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 CGT Teammate Matt Kearney and I drove over together on Friday and stayed with Matt's college buddy Andrew in Fort Lauderdale.
Distance: The course was a simple upwind/downwind, to and from a buoy about 600 meters off the beach. The rec racers did three laps, and the elite racers did six laps. At the end of each lap you had to come ashore and run through a little chicane on the beach while board handlers turned your board around and held it in the shallow water for you to jump back on. I had 7.65 km on my GPS at the end of the race, which is 4.75 miles.
Conditions: It was sunny, very hot, and humid, but with a significant onshore wind, 10-15 knots from the East Northeast. The ocean was choppy with closely-spaced waves up to about waist high.
Participants: Despite the challenging weather conditions there was a great turnout, especially for the rec race. There were also lots of kayak fishermen and beach obstacle course race people there for concurrent events sharing the same stage and tent city. Most of the podium winners from race #1 were back, vying for the series title. Race #1 men's elite winners Jake Portwood (14') and Packet Casey (12'6) were back but with new boards- they have both picked up sponsorships from JP Australia. Ultra-ripped fitness model Josh Smart (NSP Boards) was there, looking to better the 4th place result he got after breaking his paddle in race #1. New hotshots also joined the fray, including the incredible father-daughter duo of Steven and Maddie Miller, both on 12'6 boards. From my local sup group, the CGT Tribe, we had coach Mark Athanacio, Matt Kearney, Jason Mastin, Bryan Herrick, and me. Mark and Matt both used 12'6 Hoviesup boards in this race. Jason and Bryan did the rec race and the rest of us did the elite.
Gear: Though I've been loving my 14x22 Riviera RP, I decided to use a wider board after looking at the rough water forecast. CGT generously lent me one of their shop demo boards, a 14x25 Riviera RP. With the wider board my balance was secure enough that I could put more effort into moving forward (vs. into staying upright), and my only falls were a few crashing dismounts coming into the beach. Still, I think I ought to practice on the narrow board in rough water, and maybe do a side by side comparison some windy day. Several other riders also opted for wider than their narrowest boards, for similar reasons. There were even some who chose surf style or touring boards instead of their raceboards. Rec race men's winner Yen Loyola was on a large touring board of some sort.
The 14x25 that I used in the race (left) vs. the 14x22 that I own. Both fast boards for the right rider skill / size / conditions.
Results: In the rec race, many riders less familiar with paddling in wind and waves found it a struggle just to get out of the breaking waves zone, let alone to complete three laps and finish. Yen Loyola didn't seem phased by the conditions, and got first in his class. I was proud of relatively new racer Jason Mastin for finishing the whole thing on his Fanatic SUP, and for Bryan Herrick for ALMOST finishing the whole thing (2 out of 3 laps) on his 404 sup. The top 6 finishers in the men's elite race were Jake Portwood (14' JP Flatwater board), Packet Casey (12'6 JP All water board), Steve Miller (12'6 Starboard Allstar), Jake Graham (14' Rogue), me (14' Riviera RP), and Jamie Twigg (12'6 Dean custom). So even though I was the 5th finisher I was 3rd in the 14' class, and got $100 for being third in the series. I think the mish-mash of 14' and 12'6 boards had something to do with the rough conditions reducing the usual board length advantage, and had something to do with some extremely talented riders happening to choose 12'6 boards for this race. Mark Athanacio was first in the 50+ age class and 4th overall in the 12'6 class. He is fast as heck, so it says a lot about how stacked the 12'6 field was that he wasn't on the podium this time. Not too far behind Athanacio, putting in an amazing performance, was women's winner, young Maddie Miller on a 12'6 JP board. Second woman was experienced racer Mary Ann Boyer (Indigo SUP), followed by Cat Uden (Boga) in third. Matt Kearney was 5th in men's 12'6. I think the full results will be posted soon here on paddleguru.
