eating, sleeping, and work schedule, and some other stresses that put me a little off-kilter. However, I knew Rhonda would be doing the race, her first ever, and that filled me with joyful energy.
On race morning Rhonda and I walked our boards to the race site, schmoozed with the other racers, and did a little warm-up paddling. It was too dang hot to warm up much, though, so mostly we soaked in the river to stay cool. The race directors offered to let us start earlier than usual because of the heat, so we lined up around 0840. It was great to be next to Rhonda at the start. Matt Kearney and Devin Turetzkin also started in our wave. Athanacio was just arriving by board to the race site when we were lined up to start, so he probably didn't have long to get situated before he started in about the third group. At the start I sprinted pretty hard to make sure I was in front of Devin and Matt, but I switched over to steady race pace early. Rhonda managed not to fall in the rough water of our wakes, and set out on her own steady pace. Matt Kearney stayed in my draft for several hundred meters, but eventually his splashing sounds faded away.
I felt a little off-balance physically and tried to focus on proper form to find the right groove and pacing. After the downriver buoy turn, on the first upriver leg, I saw the other racers pretty evenly spaced out. Matt and Devin were closest, but Justin and Athanacio were not far behind them. I saved about half a breath to say something brief and encouraging to Rhonda when we passed. Upriver in the heat sucked, but I thought about something from the book I'm reading, "The Boys in the Boat" about a University of Washington crew team in the 1930s. Their coach would tell them, "M.I.B.," mind-in-boat to keep them focused on the immediate task at hand- making the boat go fast. I tried to do the same with focusing on making my board go fast. After the upriver buoy turn, starting the second lap, I tried to go nearly as fast as I'd gone on the first lap, with moderate success. On the final upriver leg I did the same, but it took a lot of effort, with my heart rate up to 192 by the finish line. My average speeds on the four legs were 10.3, 8.8, 10.0, and 8.7 kph. I was quite happy with my final time even though it wasn't a personal best.
Here's my GPS track and data from the race. You have to go into Strava to see the details like HR and stuff. Several of the other race team members are now on Strava, as well, and when we paddle at the same time and location Strava figures out that we're in a race together and activates a cool animated replay feature called "Flyby".
The socializing at CGT after the race was especially nice today with Rhonda there. A lot of our talk centered around local and broader South Florida environmental problems, though, which was tough. "Calusa John" Paeno has become a very strong advocate for Everglades Restoration and local water quality issues, and he let us know about some of his efforts to bring the changes we need. An unfortunate corollary of this summer's bad water quality is that CGT's Lover's Key paddleboard race had to be canceled. There's too much dirty, dangerous polluted water, nasty algae, and dead seagrass in Estero Bay now for CGT to want to invite out of town racers to the area. :(
What's Next: More training, more paddling for fun with Rhonda, and more science and environmental activism.
Host:CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards, which you can become a groupie of by joining the CGT Tribe facebook page. CGT's Aaron Thomas, and John and Nick Paeno, are upping their media game lately by "livestreaming" these local races on YouTube, inspired by SUPracer.com's livestreaming of international race events. It's still early days of the technology, and there's some dead air and missed shots when the videographers have to run errands and stuff, but I think having any video coverage at all is really cool. Some highlights of the video: 6:00- Interview with my wife Rhonda Mason. 8:00- First wave of the race starts. 27:20- Some of the halfway-point buoy roundings (and halfway-point retirements). 41:30- I sprint to the finish line and act dramatically exhausted when I cross it.
Location: Riverside Park on the Imperial River in downtown Bonita Springs, Florida.
Distance: 5.96 km / 3.7 miles. The course goes downriver ~1.5 km, around a permanent buoy, back upriver to the start, then around an inflatable buoy and downriver again for a second lap. There is an option to do just one lap (~2.97 km), and several people took that option this time.
Conditions: Sunny, very hot, and humid, with little breeze. Based on analysis with my new paddling in current calculator, the current was about 0.8 kph, which is stronger than the 0.4 kph we had for race #1.
