Saturday, May 7, 2016
SUP Race Report: Orange Bowl Paddle Championship 2016
Race: The Orange Bowl Paddle Championship 2016
Date it happened: 7 May 2016
Location: Miami Marine Stadium Flexpark, Virginia Key, Miami, Florida.
Distance: The main event was a counterclockwise race around Virginia Key, starting and finishing in the artificial embayment associated with the now-defunct Marine Stadium. I had 12.6 km on my GPS at the end, which is 7.83 miles. The course was 1 km shorter than it was last year (thankfully) because they didn't make us lap around the embayment at the end. However, we did have to go wider around the north side of the island this time- More on that in the play-by-play.
Conditions: It was unusually cool for May in South Florida (only warm, not hot), with a moderate breeze from the northwest. The tide was high and incoming for most of the race. There was some opposing current on the south side of the island, and opposing wind and chop on the north side of the island.
Participants: For the long race there were 35 people in the 14' class and 25 people in 12'6 class. For the shorter recreational race there were similar numbers. There was also a Special Olympics race, a "corporate challenge" fundraiser relay race, and sprint races on inflatable sups. I think there were about 230 paddlers overall, which is great. The CGT Race Team was well represented by coach Mark Athanacio (12'6), and (from left in picture below) Kate Pagan (12'6), Mark Hourigan (14'), Justin DiGiorgio (14'), and Matt Kearney (14'). Also, me (14').
Results: [Where I think I know the paddler's board type and width I'm listing that after their name. Correct me if I'm wrong.] Top men 14' men were Kieran Grant (Hoviesup Comet GT 23", 1:22:52), Brad Ward (Hoviesup Comet ZXC 24", 1:24:00), and Steve Miller (Starboard Sprint 23", 1:25:00).
Mens 14' winners- Kieran (white shirt), Brad (H on his shirt), Steven (red shorts).
I missed the podium but was happy to get 4th in 1:25:50 on my Riviera RP 23.75". Top 12'6 men were Jake Portwood (Hoviesup Comet ZXC, 1:28:04), Joey Huemphner (Bote/Darkroom, 1:28:50), and Mark Athanacio (Hoviesup Comet GT 23", 1:29:18). Top 12'6 women were Seychelle Hattingh (Mistral Vortex 23.4", 1:30:24), Victoria Burgess (Coreban Sonic 25", 1:33:44), and Steve Miller's 15 year old daugher Maddie (JP, 1:34:17). Top 14' women were Kim Barnes (Riviera RP 22", 1:32:51), Mary Ann Boyer (MHL Custom, 1:39:15), Mini Cunha Margareth Lagace (Indigo Custom, 1:39:15). MAB and Mini are buddies who crossed the line together on purpose. Full results are posted here.
The CGT racers performed solidly. Matt Kearney had an especially good day, showing his rough water long distance skills by finishing ahead of Mark Hourigan and Justin DiGiorgio. Hourigan completed the race on a new 14x23" Riviera RP and got a boost of confidence that he COULD handle the narrow board in open water competition, notwithstanding a few splashdowns. Kate Pagan finished in 5th in womens' 12'6 in 1:41:46, a few seconds faster than her teammate Justin. We don't take battle of the sexes competition TOO seriously in the CGT race team, but watch for Justin to be putting in some extra practice before the next round.
Gear: I used my usual 14'x23.75" custom carbon Riviera RP raceboard with a 6" Fins Unlimited Keel fin. The short fin seemed to work fine in both the flat and the bumpy water, although sometimes when drafting I wondered if a deeper fin might have made it easier to stay on the right spot without switching paddling sides as much.
Play by play: The start was from the water, behind some buoys, facing upwind. They started the 12'6 and the 14' classes separately to reduce crowding, but it was still tight on the line. The race director gave a good long countdown with warnings at 1 minute, 30 seconds, etc. When people started creeping over the line early the director called them back, which I appreciated.
I started in the middle of the line and had some trouble dealing with choppy water and the paddlers around me as I sprinted to get into the lead draft train. In retrospect it might have been wiser to start at one or the other end of the line to edge around the pack. I was far back in the train as we exited the starting embayment, but I seemed to be the only one who realized we could cut the corner tight when turning left out of the embayment, and I left the draft train to do so. That shortcut allowed me to get closer to the faster starters- Kieran, Brad, and Josh Smart (the bodybuilder guy sponsored by NSP boards). I couldn't catch them, but I was making pretty good time on my own heading down the west side the island towards the Miami Seaquarium. Ahead of me I saw Kieran "break" Brad and pull ahead on his own- a confident move so early the race. Perhaps Kieran knew he had the speed to win it ironman style without a drafting partner.
While that was going on, Steven Miller came up alongside me with great speed. I got in his draft so I could "rest." Ha! Mr. Miller was so fast on his Starboard Sprint 14x23 that I got little relief from drafting him, and my heart rate continued to rise. The upside was that we were catching up to Josh Smart. I can't remember exactly where we got Josh, or what happened next, but I remember being in front of Josh at some point on the east side of the island, and both of us having to duck under fishing lines. In that part of the course we gained on Brad Ward by sticking in the weaker current close to shore while Brad was out in the channel. Around the eastern end of the island we all linked up in a train led by Steven Miller. That was a good drafting situation for me because Steven had been pulling for a long time and wasn't going excessively fast anymore, and I was at the end of the chain on Brad's wake which was easier to ride than Steven's had been. As we started to go into the wind, though, Brad wasn't satisfied with the speed we were going, and he pulled out to lead. He's a beast in all wind and water conditions, but ESPECIALLY going upwind, and with him at the front of the train I started to fall behind. In retrospect I should have tried as hard as I could to hang onto it for as long as I could, but I was plum tuckered.
