Sunday, April 9, 2017

SUP Race Report: Sharkbite Challenge

I was 4th SUP overall, but 3rd in the 18-49 year old class because Larry Cain is over 50. That I meant I got to stand on the podium with these studs; Chase Kosterlitz (center) and Brad Ward (left).

Race: The Sharkbite Challenge.

Date it happened: 8 April, 2017.

Host: Rob and Karen Mirlenbrink. The Shark Bite Challenge is a fundraiser for the Friends of the Island Parks - the citizen support organization that supports the financial efforts of Honeymoon and Caladesi Island State Parks. Proceeds from the Shark Bite Challenge go directly toward keeping Florida's most visited state park healthy, natural, and undeveloped.

Location: The Gulf of Mexico off of Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin, Florida.

Course / Distance: There was a 4.5 km race (one lap around an upwind/downwind course), and a 13.5 km race (three laps around the same course). You could also do both races on different watercraft and have your total time counted in the "waterman's challenge" event. The course distance was slightly longer for the standup paddleboards, who started from shore, than for the canoes, kayaks, and prone paddleboards, who started about 100 m from shore at the downwind buoy

Conditions: It was the second day of a late cold front; sweatshirt weather in the morning but swimsuit weather by the afternoon. Small surfable swells were rolling into the beach, but the wind was side-offshore and mostly less than 10 knots, so the chop wasn't too bad.

Participants: There was a huge turnout, with 106 entries in the short race and 170 entries in the long race. That included the most sit-down paddlecraft (surfski kayaks and outrigger canoes) that I have ever seen at an event.

Some professionals / celebrities from both the sit-down and stand-up paddle worlds were there. On the men's SUP side we had legendary 54 year old Canadian Olympic canoe champion and Paddle Monster proprietor-coach Larry Cain. Larry was riding a 14x24.5 Starboard AllStar. Challenging Larry was tall, superhero-resembling, 30 year old professional SUP racer Chase Kosterlitz, riding a 14x24.5 JP Allwater. On the women's side we had pro SUPer Seychelle Hattingh, on a 12'6 SIC board. I don't know the names and backgrounds of the pros in the sit-down paddle divisions, but my CGT teammate Murray Hunkin pointed out international pro-level surfski kayak competitor Matt Bouman who he said trained with kayaking Olympian coach and competitor Hank McGregor in South Africa. It was easy to spot Matt Bouman since he was 6'8" tall. Among other impressive human beings in attendance was the women's outrigger canoe winner, who was extremely powerfully built. From my local CGT team we had Jen Hayes, Damien Lin, Saralane Harrer, and Donna Catron doing the short race, and for the long race we had Meg Bosi, Cindy Gibson, Devin Turetzkin, Justin DiGiorgio, Mark Athanacio, and me. Murray Hunkin did the waterman's challenge- short race on his sup and long race on a surfski kayak. A guy I went to grad school with, Reid Hyle, also did the waterman's challenge on sup and surfski. As far as who my close competitors would be, I had my eye on Brad Ward from Sarasota, who is definitely faster than me but might be possible to draft off of, and on Warren Heil from St. Augustine, who is similar to my speed but beat me in the Cocoa Beach Challenge last month. And of course I expected to be mixing it up with Mark Athanacio, as usual.

Gear: I used my 14x23 Riviera RP raceboard with a longish weed-shedding fin to add stability. For the paddle I used a Riviera Bump 7.0. A few months ago I switched from a larger bladed paddle to this paddle and I've noticed that it helps prevent me from burning out my muscles in longer races. Mark Athanacio used his salmon colored 14x23 Hovie Comet GTO; thankfully not the black 14x21.5 Hovie Comet GT that he often beats me with.

Results: The results were complex because of the many classes of gear, age, gender, and race type. I'll only cover the main results of the SUP races. The full results should be posted on paddleguru. In the short race, Reid Hyle was the first paddleboarder to cross the line, having drafted young Will Marston upwind then blown him away by skillfully riding the swells downwind. Jen Hayes was the first woman. The 50+ women's podium in the short race was dominated by our CGT team, with Damien Lin, Donna Catron, and Saralane Harrer. In the long race the first paddler to finish was Matt Bouman on surfski, who averaged about ~13.3 kph to finish in 1:00:18. First 14' SUP was Chase Kosterlitz in 1:24:11 (9.61 kph average!), with Larry Cain not far behind him in 1:25:36. There was a gap separating those guys from 3rd place Brad Ward (1:31:23), and another gap between Brad Ward and me. My time was 1:33:56, reflecting an average speed of 8.61 kph. I was a bit ahead of Warren Heil (1:34:39) who was a bit ahead of Mark Athanacio (1:35:19). Because they divided things up by age class, I got 3rd in the 18-49 age class, and Larry Cain and Mark Athanacio were #1 and #2 in the 50+ age class. Seychelle was first female and first 12'6 SUP overall with (1:37:53). Cindy Gibson was 2nd 12'6 overall and first 50+ female with 1:46:58. Cindy finished ahead of Devin Turetzkin and Karl Eugster, who were first and second in the men's 50+ 12'6 class.

