Pictures from Jen Hayes' album:
Race: The Florida State Paddleboard Championships, the oldest annual board-paddling race in FL, dating back to before the invention of SUP, when people lay prone on surfboards and paddled with their hands.
Date it happened: 4 June 2016.
Host: The Florida Surf Museum
Location: Lori Wilson Park, Cocoa Beach, Florida.
Distance: 8.5 km / 5.28 miles. I liked the simplicity of the course. Beach start, out to a buoy just beyond the surf zone, turn north and paddle parallel to the beach for a long way, make a 180 degree turn around another buoy, paddle the long way back south, round the start buoy again, and surf into the beach to finish.
Conditions: Light chop on top of waist-high swells. Light side-onshore wind from the southeast. 28 degrees Celsius (hot).
Participants: It wasn't the biggest Florida SUP race of the year, but there was a good bunch of racers, including Florida's top two men's 14' paddlers Garrett Fletcher (Yolo) and Kieran Grant (Hoviesup). Some of the top men's 12'6 paddlers were there- Mark Athanacio (Hoviesup) and Jamie Twigg. The top Florida women Seychelle Hattingh (Mistral) and Kim Barnes (Riviera) couldn't be there because they're in Europe doing big international races. But Victoria Burgess (Starboard) who is also very good was there, along with super fit veteran racer Mary Ann Boyer (Indigo). "Dark Horse" Reid Hyle, a champion kayak racer who recently started sup racing, was there and looking even stronger than when we crossed paths at the Neptunalia Challenge in January. The guy with the 14x21 superman board Robert Norman was there but paddled a 12'6 with no superman design. Jason Casuga who outran me in the recent SUP&Run was there paddling 12'6, along with his giant Cuban friend Yensys Loyola. Pals Steve Chase (JP Australia) and Steve Bernstein were there looking strong as usual. Representing my hometown CGT team were Athanacio and his girlfriend Jen, plus me and fellow Riviera paddler Mark Hourigan. Hourigan and I split a nice, affordable room at the International Palms Resort, and we could walk our boards from the parking lot right to the race site. In addition to the sup race event, there was a concurrent surfing contest, with talented participants of all ages, and there were vendor tents and good vibes on the beach.
Results: In the 14' sup class Garrett Fletcher got 1st place, followed by Kieran Grant and Reid Hyle. Patrick Klemawesch on an unlimited-length sup finished between Garrett and Kieran. The next two across the line were in the 50+ division- David Slemp on a 14' and Mark Athanacio on 12'6. I was the next to cross- 4th in the young men's division but actually 6th if you count the two older guys who beat me. Women's 12'6 podium was Victoria Burgess in 1st, Emily Davis (Garrett's girlfriend and Yolo teammate) in 2nd, then Mary Ann Boyer who was first in 50+ division. Mark Hourigan, the world's fittest 56 year old, made progress on his challenging 14x23 board and finished in a respectable time with less than 8 falls. Full results are below, by division. "Traditional" is prone paddling, without a paddle. OC stands for outrigger canoe.
Men Traditional, OPEN
Women Traditional, OPEN
JUNIOR BOYS (12'6)
Dylan Geiger,1:08:23- This kid was tiny, but FAST, and he surfed great.
MEN 18-49,12'6 & UNDER
MEN 50-59, 12'6 & UNDER
WOMEN 18-49, 12'6 & UNDER
WOMEN 50+, 12'6 & UNDER
WOMEN OPEN, 14'
OC-1 Men Open
OC-1 Women Open
Gear: It was an experimental race for me in terms of gear. I used the new 14x22 Riviera RP, with a large-ish weed fin on it to improve stability. For the paddle I used a Riviera Bump 7.5, which has a smaller blade and a more flexible shaft than the Riviera Vantage R8 paddle I usually use. I debated whether or not to wear a camelback in the race, which is right on the cusp of the distance at which I do/don't need water. The problem is that my camelback is a bulky backpack that chafes if I don't wear a shirt under it, and the combination backpack and shirt makes me overheat faster than if I'm bareback. In the end I did wear the camelback. Since we are usually required to wear belt-style inflatable life vests, too, I'm thinking of stuffing a camelback bladder and hose in the back pouch of my life vest belt, and attaching the nozzle to a lanyard around my neck like I've seen some other racers do.
Play by play: The waves on the bright blue Atlantic were significant- a lot bigger than we usually get on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida. Before the race I paddled out once or twice to try to get my sea legs and to see how the 14x22 surfed. I would have preferred to have about a week to practice in those conditions, but a few minutes were better than nothing.
