Sunday, May 6, 2018

Race Report: Special Olympics Benefit SUP Races

Draft train early in the race: Packet Casey, Mark Athanacio, me.

Race: The 9th Annual SUP Luau Race benefitting Collier County Special Olympics.

Date it happened: 6 May 2018

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

Distance: The competitive race was approximately 5.7 km. The course was four laps around a big rectangle that was pinched like a bow in the middle. After the competitive race there were shorter races for the Special Olympics athletes, and "family fun" races. My track from the race is below.

Conditions: The weather was warm and sunny with hardly any wind. There were some tiny swells and wakes on the Gulf, which could occasionally provide a little speed boost.

Participants and Gear: There was a good group of Special Olympians, with a lot of family members and volunteers supporting them and participating in the family fun races. For the competitive race we had a smaller group, but it included experienced studs Mark Athanacio, Packet Casey, Cindy Gibson, and Meg Bosi, among other race-savvy competitors from the CGT tribe. There were no divisions by board size, so most people used 14' boards if they had them. Some of the women on 14s included Meg Bosi, Damien Lin, and Donna Catron, while Cindy Gibson went with her trusty 12'6 Hovie Comet. Packet Casey used a JP Flatwater 14x25; 2" wider than the 14x23 JP that he used last year. I used my 14x23 Riviera RP, with an 18.5 cm Fins Unlimited seagrass fin that I now use for anything other than perfectly flat water.

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. Packet Casey got first, I was second, and Mark Athanacio was third. Next was Mark Hourigan on a 14x25 Infinity Blackfish, followed by the amazing Cindy Gibson, who was the first place female. Cindy was a bit ahead of new dad Justin DiGiorgio, who was a bit ahead of Bill Mussenden. I think the 2nd and 3rd place women were Meg Bosi and Jen Hayes.

Play by play: I haven't been as obsessive about SUP training this year as in previous years, because my mind and my hours have been more occupied with work-related goals and struggles. I've still been getting time on the water, but not doing such intense intervals training as I was doing before, and not going to the gym. For the past month I've also been doing about half of my paddling on my new surfski kayak. So I wasn't sure how well I'd perform in this race. I knew that I'd be in the top three with Packet and Athanacio, but had no idea who among us would be in the lead.

After the running start from the beach, Packet was first to the first buoy, closely tailed by Athanacio, then me. Justin DiGiorgio also had a good start but dropped behind after the first buoy. The nearshore leg of the course was tricky because one of the buoys brought us into shallow water near shore. There was some strategy involved in deciding whether to take the most direct path to and from that buoy, or to try to stay in deeper (faster) water as long as possible. Following Athanacio and Packet I also played around with trying to ride various parts of their wakes, or getting in clean water and riding the micro-swells and swell-rebounds from the beach. The numerous buoy turns were another opportunity for skill and strategy. One could either step way back on the board to do a tight "pivot" turn, or one could try to just paddle a wider arc around the buoy. Athanacio has a quick pivot turn technique, and he got frustrated with me and Packet for doing slower turns. I reckon that polishing my buoy turns could gain me a board length or two each turn, which in a close race like this could end up making a big difference in final standings.

We did the first lap at a wicked pace around 9.6 kph (6 mph), and I was hurting in the second lap. Athanacio and I had dropped a few board lengths behind Packet, and I proposed that we work together to try to catch him. Athanacio let me around and I put in a good effort for a half lap, with the intention to yield back to Athanacio for the next half lap. But somehow I ended up losing Athanacio, and then I wasn't inclined to wait up for him so I just kept paddling, trying not drop too far behind Packet. That's how things stayed for the whole rest of the race. At times I got a little closer to Packet, but his buoy turns and accelerations were great, and he put on an extra effort in the last lap to get safely out of my reach by the finish.

Though I didn't win first place, I really enjoyed myself, and felt pleased with my pace and performance. My average speed was 9.3 kph, which is quite good for me, especially in a race with a lot of buoy turns. They gave out beautiful, handmade wooden trophies for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place, and had a little podium set up for us to stand on. I was pleased to be up there with Packet and Athanacio. My trophy says, "Special Olympics - SUP Race - 2nd place," which is slightly embarrassing because I got my trophy without having to overcome the disabilities that the actual Special Olympics athletes face. Maybe next year they can have slightly different wording on the trophies for the non-special athletes, or just give us a little ribbon or something instead of a whole huge trophy.

After the competitive race was over, it was delightful to watch the Special Olympic athletes in their surprisingly fast and closely contested race. I stood in the water by one of the buoys and helped direct the athletes. The course instructions were a bit confusing for me, and I imagine more so for the athletes. Good on them for paddling as well as they did.

What's Next: Next race for me is next weekend in Edisto Island, near Charleston, South Carolina: it's the Edisto Island Classic 2018. It will be a heck of a long drive, but it's where my parents live, and I'll be staying in their beach house there for a few days of vacation.

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