Participants: We were missing a few of the regulars who were away on vacation, or perhaps taking a vacation from sup racing after many back-to-back races around the state. Nevertheless, we had a good crew of veteran and rookie racers. Becky Catlett Garry, a divemaster and one of the organizers of the Calusa Palooza paddle race, and Heather Olson, a Florida Southwestern University professor and yoga instructor, joined veteran racers Jen Hayes (riding a 12'6x26 Riviera RP) and Damien Lin (riding a 12'6x26 Hovie ZXC) to carry the banner for the women. Returning on the men's side we had race #1 winner and CGT Team coach Mark Athanacio riding his awesome 14x21 Hovie GT. Also on Hovies were Matt Kearney (12'6x25 ZXC), Justin DiGiorgio (14x25 ZXC), Jared Hamilton (14x24 ZXC), and Devin Turetzkin (12'6x25 GT). On 404 v3 carbon boards were nurse practitioner Mark Payne (14x27), and rollerblading dragon tattoo man Bryan Herrick (12'6x27). Lifelong SW Florida resident Jon Weinberg rode a 14x27 Yolo, and determined rookie-year paddler Joe Gladieaux rode the 14x24.75 Fanatic Falcon that I sold him a while ago. The only guy not on a raceboard was big-haired videographer David Eisenberg, who rode a 10'6 Riviera surf sup.
Gear: I used my 14x22 Riviera RP, the Blue Streak, with my Riviera Vantage R8 paddle and a 6" Fins Unlimited keel style fin. The Blue Streak likes to go straight and fast; the small fin makes it easier to turn around the buoys and bends in the river.
Results: I got first place this time in 37:47, one second shy of the 37:46 course record that Mark Athanacio set in race #1. Athanacio had a very fast first lap today and looked set to beat me again, but the heat forced him to slow down his second lap and finish in 38:50. Justin DiGiorgio had the next fastest time, 42:15, more than a minute faster than his race #1 time despite the heat. Even though Matt Kearney was on a 12'6 he was very close to Justin's time with 42:17. Veterinarian Damien Lin, who is fond of saying she's old enough to be my mother, was the fastest woman in 48:57, followed by Jen Hayes (51:34) and Heather Olson (55:43). Because of the heat and the current, and assorted ailments and misgivings, many normally-strong racers retired from this race after the first lap. They don't show up in the results, but I still give them credit for being there and going hard. Full results are posted on the CGT time trials page.
Play by play: I stretched and warmed up more than usual before this race, based on advice I got at a sup racing clinic taught by Riviera's Ryan Helm. I also drank iced tea and lots of water at breakfast, and took plunges in the river "to stay cool" before the race. Milling around the starting area, Athanacio and I negotiated to start in different waves to focus on solo performance testing rather than on drafting and race tactics. I started in the first wave, with Matt Kearney and Devin Turetzkin. Those guys were on 12'6s so they didn't have a chance to keep up for long, but they sprinted fast and stayed abreast for a surprisingly long time.
Once I was out front and clear, I tried to find the fastest pace that I could hope to maintain without burning out prematurely. I applied some skills I've been practicing, like using a wider grip on the paddle, and making sure the paddle blade enters the water at a "positive angle" (slanted towards the nose of the board). I also tried to find the fastest current in the river, and to make smooth and efficient curves around the bends. Focusing on stroke technique and navigation tactics has the added benefit of leaving less room in the mind for dwelling on suffering. My turn at the downriver buoy went ok, and I tried to apply similar techniques heading upriver- except trying to stay out of the current instead of in it. I could see Athanacio was nearly catching up to Matt, which meant he was making great time downriver and might be gaining on me. I was really tired and fighting against the miserable thought that I was only in the second quarter of the race. I tried to look past that and psych myself up for my plan of putting in a smooth, fast run when I got to the third leg of going back downriver- it helped. I also conserved energy by reducing the words of encouragement I shouted to other racers to one, "GO!," or sometimes I just grunted or wheezed.
My wife Rhonda was hanging out at the start line / halfway point, which gave me a morale boost when I did my turn there and started downriver again. With the boost of the current I was able to keep my speed over 10 kph on that leg, which is a nice big number to see on the GPS. Unfortunately I was also seeing big heart rate numbers in the high 180s. I felt OK, though, so I kept the pace. When I turned and started the final upriver leg I saw that Athanacio wasn't as close as he had been, which was a good sign for me. When I did pass Athanacio he wished me Happy Anniversary (thanks, man!) and said something to the effect that he'd conceded and I'd won this one. I wanted to seal the deal, though, so I kept right on the edge of the maximum level of suffering I could tolerate until I crossed the finish line.