I was nervous when we lined up for the beach start, even though I was surrounded by friendly familiar people. I chose to start towards the end of the line further from the buoy so I could take a wider path and avoid traffic at the buoy. My start was OK. I didn't fall down in the breakers, and I found a relatively clear path, but the good sprinters who had started near the buoy got a 50 meter or so headstart on me. I did a good 9.6 kph pace for the first 10 minutes to catch a few people, and eventually it was just the really fast guys ahead of me. The first leg was slightly downwind, but the small chop atop the swell wasn't quite rideable. The breeze was about equal to board speed, which made it feel really hot and stagnant. The heat and my tiredness from paddling and balancing slowed me down to about 9.1 kph for the rest of the trip north to the turn-around buoy. I think some people I'd passed or started ahead of, like Reid Hyle, were gaining on me during this period.
I didn't fall on the buoy turn, but I did it quite unsteadily and with more energy expenditure than I would have liked. That and the extra effort of now having to paddle into the slight wind and chop put a greater strain on me. My heart rate rose from the low 180s (which means I'm at a grueling but sustainable race pace) to the high 180s (which means I'm about to blow a fuse). At that time Reid was pulling up alongside me, so I got in his draft for slight relief. This was almost a perfect reversal of the drafting situation that Reid and I found ourselves in during January's Neptunalia Challenge. In that race I started after Reid but had better speed, so I could catch him and really relax in his draft. By contrast, I was only able to stay in Reid's draft with difficulty today, and my HR didn't drop much when I was there. Having a person and a paddleboard in the middle of my field of vision also made it harder to see and anticipate the little bumps we were paddling through. I was wondering about how long I could stay in Reid's draft, and how I might try to pass him at some point, when I wobbled and fell in. Doh! He was 30 meters ahead by the time I was back upright and paddling- a gap I didn't have the energy to close. (After the race I asked Reid if he had gotten faster on the paddleboard since January and he said yes. He had practiced and gained some insights to his board, including learning that standing further back on it reduced the turbulent separation under the uplifted tail and increased his 1 km pace by several seconds. It was helpful knowing that our reversal was probably Reid getting faster and not me or my new board being slower.)
The latter part of a race, when people are spread out and it's pretty clear I'm not going to catch anyone ahead of me, is a time that I know I'm vulnerable to settling into a slow pace. It's a dangerous thing to do, because people can be creeping up from behind. To try to fight it this time I was really deliberate about focusing on my paddle strokes. I even counted strokes, "1, 2, 3... 50... 100..." I increased the effort even more in the last km of the race when I could see the finishing buoys. I wanted to completely "empty the gas tank," and to hold off the people I could occasionally hear splashing and talking behind me. That strategy may have backfired. My speed increased slightly, but I got exhausted and wobbly. Getting into the shallower water near shore the swells got steeper, and I fell as one passed under me. Damn! The people behind me got closer. In the stress, exhaustion and awkwardness I fell AGAIN right by the buoy to turn into the beach. The people behind were now so close that I could hear them griping that I'd fallen in their path. I awkwardly lurched back on the board and teetered onto a wave that was already occupied by one of my puruers- Mark Athanacio on his 12'6x24" Hovie Comet GT. (See picture by Jason Geiger.)
I don't remember exactly what happened next, but Athanacio surfed the wave to shore, and I think I fell off in chest deep water. Too deep to run in from, but an awkward place to get back on. I flailed onto the board and took a few lame strokes from a kneeling position before winding up in the water again, this time close enough to give my board to a handler and stumble slowly through the thigh deep water. I tried to run fast but even when I was out of the water I was totally drained and winded and moving like a zombie. BUT, I made it through the gate. Whew.
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 had mixed feelings about this race. I was happy with the physical effort I put in, but my skills, confidence, gear choices, and tactics didn't quite match the challenges of the day. It was frustrating to make those mistakes in the second half and at the end, and then to get passed by the 12'6s in the final seconds. It was like, once I broke the seal by falling once, I was more likely to fall again and again. The super narrow board may have been too advanced for me to actually benefit from in the wavier conditions. I finished in a similar rank this year to last year when I did this race on a 27" wide board. And just like last year, the 12'6 class winner passed me in the final surf-to-the-beach / beach-run part. I'll have to keep practicing in rough water, and I may do some comparisons between my 23.75" wide Riviera and the 22" wide Riviera to see which is better in which conditions. I think the 22 has at least a slight edge in flat water, but it may suffer more in chop. The super light weight of the carbon fiber 23.75" wide one may also make up for it being a little wider.
What's Next: June 11th is the Battle on the Blueway in Fort Myers Beach- the biggest paddle race in SW Florida. I'll definitely be there.