Sunday, December 27, 2015

One of my race SUPs is up for sale - Fanatic Falcon 14' x 24.75"

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Since getting hooked on paddleboard racing in fall 2014 I have gone through several boards. Here's a quick history of the race SUPs I have had in my possession-

1. 14'x26" 404 Pintail Zeedonk - This was my first race sup, which I bought because it was a really great closeout deal through CGT kayaks. I sold it after just a few uses because I wanted a more rugged SUP that I could put a windsurfing mast track in.

2. 14'x27.25" Fanatic Falcon - I bought this board, used, as a replacement for the Zeedonk. I really like the wide-nose narrow-tail shape, especially in rough water and upwind/downwind conditions. I put a windsurfing mast-track in the board and it sails nicely in light to moderate winds. I'm keeping the board for paddleboard race training, sharing with my wife, and windsurfing, but it's wider than optimal for the level of racing I'm striving for.

3. 14'x24" 404 v3 - I was in the market for a narrower board to challenge myself and increase my racing speeds, and I got a good deal on this one through CGT. I used it in a couple of races and did pretty well. However, though the 404 was faster than the wider Fanatic, I liked the style of the Fanatic better. I ended up experiencing buyers' remorse with regards to the 404, and I sold it to a friend so I could buy a narrow Fanatic instead.

4. 14'x24.75" Fanatic Falcon - ***FOR SALE***. This was my dream board when I got it in May 2015. It had the shape I loved from the wider Fanatic, but it was narrow enough to boost me into the next tier of competitive speed. I used it hard and put a few minor dings in the deck, which I repaired with epoxy, fiberglass, and not-quite-matched red paint. I stopped using the board in late August 2015 when CGT started half-sponsoring me by loaning me one of their Riviera boards to ride. The Riviera had a slight edge on the Fanatic in flat water, but still, nothing I've tried beats the Fanatic in nasty water. I'm asking $1000 for the Fanatic, which is currently on the consignment rack at CGT kayaks. Take it for a test run, make me an offer.

5. 14'x25" Riviera RP - This is the board I used per a sort-of sponsorship agreement with CGT Kayaks & Paddleboards. I did well in races on it, but I never actually owned it. Recently I returned it to CGT and it was purchased by another racer, Mark Hourigan. My next board will probably be a Riviera in the 23-24" width range, which ought to work well for me in racing, and ought to also help me attract customers to buy Riviera boards at CGT. If I'm on the new Riviera all the time I won't have any strong justification for keeping the narrow Fanatic, so the narrow fanatic has to go. Like I said, make me an offer.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Mini Manifesto on the Perennial Debates in SUP Racing

Stand-up paddleboard racing is relatively simple and therefore has far fewer rules than sports like football or baseball. Most SUP rules hardly need to be stated, e.g.:

1. Do it standing up.
2. No sails or motors allowed.
3. Refrain from using your paddle as a weapon.

However, there a few SUP rules that seem to be major sticking points for debate. The three things that always get argued are:

1. Board classes and design regulations
2. Gender divisions (and to a lesser extent, age divisions)
3. Drafting regulations, especially in relation to 1&2

I’ll join the debate by sharing my current views on each of those three areas. I might change my views later. These are just my thoughts as of one year of SUP racing:

1. Board classes and design regulations.
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First let’s consider what it would be like if there were no rules about equipment. I.e., if everyone paddled whatever size and shape of board was fastest for him or her. The optimal board length for most racers would be longer than what most people use now, because longer boards have a higher potential “hull speed.” (Hull speed is related to the dynamics of the wave that propagates from a water-displacing vessel. It’s very hard to go faster than the speed of that wave, but a vessel with a longer hull creates a longer, faster wave. Therefore a longer vessel can get to a faster speed before it starts pushing into the backside of its own wave.) The hull speed of an 11’ board is 8.2 kph; the hull speed of an 18’ board is 10.5 kph. Longer is faster. Of course, increasing your board’s length only works up to a certain point, because there Is a type of drag called skin friction which is proportional to the surface area of the board that is in contact with the water. At some board length, the negative effect of more skin friction negates the benefit of increased hull speed, because you can’t paddle hard enough to overcome the skin friction to reach the hull speed, anyway. Making the board really narrow can help reduce skin friction, and also help get around the hull speed limit. However, boards narrower than about 23” become prohibitively hard to balance on. If your balance is off you can’t paddle forcefully enough to be fast, and falling in the water is obviously slow, too, so there’s a self-enforcing minimum width limit.

Anyway, exactly what the “board length of no additional benefit” is depends on how narrow the paddler can go without getting wobbly, and how big and strong the paddler is. Since a bigger, stronger paddler can overcome more skin friction, a bigger stronger paddler can potentially reach the hull speed on a bigger, longer board. This suggests that without board length restrictions, the biggest paddlers on the biggest boards would dominate, although somewhat smaller paddlers with incredible balance abilities to ride narrow boards might also have a shot. With no board design restrictions we might also see more foot-operated rudders, and maybe even some wacky features like outriggers to stabilize super narrow, round-hulled boards that would be too unstable to stand on otherwise. Bigger, more complicated boards would be more expensive and harder to transport, and would be more cumbersome in races with rough water, lots of turns, etc. They might be less fun, too. Those factors, combined with the likely disadvantage for smaller people in unrestricted competition, create a good argument for having some kind of limits on or divisions by board size. The question then is what those limits or divisions should be.

Because board width tends to be self-limiting as mentioned above, board width rules or divisions are rarely specified- at least not at the amateur races I attend. But most SUP races do include at least two board length classes: 12’6 and 14’. Some races also include an unlimited length class, and some include a “recreational” or “surf style” class. Here’s what I think about each class:

The surf style class is a catchall for non-racing board designs, up to 12’6 in length but with wider, more rounded shapes. Since those are the kind of SUP boards most people start out on, it’s nice that they have a division that lets you use them to try out racing. You couldn’t really have a surf style class in a high-stakes competitive race, though, because people would start making fast “surf style” boards that were actually more like raceboards.

The unlimited length class is nice, in theory. It just doesn’t seem to be very popular. Though I’ve been to several big amateur SUP races in Florida I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than two people register in the unlimited class. More unlimited boards come out of the woodwork for super long distance races like the Chattajack in Tennessee. Also, specialized open-ocean unlimited boards are popular for downwind racing at a few select spots in the world like Hawaii. I’m curious to see if there are any changes in the popularity of unlimited class racing in the future, but I’m not holding my breath.

The 12’6 and 14’ classes are each pretty popular. By virtue of their shorter length, 12’6 boards are a little more maneuverable- easier to turn, easier to handle in waves, and perhaps quicker to accelerate from a stop to their top speed. They are also slightly easier to store and transport. On the other hand 14’ boards are significantly faster at cruising speed- about 0.5 kph faster than 12’6. 14 footers are also a little more stable, meaning they can be narrower, which contributes to their speed advantage. They “track” better, too, so one can get more paddle strokes per side before having to switch sides. For most people it’s easier to go farther, faster, with less effort, on a 14’.

Yet there’s a common, mostly untrue belief that 12’6 is faster for light riders. There is a kernel of truth to the belief, because WITHIN the 12’6 class, lighter riders have a slight advantage over heavy ones. Likewise, WITHIN the 14’ class, moderate weight riders have some advantage over very light or very heavy riders. So even though 14’ boards are overall faster for almost everyone, if you’re very light and you want to be as fast as possible WITHIN A CLASS, you might want to pick 12’6. Anyway, people overextend the true notion that lighter people have an advantage in the 12’6 class into the untrue notion that lighter people are overall faster on 12’6 than 14’. One reason this misconception endures may be that when lighter riders try a 14’ board for the first time, they try a 14’ board that is too wide and heavy for them. The optimal 14’ for a light rider is a lot narrower than the optimal 14’ for a heavier rider, and having a lightweight construction to the board is more important when the rider is light.

In Florida I think about 2/3 of male racers use 14’ and about 9/10 of the women use 12’6. Sometimes race organizers offer both classes for both genders, but the prize awarding can be awkward if there aren’t enough men on 12’6 or women on 14’ to have a full podium of winners not-merely-by-default. Yet, if you only award prizes for 14’ for men, or only for 12’6 for women it kind of forces people to use a board size they may not want to use. This brings me to the gender divisions question.