Here's my GPS track and data from the race. You have to go into Strava to see the details like HR and stuff.
I was pleased that, compared the first race in this series, I was able to keep more parity between my first and second lap. In the first race my pace dropped 0.6 kph from the first to the third leg, whereas in this race it only dropped 0.3 kph. In running races, the best times are achieved with even or negative "splits," which means when the latter laps are equally fast or faster than the first lap. I don't know if that's also optimal for SUP racing, but it might be something to experiment with.
What's Next: I'll keep training, trying to incorporate plenty of skill development work along with Athanacio's interval training and strength training, which seem to be effective. I'm also going to try to spread my SUP technical geek skills to others this coming Saturday, July 2nd, at 9 am at CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards. I'm going to do a free clinic on how to time yourself and track your progress, with or without a GPS. Contact CGT if you want to reserve a spot. Stopwatches and notebooks are required. GPS fitness trackers and laptops with Microsoft Excel are recommended.
A while ago I was thinking about how river current slows down the racers in the CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards race series on the Imperial River. It's obvious that the current slows you down when you're paddling against it, and speeds you up when you're paddling with it. It's the same principle as walking the right way on an airport moving sidewalk vs. the walking the wrong way on an airport moving sidewalk; going with the flow gets you to your destination faster, going against the flow gets you there slower. What's less obvious is how the flow affects the time of a round-trip journey, where you go with the flow one way but have to go against the flow the other way. Does the time saved going with the flow make up for the extra time it takes when going against the flow?
It turns out the answer is, "No." You always lose more time going against the flow than you save going with the flow. There's not much difference if the current is very slow relative to the speed of the paddler, but the stronger the current is, and the slower the paddler is, the more the paddler's overall time is reduced relative to her time on a course with equal distance but no current. If it's hard to wrap you mind around that, maybe the math will convince you.
The formula for the total time it takes to complete a round-trip course up and down a flowing river is: t = d/(v+c) +d/(v-c)
d = 1 way distance of course
v = racer speed relative to the water
c = river current speed
t = time to complete course
If you don't want to do the math yourself, here's a pre-made spreadsheet you can use to see how much your speeds and trip times are affected by a river current. If you don't know what the river current is, the spreadsheet can figure it out for you from the difference between your upriver and downriver speeds.
There are some simplifying assumptions made in these calculations. One assumption is that the current is uniform in the river- it doesn't increase or decrease as you go upriver or downriver, or shift from one side of the river to another. Of course we know that's not true. In fact, we may be able to cheat the river current time penalty (at least to some extent) by picking the swiftest part of the river when paddling downstream, and picking the slowest part of the river when paddling upstream. I'll certainly be trying to do that in the CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards race tomorrow morning.
Since getting into standup paddleboard racing I've started paying attention to physiological aspects of fitness, like Heart Rate (HR). I'm no expert in HR, but here's what I've learned from the Internets:
1. HR is a measure of how many times your heart beats in a given time period. It's usually expressed as bpm: beats per minute.
2. Your heart beats slower when you are resting, and faster when you are exercising.
3. There is a big difference between your "resting HR" and your "maximum HR".
4. Exercise scientists divide the range between resting HR and maximum HR into about 5 "zones" of exercise intensity.
6. Each person's resting HR, maximum HR, and zones are unique to that person, but there are some trends in HR based on age and fitness level.
7. Resting HR is usually 50-80 bpm, but it tends to be lower in more fit people and higher in out-of-shape people.
8. Maximum HR tends to be >200 bpm for kids, and decreases steadily with age. Fitness training doesn't increase your Max HR, but it might help maintain it as you age.
9. There's a "rule of thumb" for calculating your maximum HR. It's: Max HR = 220 - Age. There's also a more precise formula: Max HR = 211 - (0.64 x Age). (Nes et al. 2012)
10. Due to natural genetic variability, it's common for your true Max HR to be up to 20 bpm higher or lower than the Max HR predicted by the formula.
11. To figure out your true Max HR you need to do a "stress test," which involves exercising, increasing the intensity to 100%, and measuring your HR at that point. Fun!
There are lots of charts and guides figuring out your heart rate zones and training, but I wanted to make one that could be easily customized for an individual. So, I came up with the excel version below. Try it out and let me know what you think.