Play by play: I'd stayed overnight in Dunedin at an AirBnB so I was able to get to the race site early enough to relax and warm up. I felt in good spirits and in the good company of the CGT race team and the overall "tribe" of water people. I drank lots of water before the race and made sure my camelback was full. For the beach start, they mercifully allowed us to wade in up to our knees beforehand, instead of having to run in over the rocky eroded beach. Coach Athanacio had given me some tips on what part of the start line looked optimal based on the wind and current direction, so I found a good spot. There was a horn to announce that the starting siren could come at any time within the next 30 seconds. During that unknown span of time I got mentally PSYCHED, squinting my eyes and looking fiercely at the horizon. When the starting siren went off I got on the board cleanly and paddled clear of most of the other people in my section of the line. There were some small "set waves" coming through and I managed not to fall on those. I took a wide line at the first turn buoy and headed north, in the company of Mark Athanacio and Warren Heil. Chase Kosterlitz had gotten out ahead, and it was impressive to see how quickly he went from just a few board lengths ahead of me to way, way ahead. The water surface was quite disorganized by the wind chop and small swell combining with the wakes of about 100 canoes and kayaks further up the course. I stayed more on the inshore edge of the mess and tried to find a paddling rhythm in tune with the bumpy water.

During that initial part of the first upwind leg, Larry Cain (who had been caught in traffic at the start) surged up on my left side. I started to think, "Hmm, maybe I should slide over and get in his wake to try to draft for a bit..." but he was so fast that he was gone before I had even finished the thought. He was sprinting to catch up to Chase. Incredibly, I saw him successfully close the gap on the younger athlete, and I thought he did get in the draft. But Larry later told me that he'd been unable to cross the penultimate bump of Chase's wake to get in the drafting zone. So he had done all that exhausting catch-up work without reaping the reward of catching a draft. Dang!

I don't remember all the things that happened on my own way upwind, but I do remember I had one fall, that I did some drafting of Warren Heil, and that I switched to drafting Brad Ward for a little bit when Brad came up from behind and had a faster pace than Warren. Despite his fast pace, Brad seemed to be having a little balance trouble on his 14x23 Hovie Comet GT. At one point he fell and I went around him, but right after that he was re-invigorated and blasted past me and permanently out of reach. On the first downwind I went hard but I was challenged by the wakes, crowds, and complex state of the water, and I was anxious about my position relative to Warren, Brad, and Mark Athanacio. I had one fall, and made it to the downwind buoy several board lengths behind Warren. On the upwind I got back in the swing of things and set a pace that was ambitious but doable. It looked like I might be able to catch up to Warren, so I made an extra effort to hasten that. Drafting him on that second upwind leg felt great, and I recharged enough energy to ask to take the lead for a bit. Warren let me around and I went at a good pace. After a bit it got quieter behind me and I realized I had dropped him. I tried to maintain my quick pace as I rounded the upwind buoy. This time on the downwind I went a little more carefully and strategically, trying to catch all the "bumps" that I could but also trying to rest and take sips of water when I was on a bump. Nobody passed me, so I was in a good position heading into the third and final upwind leg. I just had to not screw up, and not give Warren or Mark Athanacio any opportunities to pass. I did a lot of counting strokes in my mind to keep my pace up, and I focused on how fun the final downwind run would be. On the final downwind run I thought of it as an escape, running down the waves fleeing the enemies behind me. Rounding the downwind buoy I semi-sprinted the final 100 meters towards the beach finish, inspired by the music blaring from the Red Bull truck PA system. I ungracefully rode a small wave into the shallow water, where I jumped off and carried my board through the finish. Woo hoo!

This is my track from the race. You have to go into Strava to see all the details.

After the race I felt great, except for sore quadriceps from balancing in the chop. I think the cooler weather and the alternation of upwind and downwind sections had kept any one part of the race from being too crushing. I was happy with 4th place overall and didn't have any major "woulda coulda shoulda" feelings about how the race had gone. Although I do think I should try more seriously to take advantage of drafting faster-than-me guys when I have the opportunity. Also, the more practice I can get in rough water upwind/downwind conditions, the better.

What's Next: This is high season for SUP in Florida, and there is a race every weekend for the foreseeable future. Next weekend it's the local CGT race where I face the daunting task of raising my level to match Mark Athanacio's insane sustained flatwater pace. The weekend after that is a the Calusa Palooza on the Estero River. After THAT is the biggest Florida SUP race of the year, the Key West Classic, where we'll see the return of Larry Cain and some other pros.

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