Sunday, May 7, 2017

SUP Race Report: Noodles SUP Luau Race

Mark Athanacio and Jesse DaSilva with the best sprint starts.


Race: The 8th Annual SUP Luau Race, sponsored by Noodles Italian Cafe & Sushi Bar, Beach Box Cafe, and B3 Marketing LLC. Benefitting Collier County Special Olympics.

Date it happened: 7 May 2017

Location: In the Gulf of Mexico at Vanderbilt Beach, Naples, FL.

Distance: The competitive race was approximately 5.3 km, but I don't know the exact distance because I forgot to start my GPS tracker. The race was 6 laps around a triangular course, with two buoys offshore and one in the surf zone. That inside buoy provided a good challenge for the competitors and drama for the spectators. After the competitive race there was also a short "family fun" race and a race for the Special Olympics athletes.

Conditions: There was a light side-offshore wind from the NE, and some knee to thigh high swell breaking near the steep sandy beach. For those who weren't used to the rolling ocean conditions, balance was a major challenge, and there were several "retirements" before the race was over.

Participants and Gear: There was a big crowd for the family fun race, and there were quite a few Special Olympians, as well. The competitive race was a smaller group (17 people), but it included experienced studs Mark Athanacio and Packet Casey, among race-savvy competitors from the CGT tribe and Naples Outfitters. There were no divisions by board size, so most people used 14' boards if they had them. I used my 14x23 Riviera RP, with an 18 cm "Natural Winner" fin that I stole off of one of CGT's Starboard AllStar boards. I've previously raced with some fins that I thought were too big or too small for rough water, but this green one seemed like a good compromise.

The Goldilocks fin? I might look for an aftermarket fin that has similar specs, such as the Fins Unlimited 7.3" Seagrass SUP fin.


Mark Athanacio used his salmon colored 14x23.5 Hovie GTO, and Packet Casey used a 14x23 JP Flatwater that looked tippy (although it's the same board model that Vinnicius Martins recently won the Key West Classic on). Hal Atzingen used a 14x25 Infinity Blackfish with a 4-fin setup (3 at the tail and one little one towards the bow). Lots of people were drooling over that board. I tried it and was impressed with the stability but thought it might be faster with just a single fin. Matt Kearney used a 14x24 404 v3. Justin DiGiorgio used his Mahi Mahi colored 14x24 Hovie GT. Mark Hourigan used the same model of Riviera as me but with a Futures RedFish fin. John Weinberg used the 14x25 Riviera. CGT team manager Nick Paeno made a rare appearance on the race course with one of the shop's 14x24.5 Starboard AllStar boards. Meg Bosi used a 12'6 Bark Contender, and Donna Catron used a 12'6 Bark Vapor. Cindy Gibson volunteered at the registration booth but had to skip the racing due to a serious muscle injury she sustained while winning her division in the Key West Classic.

Results: Since this was a low-key local race focused mostly on the recreational paddlers and Special Olympics athletes, I don't think they are going to post our times. They did keep track of who got what place, though. I got first, followed by Packet Casey and Mark Athanacio. I think the next two finishers were Matt Kearney and Justin DiGiorgio, who rode in on the same wave but varied in how gracefully they dismounted and ran up the beach. Meg Bosi was the first female. If they'd had age divisions, Athanacio would have won the 50+ division by a wide margin.

Play by play: No buoys were set up yet when we got to the beach, so there was a lot of speculation on what the course would be like while we paddled around and warmed up. Initially we thought there would be running up the sand and around a cone or something between laps, but it was decided instead to just have us go around a buoy near the shore. That turned out to be challenging enough, since the buoy was flanked by breaking wave zones. We also weren't sure how long each lap of the course would be and how many laps there would be, but after we saw where the outside buoys were placed (pretty close in) we collectively decided that 6 laps would be the right amount. I'm glad we didn't do more because some of us had trouble counting to 6. It starts to feel like Groundhog Day after about the third lap. The direction of the course was counterclockwise such that each buoy turn was a left turn, advantaging "regular footed" paddlers, like me, for whom left turns are easier.

