Sunday, January 29, 2017

SUP Race Report: CGT Superlap Series Race #4

Race: Race #4 in the CGT Winter Time Trial series, aka the "Superlap Series" because of a new race format.

Date it happened: 29 January 2016.

Host: CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards, which you can become a groupie of by joining the CGT Tribe facebook page.

Location: Riverside Park on the Imperial River in downtown Bonita Springs, Florida.

Distance: Approximately 5.3 km / 3.3 miles. The course goes downriver, around a buoy, back upriver to the start, then downriver and back a second time. There's a twist, though: There are two possible turn-around buoys downriver; one further and one closer. You have to do the long route for one lap and the short route for the other lap. It's your choice if you want to do the long or the short lap first, so interesting strategies come into play in competition.

Conditions: It was gray and chilly, about 12 degrees C, with light rain. Mist was beautifully swirling off the surface of the relatively warm river. The tide was quite low, necessitating portage around one of the buoy turns for those with longer fins. The current was about 0.4 kph, based on analysis with my paddling in current calculator.

Participants and Gear: The cold rain, and some other races happening the same day in other parts of Florida, kept most people away. Therefore we had just 5 hardy racers, and about the same number of spectators. Mike Clough raced a Kayak. John Weinberg and Beth Schadd raced 14x25 and 12'6x24 Riviera RP raceboards, respectively. Matt Kearney used his 12'6x24 Hovie Comet ZXC. I paddled one of CGT's for-demo boards: a 14x25 INFLATABLE RedPaddle Co raceboard. (The regular racers have been taking turns paddling the inflatable to get an idea of how its speed compares with traditional boards, on average.)

Results: I finished in 36:20, with Matt just one second behind. John and Beth also finished close with each other in 43:19 and 43:23. Subtract a minute or two from their times because they each overshot the un-marked second turn-around. Mike Clough's Kayak course was a bit longer than ours (two full length laps rather than one full and one short), and he finished in 52:02. Official results will be posted on the CGT Time Trials page.

Here's my GPS track and data from the race. You have to log in to Strava to see the details.

Play by play: For the start, all the SUP racers lined up in one group, and the kayaker started after. I rushed off the line with a really hard sprint. I was applying advice from Mark Athanacio, who says it's easier to gain time in an initial sprint than with an increased effort later when you're too tired to rise above your "set" speed. (We practiced the technique in a workout last week and saw that it worked well.) When I got into the lead I thought, "This is it, I'm going to easily walk away from these guys." But it was not so. Matt stayed on my draft like it was nothing, making it clear that simply trying to outrun him wouldn't work on the inflatable board. I'd have to spend some of the race in HIS draft to save energy. I held my lead until the downriver buoy, knowing that my turn on the 14' inflatable would be a lot slower than Matt's turn on his nimble Hovie. Indeed, Matt got around me easily when my longish fin hit the shallow sand near the buoy and I had to jump off and back on the board to complete the turn. That naturally put me behind in Matt's draft, and I was content to stay there while I caught my breath. The RedPaddle Co inflatable board seemed to catch the draft wake just fine. About half way back upriver I took the lead again. At the upriver buoy Matt gained half a board length by turning tighter than me, putting him in my "side wake". The side wake is a more challenging spot to draft in because there's a tendency to veer into the side of the leader's board. But apparently if you're good at it, which Matt is, it can be even more beneficial than following directly behind. The final turn was funny because there was no buoy for it. We were just on our honor to turn in front of a particular canal. Matt and I both turned at approximately the same time and place, but he turned much tighter. The 14' inflatable is stable when standing in the middle, but towards the narrow tail it gets a bit weird, like standing on a beach ball. Anyway, I was at least a few board lengths behind Matt after my turn, so I had to sprint like crazy for a while to catch up.

Once I got in Matt's draft I was fine, but with only about 1 km left in the race I knew I couldn't wait too long to try to get around him. I mean, we're good buddies, but it's not a race if you just LET the other guy win. So about 500 meters from the finish I left Matt's wake and got beside him, waiting for a good time to pass. When Matt started doing the side-wake thing again I went really close to the mangroves to force him to drop back. Whoopsie! :P That put him behind me, but still right in my tail draft. For the remaining few hundred meters of the race we both just paddled really, really hard knowing the other was doing the same. Although I maintained the one second lead, it could have easily been the other way around. Matt set his personal best time for this race series.

The verdict on the inflatable board is that it is pretty fast and stiff, definitely feels like a raceboard, and can do the usual racing tricks like drafting and buoy turning (though buoy turning is slightly awkward). Based on my times from earlier in this series, the inflatable is 3% - 5% slower than a conventional board of the same length, similar to how much slower a 12'6 is compared to a 14. I.e., I averaged 8.89 kph in this race on the inflatable, whereas in the last race with similar current and water levels I averaged 9.15 kph on my 14x23 Riviera RP. My best ever pace in the series was 9.34 kph, but that was when the water level was higher. I don't know if racing in rougher water would increase or decrease the speed difference between a normal and an inflatable board.

What else is new: Besides our little race today there were two big races- one in Key West and another in Melbourne -both 200ish miles away. I balked at the time and money to go to either of those, but my buddy Devin Turetzkin won the 12'6 class at the Key West race. My next major race may not be until March or April, but there will be another little CGT race in three weeks. Also, I'll probably drive up to Sarasota in February to watch Robert Norman try to break the 24 hour distance paddleboarding record at Nathan Benderson Park.

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