2. Gender.
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In SUP racing, the fastest men usually finish ahead of the fastest women. Of course, that difference is exaggerated by the fact that most men are on faster 14’ boards and most women are on slower 12’6 boards. If men and women were on the same length boards their speeds would be closer, but I think men would still be faster, on average, due to different physiology. So, gender divisions are probably necessary for fair competition. I don’t think there’s much controversy about that.

What there is controversy about is how prizes are apportioned among the genders- often unequally. If the prizes are money, I reckon the mens’ prizes and the womens’ prizes should be the same amount. That’s probably the best way to do it in a big race where the prize money comes from sponsors and you know there are going to be lots of competitors in both the mens’ and the womens’ divisions. However, if the prizes come from registration fees, and the number of participants is skewed strongly to one gender/class or another, then it might be fairer for the prize amounts to be based on the number of competitors in the class. For example, you could pay 20% of the class’ collective registration fees to first place, 15% to second, and 10% to third. E.g., if 50 women entered a race with a $40 entry fee, $2000 would be collected and first, second, and third prize would be $400, $300, and $200, respectively. (The rest of the money would offset costs of organizing the race.) If 20 men entered, $800 would be collected and the mens’ prizes would be $160, $120, and $80. You could do the same type of “awards based on the number of competitors” thing with board size divisions.

Division by gender makes sense. So does division by board length/type and division by age (typically 17 & under, 18-49, and 50+). But even though each division makes sense in itself, when you add them all together it multiplies the number of categories to the point of nonsense. Take the three age classes, times the four board classes, times the two genders and you get 3 x 4 x 2 = 24 unique classes, each of which will have a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place award, so 72 prizes/trophies! Many of those will be unclaimed or uncontested, and therefore kind of silly. So you can see why races want to limit the number of categories. One common way of limiting the categories is to only award mens’ prizes in the 14’ class and only award womens’ prizes in the 12’6 class. I’m not crazy about that because it’s basically forcing the women to do a longer, harder race than the men, since the same distance takes longer and feels harder on a 12’6. I’d like to see what would happen if they made mens’ 14’ and womens’ 14’ the major prize classes. The 14’ class is usually interpreted to mean “any board up to 14’ in length,” so a woman could still use her 12’6 if she felt she was faster on it. Besides making the races closer, getting men and women on the same length boards could facilitate coed training, because men and women could stick closer together on the same workout paddles. This brings me to my third point.

3. Drafting regulations.
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Drafting is when you follow very closely behind another racer, in his or her wake. The wake makes it so you don’t have to paddle as hard as when you’re on your own. When drafting you can keep up with someone who would be a bit faster than you going side-by-side. But drafting isn’t magic- you can’t keep up with someone who would be a LOT faster than you. Drafting is allowed because it makes the racing faster overall and it adds an interesting element of strategic competition/cooperation in “draft trains” of several riders. The main rule about drafting is that you can’t draft “out of class.” I.e., you may not draft behind someone of a different gender or someone on a different board length. I suppose this rule is to encourage riders within a class to race with and against each other rather than tagging along with the fastest out-of-class rider they can catch. I reckon the rule makes sense for highly competitive races with money involved, but for less serious amateur races I think an “anything goes” drafting rule would be better. In an amateur race there are a wide range of speeds in every class, and fewer opportunities to draft within class. A fast 12’6 woman might be side-by-side with a draft train of 14’ men, but under the “only draft within class” rule she would not be allowed to join their train. Allowing drafting out of class would give progressing racers more opportunities to practice drafting.

The final thing I want to say about drafting rules is: if you're going to have drafting rules, you need to enforce them. Otherwise you're just giving a handicap to the people who follow the rules.

That’s the end of the manifesto!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

SUP Race Report: CGT Winter Series #1 - Too close for comfort

Left to right Donna Catron, Mark Payne, Justin DiGiorgio, and Jen Hayes blast off the starting line in the second batch of racers released.
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On Sunday, December 14th, CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards hosted the first paddleboard / kayak race of their winter series. The course was a little different from the one in the summer series- it was only 5.1 km as opposed to 6.9 km. Everyone seemed to like the new distance. A few of the regulars from the summer series couldn't make it- Devin Turetzkin had the flu, and Matt Kearney was supporting his wife who was running a marathon -but the race was nevertheless well attended by a mix of new and veteran SUP racers.

These are the results in the format of Name, Class, and Time:

James Douglass 14' SUP 0:34:28
Mark Athanacio 14' SUP 0:34:29
Mark Hourigan 14' SUP 0:35:31
Murray Hunkin 14' SUP 0:35:59
Justin DiGiorgio 14' SUP 0:38:05
Kate Pagan 12'6" SUP 0:39:56
Mark Payne 14' SUP 0:41:11
Meg Bosi 12'6" SUP 0:41:27
John Weinberg 14' SUP 0:42:21
Jen Hayes 12'6" SUP 0:43:09
Beth Schadd 12'6" SUP 0:44:01
Damien Lin 12'6" SUP 0:45:42
Donna Catron 12'6" SUP 0:46:11
Saralane Harper 14' SUP 0:46:19
Joseph Gladieux 12'6" SUP 0:51:49

As you can see, I won, but just barely, and 3rd and 4th place weren't far behind. This is big change from the summer race series, where Mark Athanacio and I were always close together at the top, but there was a big gap between us and third place. Who are these upstarts threatening our hegemony?

Mark Hourigan- Mark H. is 55 years old, the most senior racer after Mark Payne, but he's obviously very fast. I think the main reason is because he has been committed to race training and fitness, and he has gotten incredibly buff. Most 20 year olds would be jealous of his physique. Also, Mark just switched from a 27" wide Yolo board to a 25" wide Riviera board. In fact he bought the very board that I used to win most of the summer race series, the white 14x25 Riviera RP in fiberglass construction (see below). I have to admit I was kind of jealous to see another guy on "Whitey," but I'm scheming to get a board upgrade that will put me ahead of the curve again. More on that later.

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Murray Hunkin- Murray is a 49 year old long-time kayak racer and rugby player from South Africa who has switched to SUP in the last year. He's big and strong at 100 kg and he knows about race strategy and hard-core training from all his high-level kayaking. In the summer series we didn't worry too much about him because he was too busy training for a kayak championship to be fully dedicated to SUP. But lately he has been 100% into SUP and getting pretty darn good. Murray has also switched to a fast Riviera board- a 27" wide aqua-colored one of the same vintage as Whitey. The board has about 300 liters of volume and is clearly a better fit for Murray than his old ~240 liter board. Though Murray can somehow balance in a kayak as narrow and round as a telephone pole, balancing on a SUP, especially when turning, is his one remaining weakness.

Murray Hunkin the African riverbeest on his new 14'x27" Riviera RP.
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How the race went: Because the Imperial River is too narrow to put all the racers in at once, we started in groups of four, chosen by the racers. Mark Athanacio, Me, Mark Hourigan, and Murray figured that we would be the fastest, so we made the first group. Technically it's doesn't matter which group you start in, because your time is calculated as your end time minus your start time, but if you want to use "drafting" to your advantage it's best to start with other racers who are close to your speed or faster. I wasn't sure how fast I'd be because I was on a borrowed board from the shop. It was a 14x25.5 404 v3 carbon with a nice "Stavron" fin. It felt great when I test rode it Thursday- very stable and, in terms of speed, not far behind the slightly narrower and pointier "Whitey". When the starting horn blew I put in a pretty good sprint and over 100 m or so the other guys got into my draft. I kept a fast pace but, unlike in previous races, I didn't shake anyone off. After about 1500 m we hit the first turn-around, the so-called "frankenbuoy" with a shrubby mangrove sprouting out of it. The 180 degree turn was a little dicey, and Mark Athanacio moved up to 2nd in the draft train by cutting it narrow when Murray and Hourigan went wide. Murray had lost the train and was sprinting to catch up when he fell off his board, which basically ensured that he wouldn't catch us. I was getting tired from leading the train and Mark Athanacio probably knew it. He said, "If you're getting tired from pulling, tell your boys they need to take a turn." So I said, "Boys, take a turn!" and we slowed down a bit to let Mark Hourigan into the lead. After a little while of egging Hourigan on to sprint as fast as possible, Mark Athanacio took his turn leading, with me in the middle. We were like that when this picture was snapped in the middle of the race.