Host / Sponsors / Benefitting: Hosted by Island Water Sports, organized by racers Victoria Burgess and Roray Kam. Supported by lots of sponsors listed on the event website.
Location / Travel: Pompano Beach, Florida, just south of the pier. My wife Rhonda and I drove over on Friday and stayed at the cute, affordable (in the summer off-season) Seahorse Motel. Off the beach in front of the hotel Rhonda and I snorkeled and saw neat fishes, including sociable Gray Triggerfish. Though the "reef" was mostly dead rock with sponges and algae, there were occasional live corals, including one healthy-looking endangered Staghorn Coral. My CGT Teammate Matt and his runner wife Ali also arrived Friday, and we had dinner with them and their friend Friday night at a place on the water called Bokampers.
Distance: The course was a big rectangle parallel to the beach, bounded by swim marker buoys on the inside edge and two giant inflatable red buoys on the outside edge. It was set up so that you started at the north end of the rectangle and did laps, clockwise. It was a lot like the Battle on the Blueway in that arrangement, except that the laps were shorter and there were more of them. The "rec" race was 3 laps, and the "elite" race was 6 laps. I had 10.36 km on my GPS at the end of the elite race. There was also a short distance of running in the sand, through a little corral, between each lap.
Conditions: It was sunny, hot, and humid. The Atlantic was quite flat because the wind was from the West. Cooling off by swimming before (and in some cases during) the race was essential. It also helped that we brought a shade tent to lounge under and an ice chest to keep our water cold. The ocean was so clear it was a bit disorienting to see the bottom far below while standing on the board.
Participants: There were lots of people in both the elite and the recreational races. There were also lots of kayak fishermen there for a tournament that shared the same stage and tent city as the sup race. (It got stinky in the afternoon when they were all bringing their fish back for the weigh-in.) From my local sup group, the CGT Tribe, we had coach Mark Athanacio, Jen Hayes, Matt Kearney, and me. Mark and Matt both used 12'6 Hoviesup boards in this race- the first race on 12'6 for Matt who usually rides a 14' 404 v3. Unlike last weekend's Battle on the Blueway there were no out of state pros in the men's race, but on the women's side there was Mariecarmen Rivera Rivera from Puerto Rico and Valeria Salustri from Costa Rica. Semi-pro Hoviesup riders Brad Ward and Kieran Grant were absent, but another extremely talented Hovie rider, Jake Portwood, put in a killer race on a 14' footer that should have Brad and Kieran worried. (Mr. Portwood usually races 12'6.) Another hotshot there was hulking bodybuilder Josh Smart (NSP Boards, Werner Paddles) who was 2nd place after Kieran last year. Last year's 12'6 champ Zach Rousanville was also there, but riding a 14' Indigo board this year. In the women's, Florida's top two (Seychelle Hattingh and Kim Barnes) were absent, and hotshot Victoria Burgess (Starboard) couldn't race because she had to run the event. But veteran racers Mini de Cuna Marageth Lagace and Mary Ann Boyer were there, along with Boga SUP's fast and photogenic Catherine Uden. Lots of other awesome people who I've gotten to know through racing were also there but this would go on forever if I mentioned everyone by name.
Results: The rec race had divisions for non-raceboards and 12'6 raceboards for men and women. Rostislav Zalesak won the 12'6 men's in 39:13, and Jen Hayes won 12'6 women's in 43:22. Yen Loyola overcame an ankle injury to win non-raceboard men's in 43:36 and Chelsea Loder won non-raceboard women's in 47:57. In the elite race, the men's 14' podium was Jake Portwood 1:10:47, Jake Graham 1:11:29, and me 1:11:39. (Thank god Jake Stepp wasn't there this week.) Women's 12'6 podium was Mariecarmen Rivera Rivera 1:20:33, Mary Ann Boyer 1:20:50, and Cat Uden 1:20:53. Men's 12'6 podium was Packet Casey 1:13:07 on a Zulu sup, Mark Athanacio 1:13:14 on a Hovie Comet GT, and Jamie Twigg in 1:14:44. Matt Kearney got 4th in the 12'6 class in 1:17:18 on a Hovie Comet ZXC that he just picked up from Hovie rider Katherine Pyne. Impressively, Matt actually beat some of the 14' paddlers who he has struggled against in the past (sorry Jason Casuga). I think 12'6 suits Matt's lightweight build, and the Comet ZXC is a very efficient board. I was pleased with the mix of luck and hard paddling that got me 3rd this year, after getting 4th last year. Some of last year's racers had less luck this year. Josh Smart snapped his paddle blade in half at the start, maybe in the process of superman-jumping onto his board, which has raised rails like a canoe. Josh had to do the first lap with a loaner paddle that was too short, and the rest of the race with another loaner paddle, which cost him a lot of time. Zach Rousanville hadn't been able to train for a month and cramped up early in the race, but held on and still finished alright. Full results are posted here on paddleguru.