Play by play: I had an OK beach start, but nothing like the jet-propelled, crazy fast start that Jake Portwood, Packet Casey, and Steve Miller had. Those experienced surfer guys whizzed over the whitewater of the breaking waves as if they were no impediment at all. On the first upwind to the buoy there were a few people in front of me who I was able to gain ground on, like Mark Athanacio. Others like Jake Graham and Jamie Twigg I merely kept pace with. It became clear that there was a lot of southward current, turning our path to the buoy into an arc. If you took your eyes off the buoy for a second you'd find that you'd drifted far downwind/downcurrent. If I was a better vector navigator I might have been able to stay on a straighter path to shorten the overall distance paddled. Anyway, at the buoy I made a clumsy but dry turn and ended up close behind Athanacio on the downwind. My 14' board was catching the swells a little better than his 12'6 and I eventually edged around him. My average speed on that downwind was a bit faster than I can normally go in flat water, but I think if I was "downwinding" properly, my speed would be a lot faster than flatwater speed. I.e., efficiently utilizing the push of the waves and maintaining a high average speed downwind is an area where I have lots of room for improvement.
I think I caught a breaking wave near shore that took me the last 40 meters or so into the chicane, but I wasn't too graceful about it. Like most of my times getting off the board I ended up having to wade through surging water and mushy sand more than necessary. Part of the challenge was having to remove my ankle leash every time, and then put it on again ten seconds later after doing the chicane run and getting back to the board. Nobody who finished ahead of me was wearing a leash, and I had agonized somewhat over whether or not I should wear one. It's definitely a good thing for safety, as it prevents the potential nightmare situation of falling off your board far from shore and having the wind carry it away faster than you can swim. To be honest, it bothered me that they didn't require everyone to wear a leash, because it created a situation where you had to weigh your safety concerns against your competitiveness. If everyone had to wear a leash it would be an even competitive playing field, with no one pressured into taking a safety risk for a competitive advantage. It might be overkill for a flat water race, but not for a windy, wavy race.
The middle part of the race is kind of a blur in my memory. I was tired but kept pace Jamie Twigg, just behind Jake Graham. Josh Smart had been with us in the first two laps, but he busted his board in a collision leaving the chicane and had to drop out of the race. Having Jamie and Jake nearby helped me evaluate what techniques were moving me fastest, better than the numbers readout on my speedcoach GPS. On about the fourth lap, going upwind, I got a second wind and rounded the buoy before Jamie, then tried to consolidate that lead by riding the bumps as best I could. I never gained much on Jake Graham, though, until the very last downwind where spent all my remaining energy to get a little closer... maybe enough to get him if he made a mistake, but probably not. As I was lining up for my glorious final surf into the finish line, I started to lap Matt Kearney. Matt inconveniently decided to turn upwind directly into my glory ride path, not knowing I was right behind him, causing some awkward maneuvering that ended with both of us crashing in shallow water and having to prone-surf our boards through the whitewater to shore. Anyway, nobody passed me and no boards were injured during our little fender bender, so all's well that ends well.
Here's my GPS track and data from the race. You have to go into Strava to see the details.
After the race it was fun hanging out at the vendor tent area, getting free Mexican Food for lunch, and demo'ing some surf-style SUPs from Starboard. I'd never ridden a sup shorter than 9' before, but I rode an 8'2 and an 8'5 and decided I wasn't missing anything. At my skill level a 10 - 11 foot surf sup is probably the most practical. For an experienced surfer who lives on a coast that actually has waves, it might be different. Jake Portwood really impressed me by seeming to balance effortlessly on one of the tiny starboards, like he was standing on the sidewalk rather than on a tiny piece of foam in the ocean. I don't know whether it's learned from years of surfing, or if it's an innate genetic talent, but it amazed me how far ahead of the field all of the surfer-master guys (Portwood, Packet, and Steve Miller) were in these conditions.
After lunch and fooling around, the race committee gave out awards. I was stoked to get another awesome tiki-themed trophy, this one with a built in bottle opener.
What's Next: There's a CGT race tomorrow morning, which I'll rally for, then on September 11th is the Ocean Warrior Challenge in Jupiter, Florida. That should be another tough one with waves. Jake Graham mentioned a few more fun sounding races in South Florida this fall that also sounded good, including one "Margaritaville" race where there's apparently a ridiculous amount of prize money being offered.