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On the upriver part of the race I started leading again, and Mark Hourigan dropped off the train because of all the bendy curves of the river. Athanacio asked if we wanted to let him catch up and I said, "No, just you and me now." I was tired, but I was scared that if I let Athanacio lead the train again I'd never be able to pass him, so my plan was to try to stay fast and stay in his way, and not fall, for the rest of the race. I did a pretty good turn at the upper turn-around of the course, one of the pilings of the bat-infested Matheson Bridge. I didn't know it until later, but Athanacio said he used a cool trick at the turn of resting the nose of his board on the tail of my board so my board helped pull him through a fast turn with no extra energy spent. Anyway, I definitely did NOT shake him off at the turn like I was hoping I might. On the final leg Athanacio told me I was going to question whether leading the draft train for most of the race had been a good idea. I was definitely questioning it, especially when Mark moved out to the side of me a bit like he might be trying to pass. I upped the speed and got in his way as best I could, although I think if he'd REALLY wanted to pass me he probably could have found a way to do it. Around this time I was getting very, very tired, and my heart rate was up over 190 bpm, but I knew if I slowed down Mark would pass me in a flash, so I kept moving. Also, my wife Rhonda had shouted when I was passing the mid-point, "Finish first or don't come home!" and just in case she wasn't joking I wanted to finish first. In the end I finished one second ahead of Mark Athanacio, too close for comfort.

Exhaustedly finishing just a tiny bit ahead of Athanacio. He was probably going easy on me. ;)
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It's clear that from now on the local races are going to be much more interestingly competitive, with any of the top 4 probably capable of winning, given the right luck and strategy. The competition is also pretty hot in the other board classes, with Kate Pagan setting a new standard for speed in the womens' 12'6 class, with Meg Bosi and Jen Hayes not far behind. A trio of rookie racer women- Beth Schadd, Damien Lin, and Saralane Harper (Murray's beau), are also looking strong. Even last place rookie Joseph Gladieux finished in less than an hour, and probably got a heck of a workout. I hope everybody is back again for the next race in the series on Sunday January 3rd.

Womens' winner Kate Pagan.
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Local veterinarian Damien Lin has a rowing background and has real good SUP form for a rookie. She seems to be hooked on the sport and should only get faster in the coming races.
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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Being a Lab Rat for a SUP Athlete Nutrition Study

Dr. Jose Antonio is a professor of exercise and sports science at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, and he's an avid paddler. I heard about him from Adam Pollock, a SUP racer / gear rep who was at the Lovers' Key race in November. Adam told me that Dr. Antonio was doing a study of the effects of a high protein diet on SUP athletes, and that folks from the CGT race team should sign up to be test subjects. I like science, and I like SUP racing, so participating in the study was a no-brainer for me.

This is the basis of the study, as I understand it:

A) SUP racing is getting popular, but compared to other sports there have been few scientific studies of the effects of different types of training and nutrition on SUP athletic performance.
B) Studies of some other sports have found that a high protein diet increases athletes' fitness and performance a lot.
C) A high protein diet might be effective for SUP athletes, too, so it's worth testing scientifically.

This is how the study is being done, as I understand it:

A) Adam Pollock recruits a bunch of Florida SUP racers to be Dr. Antonio's research subjects.
B) Subjects use the fitness tracker website "" to record everything they eat and all the exercise they do, for a week. Dr. Antonio's lab technician Anya Ellerbroek "friends" them on the website to collect their data.
C) After a week of logging their "baseline" nutrition and exercise, subjects go to Dr. Antonio's lab to get tested. Subjects are weighed and have their body fat/muscle composition analyzed in a futuristic device called the "Bod Pod." They also do a 500 m sprint test on a SUP ergometer, which is kind of like a stationary bicycle for standup paddlers. The SUP ergometer can record how much power you generate relative to your body weight; a proxy for your likely SUP performance.
D) The Dr. sends you home with big jugs of protein powder, and you supplement your normal diet with a certain number of grams of protein per kg of your body weight, every day for 8 weeks. During that time you train normally. (My baseline protein intake was ~100g/day, which is low, so the 50g of additional protein I'm getting through the supplement should make a big difference.) There's an additional wrinkle to the study, which is that one group of subjects takes the protein in the morning and another group at night. It's a type of protein called casein, extracted from milk, and it's supposed to be absorbed by the body more slowly than other types of protein. The idea is that its slow absorption allows it to be gradually delivered to your muscles as they recuperate from workout damage.
E) At the end of the 8 weeks you come back into the lab to do the bod pod and the SUP erg again to see if your body composition and fitness level has changed.

I did the testing on Friday with my CGT race team buddy Matt Kearney. Below are some pictures from the testing.

Matt in the orgasmatron bod pod. You have to strip down to tight underpants because any low density materials like clothing in the bod pod will inflate your fat percentage estimate. Matt was 11.8% fat, which is considered "Lean" and I was 12.6% fat, which is considered "Moderately Lean". Below lean is "Ultra Lean" (5-8% fat) which is the level found in elite athletes like Mark Athanacio. I would like to get from the moderately lean down into the lean category, but I don't reckon it's realistic for me to get into the ultra lean category at this point.

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Matt on the SUP ergometer, with Dr. Antonio in the background. Dr. Antonio has the same style philosophy as me, i.e., just because you have a PhD doesn't mean you can't wear shorts and a t-shirt to work. Matt also has good style. He's wearing his "Chattajack" (ultra long distance SUP race that he did in Tennessee this fall) shirt and sporting his signature Man-Bun hairdo.

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Me on the SUP ergometer.

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Video of the SUP ergometer

SUP erg from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Just stepped off the SUP ergometer. Man, it gets results quick!

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Me with one of the enormous jugs of protein the Dr. Antonio sent me home with. It's "cookies and cream" flavored. It tastes kind of funky if you mix it with water, but it's not that bad if you mix it with milk.

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Monday, December 7, 2015

New windsurfing magazine- "Windsurfing NOW"

Over the last several years, ALL the windsurfing magazines in North America went out of business. Even the Canadian ones. I found that very sad and disappointing, but I understood that it was probably hard to make money on a windsurfing magazine when competing for a small number of die-hard windsurfers' attention with a lot of free information on the internet.

Fortunately, one of the former windsurfing magazine editors is starting his own new windsurfing magazine called "Windsurfing NOW". I read the first issue, which they sent out for free. It had an awesome picture on the cover of Dale Cook jumping in the Gorge, and the articles in the magazine were really high quality.

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Also, call me crazy, but I like the advertisements in windsurfing magazine where you can see all the latest and weirdest boards and sails that the big companies are putting out. For example, Starboard is now making an inflatable windsurf that actually planes. They call it the AirPlane.

Anyway, I just bought a two year subscription (8 big issues) for $50. I think it will be well worth it.

PS- My buddy Alex, the only other regular windsurfer at our local spot of Wiggins Pass State Park, just bought an Exocet WindSUP 10'2 to replace his RRD Wassup 8'5 which had gotten waterlogged. (The 10'2 is a board I have been ogling since I first read about it online but I haven't been able to rationalize buying it myself.) Alex seems to love it so far. I have yet to mooch a ride on it but when I do I'll write a report on it here.

Monday, November 30, 2015

How to get pretty good at SUP racing in about a year

With apologies for tooting my own horn, I’ll say that I’ve become a pretty fast amateur SUP racer over the last year or so. If there are 5 tiers of SUP racers (see below) I’m probably on the middle tier now. For each tier I estimated the speed that riders on that tier might average in a mid-distance flatwater race. This is assuming 18-49 year old male riders on 14’ sups.

Professionals, 10 kph
Best-in-Florida sponsored racers, 9.5 kph
Avid amateurs who train hard and have good gear, 9.0 kph
Competent mid-pack racers who train and have decent gear, 8.0 – 9.0 kph
Folks who like racing but aren’t quite up to speed in terms of gear and training, <8.0 kph

In this post I’ll recap how I got to the “avid amateur” level, and I’ll include advice for other people who might want to “level up” their SUP racing. For those who don’t want to read the whole thing, here are the Cliff’s Notes:

1. Train by regularly paddling hard, striving to improve technique, and pushing yourself through discomfort to the limits of your strength and aerobic abilities.
2. Use gear appropriate to your conditions and commensurate with your abilities; test gear often and upgrade when worthwhile.
3. Meticulously track your performance data and use them to evaluate the effects of your fitness training, technique changes, and gear upgrades.
4. Repeat steps 1-3 over and over.

Full story:

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The beginning- My race SUP training started in September 2014 when I decided to enter a race on the Imperial River near my house in Bonita Springs, Florida. The first thing I did was get a map of the ~7km racecourse from the organizers at CGT kayaks and paddleboards. Then I paddled the exact course at a moderately strenuous pace and timed myself. The board I used was my fastest SUP at the time- an 11’8” x 32” (360 x 81 cm) Exocet WindSUP.