Gear: This time I used "Fletchy," my 14x23.75 carbon Riviera, rather than my newer 14x22 Riviera. My thinking was that the lighter weight, slightly greater width, and more curved "rocker" of Fletchy would help me out with the many buoy turns and beach starts in this race. The 14x22 would have been fine, as well, and perhaps a bit faster on the straightaways, but I'm still not as comfortable on that board as on Fletchy.
Play by play: For the beach start I lined up next to Matt Kearney. During the sprint for the first buoy I slowed both of us down a bit by whacking my paddle into the nose of his board. I was in a mediocre position at the first buoy, but rounded cleanly and got up to speed in an outside lane on the straightaway, where I was able to start passing people. It took longer to reel in the good starters who were close to me in board speed, like fast 12'6ers Mark Athanacio and Packet Casey. Athanacio was upset that I got right in front of him after I passed him, because it made him have to change paths to avoid being accused of drafting out of class. Whoopsie daisy!
If I remember right, I stayed in turbo speed until it was just Jake Portwood and Jake Graham that were ahead of me. (Part of my strategy for this race, based on my experience in 2015, was to go extra hard on the first lap to stay near the leaders and avoid getting stuck in traffic at the beach run corral.) It helped that I was able to get in Jake Graham's draft. I didn't think I'd be able to catch Portwood, but I hoped that Graham, a really fit young guy on a slick 14x24 Rogue SUP, would pull us up to him. It didn't happen- Portwood was too strong and steady and gradually extended his lead.
Saving a tiny bit of energy by drafting Graham gave me enough to be peppy in the beach run and restart, and allowed me to catch Graham's draft again. Win! Sometime in one of the early laps, maybe the second, I thought Graham might be slowing down and I told him I could pull for a while if he'd let me pass, which he did. As fast as he is, he apparently isn't very comfortable drafting, and it tired him out more trying to draft than just paddling on his own. (Sometimes I feel the same way. Especially behind people like Athanacio who make lots of bubbles and chop.) Anyway, because of that I was actually a few board lengths ahead of Jake Graham for a while... enough to glimpse a hope of getting second place. Of course, there were many more laps to go.
As the draining heat took its toll in successive laps, my beach runs and restarts got less peppy, and my form and cadence deteriorated. I was thankful for beefy board-handler Yen Loyola pushing the back of my board each time I hopped on. But instead of sprinting off after re-mounting I was only able to make weak, slow strokes until my systems came online enough to find a little power again. (This is something I might be able to address with training. Athanacio advocates short paddle sprints alternating with short beach runs in soft sand to quickly deplete your whole body energy systems and force you to adapt to that sort of running-on-empty feeling.) Jake Graham caught back up to me on maybe the 4th lap and I had to limp into his draft again. I stayed there for a while. However, after the next beach run I didn't have the energy/willpower left to catch back up to him. At least I held myself together for the rest of the race and finished only 10 seconds behind. I was very happy with my 3rd place result and the cool tiki totem wood carving trophy that I got.
Here's my GPS track and data from the race. You have to go into Strava to see the details.
It was interesting comparing my performance in this race to how I did in the 2015 Sunshine Sup Race #2. The heat, wind conditions, and total race distances were almost identical, but there was one less lap last year, therefore four fewer buoy turns and one fewer beach run. I averaged 0.21 kph faster this year. That likely owes to: 1) more training and race experience, 2) drafting, 3) not falling down, 4) not jumping off too early at the beach corral, 4) pushing a little harder (my average HR this year was 183 vs. 181 last year), and 5) my Riviera board being a little better at flatwater speed and buoy turns than the Fanatic Falcon I rode last year.
