Host: Mark Athanacio organizes these free, "No Name Name Races" occasionally, especially when there are long gaps in time between other major races. There are no awards or anything- it's just for the challenge and the glory, and I think that's cool. My house is overflowing with t-shirts and knick-knacks from past SUP races, but my wallet is not overflowing with money, so I'm happy to keep the money and avoid the additional schwag.
Location: North end of Lovers Key State Park, near Fort Myers Beach, Florida.
Distance: The course is a full circumnavigation of Lovers' Key; about 9 km.
Conditions: It was sunny and warm with light wind. The tide was flooding, creating strong current through the "passes" at the North and South ends of the island. The current was advantageous at the start and finish in Big Carlos Pass, and disadvantageous at the mid-way point in New Pass. There were some shallow water hazards and a lot of boat wakes on the bay side of Lovers Key, some stirred up patches of water in the inlets, and a bit of "wobble" in the Gulf of Mexico from calf-high waves.
Participants and Gear: There were 22 participants, including a good chunk of the the local CGT race team, and some strong competitors from across the state.
From left, they are John Weinberg with 14x25 Riviera, Justin DiGiorgio with 14x24 Hovie Comet GT, Jim McIntyre with 14x25 Bic, Cat Uden with 12'6x24 Boga, Cindy Gibson with 12'6x26 Hovie Comet ZXC, Murray Hunkin with 14x27 Starboard AllStar, Matt Kearney with a borrowed 12'6x24.5 Starboard AllStar, Mark Athanacio with 14x21.5 Hovie Comet GT, me with a borrowed 14x23 Starboard AllStar, horizontal Jason Mastin with 12'6x24 Boardworks Eradicator, two-person outrigger canoe paddlers David Rush and his female partner Ozzie S., blue trunks Steve Hoberg with the yellow 14x27 Hobie Apex, Bryan Herrick with white and red 14x23.75 Riviera, Koko from Miami with 14x23.5 JP Allwater, Devin Turetzkin with 14x25 Hovie Comet GT, Beth Schadd with 12'6x24 Riviera, red-haired Karen with 12'6 Indigo, Meg Bosi with 12'6x25 Bark, and Mark Hourigan hiding behinds his 14x23 Riviera. We we still waiting on Jen Hayes and Donna Catron to finish on their 12'6 Hovies. Note that Matt and I were not on our usual 14x23 Riviera and 12'6x24 Hovie boards, respectively, instead having been encouraged by CGT 's owners to test out the 2017 Starboard AllStar boards that CGT recently got in stock. We had already done some testing of these boards in the Imperial River, but we wanted to see how they worked over a long distance in varied conditions (boat wakes, chop, etc.), since the AllStar model is billed as being a fast, all-conditions raceboard. We used the fins that came with the Starboards- 18 cm short "Natural Winner" fins. The 12'6x24.5 Matt rode is the full carbon construction, and the 14x23 I rode is the less expensive "Hybrid" construction.
Results: Mark Athanacio won in 59:08, and I was four seconds behind. The full results are below.