Lessons learned- Just do it. Start with the gear you have.

Rapid gains phase 1- On the graph you can see that I made significant speed gains each time I did the race course on the WindSUP. In just a few weeks I went from 6.3 kph to 7.5 kph; which meant finishing the course about 10 minutes faster. During that time my muscular and aerobic fitness improved rapidly, and the excitement of improving helped me push myself harder. I studied stroke technique on the Internet and tried to apply what I learned, like using core muscles instead of just arms and shoulders. I also learned to reach further with the paddle, and I cut my paddle down from overly long to appropriately short. By experimenting with where to stand on the board I found that I was fastest when standing forward enough for most of the nose to contact the water, but back enough for the tail to maintain light, even contact with the water. Concurrent with what I was doing on the water, I also quit drinking alcohol, did pushups, pullups and situps, and started running more often to improve my aerobic fitness and lose a couple pounds of fat.

Lessons learned- Track your progress in a consistent way. Work on both fitness and technique. Adjust your lifestyle to embrace your paddling goals.

Rapid gains phase 2- Although I only caught the last two races in CGT’s 2014 summer race series, I was totally hooked, and I bought my first race SUP. It was a 14’ x 26” 404 pintail zeedonk. I chose a 14’ board instead of a 12’6 board for a simple reason: because 14’ is faster than 12’6, and I wanted something that would be dramatically faster than the 11’8 WindSUP. The zeedonk instantly made me 5 minutes faster on the course and brought my average speed up to 8.16 kph. (Interestingly, though, the 5 minutes improvement from the board switch was less than the 10 minutes improvement from practicing, reminding me that the board isn’t everything.) I made steady improvements on the raceboard, but the gains weren’t huge like when I first started practicing. Some of the gains were from experimenting with fins. I found that a sleek, weed-shedding fin was the fastest and the straightest-tracking. My best run on the zeedonk was 8.6 kph, using that fin. Although the zeedonk was plenty fast I sold it because I was worried about damaging it, since it was super light with just a thin, flexible skin of black carbon fiber.

Lessons learned- Consistent, hard practice makes you a lot faster. A 14’ raceboard also makes you faster, but be cautious about super light black carbon ones. Get a fin that sheds weeds, helps you track straight, and has minimal drag.

Slow gains phase- I replaced the zeedonk with a 14’ x 27” Fanatic Falcon, which was a bit heavier but with a more durable construction and seaworthy shape. I figured it was a better long-term investment. My first run on it was a little slower than I’d been on the zeedonk, but I got a personal best 8.79 kph once I put the good weed fin on it. Around that same time I also switched back to the WindSUP for a test run to check how much of the improvement was me vs. the board. I was faster somewhat faster on the WindSUP, 7.87 kph, but it was clear that my speed increases were leveling off.

Lessons learned- After a couple months of training, your rapid speed gains will begin to level off.

There was an interruption in the slow-gains phase when I got a bad stomach bug over Christmas. I couldn’t practice for a while, and I was weak and slow when I came back. I got back on track, but disappointingly didn’t make much improvement during the spring. Sometimes I’d put in a fast run, sometimes a slow run. I’d started paddling with a cheap GPS, which let me figure out the exact distances I had paddled, but the real time speed would bounce around a lot so it wasn’t a good speedometer. What helped me continue to make some improvements during this phase was paddling with other people in the CGT race team and doing some workouts of varying distance and intensity. I.e., running the same course over and over had stopped working, but doing some interval training, like 1600 m sprints, got me past that. Also, the toughest paddler in my area, Mark Athanacio, would push me beyond my usual limits whenever we paddled together.

Lessons learned- Illness or injury sets you back temporarily but doesn’t undo your trained skills. Doing varied training with a competitive group is key for breaking through a speed plateau.

It was partly because of Athanacio, and partly because of seeing what other successful paddlers were using at the bigger races across the state, that I decided I needed to switch to a narrower board. Because CGT kayaks sells 404 brand SUPs I got a 14’ x 24” v3 model. It did seem to be a little faster, on average, than the 14’ x 27” Fanatic, but the difference wasn’t as dramatic as I’d hoped. Also, I didn’t like the feel of the board as much as the Fanatic. The Fanatic was especially easy and efficient in rough water. Anyway, I sold the 404 to another CGT team member, and bought a 24.75” wide Fanatic. I figured it was a sure bet- same board design that I really liked the feel of, but narrower width and therefore faster. As you can see on the graph, I was a little bit faster on the narrow Fanatic, on average. I could get 9+ kph runs with some regularity, whereas I’d only been able to get over 9 kph on one or two freak occurrences with the wider Fanatic.

Lessons learned- Try before you buy, and be realistic about your expectations for the performance of a new board. Just because a board “should” be faster doesn’t mean it will be faster for you or that you will like the feel of it better that what you’re on.

Mad Science Phase- In early June I was inspired by Jim Terrell and Larry Cain’s advice to film myself SUPing and critically dissect my stroke technique. I did it by putting my GoPro camera on a dock at the riverside and paddling by it repeatedly at race pace or sprint pace. I realized I was doing several things wrong: hunching my upper back too much, not reaching forward enough, not using my hips effectively, and pulling the paddle too far behind my feet before withdrawing it from the water. Subsequently I tried hard to fix those problems by focusing my workouts on proper form, even at the expense of speed and endurance. At first it made me significantly slower- it took about a month to get back up to my old pace on the 24.75” Fanatic.

Lessons learned- Applying technique changes takes time, and will temporarily slow you down, but you should still do it.

I used the Fanatic on June 28th in the first race of the summer 2015 CGT race series. I think the narrow board and technique-focused training paid off, because for the first time I was able to keep pace with local athletic trainer and very good SUP racer Mark Athanacio. We helped each other out by trading off drafting each other, but he wore me out and beat me in the end. After the race I asked Mark how I could get better and he basically said, “hire me for a coaching session.”

Lesson: Coaching yourself helps, but enlisting a real coach helps more.

At the coaching session Mark filmed me and showed me the playback on his notepad device using a program called “coach’s eye”. He showed me some of the issues I had identified myself and not totally fixed, but he also showed me new things to work on, like getting more body weight onto the paddle and using more efficient movements in the recovery phase between strokes. Mark did a second round of filming at the end of the session and it was cool to see how much better my stroke looked when I put some of his tips to work. Mark also advised me on gear, nutrition, training, and race strategy. He confirmed that quitting drinking alcohol was a huge benefit. He said that high intensity interval training, with challenges like rough water and buoy turns thrown in, was most effective. He said that too much long distance endurance training could be counterproductive so I shouldn’t overdo it on full-distance practice races. He said that lifting weights about 2x a week could be really helpful, but thus far I’ve neglected to do that. For race strategy he said the start is super important, so make sure you have all your sh*t together before the start and you’re positioned and ready to sprint like hell when they blow the horn. He also said that when anything slows you down, like a turn, you should sprint hard to get back up to speed in the shortest amount of time possible. He said a lot of the race is mental, including pushing yourself, trusting your abilities, and not getting psyched out by the other competitors. After the coaching session with Mark I was super stoked- ready for battle.

Lessons learned- Quit boozing. Put your weight on the paddle. Do challenging, high intensity interval training- not easy distance paddling. Be serious about race preparation, mindset, and strategy.

Inspired by the session with Mark I splurged for a new GPS speedometer specifically for SUP- a Speedcoach SUP 2 with a heartrate monitor and programmable intervals workouts. It made my workouts a lot more interesting, because I could do specific time, speed, distance, or intensity workouts anywhere, like on the ocean, without having to stick to set courses in the river. Also, the accurate GPS speedometer gave me instant feedback on speed, which helped me tweak my technique to go fast and stay fast. The speedometer is particularly useful when doing a race in varied terrain, like shifting currents, different water depths, wind, waves, etc., where a little change in the line you’re traveling or the technique you’re using can make a big difference in speed. The heartrate monitor helped me learn what my cardiovascular limits are and when to slow down or keep pushing in an uncomfortable situation. The rule of thumb of Max HR = 220 – Age is pretty accurate for me at 36 years old because 184 bpm is definitely a level at which I start feeling like crap, and I can’t go above that for long.

Lessons learned- Get a GPS fitness tracker with a heartrate monitor and use it like a mad scientist.