After the previous week's Key West race I knew that I was vulnerable to slowing down and getting demoralized when going upwind in the chop all by myself. I tried to keep up a good paddling rhythm and not let those ahead of me get too far out of my sights. I got confused because I saw the big blue speedboat that was helping guide the race parked far to the north along Fisher Island. At the racers' meeting they'd said the blue boat would be parked around the northern turn around buoy, but Kieran and the others were heading more west, away from the blue boat. I split the difference. Eventually the boat moved northwest and parked by a big red buoy. Kieran, and to a lesser extent Brad, Josh, and Steven, were too far west and had to course-correct to make for the buoy. They still got there before me, but I thought I might be getting closer to Josh Smart, who was wobbling a bit on a narrower board than he usually uses (14x23 NSP DC race).
At the buoy some park rangers in a boat told us to stay outside of the Virginia Key park boundary buoys while paddling across the NW wind on the penultimate leg of the race. Josh Smart had to do a course correction to get outside the park buoys, which let me catch up to him a bit. I had the advantage of already being on the upwind side of the buoys, and I was able to almost ride some bumps and make good progress. Meanwhile the choppy water balancing act caused one of Josh's huge leg muscles to cramp up, and he fell in a few more times. I was feeling pleased with myself for passing him, just cruising along and taking some sips of gatorade from my camelback, when I noticed a faint splashing sound behind me. Yikes! It was Sam English creeping up on his 14x24" Lahui Kai board. I picked up the pace a little and sort of wove around to try to make it harder for Sam to pass, but eventually he did pass me. However, that was right before we made the turn into the start/finish embayment, and Sam didn't realize he was allowed to cut the turn tight. I cut it tight and paddled hard, trying to ride bumps and do whatever else I could to get to the finish before Sam. I made it to the beach in 4th place, and Sam was just 10 seconds behind. This picture shows me staggering towards the finish line.
Here's my speedcoach track and data from the race: You have to click into it to see the details like heartrate and stuff.
I felt pretty good after the race, in contrast with how I felt after the previous year's Orange Bowl race, which was totally overheated/exhausted and incredibly sore in the back and shoulders. I think the cooler weather made a difference, and maybe my new training and improved technique helped, too. I averaged 8.94 kph last year on a 14x24" 404 v3, and only 8.83 kph this year on my Riviera, but I don't think the two years are directly comparable, because of the wind and course differences this year.
Other race intrigues: Seychelle Hattingh and Kim Barnes usually finish neck and neck in the womens' 12'6 class. However, since separate prizes were awarded for women in the 14' class at this race, the two top female racers went in different classes; Seychelle on 12'6 and Kim on 14'. Interestingly, Kim finished a bit slower despite her longer board. Kim said that her paddle technique is adapted to 12'6 and may be less efficient on 14'. It may also be that the blocky, high-volume 14' that Kim was riding, which was a custom Riviera board designed for a large male pro rider, was not the "right" 14' board for a strong but petite woman. Kim described another 14' Riviera custom that she had tried that had less volume and a different shape and seemed to match her a lot better. This was all very interesting to me, because CGT is ordering some one-off boards from the Riviera warehouse that I may be racing per my informal shop-sponsorship deal. I actually tried out and really liked the 14' that Kim raced today, which seemed amazingly stable for a 22" wide board. I think the very wide nose and tail help with that.
Someone at the race said, "Hey, are you the guy with the blog?" I think I'd given him some board choice advice in the comments section and he was on a pretty slick looking 14x27 Riviera. I saw him trying out every other board that every vendor at the race site had available for demo, though, so I imagine he'll be looking to upgrade or add to his stable of boards soon.
Besides Kim's 14x22' Riviera, I didn't demo any other SUP boards at the race. But I did try out two inflatable windsurf boards- one offered by JP Australia and one by Fanatic. Both were delightfully lightweight and easy to carry. They were fun to stand on and I liked the way you could kind of bounce on them. I think for beginner windsurfers an inflatable would be a good way to reduce the intimidation factor and avoid injuries to body or equipment. The JP board was their smallest inflatable windsurf model and it didn't have a daggerboard or a center fin. Though it was very stable it didn't stay upwind well in the light wind I tested it in. The Fanatic inflatable had both a tail fin and a center fin, but not a true daggerboard. It was ultra stable (I think you could have an adult actually sit on it while you sailed it) and it went upwind well enough. I don't think inflatable windsurfs (or SUPs) are going away.
An army special forces veteran named Josh Collins made an appearance at the race, paddling up on a BOTE paddleboard. He's in the middle of a LONG paddle from Texas to New York City to help raise awareness and funds for better physical and mental health care for soldiers returning from war.
After the race I met with a Miami-based science colleague, Dr. Justin Campbell, to get some supplies for a seagrass experiment I'm going to do in the Caloosahatchee Estuary this summer. Hopefully no alarms were sounded when they saw me in the parking lot loading boxes and bags of white powder, fertilizer, and poison from Dr. Campbell's car into my van.
What's Next: I'm feeling pretty darn good about where I'm at with my sup racing and training. I still need to build some strength for paddling upwind, and some skills and endurance for catching and hanging onto fast draft trains. I'm going to keep training like I've been doing, both on the water and with Mark Athanacio's strength coaching. My next race is in two weeks and it's a combination 5k sup / 5k run, so I'm going to try to do some more running. Hopefully the running practice will help me get adapted to racing in the heat of Florida summer. It's coming.