The start was the standard type of beach start, and I was lucky to get out relatively cleanly from the favored end of the line. Athanacio got the best start, and dreadlocked Jesse from Naples Outfitters also had a fast starting sprint on his 12'6 custom 404. Packet Casey didn't have as great an initial position, but subsequently sprinted fast and took an outside line to get ahead of me and Jesse. I had a little trouble with Jesse's wake, but I think I passed him before we got to the first buoy. I don't think I caught all the way up to Packet on the first lap, but I stayed pretty close behind him, and he stayed pretty close behind Athanacio. Each of the three legs of a lap had a slightly different character. The first was a bit upwind, and a diagonal angle to swells. The second was vaguely downwind, but the wind was too light to make a noticeable difference. The third leg was straight in to shore, and that's where it paid to time your paddling with the swells to get some boosts of speed on the way to the inside turn. I think the third leg is where I closed some distance on Packet and Athanacio.

My first inside buoy turn was decent, and got me in a position where I could catch up to and draft Packet for a while on the second lap. In flat water I probably wouldn't be able to catch Packet on his 14x23 JP Flatwater, but he had just enough instability wobbles in these conditions that my slightly-more-stable 14x23 Riviera RP was faster on average. Athanacio was still out ahead at that point, but at the end of the second lap he fell on the inside buoy, which had drifted impossibly close to shore. I was also forced off the board at that point, but corrected course and jumped back on without much fuss.

The messy turn after the inside buoy drifted to shore.


The details of the rest of the race start to get fuzzy in my head, but I remember that in subsequent laps I continued a routine of drafting Packet when possible, and trying hard not to fall off at the buoys. Sometimes I did "real" step-back turns, while other times, particularly if I was in the lead, I did less risky cross-bow or arc turns. The inside buoy got both Packet and Athanacio at least once more, which shuffled things around such that each of us spent some time in the lead. We started to lap the slower paddlers, which created a bit of traffic problems, but nothing too serious.

Going into the last lap I had the lead, and tried to pick up the pace slightly to reduce the chances that Packet or Athanacio would pass. Packet later told me that he'd been planning to do a big sprint around me during the last lap. I knew that plan didn't work out for him when I heard him splash into the water behind me halfway through the last lap. I picked up the pace a little more to make sure I had a safe gap and had used up most of my energy by the finish. I managed not to fall on the last leg, and rode a wave ungracefully up onto the sand at the finish line, putting some scuff marks on the nose of my board.

I'd barely had time to lay my board down in the sand before Packet finished, and Mark was just a few moments behind him. The three of us fussed with each other a little over who'd had the better luck with the buoys, whether we had actually done the correct number of laps, etc. I wished I had managed to start my speedcoach GPS properly so I could retrace each lap. Fortunately, Packet's memory of what happened each lap was really clear, and established that we had indeed done all six. Anyway, I was happy to have done well in the interesting, open-water conditions at this race, and to have finished alongside two of Florida's original SUP racing badasses. Athanacio is now 52, and Packet is 40-something, but both continue to punch well above their weight in the Florida SUP circuit.

After the competitive race was over, it was delightful to watch the huge mob of inexperienced but majorly-stoked racers in the family fun race. Some were really charging, some were thwarted by the waves and barely making headway, but all showed admirable determination. I think that a large volume of low-key amateur participation is a good sign of a healthy sport.

The Special Olympics race was also fun to watch, though it was tense watching the challenged athletes face bigger waves than most had ever paddled in before. Miraculously, they pulled through, and a few even managed to surf their waves back into shore as they returned from their short run out to the buoy. Woo hoo!

Family fun racers and some Special Olympians prepare for combat.


What's Next: Next up is more training, working on rough water and race skills, and getting read for the Florida Cup race later this month. Nick Paeno and John Weinberg, who opted to retire early from this race after falling a lot due to lack of practice in bumpy water, are keen to get some more rough water practice, and coach Athanacio has a new combination paddle-run workout that he has recommended we all try.

1 comment:

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