The rest of the CGT summer race series was a really good time for experimenting with the speedcoach. It was also a good time for experimenting with different boards, because CGT was eager to have me test and ride the boards they sell (rather than my Fanatic, which is not a brand they carry). In the second CGT summer race I used a 14’ x 27” 404 v3 in the affordable PVC construction. It was pretty fast for such a wide, stable board, but it took some extra energy for me to keep it going and I wasn’t able to keep up with Mark Athanacio. In the third CGT race I used a 14’ x 26” BlkBox Uno and put in my hardest ever effort, hanging on through exhaustion by focusing intently on technique. It was an uncomplicated race because I had started ahead of Mark Athanacio and didn’t have to worry about drafting strategy or anything. I beat Mark’s time for the first time, which made me feel pretty studly. In the next race I used a 14’ x 27” Riviera RP in fiberglass construction and had a more strategic battle with Mark, starting at the same time and trading drafting positions. The 27” Riviera felt faster to me than the 27” 404, but I was still really dependent on drafting Mark to save energy. At the final turn I made a sprint move to put a gap on Mark so he couldn’t draft me, then I went full blast for the rest of the race to win by a small margin. In all the subsequent races of the series I used a 14 x 25” wide Riviera RP in fiberglass construction. I pretty much kicked butt, because that Riviera is a ROCKET in flat water. I should note, however, that in the final race Athanacio showed me he’s still a force to be reckoned with by drafting me most of the time even though he was on a 12’6 for that race. He also showed that he’s a good sport by stopping and waiting for me to retrieve my detached speedcoach when I hit a submerged root and nosedived to the bottom of the river.

Lessons learned- 27” wide boards are generally slower than narrower boards, but there is also variation in speed among brands. It’s possible to keep up with a faster rider by sprinting into his draft early and staying there doggedly, so drafting is a good way to narrow the gap between yourself and faster riders.

I put the drafting lesson to work in the recent race around Lover’s Key by drafting Kieran Grant, one of the tops-in-Florida riders who is a tier above me in speed and skills. I was able finish the race just 25 seconds behind him, which I reckon is my best SUP performance so far, and a good motivation to keep working hard.

Other random things I learned this year- Don't drink coffee or soda before a race. Do drink tons of water and stay cool by dunking in the water, sitting in the shade, and being as close to naked as possible. Eat/drink some energy rich foods before and after a race, like a peanut butter banana sandwich, a big bowl of cereal, or a fruit smoothie. Don't try to negotiate with the voices in your head when you're suffering in training- i.e., don't make bargains like, "just one more minute then I'll take it easy". Instead, accept the suffering and find something to focus on, like your technique, to get through it.

What’s Next- I hope to make some more small gains in flatwater speed this year, and some improvements in skill and strategy that will help me in open-water races around south Florida. That will require keeping up the hard training on the water, doing more fiddling with gear and technique, and maybe adding some weightlifting at the gym on days that I’m not on the water. I also signed up to participate in a sports physiology experiment at NSU in Fort Lauderdale, which is going to test the effects of a high protein diet on SUP racers. I’ll go over there and do a bunch of grueling tests and have weird body measurements taken, then I’ll switch to the high protein diet for 8 weeks and repeat the tests. It should be interesting.

Paddle hard!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Amateurish Thoughts on Picking a Race SUP Paddle

The Internet is full of good, scientific, professional-type guides on how to pick a SUP paddle. This is not one of those. Rather, it’s my personal, subjective thoughts on how I've picked my paddles, because Serghei Koval asked me if I would make a blog post about that topic.

The first time I ever stood erect on a windsurf board, sans sail, holding a paddle, was in 2007 in the outer banks, NC. It was a jiggered up canoe paddle. Even though it was longer than a normal canoe paddle it was too short to be effective for SUP. Plus, it was awkward and wiggly. As soon as the wind started to blow I put a sail back on the board and didn't touch a paddle for another year or so.

Later, confronted with a lot of windless conditions, I made some paddles of my own from cheap plastic kayak paddles and aluminum tubes from various sources, e.g., old pool dipnets. For the handles I used chunks of wood sawed into T shapes and duct taped on. Those got the job done but were a little heavy and wobbly and lacked the bent-back blade angle that I now know is important for efficient paddling. I also think I erred on the side of making the paddles too long.

I got my first real paddle when I got my first real paddleboard, an Angulo Surfa 10’4”, in Massachusetts in 2011. I was going to buy a cheap adjustable aluminum and plastic paddle, but Josh Angulo sold me on a fixed-length carbon fiber paddle and I was glad for that. It was a lot lighter than anything I’d used before. The shape and angle of the paddle blade were good for efficiently grabbing water, in what I later learned was called the “catch” phase of the paddle stroke. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Angulo paddle blade had elements that made it very forgiving: 1) A rounded outline and a moderate “aspect ratio” (not too short and wide, nor too long and narrow) made it easy to get in and out of the water. 2) A pronounced “dihedral” in the face of the blade prevented wobble during the “power” phase of the stroke. 3) An ample but not excessive blade surface area (97 in^2) helped get a solid catch. 4) An oval shaft facilitated a stable grip.

I was content with the Angulo paddle until I started racing in summer 2014. The first thing I thought about changing was the length of the shaft, which I had realized was a lot longer than most people my height were using. So I cut it down and and re-glued the handle such that I could reach up and grip the handle with a slightly bent elbow while standing the paddle on the ground. The shorter shaft helped me go faster by encouraging me to do more work with my body and legs instead of just whipping the long paddle around with my arms and shoulders.

Another thing that made me question whether my Angulo paddle was set up right for me was comparing my speeds with it to my speeds with a heavy “Epic” brand aluminum and plastic adjustable paddle that I'd bought so my wife could sup with me. (I'd give her the good paddle and take the bad one because I'm nice like that.) I found that even though the Epic paddle was heavier and felt slower, my speeds with it were indistinguishable from my speeds with the Angulo. I figured that might have been because the Epic had a really big, flat blade that helped me get a solid catch and stronger, more heavily-weighted stroke. I thought that if I could combine the light weight of the Angulo paddle with whatever aspects of shape made the heavy Epic paddle work well for me, I’d have a worthy upgrade. Towards that end I started trying out the demo paddles at CGT kayaks and paddleboards.

I tried a HippoStick AL 8.0, a HippoStick AL 8.5, and a Riviera Vantage 8.0. To be honest, my speeds with all three of those paddles were statistically indistinguishable from my speeds with the Angulo and the Epic. I.e., the amount that my speed varies just depending on how I’m feeling, the weather, and other random factors is more than my speed varied from the different paddles. (It’s a common problem with testing SUP equipment- unless the benefits of the new equipment are huge, they’re really hard to detect.) Even though I didn’t have strong quantitative data to justify one paddle over the others, I had some “qualitative” data- my thoughts about how the paddles felt.

Hippostick 8.0: This one had a low aspect ratio and relatively small, flat blade. It was really easy to get in and out of the water, which would be good if you had a “fast cadence” paddling style. But it didn’t seem to “catch” in the water very solidly, which was my complaint about the Angulo, so I ruled it out.

Hippostick 8.5: This paddle had a similar shape to the other Hippostick, but with LOTS more surface area. It had a great “catch” and also a pretty good “release” at the end of the stroke. I felt like I had great acceleration with this paddle. On my test run with it I went really fast for the first half of the course, then got wicked tired on the second part. Tired both aerobically and in my muscles. It might have just been from not pacing myself well, but I thought it might also be a symptom of the blade being too big for me to handle.

Riviera Vantage 8.0: This wasn’t a miracle paddle or anything, but it suited me. I liked that it had a very solid catch, like the Hippostick 8.5, but had a somewhat smaller surface area and didn’t seem to give me the muscle tiredness quite as bad. The only disadvantage was that it was a bit harder to withdraw cleanly from the water, maybe due to the squarish tip and other shape features that helped it get such a good catch. I bought this paddle and started using it all the time. Did it make me faster? Maybe. Sort-of. After a while. Perhaps by helping me get a good catch it encouraged me to develop a stronger pull, making better use of all my available strength, weight, and leverage. And perhaps by being lightweight it allowed me to whisk the paddle around quickly between strokes and get more strokes per minute.

Eh, I really don’t know, though. Looking back over my data now it’s very hard to see any consistent sign of one paddle being faster than another, even including the old heavy aluminum paddle that felt like crap. I think as long as the shaft isn’t way too long or way too short, the handle is on straight, and you’re able to get a good catch and a smooth stroke, your paddle is OK. Then again, maybe it’s that I still haven’t found the really perfect paddle match for me, and if I did find it I’d see an obvious speed benefit.