Other race intrigues: The fishing tournament was interesting but I was sad that so many strong, beautiful ocean creatures were being killed just for the competition. Some went straight into the garbage can. WTF?! I like the idea of kayak fishing being more fair and sporting than fishing from huge, super-powered motorboats but it's far from perfectly green.
What's Next: I'm not going to any more races for a while. (There aren't as many during the heat of the summer in Florida.) But I'll keep practicing, and try to work on some of the things that are holding me back, like my beach starts. I also want to revisit my stroke to see if I can improve it.
Host / Sponsors / Benefitting: Hosted by Lee County's "Calusa Blueway" paddle trails program and the SWFL Sup Club. Sponsored by Ron Jon Surf Shop, Estero River Outfitters, and others listed on the event page. Benefiting Lee County Special Olympics.
Location: Crescent Beach Park, Fort Myers, Florida.
Distance: The Saturday main event was three laps around a 4 km course, a little over 12 km total. There was also a shorter race that was just one lap. Each lap had 6-7 buoys to go around, although two of those turns were oblique enough that you could curve around them without slowing down. Sunday morning there was a 16 km race for 6-person outrigger canoes (OC6), and while that was going on there were SUP sprint relay races in the morning, then kids' races and Special Olympics races.
Conditions: It was hot and humid with minimal wind. The Gulf of Mexico was glassy except for tiny wakes and swells. Light tidal current flowed from North to South. The water was brown and the beach stank with dead algae, dead coquina clams, and prune-like dead sea squirts presumably washed up by the preceding week's high surf from Tropical Storm Colin. Another factor contributing to the nasty water was ongoing discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River, which empties near Ft. Myers Beach. The polluted lake water ought to be treated in wetlands south of Lake Okeechobee and then passed southward to the parched everglades to mimic the historical north-south flow pattern. But instead it's dumped west to the Caloosahatchee to appease the wealthy sugarcane barons who own land south of Lake Okeechobee and who are in the pocket of many state politicians. As I've advocated in this blog post, the state needs to buy out the sugar land asap and convert it to a wetland for water storage and treatment, or our SW Florida beaches are just going to get browner and stinkier each year.
Participants: There were over 100 competitors in the various divisions, including about 50 SUP paddlers in the 12 km race. The men's 14' division included professionals Ryan Helm (Riviera), Gabriel Beauchesne-Sevigny (Riviera), Josh Riccio (Rogue), and Garrett Fletcher (Yolo). The women's 12'6 division had international stars Seychelle Hattingh (Mistral) and Kim Barnes (Riviera), both just back from Europe. (Interestingly, the women raced 14s in Europe, and taller Seychelle excelled ahead of Kim in those races. But on 12'6s here in the USA petite Kim was on equal footing with Seychelle again.) Some of the top Florida sponsored riders, including Hoviesup's Brad Ward and Kieran Grant, switched from their usual 14' boards to 12'6 boards for this race- wise moves to have a better chance at money positions on the 12'6 podium. The CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards "Tribe" was out in force for this big race in our backyard, participating both as racers and as volunteers helping in all sorts of ways both Saturday and Sunday. For example, artist/craftsman Steve Nagy volunteered, and raced, AND was the one who made the trophies. Big thanks to all the volunteers.
Results: Full results are posted on Paddleguru, and photos and news clips from the race are posted on the Battle on the Blueway facebook page. Disclaimer- Every SUP racer's times listed for the Ron Jon Pro are slow by about 90 seconds, probably because they are based on when the kayaks and outriggers were released, which was a bit before the paddlers. In men's 14, Ryan Helm got 1st in 1:16:17, Josh Riccio 2nd in 1:16:32, Gabriel B-S 3rd in 1:16:36. (In the video it looks like Josh and Gabriel arrive at the shore simultaneously but Josh jumps off and runs quicker.) Garrett Fletcher was 4th in 1:18:05, Sam English 5th in 1:20:45, Mark Athanacio 6th (1st 50+) in 1:20:59, me 7th in 1:22:11.84. Between Athanacio and me were the top two men's 12'6 racers Kieran Grant in 1:21:12 and Brad Ward in 1:21:42, and Darian Hildreth on an unlimited length sup in 1:22:11.47. Just hundredths of a second behind me was 8th place 14' Jake Stepp (GUSU) in 1:22:11.89. More on that later. Seychelle and Kim had a typical near-tie finish in 1:25:03/04. Matt Kearney was first of my CGT team 14' sup peers in 1:28:29, followed by Mark Hourigan and Justin DiGiorgio just a bit later. Another CGT teammate, Devin Turetzkin, was the first over-50 12'6 in 1:33:20. Joe Gladieux was the last to complete the race in 2:03:17, riding the tippy 14x24.75 Fanatic Falcon that I used in last year's Battle of the Blueway. I think that's a darn good achievement for a guy who jumped right into SUP a few months ago with no headstart from any similar sports. Joe would have placed well in the 4 km race but was brave to go for the 12 km.
