Host/Sponsors: Hosted by "Hooked on SUP Paddlesports" and a bunch of other sponsors and volunteers listed on the race's paddleguru page.
Location: The Gulf of Mexico off Englewood Beach, Florida, and into Stump Pass inlet.
Distance: There were three race courses- a 9.2 km one, a 4.8 km one, and a 2.4 km one. The long one went south along the beach and briefly into Stump Pass inlet, before coming back out and going north along to the beach to the start / finish. (See my GPS track.) The 4.8 and 2.4 km courses were 2 and 1 laps, respectively, around a triangle course in the ocean centered around the start / finish. I did the long race and my awesome wife Rhonda Mason did the short race.
Conditions: The weather was perfect for a race on the ocean- light offshore breezes with virtually no waves or chop on the clear, blue-green water. It was cool enough for sweatpants and long sleeves in the early morning, but became pleasantly summery as the day went on. An incoming tide added technicality to the inlet entrance / exit at the halfway point of the long race, with strong localized currents of varying directions sweeping over shallow sandbars.
Participants: There were 48 in the long race, 57 in the medium race, 38 in a short race, and a some in a kids race. Most people were on SUPs, but there were a handful of outrigger canoeists including John Beausang of the Distressed Mullet paddle website, plus a prone paddleboard and a kayak. In the shorter races many of the competitors were on surf-style sups, which were scored in their own division separate from 12'6 and 14' race sups. Though there were some tough competitors, the event had an overall friendly, "family" vibe. Since Englewood is relatively close to my town, lots of people from my local club/team, the CGT Tribe, were there. In the 14' class in the long race we had coach Mark Athanacio, Murray Hunkin, Mark Hourigan, Justin DiGiorgio, Jim McIntyre, and me. In 12'6 class we had Cindy Gibson, Meg Bosi, Matt Kearney, and Devin Turetzkin. Jason Mastin and Jen Hayes did the medium race on 12'6s. Justin's spouse Jessica DiGiorgio and my spouse Rhonda Mason did the short race on 12'6 race and 11'8 surf style boards, respectively.
Gear: I used "Minty," my 2017 14x23 Riviera RP. Rhonda used my 11'8" Exocet WindSUP, which qualifies as a surf-style board. Mark Athanacio used a 14x21.5" custom Hovie Comet GT, Matt Kearney used a 12'6x24" Hovie Comet ZXC (a little narrower than his usual board), Meg Bosi used a new 12'6x25 Bark Contender, and Murray Hunkin used his new 14x27 Starboard Allstar.
Results: The results were a little goofy because they gave awards based on age classes (under 18, 18-49, and 50+), but some of the teenagers and 50 plussers were faster overall than the 18-49 year olds. The overall fastest sup in the long race was 50+ Mark Athanacio, who finished in just under an hour, followed about a minute and half later by me. The next two finishers were also very-fit 50-plussers; Bruce Day and Jim Valenti. Teenage Will Marston was the first 12'6 finisher, with millennial Matt Kearney just a few seconds behind him, and 50+ Devin Turetzkin a few minutes back in third overall but first for his class. 50+ Cindy Gibson was the first woman to cross the line on 12'6, a bit ahead of younger Meg Bosi and Amy Carden. In the mid-length race, a tiny young boy named Dylan Geiger impressed everyone by getting first place overall, ahead of 50+ Kevin Glatfelter, who was ahead of 18-49 class Jason Mastin! Young Hailey Marsten was first female in the mid-length race, ahead of Jen Hayes. In the short race, I was overjoyed to see Rhonda get FIRST in the 18-49 year old surf sup class. Jessica DiGiorgio also had a stunningly great first race, getting second overall on her 12'6 sup. I'm not sure if Rhonda and Jessica's victories were because of or in spite of incessant advice and goading from paddling obsessed husbands. Probably in spite of. The full, complicated results and times are posted on PaddleGuru.