While the search for an obviously faster paddle has so far been inconclusive, I’ve tried a couple of things recently that I liked a lot even though I have no data on whether or not they actually made me faster. One was the Riviera “bump” paddle, which has a raised texture on the shaft so your hands don’t slip as much when they get sweaty. Another grippy paddle I tried was a KeNalu paddle that has a “snakeskin” grip formed by partially exposed carbon cloth weave. Any kind of grip on the paddle is better than the totally smooth glossy finish on most of them.

Another thing I have NOT tried that might also help is a more flexible paddle shaft. According to some people the more flexible shaft is less fatiguing on your joints and muscles and can make you faster over the long run- Perhaps even over the short run.

If any of you readers have had big breakthroughs in your own paddle choices, I’d be curious to know, especially if you know for sure you found something that makes you faster.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

SUP Race Reports: Englewood Waterfest and Race around Lovers' Key

Whoopee! I'm recovering today from a fun weekend of Southwest Florida SUP racing, with good races both Saturday and Sunday.

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Saturday was the Englewood Beach Waterfest at Weston's Wanna B Inn on Manasota Key. Sunday was the Race Around Lovers' Key, hosted by my local shop/sponsor CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards. I'd been looking forward to the Lovers' Key race for a long time, and I debated skipping the Englewood race to save energy for Sunday. Racing hard two days in a row could hurt one's second day performance, especially for someone over 35 like me. But I decided I like racing, and racing is good practice for racing, so I would give it my best effort both days. Here is how each race went:

Saturday 14 Nov. 2015- Englewood Beach Waterfest. This race was based from a hotel on a narrow strip of land with access both to the Gulf of Mexico and to a protected channel called Peterson Cut. The intended course was to launch into the ocean, paddle through Stump Pass into Peterson Cut, then paddle up the cut to a buoy in front of the hotel. The short race would finish there, while the longer "elite" race would round the buoy and backtrack the course to finish at the beach.

Unfortunately, conditions required the race committee to eliminate the open water part of the course. I.e., there was a moderate swell that created tricky waves in Stump Pass, preventing the safety boat from getting into the Gulf of Mexico. So they moved the whole race into Peterson Cut. The short race was 3.7 km (once down the pass and back) and the elite race was 7.4 km (two down and backs). There was a stiff NE breeze, but mangroves lining the relatively narrow channel kept it manageable. It was much easier than the Palm Island Race, anyway.

The board I used was a Riviera RP 14' x 25", in fiberglass construction, which I've had on loan from CGT since the summer. The Riviera RP is a really fast board, especially in flat water and orderly bumps, and it works a bit better for me in those conditions than the Fanatic Falcon 14' x 24.75" that I own or the 14' x 24" 404 v3 that I used to own. All my personal best times on the courses we run regularly with the CGT Race Team have been set on the Riviera, and I don't think it's just me getting better. The board makes a real difference.

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Back to the Englewood race- One unorthodox thing about this race was the drafting rule. It was "no drafting until the first turn-around, but anything goes after that." The intent of the rule was to allow paddlers of slightly different speeds to spread out a bit more naturally at first, but still allow them to work together (draft) during the grueling middle part of the race. The two best 14' SUP men, Hoviesup riders Kieran Grant and Brad Ward, probably didn't hear the rule announcement because they started drafting each other immediately after the starting horn. I was a bit frustrated to see that happen, and after the race I told the organizer Bruce Denson. I asked him not to change the standings, since Brad and Kieran almost certainly would have been 1 & 2 no matter what, but I suggested that he give them a small time penalty or something as a reminder to pay attention to the rules. Bruce handled it good. I suppose I could have talked about it directly with Brad and Kieran, but even though they're nice I don't know them well and I thought it would be too awkward to broach the subject.

Anyway, I didn't worry much about the drafting thing during the race itself, because I was busy trying to stay ahead of strongman Jamie Twigg, who was riding a fast yellow Hoviesup board. Towards that end my Speedcoach 2 GPS was an advantage, because I could tell from the readout which parts of the channel had the best combination of the three main speed-influencing factors: current, wind, and water depth. I took the sides of the channel on the way south to avoid the incoming tidal current, and I took the center of the channel on the way back to make use of that current. That gave me a slight advantage on Mr. Twigg and I finished about 25 seconds ahead of him to get third place. The absolute times listed for the race on PaddleGuru are currently inaccurate. They have me at 0:43:24 but my GPS timer said my actual time was 0:48:44, distance 7.4 km, average speed 9.1 kph. Assuming the relative finishing times are accurate, the winner Brad Ward did it in about 0:47:20, followed closely by Kieran Grant in 0:47:32. My CGT teammate and Hoviesup rider Meg Bosi had a great 2nd place finish in the womens' 12'6 class, just a minute or so behind first place Katherine Pyne, also on Hoviesup. Needless to say, team Hovie DOMINATED this race. They're based right here in SW Florida but it seems like their boards are at least as fast as anything else on the water, anywhere. Also, their boards are incredibly light, like 3 kg lighter than the typical race SUP. And they always represent with a big, mixed-gender, mixed-age team at all the Florida races, so they're doing it right as far as supporting the racing scene. I noticed that this year Hovie has two different raceboard shapes- the Comet ZXC with a classic displacement style front section, and another shape with a flat bottom from nose to tail but a domed top deck in the bow to weather rough water. Brad used the former type and Kieran the latter.

As with all races organized by this Bruce Denson guy (who runs the Englewood Race, the race around Palm Island, and the Florida Cup) there was good southern hospitality and a family / kid friendly vibe to this race. A huge number of people signed up (120!), mostly for the shorter races, which are suited to surf-style SUP boards as well as specialized raceboards. Also, the food was great, and it didn't take too long to get the awards out and the results posted online. Combining serious and recreational racing into one event works great when it's done right, although I'm sympathetic to the challenge of trying to cater to both serious and recreational racers at the same time. The seriousish racers like me tend to be sticklers about rules, results, and timing, which could overwhelm a race organizer who wasn't prepared for it.

Sunday 15 Nov. 2015- Race Around Lovers' Key.
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This race was only 15 minutes from my house, and I was super stoked because it was the first ever "big production" race hosted by CGT. Also, I love races around islands because of the challenge of dealing all different wind and wave conditions on the different sides of the island. Plus you don't have to do any boring repeated laps or anything like that. The only problem is that most around-island races are too damn long. The Lovers' Key rounding is middle distance, about 9 km, which I reckon is perfect. On race day the course was a bit longer than usual because there was an ultra low tide and a buoy had to be set offshore to steer racers clear of shallows surrounding the New Pass channel. I had 9.64 km on my GPS after the race.

My strategy for the race was very different from my strategy for getting a fast time when paddling around the island in training. The difference was drafting, and it was all because Kieran Grant was there, with his awesome 14' x 23" red white and blue Hovie.

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I figured my only hope of finishing close to his time would be to get in his draft as soon as possible, if possible, and stay there as long as possible. I knew it would be tough, especially since Kieran's running starts from the beach are ridiculously fast. He throws the board down in ankle deep water and does a superman leap onto it, skimming a dozen meters across the water before anyone else is even on their board. I had a not-terrible start and paddled like hell to try to close the gap on Kieran. (I'm at the right edge of this picture, right after the start.)

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I hadn't quite closed it when a wake from the motorboat leading us interfered. We both tried to use it to our advantage and Kieran did that better than me. (When he's not a sup racer he is a pro-level sup wave surfer, so I assume he has unreal balance and wave catching abilities.) We needed to make a left turn to get out of San Carlos Pass, though, and the wake had taken Kieran a bit too far right. I was able to make up the distance and get behind him when we cut the corner around the north tip of Lovers' Key and started heading south in the Gulf of Mexico. Even with the benefit of drafting, it was not real easy to match Kieran's pace. My heart rate on the Speedcoach GPS display got up to almost as high as it gets when I'm not drafting. I concentrated on holding my position, breathing, and paddling with good form, and it got a little easier. I think if Kieran had REALLY wanted to shake me off his tail at any point he could have, but he didn't. I almost shook myself off though when I fell at the buoy turn to enter New Pass. I got back on board as fast as humanly possible and started paddling hard directly into the wind and outgoing tidal current to try to catch Kieran again. That's when I hit my max HR of 189, but somehow I got lucky and glued myself to Kieran's stern again just before running out of energy for sprinting. I think doing sprint interval training in the Imperial River with the other CGT race team folks really helped me to be able to do that.

