Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Double Header SUP Race Weekend

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Whew! After the first week back to teaching at FGCU I had a fun but tiring weekend of standup paddleboard racing. Saturday was the Sunshine SUP Series in Pompano Beach, and Sunday was the CGT Summer Time Trials in Bonita Springs. This is how it went down:

Friday morning- Drove across "Alligator Alley" to the South Florida Water Management District offices in West Palm Beach to give a presentation about algae on seagrass.

Friday afternoon- Drove back across the state to FGCU to sign a student's thesis document just before the deadline.

Friday evening- Came home to pack the van and to coach my own poor grad student in dog-sitting. Then my sweet wife Rhonda drove herself and me across the alley once more to the Sea Horse Motel in Pompano Beach.

Saturday morning- Rhonda dropped me off at the race site for early morning registration, then she went back to the hotel to sleep. I schlepped my 14' x 24.75" Fanatic Falcon down to the shore and got it all set up with my speedcoach GPS. After a bad experience being late for the start in another race I wanted to make sure all my gear was ready way ahead of time. I also brought the 11'8" Exocet WindSUP to the beach to be a snorkeling platform for Rhonda after the race.

I only paddled a tiny bit to warm up because it was really hot with no wind and no shade besides the vendor booths. Mostly I stayed cool and energized by swimming in the water, drinking and refilling cups of water over and over again, and eating bananas and orange wedges from the registration tent. They ran the 6.2 km "rec race" first so it was a long time before the 10.3 km "elite race" started. The course was a north-south rectangle along the beach, about 2 km per lap, 3 laps for the rec, 5 for the elite. (You can see my GPS track and speed + hr data on strava.) The tricky part was that you had to come into shore at the end of each lap, run through a little corral, then hop back on your board, which a "handler" would be wrangling for you at the water's edge.

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Rhonda was at the beach by the time my race started, and it was nice to have her in my corner. The race start was from a lineup on the beach, which is always kind of nerve-wracking and chaotic.
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At least they gave a good starting countdown. I didn't miss the horn, but my running into the water and jumping on the board wasn't quick enough to immediately bust me out of the big crowd of other competitors, which would have given me a good advantage. I at least managed to not fall off on the way out and around the first buoy. On the first leg I passed most of the 12'6 guys and some of the 14' guys who started well but faded. I was behind the real good 14' racers but doing my best to close the gap so I could draft them. That plan was modified when someone behind us called out that we were heading the wrong way for the third buoy. Whoops! Instantly I was ahead of the former leader but behind the new leaders as I backtracked to the correct buoy. I awkwardly rejoined the pack, falling off in traffic at the buoy. I worked on passing some people again, then the fast guys wove through doing the same. I felt a gentle "knock" on the back of my board when eventual winner Kieran Grant was subtly telegraphing that I needed to speed up or get passed. He went around me and I drafted him a bit, but he and some others blew me away with aggressive sprints and buoy roundings into the first beach run. I realized I should have sprinted there, too, because I was just slow enough to get caught in and contribute to an ugly jam at the beach run spot. The board handlers were still wrangling my board when I finished the run, and womens' winner Victoria Burgess' sharp-nosed Coreban board (picture) got wrangled into mine and gouged a divot in the flank. Oh, well.

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In the second lap I regained some positions and settled into the 4th place spot that I would hold for the rest of the race. There were times I thought I miiight be gaining on the 2nd and 3rd place dudes, but as more laps went by it was clear I wasn't. In the end the race was won in 1:11:17 by the very talented young surfer/racer Kieran Grant (HovieSUP).

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Kieran was followed by bearded musclebeast Josh Smart (BlkBox) in 1:11:52.

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Third was handsome highschool athlete Joey Huempfner (BOTE) in 1:11:55. My time was 1:12:47, which I'm pretty excited about. If I keep practicing I might eventually be able to get on the podium in this level of race.

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Saturday afternoon- Rhonda and I paddled out over the reef at the race site to snorkel while trailing our sups on their leashes. There wasn't a lot of live coral, but there was a lot of rock with soft coral, sponges, parrotfish, etc. Any snorkeling in clear tropical water is a win in my book. On the drive home after snorkeling I discovered I had a huge bruise on my leg where the keys in my pocked must have gotten jammed into me by a paddleboard during the race start or one of the traffic jams.



In the 12'6 class it was 20-something Zach Rounsaville, then skinny teenage Connor Rush, then SW Florida 50 year old hero Mark Athanacio. Zach is to my right in first pic, almost as fast on his 12'6 as I am on my 14'. From left in second pic is Connor then Mark.

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Other heroes were Mary Ann Boyer (MAB) and Mini Cunha Marageth Lagace, who seem to have switched from riding BlkBox boards to riding MHL boards.

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Sunday morning- Woke up, had breakfast, and walked down to the Imperial River with my board for the CGT Summer Time Trials. The guys at the shop offered to let me try out a Riviera 14' x 27" raceboard in the race. The Riviera is nice. It's the fiberglass version so it's a bit heavier than carbon, but it has a good blend of cutting the water and gliding on top of the water. In the race I started alongside Mark Athanacio, who rode his 14' Boga Typhoon. Both Mark and I were tired from the Sunshine SUP race the day before (Mark got 3rd in the 12'6 class) so we were happy to trade "pulling" a draft train. Matt Kearney hung with the train for quite a while, too, which shows he's continuing to improve. The current was strong in the river due to it being the height of Florida's wet season, so heading downriver was a lot faster than upriver. We stayed in the channel going down and skirted the edges coming up. We reached the most upriver point in the course, the "bat bridge" during one of the periods when I was pulling the draft train. Mark said something to the effect of once we hit the bridge it would be all-out racing for the final leg back downriver to the finish. So I did my fastest turn around the bridge pylon then my fastest sprint downriver to drop him out of my draft and not let him catch me again until the finish. It was real exciting with the extra speed of the river and all the turns and trees, plus hearing Mark splashing right behind me. I managed to barely stay ahead and got 46:10 to his 46:16 for a squeaker of a win. He still leads me in the series, though.

Next Sunday is a race that Mark is organizing: the Naples Water Tri Challenge. It's a 1 mile swim, 5k run, and 5k sup at the beach, but you can pick and choose which parts you want to do if you're not up for the whole thing. I'm just going to do the run and sup.

1 comment:

Marc said...

James--fun reading about the race. You paddlers are a buffed crowd. You've got pecs now! Looks like you might get some sailing on Monday. Send some wind north, please.