Saturday, June 9, 2018

Race Report: Battle on the Blueway 2018

A tight finish between the top two female competitors Kim Barnes and Maddie Miller, decided by a footrace.


Race: The Battle on the Blueway.

Date it happened: 9 June 2018.

Host / Sponsors / Benefitting: Hosted by Lee County's "Calusa Blueway" paddle trails program and the SWFL Sup Club. Sponsored by Ron Jon Surf Shop, Estero River Outfitters, and others listed on the event page. Benefiting Lee County Special Olympics.

Location: Crescent Beach Park, Fort Myers, Florida.

Distance: The main event was four laps around a 3.5 km course, about 14 km total. There was also a shorter race; just one lap. Each lap had 6-7 buoys to go around, although two of those turns were oblique enough that you could curve around them without slowing down. After those races concluded they held some kids races and Special Olympics races.



Conditions: It was blazing hot with a light and shifting breeze. The Gulf of Mexico was glassy except for small ripples, wakes, and "microswells". A noticeable tidal current flowed from SE to NW. The water quality was OK, but a bit brown stained due to discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River, which empties near Ft. Myers Beach. The polluted lake water ought to be passed southward to the parched everglades, where it used to go before being channeled to the Caloosahatchee to appease the sugar barons who own land south of Lake Okeechobee. "Big Sugar" is infamous for getting in bed with corrupt state politicians like awful Florida gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam. (Vote for someone else, please.) As I've advocated in this blog post, the state needs to buy out the sugar land asap and convert it to a wetland for water storage and treatment, or our "Blueway" is going to get browner and browner with polluted water.

Participants and Gear: There were about 90 racers total. The long race had 36 SUPs and 16 outrigger canoes or kayaks. We had good representation from our local CGT race team, including several people opting for sit-down watercraft- Murray Hunkin and Justin DiGiorgio on surfski kayaks, and Mark Athanacio, Matt Kearney, and Bill Mussenden on OC1 outrigger canoes. Besides the CGT crew, another big crew representing at the race was associated with Jupiter, FL's Blueline Surf Shop. Those folks were almost all riding John Meskauskas' "Flying Fish" brand custom boards, made in Florida. Flying Fish had all the top competitors in their tent (literally and figuratively), including pro-level Brazilian Eri Tenorio, top Florida paddlers Steve and Maddie Miller, Kim Barnes, and Tim Warner. An interesting SUP gear trend this year was that a majority of the women in the long SUP race opted for 14' boards, eschewing the slower 12'6 boards that were traditionally promoted for women's racing. This reduced the gap in times between the top men and the top women. In the short race the majority of women were still on 12'6. I used my 14'x23" Riviera RP, which has been my do-it-all board for two years.

Results: Full results are posted on Paddleguru. First over the line were surfskis- Murray Hunkin (01:16:54.85), Chris Vincent (01:17:02.63), and Doug Lindsay (01:21:32.79). Next was first place OC1 Mark Athanacio (01:23:24.57), just ahead of Justin DiGiorgio's surfksi (01:23:37.37). Both Murray and Mark are 50+ years old and beat younger competitors to get first overall. Second and third OC1s were Zachary Cole (01:24:56.01) and Matt Kearney (01:25:04.23). Not far behind the sit-down craft was Eri Tenorio on SUP (01:26:40.00), followed by Steve Miller (01:28:01.10), Tim Warner (01:31:59.63), Zach Rounsaville (01:33:08.92), and me (01:33:35.38). I was a small distance ahead of Packet Casey, who isn't in the official results because he registered late. I barely finished in time to see a tight battle between the top women's finishers Kim Barnes (01:35:50.40) and Maddie Miller (01:35:52.69). JP SUP team member Karen Kennedy was the third woman across (01:43:42.04). The top 12'6 women were Katherine Pyne (01:45:16.94) and Cindy Gibson (01:47:21.09). Cindy was the first woman overall in the 50+ division.

Play by play: They started the sit-down racers from shallow water and waited a minute or two for them to get clear before releasing the SUP racers, who were lined up on a shallow sandbar. I was in the middle of the line and got somewhat caught behind the faster starters. Things sorted out a bit by the buoy turn, and I managed to get ahead of Kim Barnes and Steven Bernstein, and behind Packet Casey and Zach Rounsaville. Eri Tenorio, Steve Miller, and Tim Warner were quickly getting board lengths ahead of us, with speed that we couldn't match. Thus, only a minute or so into the race, it was clear that my battles would be with Packet and Zach. In the past those two guys have beaten me sometimes, and I've beaten them sometimes, so the outcome for today was uncertain. The only thing that WAS certain was that the fight would be long and painful.

On the first leg of the race I found it easier to go fast by getting in clear water and working the tiny bumps than by trying to draft Packet. This let me get in front of him. He was in my draft for the first straightaway, but I think the accelerating and decelerating I was doing because of the tiny bumps might have made it hard for him to use my draft. Eventually he drifted back a bit and I focused on keeping pace with Zach. On the up-current leg I took a more inshore line, hoping that the current would be lighter there. I'm not sure if it helped or not. I also tried to buoy-turn efficiently, and ride whatever microscopic bumps I could. I finally caught up to Zach on the first leg of the third lap. I was able to lower my stroke rate and catch some breaths, but I wasn't very relaxed, and it took a lot of concentration and switching sides to keep the board in the sweet spot of the draft. Towards the end of the leg Zach picked up a bit of speed, and by the buoy turn I gave up and let him go. After the race Zach said that his race plan had been do each lap a bit faster than the previous, which was amazing because my "plan" was to do the first lap fast and then unavoidably fade in each subsequent lap as the heat and exertion took their toll.

After losing Zach, my attention turned to keeping myself focused and not losing my lead on Packet. I had to push myself really, uncomfortably hard to do that. It didn't help me that Packet got a second wind and a burst of motivation as he expertly rode a series of gentle boat wakes to close much of the distance on me. I can neither confirm nor deny that I shouted "kill me now!" at that point in the race. Anyway, in the end I did stay ahead of Packet, and only 27 seconds behind Zach, which I reckoned was respectable. I managed not to fall on my face when I jumped off the board and ran through the finish. I had to IMMEDIATELY jump in the ocean because I was hot as hell and verging on collapse.

The other racers seemed to be in similar states- totally cooked. In fact, several had to drop out of the race before it was over and got "DNFs". There were a few grumbles about the race being 25% longer than advertised, but overall there was a general agreement that it was run very well. The BBQ lunch was good, and the awards and stuff were administered competently. I think lots of money was raised for the Special Olympics. I'll be back next year, perhaps on surfski.

Here's my GPS track and data from the race. You have to go into Strava to see the details. I think it's interesting to click the "view flybys" link in strava to watch where I was relative to the other racers who posted their GPS data there. E.g., you can see where I was gaining on Zach, then where Zach was pulling away from me.