Gear: Up until the last minute I wasn't sure if I would use my 14x23.75 carbon Riviera or the newer 14x22 Riviera. When I heard that visiting pro Gabriel B-S needed a loaner board I decided to avoid choosing by letting him choose first. Gabriel chose the 14x23.75, which was closer to the board he trains on, so I used the 14x22. After the race Gabriel paddled the 14x22 and said it might be faster, but we didn't do any actual testing. For the fin I used a fairly large windsurfing weed fin, which I think adds stability to the narrow board. For the paddle I used my usual Riviera Vantage R8, which I found out is the same blade pro Ryan Helm uses, although he has the newer "Bump" edition with a more flexible, bump-grip shaft. Interestingly, super-strong Gabriel prefers a smaller paddle blade than Ryan- the Bump 7.5.
Play by play: We lined up at the water's edge, they blew a horn, we dashed out, jumped on our boards, and started sprinting for the first buoy. A lot of people had good starts. Mine was average, and I found myself in about 10th when we rounded the first buoy. It looked like my best hope would be to link up with Mark Athanacio and Sam English, who had gotten off faster and formed a pair that was trying to catch the lead train of Ryan Helm, Josh Riccio, Gabriel, and Garrett Fletcher. I paddled hard and tried to find some kind of wake or bump to help me, but was running out of sprint mojo and not getting any closer to those two, who were were going even harder. They never caught the four leaders, but I never caught them, either, so somewhere in the first lap I resigned myself to going solo and trying to just defend the position I was in.
It was hard to keep pushing after the close competition slipped away, but my speedcoach GPS and heartrate monitor helped keep me honest about my speed and effort level. Also, the many buoy turns in this race gave me a glimpse of the people behind me whenever I rounded a corner. One of those people caught up to me late in the first lap. It was Darian Hildreth on a long unlimited SUP. For a while we traded positions because he was faster in the straights but I could do the buoy turns faster. But gradually he extended the lead to the point that I couldn't get him again. Similar battles between other good-turners vs. good-speeders were happening elsewhere on the course. For example, strong 50-something Mark Hourigan would close in on nimble 20-something Matt Kearney in the straightaways, but Matt's fast turns ultimately won the day.
As I got tired my speed went down- pacing, efficiency and endurance are all things I need to work on. My first lap was at 9.4 kph average, second was 8.9, and third 8.7. Increasing heat and increasing tidal current may have contributed to that, but mainly I was just physically and mentally fatigued. In the second lap the top two 12'6 racers, Kieran Grant and Brad Ward, passed me. I had to just let them go because we're not allowed to draft a different class, even if it's the "slower" 12'6 class. There was actually controversy after the race that a 12'6 paddler had been drafting ME for a while, but I wasn't any help in figuring that out because I never looked back to see it happening and I didn't remember. What I do remember was on the third lap when Jake Stepp on a nice 14x23 GUSU sup caught up with me. I got in his draft and was pretty determined to stay there, not wanting a repeat of the FL State Paddleboard Championships where I fell off and out of Reid Hyle's draft. It was not at all easy to stay in Jake's draft because he was going faster than I'd been going. Eventually, though, I was able to get my HR down from the mid to the low 180s, and I started to think more about how I could pass Jake than how to just keep up. He seemed to kind of stop for a break just after the buoy turn at the north end of the course, and he let me around without a fight. I tried to do my next buoy turn quickly and put a little gap on him that he'd have to struggle to regain. I don't know if it worked or not. Anyway, the final southward leg of the course was a fast one, with me not wanting to give Jake any opportunities to pass. By the last buoy turn it had evolved into an nerve-wracking, all-we-had-left sprint for the beach. I was less than one board length ahead, even when we jumped off the boards and started the footrace to the finish line flags. I'm not a naturally fast runner, but I went like a lion was chasing me and, fittingly, Jake let out a primal scream like a lion as he was within a hair's breadth of catching me on the final run. I got across first but it was like, WOW. Definitely the most intense race finish I've ever been in. My HR had reached 192 bpm, and Jake said he was naseous like he was going to throw up.
