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.