Public facebook photo album from the race. Thanks Rhonda for the pictures. :)
Race: The first of two races in the RK Sunshine SUP Series. The next one is August 27th.
Date it happened: 18 June 2016.
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.