Rhonda with her TROPHY.
Play by play: I felt weird before the start of the race. I wasn't sure if it was just nerves or maybe something physical, but as I write this I've come down with a major cold, so my funny feelings may have been the beginnings of that. Despite feeling off, I started the race pretty well, with only hard-charging Mark Athanacio and wirey Will Marston out-sprinting me from the beach to the first buoy. I passed Will shortly after the buoy and found myself a few board lengths behind Mark. I wasn't close enough to be fully in his draft, but I think I got some benefit from being on about the 4th "wave" of his draft. I debated trying to sprint right up behind him, but the pace we were going was already close to my full sprint and I was worried that going too hard at that point would ruin me for the rest of the race. Nobody else was matching our pace, so it was clear that, barring disaster, Mark and I would be the only ones in contention for first and second.
After a while I moved out of Mark's wake and took a line more inshore of his, working my way up to about parallel with him. In retrospect, that would have been a good time for me to cross back into his draft and really stick there, but I assumed (wrongly) that I'd have another opportunity later. I didn't have that opportunity because Mark put on some more speed and stayed just out of reach as we moved into Stump Pass inlet. The gap increased after we rounded the buoy in the inlet and headed back towards the Gulf of Mexico. That was partly because I got too shallow hugging one side of the channel in my efforts to avoid the incoming tidal current. Something I should have learned from our practice paddles around Lovers' Key is that Mark somehow sneaks over shallows without losing as much speed as I do, so I'm better off staying deeper and not following his exact path.
I briefly regained some distance on Mark when he got caught paddling in place in a river-like tidal current exiting the inlet. I thought I'd try crossing over the strongest part of the current before turning against it, but I ended up falling off when the currently suddenly caught the nose of my board. Though I recovered quickly, Mark put more distance on me as I struggled through the sucking region near the inlet. At this point in the race I was feeling physically enervated and now demoralized with the realization that I probably wouldn't catch up to Mark again. Though my heart rate wasn't quite at it's maximum, and I wasn't having any particular muscular failures, I nevertheless found it impossible to squeeze any more speed out of myself. That might have had something to do with my oncoming cold, or with over-training in the gym and on the water this week. Or it might have been entirely a mental thing. I'm not sure. Anyway, though Mark continued to slip further ahead, I at least didn't let anyone sneak up behind me, and I held onto that second place. My average speed for the race was 9.12 kph, which is not much worse than my best-ever speed for an hour-long paddle (9.32 kph for a Lovers' Key rounding on August 20th). With Mark paddling really well lately, it looks like nothing short of my all-time best performance, or something even better than that, is going to match him.
After the long race the team hung out on the beach, and cheered Rhonda and Jessica in the short race. As is typical of big SUP events, it was a while after the races were over before we got through all the lunch and awards and stuff. I spent part of the time trying out some QuickBlade paddles that were available for demo. The awards and raffle were run efficiently, but the awards still took a while because there were an outrageous number of divisions. 3 age classes x 3 board classes x 3 races x 2 genders x 1st through 3rd place in each = 162 trophies just for the SUPs! Both Rhonda and I were happy to get our first place plaques, though, and we felt pretty boss driving home with them. Go team CGT!
What's next: There's going to be one final race in the season's CGT Race series on November 20th. In the meantime I'll continue my training with coach Athanacio and the team. I'm not planning any major changes to gear or training strategies, other than maybe going to a smaller paddle blade. The Riviera R8 I've been using is 106 in^2, but a lot of of people are switching over to 80 - 90 in^2 blades with good success. For example, Athanacio's strong second-half performance may have something to do with his switching to an 86 in^2 QuickBlade Trifecta paddle. (The smaller blades are supposed to reduce skeletal muscle fatigue and increase endurance.) Riviera makes a 93 in^2 blade on a paddle called the "Bump 7.0," which I have tried and which is likely to be my next paddle.