After fighting the wind and current going through New Pass, we turned north and started fighting the combination headwind/sidewind coming across Estero Bay. Even Kieran was getting tired, and he made a comment to that effect. I took a turn pulling the draft, and went as fast as I could without letting my HR get over 184 or so. Before long Kieran took over again. There was a lot of boat traffic at that point in the race, including an annoying pontoon boat that was going almost exactly the same speed as us and messing us up with his wake that was awkwardly interacting with the wind chop, other boat wakes, and our own SUP wakes. Kieran pulled ahead there and I simply couldn't catch him again. I just went as fast as I could to the finish line, and was stoked to be only 25 seconds behind him when it was all over. He got 1:05:11 and I had 1:05:36.

The finish!
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Third place overall, in 1:08:54, was legendary 50 year old tough guy Mark Athanacio on a borrowed 12'6 Hovie.

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3rd in the 14' class and 4th overall was John Sekas, an ageless bronzed 50-something who rides a 14 x 23 MHL custom board. The next two finishers were both on Riviera boards- young Will Connaughton on a 14 x 23 and 49 year old Murray Hunkin on a 14 x 27. Close behind Murray was Mark Hourigan who was on a 14 x 27 Yolo. Mark H. is switching to a narrower board and just put his mint-condition Yolo up for sale for $1200, which is a good deal if anyone is interested. Full results from the race are posted below.

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Other notable achievements include the top 3 women (Lacie Flynn on a 12'6 Bark Vapor, Kate Pagan on a 12'6 Hovie custom, and Meg Bosi on a 12'6 Hovie Comet) beating all the 12'6 men with the exception of Mark Athanacio. Lacie and Kate also beat two of the young 14' guys, Brandon Gunderson and Justin DiGiorgio. Better practice harder, dudes. For some paddlers it was their longest and/or toughest race ever (because of the wind and current), so it was a big personal achievement for them that they finished. One woman, I think Donna Catron (?) finished the whole thing in less than two hours on a chunky pink surf style sup. Crazy.

Will nice board
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Murray big finish
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Mark Hourigan last time on the 14 x 27 Yolo.
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Lacie Flynn winning the womens on 12'6 x 26 Bark Vapor.  photo 12186717_10153684322902480_5737150728540721312_o_zpszxmo5thk.jpg

Kate Pagan good reach.
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Meg Bosi making it look easy.
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Justin DiGiorgio (404) and Brandon Gunderson (Hobie).
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Mark Payne oldest guy out there but still fast.
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Speedcoach GPS representative Adam Pollock on super long unlimited SUP.
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The awards for the Lovers' Key race were totally unique, with queen conch shells mounted on nicely finished wooden plaques. Local artist / jack-of-all-trades Steve Nagy made the trophies. I had really been coveting them before the race so I'm super stoked now to have one to show off in my house. There was a good lunch provided by Stan's Subs from Bonita Springs, and there was a raffle with some cool prizes including pink plaid and green camo-print Riviera paddles. I won an ironic trucker's cap with "Riviera" on it. Also everyone got t-shirts with CGT's Caloosa tribal logo.

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Next up on the race calendar is the "Paddle for Pups" fundraiser race Saturday November 21st at Riverside Park in Bonita Springs. It's a very doable 6.4 km in flat water, for $20. I might try a new board in that race. Will Connaughton left the 14 x 23 Riviera custom (2016 shape and super light carbon fiber construction) with CGT...

Sunday, November 15, 2015

New spot for windsurfing in East Winds near Bonita Springs, Florida

It's hard to windsurf in winds that are blowing "offshore" with respect to the general orientation of the coastline. Offshore winds tend to be gusty (variable in strength and direction) and tend to be very light along the shoreline, especially if there are trees, building, or hills blocking and swirling with the wind as it bumps over the land on its way out to sea. You can deal with offshore winds by using a floaty board and delicately shlogging/drifting away from shore until you're far enough out to be in the strong and steady wind unaffected by the obstacles on land. But that's dangerous because it's hard to get back, and can be impossible to get back if the wind strength changes or some part of your gear breaks.

So the better way to deal with offshore winds is to go to a different spot to windsurf- a spot where the shoreline is oriented differently with respect to the wind, so the wind is coming towards shore (onshore wind), or sideways to the shore (sideshore wind). Sometimes that means driving a long way, though. In Florida, it can mean driving all the way across the state.

This brings me to one of the big challenges to windsurfing in SW Florida: It does get windy sometimes, but as often as not the wind is from the NE, E, or SE - blowing offshore. What you need in those conditions is to launch from an east-facing beach on an island or peninsula that is west of a large embayment of some sort. Until recently I was under the impression that the nearest suitable embayment was San Carlos Bay, between Fort Myers and Sanibel Island. Windsurfing from the Sanibel Causeway bridge definitely works well in east winds, and also in every other wind direction, which is probably why the only windsurfing shop in the area (Ace Performer) is located near the Sanibel Causeway.

Since I live in Bonita Springs, though, the Sanibel Causeway is 45 minutes to 1 hour away, and there's a $7 toll for the bridge. I have things to do and I don't like to spend more time driving than windsurfing during a session. So mostly I've just been risking my life and sailing in offshore winds from the west-facing beach launches near Bonita Springs.

However, while practicing for a SUP race around Lovers' Key, just ~15 minutes from my house, I realized that Estero Bay, on the backside of Lovers' Key, could have some pretty strong, steady east winds. The only trick would be finding an OK launch spot. Well, I found one today. It's a free dirt/grass parking area at the north end of a big field near the Carl Johnson Boat Ramp. It's next to a small bridge over a tidal creek called Little Carlos Pass.

There are some shallow spots near shore that you have to watch out for, but once you're 50 m out you're in relatively deep water with a good 1 km or so of fetch from the east, interrupted only by some small mangrove islands. Today I sailed it with a 106 l Exocet Cross and 6.4 KA sail with a 26 cm fin. It was awesome flatwater conditions good for practicing jibing and generally hauling ass. I reckon it will be my go-to spot now for strong E & NE winds. It wouldn't be so good for light-wind shortboard windsurfing because shallow spots would be dangerous with longer fins.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

SUP into wicked headwinds- Race "Around" Palm Island

This morning I drove up to the Palm Island Resort in Cape Haze, FL to join my cgt race team buddies at the (SUP) Race Around Palm Island. The resort was gorgeous and secluded, on an island reachable only by a small ferry across the intracoastal waterway. I've got the resort mentally bookmarked now as a good place for an anniversary weekend or something.

The race course was originally planned as a 3/4 circumnavigation of the island, 21 km from the side of the resort on the intracoastal waterway to the side of the resort on the Gulf of Mexico. As the event neared and the forecast called for strong NW wind they first decided to reverse the direction of the course (so the ocean leg would be a "downwinder"), then decided to do the whole course in the intracoastal waterway instead and shorten it to 18 km. They also had a 4.8 km race for the sane people.

This is the first 2/3 of the race from my Speedcoach gps.
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Even at "just" 18 km this race was the longest I have ever done, and the upwind leg was BRUTAL. This graph from shows the wind at the nearby Boca Grande sensor.
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The first race finishers were "surfski" kayaks and outrigger canoes, followed by a 17' tandem SUP with a well-coordinated father-son team. Winner in the 14' SUP class was Stephen Chase on a 2014 14' x 24.5" JP Flatwater Race board. I was in second place about 4 minutes later on CGT's 2015 14' x 25" Riviera RP. On my GPS the distance was 17.978 km and my time was 2:17:53. Other CGT team finishers were:

18 km race-
Matt Kearney 14' SUP, 2:47:53
Meg Bosi 12'6 SUP, 2:48:01 (2nd women!)
Brad "Devin" Turetzkin 14 SUP, 2:57:15 (3rd 50+)

5km race-
Jason Mastin 12'6 SUP, 0:37:43 (1st place!)
Bryan Herrick 12'6 SUP, 0:38:25 (2nd place!)
Savanna Mastin 12'6 SUP, 0:43:52 (Savana graciously paused her race to help out a kid with a broken paddle)

Here's a play-by-play of how the race went from my perspective:

1. Start- A lot of people (including me) didn't hear the 1 minute warning whistle and remained scattered far from the starting line when the start whistle blew. People had to shout, "GO! Yes, GO!" until we caught on that the race was really starting. Doh!
2. Aided by a tailwind I sprinted pretty well to make up for my bad starting position. I got to the front where Stephen Chase was, and I picked up his draft.
3. Stephen was making good time, faster than 10 kph with the wind and tide helping, so I was content to stay in his wake. We pulled away from everyone else except the sit-down paddlers and the 17' tandem SUP that passed us. I kept pretty relaxed and took some sips from my dilute-gatorade-filled camelback.
4. When the intracoastal opened up into a wider bay the chop and wind increased and Stephen fell. I passed him and focused on riding the chop downwind en route to the turn-around spot, under a bridge.
5. I made my pivot turn under the bridge successfully but immediately slowed way down as I faced into the strong wind and oncoming chop. I settled into a slow and steady pace, but annoyingly had to paddle almost exclusively on my right side to maintain a heading. However, I figured everyone else would be having at least as much trouble as me, and that I might be able to win the race by just surviving.
6. That hope was dispelled when I saw Stephen Chase coming up on the left side of me. I struggled to get over and draft him but only managed to do so for a minute or two before I jostled out of his wake. I didn't have the strength or endurance to catch him. Somehow he made paddling into the wind look easy. He's a strong guy with a stocky build, which might help with the upwind stuff. Although as I recall he beat me pretty good in the Battle of the Blueway, too, and that race wasn't windy. So I'd say he's pretty badass all around.
7. The remainder of the race was grueling and demoralizing as I lagged further behind and struggled to get my groove going against the wicked wind and some current, too. My Speedcoach GPS gave me the "memory full" message around then, which was the only time during the race that I swore. I wish it would just overwrite the oldest logged data instead of aborting the current log when the memory filled up, because I never remember to clear the memory log manually.
8. My upper back and shoulders were on fire for the last couple kms, and my legs and hips started to get shaky and fatigued near the end too. But at last it was over. I felt like I had given it near 100% effort and was very pleased to get second place in a tough race with tough competitors. The one thing wasn't totally exhausted was my cardio (heart and lungs). I seem to have been more limited this time by muscle fatigue. For future into-the-wind races I might see if I can develop some sort of faster but lighter stroke.

The food, prize ceremony, and raffles after the race will superbly done, and it was fun hanging out with the CGT team and some of the other Florida racers we're getting to know now. Also, I really like the t-shirts they gave out. This was a great race.

Here's me, Stephen Chase, and Yensys Loyola, the 2nd, 1st, and 3rd place finishers in the 18-49 year old men's 14 sup class. John Sekas (not pictured) actually finished a couple minutes in front of Yensys but was in the 50+ age class. The guy with the microphone is the race coordinator and MC Bruce Denson.
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Here's Devin Turetzkin, Me, Matt Kearney, and Meg Bosi of the cgt team.
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Thursday, October 1, 2015

3rd Person View of Exocet WindSUP 11'8

Yesterday after work I went to the beach with my wife. She was kind enough to get some video clips of me windsurfing with a 6.4 sail on the Exocet WindSUP 11'8. The wind was about 15 mph. This board is really nice for making the most out of wimpy waves.

3rd person Excoet WindSUP 11'8 from James Douglass on Vimeo.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

SUP race with Annabel Anderson and tough Florida dudes

I got 5th place in a tough 10 km SUP race today. The race was the "Paddle at the Point" sponsored by Pinchers' Crab Shack in Cape Coral. The race course was a big, clockwise circuit right in the crossroads where the Caloosahatchee Estuary empties into San Carlos Bay. In addition to the usual Florida hazard of horrendously hot, humid, and windless weather there were some special challenges on this course, like strong currents, floating seagrass, and shallow oyster reefs.

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Since the race venue was pretty close to our local sup shop (CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards) we had a very good turnout by the CGT Race Team, some of whom are pictured here:

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The race was also attended by New Zealander Annabelle Anderson, the women's sup champion of the world. I feel very lucky to be in South Florida doing this sup racing thing, because in just my first year of racing I've been on the starting line with the fastest male paddler in the world (Danny Ching) and now one with the fastest lady. I can't think of any other sport where the stars come and compete in laid-back hometown events. (Oh wait, WINDSURFING.)

Here's how the race went for me. I'm also posting a link to my GPS data and track, which are on Strava. I think you need to create a Strava account to view the details (sorry):

1. Gear: I used cgt's white 14' x 25" Riviera RP raceboard, with my usual Riviera Vantage 8.0 110in^2 paddle and my usual windsurfing weed fin. I went topless but wore a belt-style inflatable pfd with a water bottle tucked in the back.

2. Pre race: I drank a lot of water and dilute gatorade and dunked under the water a lot too cool off.

3. Start: The starting line was on the water, between two buoys. I like that better than running down the beach into the water because I'm not very good at running down the beach into the water. The only annoying thing about the start was that during the countdown everyone crept way ahead of the line, led by the most competitive sponsored racers. If something like that happened in a sailing or windsurfing race they all would have been disqualified. Of course I crept up, too, because dang if I was going to get left behind! The start itself was a mad sprint, like all sup race starts.

4. First leg: During the starting sprint I jostled to get into a draft train of 14' boards led by Yolo boards rider Garrett Fletcher. Annabelle was right next to me on her 12'6 Lahui Kai board. I had an awkward time avoiding getting pushed into her by wakes and by the Bernoulli suction effect that happens when two boards are close together so I settled for getting behind her. It's against the rules to draft outside your gender and board length, but since Annabelle was drafting a guy on a 14' sup I figured it was ok to draft her, in turn, at least for that hectic sprinting part of the race. Unfortunately the guy who Annabelle was behind, Hoviesup rider Brad Ward, fell at the first buoy turn. That broke the draft train; by the time Annabelle and I went wide around Brad there was a gap between me and the lead four (Garrett Fletcher, Matt Arensman, Kieran Grant, and Connor Bonham) that I didn't think I could close. In retrospect now I should have "burned all my matches" to try to sprint up into their train, but I didn't try it.

5. Second leg: I got into a steady pace, trying to make the best possible use of the strong outgoing tide, and trying not to fall too far behind the leaders. Where possible I cut the path shorter when the leaders were going swerving around a bit. Annabelle was drafting behind me then, which I know is technically against the rules, but she was so far ahead of the other 12'6 women I don't think there's any way it would have affected the race outcome. At one point I found a nice patch of swift current and Annabelle said something positive about that, which was cool. Also, I did a smooth turn around the second buoy and she complimented me on that, too, so I was feeling good.

6. Third leg: This part was going cross-current from the south to the north side of the Caloosahatchee channel. I tried to err on the side of staying more up-current. Annabelle stopped drafting me and fell behind just a bit.

7. Fourth leg: I had a mediocre turn at the third buoy. After the slow turn I saw that Annabelle and Brad Ward were close together and not as far behind me as I hoped they'd be. I could hear their paddle splashing and voices which motivated me to keep pushing. It was tough going into the current. I was making just enough forward progress to cancel out the slight breeze at my back, so it was HOT. At this point in the race I think I should have made a bold move and hugged the shoreline tightly to get out of the current, but instead I just put my head down and followed a slightly more inshore path than the leaders, who were now a couple hundred meters ahead. That worked so-so. At one point I crunched my paddle into a shallow oyster bar and had to swerve back offshore to deeper water.

8. Final push: There were no changes in my position relative to the others', but ahead of me I saw young Bic SUP rider Connor Bonham detach from the leaders' draft train, and there were some other signs of jostling among the leaders. I began to gain ground on Connor, who was really suffering with chills and such, sometimes pausing for a second to catch his breath. But he'd had such a lead on me that he still finished almost a minute ahead.

The top 5 were:

Kieran Grant (Hoviesup, 27 North)- 1:04:20
Matt Arensman (Boga)- 1:04:21.14
Garrett Fletcher (Yolo)- 1:04:21.61
Connor Bonham (Bic)- 1:06:57
James Douglass (Me!)- 1:07:53

Men's 14' 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Winners:
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There were lots of noteworthy performances by local SW Florida riders. In the overall and 50+ men's 12'6 class Mark Athanacio got first place. (Annabelle was faster but in the womens' class.) Mark looks pretty happy with his winnings.

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CGT team member Meg Bosi (green hat) got 4th in womens' 12'6 in the 10k race.

Women's 12'6-
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Mark Hourigan and Devin Turetzkin got 2nd and 3rd in the 14' 50+ class 10 km. Devin was just behind South African kayak master Murray Hunkin, who has one more year to go before he can win the 50+ class. CGT race team captain Matt Kearney got 1st in the 14' class in the 5 km race, and race rookie Rudy Ambrosi got 1st in the over-50 14' class in the rec race. We rocked it.