1. Mark Athanacio 14' SUP 0:59:08
2. James Douglass 14' SUP 0:59:12
3. David Rush and Ozzie S. (2-person outrigger canoe) 1:00:30
4. Murray Hunkin 14' SUP 1:03:20
5. Matt Kearney 12'6 SUP 1:04:33
6. Mark Hourigan 14' SUP 1:05:33
7. Justin DiGiorgio 14' SUP 1:07:38
8. Devin Turetzkin 12'6 SUP 1:09:02
9. Cindy Gibson 12'6 SUP (1st female) 1:09:18
10. Bryan Herrick 14' SUP 1:12:14
11. Karen K. 12'6 SUP 1:12:54
12. Cat Uden 12'6 SUP 1:13:12
13. Koko H. 14' SUP 1:13:50
14. Steve Hoberg 14' SUP 1:15:01
15. Meg Bosi 12'6 SUP 1:15:12
16. Jim McIntyre 14' SUP 1:15:56
17. John Weinberg 14' SUP 1:17:19
18. Beth Schadd 12'6 SUP 1:18:31
19. Jason Mastin 12'6 SUP 1:18:41
20. Jen Hayes 12'6 SUP 1:26:33
21. Donna Catron 12'6 SUP 1:29:08
Play by play: We did a beach start, then went around the island clockwise. The east side of the starting line had an advantage since they were already that much further along the shore. As a result I had to play catch up to get around those who were ahead of me due to starting position. Matt Kearney had a great start, second only to Mark Athanacio. He actually briefly drafted Mark, then Mark predictably zipped ahead. I got around Matt, with Murray Hunkin riding my draft, but I never caught up with Mark. For the first 2 km I stayed a relatively steady distance behind Mark, but in the middle part of the race he was outpacing me and gradually pulling ahead. Murray stayed on my draft for about 3 km before dropping back. Though the wind was light, boat wakes in the channel on the east side of Lovers Key were a nuisance. I was a bit unsteady on the 14x23 AllStar compared with my more familiar 14x23 Riviera RP. The finbox on the AllStar is in a deeply recessed concave section of the hull, which I think reduces its effective length and its ability to steady the side-to-side movements of the board. I also think that the stability of the AllStar (like many boards) is affected by how far forward you stand. The nose is narrow and rounded relative to the tail, so if you're standing forward the board may be more apt to roll side to side. Finding the optimal standing position on the AllStar could involve a trade-off between standing further forward to fully engage the nose and lengthen the effective waterline, but standing far enough back to get the stability of the flatter part of the hull.
Fiddling with balance caught up with me just over 3 km in when I fell off and had to jump back on, putting Mark Athanacio further out of reach. The subsequent part of the race was the hardest for me physically and mentally. In standup paddleboard racing it seems to take a huge amount of energy to go even a little faster than your board and body "want" to go. To keep pushing into the zone where you feel more and more resistance requires intense focus. Sometimes focusing on my Speedcoach GPS and heartrate monitor helps keep me honest about maintaining a maximum effort, but the gadget is out for repairs now so I just went by feel today.
At the south end of the island, Mark took the shortcut he always takes on the inside of a little clump of mangroves. I usually skip the shortcut in favor of staying in deeper, faster water, but this time I followed Mark. There was an annoying 40 seconds or so where I couldn't take a normal paddle stroke without hitting the bottom, but that passed soon enough. I think the shortcut was favorable, overall. Approaching the bridge across New Pass we had to duck and weave around fishermen's lines as we paddled into the strong, opposing current. Mark and I had the same strategy for getting through New Pass: staying close to shore to avoid the current rather than taking the most direct route out to the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf of Mexico was nearly flat, but there were shin-high swells that oddly combined with current-induced standing waves on sandbars at the mouth of the pass. I was lucky to avoid another fall there.
The long, straight shot up the west side of Lovers' Key was grueling and boring. None of the small bumps and wakes rolling through were oriented in a helpful way. I was in danger of dropping down from "in the race" pace to "feeling defeated" pace, so I started counting my strokes to maintain focus: 1-100, repeat. Eventually I got to the NW tip of the island, where the incoming tide helped suck me into Big Carlos Pass. I knew from experience that the incoming tide created a counter-current eddy just inside the pass, and I would need to stay in the channel in the middle of the pass to avoid it. Making that move turned out to be hugely effective, allowing me to quickly regain all the distance I'd given up to Mark Athanacio earlier, putting us side by side with less than 1 km to the finish. Mark definitely had the determination to win, though. We both accelerated to near-sprint pace, but Mark stayed a board length ahead and hit the beach first. It was a great finish, and I was happy to have a sub-1-hour time despite the unfamiliar board and the challenging wakes and currents.
What else is up: As the other finishers were coming through I took the opportunity to do some more gear testing. Athanacio let me ride his 14x21.5 Hovie, which I really liked. The wide tail, flat bottom, and parallel rail make it quite stable for its width, and it has a very light, crisp and efficient feeling. Apparently rough water with side chop is it's one weakness, which would make sense since the only time I've ever beaten that board around Lovers' Key was on a really windy, choppy day. The other board testing thing I did was put a larger fin on the 14x23 Starboard AllStar. That seemed to dull down it's squirrely, side-to-side tippyness.