Here's my GPS track and data from the race. You have to go into Strava to see the details.
Other race intrigues: Once the racing was done, a cheery, relaxed atmosphere took over. I talked to Jake Stepp at the pre-awards lunch and he turned out to actually be a super friendly, chill, southern-talking guy who was not like a vicious lion at all, except for the mane of long hair. I also talked with Gabriel and learned a bit about his background (has a civil engineering degree) and career as a professional canoe racer (retiring now after just barely missing the cut for Rio Olympics). Gabriel might transition to full time SUP racer. He's definitely fast enough already, and will only get faster with more board and ocean experience. Or maybe he'll take a civil engineering job and make big bucks. I wish him lots of success and happiness with whatever he does. I also talked to the other Riviera pro, Ryan Helm, about board shapes and things like that. Mr. Helm is still in town and will be doing a sup racing CLINIC at CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards on Tuesday evening. Should be awesome.
Another thing that happened after the race was the formation of 4-person, mixed-gender teams for Sunday's sup relay races. Mark Athanacio formed "Team Old School" with his longtime race buddies Packet Casey (yes, I think his name is actually Packet), Jake Portwood, and Amanda Portwood. Riviera representative Will Connaughton made "Team Riviera" with Gabriel B-S, local racer Kate Pagan, and another female paddler to make the most gender-equal team. I persuaded Jen Hayes to be on my "CGT 1" team with Matt Kearney and Robert Norman the superman board guy. There was also "CGT 2" with Damien Lin, Devin Turetzkin, Bryan Herrick, and Doug. Another team was made up of Special Olympics coaches Jodi Ziajka, Donna Catron, Steve Nagy, and Stephanie Perrelli Dangler. There were 7 teams total. Saturday night there were festivities in the fun atmosphere of Ft. Myers Beach. I had dinner there at "Pete's Time Out," but I didn't stay for the wild drinking and dancing that was apparently led by Team Old School (minus teetotaler Athanacio).
The relay race itself was well organized, with four lanes marked with cones, flags, and buoys, and identical Yolo Hammerhead 10'6 sups provided by Yolo boards. Robert Norman helped our CGT1 team come up with an efficient board-handoff dance, which made us smooth in the transitions. We weathered some trash talking from Athanacio and made it through the first round into the second and final round. There we faced CGT2, Team Old School, and Team Riviera. We put up our best effort and got second after Team Old School. It was scary at the end having Gabriel from Team Riviera churning the water behind me and digging away at the modest lead I'd started with- Good thing the laps weren't any longer. The top three teams each got a couple hundred dollars to divide among themselves, which was awesome.
What's Next: Next weekend is the first race of the Sunshine SUP series in Fort Lauderdale. (There are just two races in that series.) I haven't signed up yet, but I think I probably will. Racing is addictive.
It's not usually windy this time of year in Florida, but Tropical Storm Colin brought some strong wind today, along with rain, thunderstorms, and even a tornado that apparently crossed Lovers' Key island near where I live. I wasn't sure it would clear up enough for me to sail, but in the late afternoon, it did.
I was worried that my usual spot Wiggins Pass would be closed due to beach erosion or safety concerns, but I figured Bonita Beach Access #1, also known as Doc's Beach House, would be open. It looked plenty windy when I arrived, so I rigged a 4.7 m^2 sail and brought out my small 83 liter board. This 4.7 is a used but new-to-me "Fire" from Hot Sails Maui. I'm still figuring it out, but so far I really like it. It seems very responsive to tuning. At the minimum downhaul tension setting, with loose outhaul, it's powerful for its size, and you can get away with using it in conditions that aren't quite windy enough for a 4.7. More downhaul adds control when the wind comes up, making the sail feel smooth and balanced in it's ideal wind range. If you add both downhaul and outhaul tension you can get rid of a lot of the power in the sail to windsurf in higher winds without feeling like you're overpowered... but you have to be careful not to over-tighten the outhaul if you still need power.